Imagine Erma Bombeck but with a Southern accent and trailing three intrepid little boys housekeeping in a mud home in the African jungle. That almost captures the flavor of Sue Spencers real-life book filled with comical and hair-raising adventures.
Her blithe and breezy memoir takes readers along on an unusual armchair-travel escape, roaming across five continents and recapturing memorable cultures and eras -- some now vanished forever.
Spencer writes humorously about all the countries, the people and what she learned along the way including such pearls of wisdom as how to get ants out of the sugar, how to shrink heads, and why one must not point an emu bone at a stranger.
When the author, with her mining engineer husband and three of their five children, gamely moved to West Africa in the 1950s, she little knew what lay ahead. I was a young housewife who read only Dr. Spock and Betty Crocker, and had never even seen Paris, much less Gbangbama, she says. I had so much to learn.
Living in bush country mining camps for 10 years, they traveled by dugout canoe and shared a six-room mud house with a pet mongoose and, for awhile, two leopard cubs. Nightmarish bugs and snakes were just a few of the novelties. Armies of ferocious ants invaded the bedroom, requiring the Spencers to make a running leap for the window in their nightclothes. When a cobra crawled in the front door, the houseboy calmly chopped it in half with a machete.
Village prostitutes invited themselves into the living room, urging the author to join them in a dance that would have embarrassed Salome. Communal life amid curious neighbors made daily routine unusually interesting, especially when the makeshift shower was outdoors. Fresh vegetables and meat were scarce and eggs nonexistent, but the family learned to enjoy native delicacies including roasted termites sprinkled with salt.
Surviving it all with a sense of humor, the undaunted Spencers moved on to Australia. In their trusty Land Rover, they bounced along the dusty tracks of the Outback, where rain was so scarce people stopped whatever they were doing to watch any shower.
Daily life among kangaroos and wallabies, aborigines, sheep ranchers and fossickers (as oldtime miners were called) meant a constant series of surprises. Sue Spencer, jotting down her experiences as she went, explored remote and intriguing spots, from the ghost town, Coolgardie, to Madmans Track, Alice Springs and Booloogoolooroo.
After Australia, she traipsed off to South America, still following her miner husband, to share further challenges, curious sights and expeditions in Brazil, Paraguay and Guyana. Up and down the Amazon, from cosmopolitan Ro to charming Asuncin or scruffy but scenic Iguac, with the Spencers there was never a dull moment.
Whenever they took a break from global wanderings, they returned to Bugtussle, their beloved Florida farm, surrounded by marsh, sand, mosquitoes and alligators. The Bugtussle background helped make them capable of surviving anywhere, according to the author. Its simple, she says. Be prepared to be wet in the rainy season, dry in the dry season, and dont fight the bugs immoderately.
With a down-to-earth style, the book blends travel anecdotes with wry reflections on life around the world and at home. The saga spans 40 years of shifting scenes, experiences and changes.
Throughout it all, the stories reflect the spirit of a woman living vibrantly -- and irrepressibly seeing the funny side of things -- at any age, under any conditions.