In a matter of 24 days the World Cup field that started with 31 teams has worked its way down to the final 4. Prior to the June 12 start each team could only weigh their theoretical odds against the competition and hope that their path would lead to the next round. The Ivory Coast team, or Côte d'Ivoire, faced steep but not impossible odds to advance through group C that featured soccer stalwart Colombia. The West African team saw the final score of 2-1 in all three of their matches; a win against Japan, followed by a tough loss against Colombia and lastly a bewildering defeat against Greece. The Ivoirians entered the World Cup as the highest ranked African team and failed to make it to the knockout round. Unfortunately, high aspirations and disappointing finishes extend beyond the pitch for many that call the Ivory Coast home. In her debut publication Padre!: A Place Whose Rules Rearrange Your Own, Raven Moore employs vivid images to discus the intricacies of identity, place and purpose.
A New Jersey native, Moore remembers receiving a globe as a present and that globe sparked her curiosity to wonder how people lived and communicated around the world. Moore's love of language led her to Georgetown University where she studied abroad in Japan. Nearing the end of her college career like many Moore was searching for the next step and was presented with the opportunity to sign up for the Peace Corps. Already fluent in Japanese and Spanish the chance to embark on another global trek and add another language to her arsenal was too good to pass on. Before long Moore was headed to the Ivory Coast of Africa where she would learn French.
Padre! starts as a parallel journey. As the author boards a plane with her mostly white corps members heading toward a training outpost in Abidjan for three months. The physical crossing of the Atlantic Ocean triggers a mental dive into the African-American identity. Through her collegiate experience the author knew what is was like to be outside of the mainstream but in a country where the majority of people would share her physical features but have a completely different cultural point of view the biggest challenge was how to reconcile that duality. Where and how would she fit in this new societal landscape? Adding to this transcontinental reorientation was unlearning the very narrow view of Africa that she and her fellow volunteers had been given in the States.
An example of this unpacking came early on as two Ivoirian guides displayed a traditional greeting for the group and the following exchange happens between Moore and one of her peers.
"Black folks do the same stuff at home," I said to no one and everyone. "You're just trying to make something out it," Bridget retorts.
Stunned. I mean, we aren't knocking heads, but we do invent many a cryptic handshake as they just did. We have certainly maintained some African customs; I just didn't really know it until seeing it with my own eyes.
"Do you have any Black friends?"
"No," Bridget answers after looking skyward to jog her memory.
Uhm, uhm, uhm. I've come all the way to Cote d'Ivoire for this?
To be told I am hallucinating? But, then again how can I expect someone to understand who has not regularly been surrounded by people of African descent until now?
As Moore regained her cultural bearing the appreciation for the beautiful surroundings that Cote d'Ivoire offers comes to the forefront. Soon we are introduced to Moore's host family and community. This is a sweet spot for the author, the general uneasiness of being in a foreign environment is starting to subside and the full weight of her Peace Corps commitment has not been applied. Nonetheless, members of her Corps class are starting to leave at a steady rate. During this time Moore's state of minds shifts from overt resistance to the events that are occurring too a levelheaded understanding that things beyond her control will continue to happen. For instance Moore reveals that her host mother, who is arguably the kindest spirit in this story is in an abusive relationship. Yet Moore resists the temptation to cloak her host mother's narrative in the darker tints of her life, the host mother still remains a source of genteel encouragement and correction, despite her predicament.
Moore's adjusted lens is shown in her renewed experience of the familiar Ivory Coast night sky as she writes:
The moon I am used to has become another moon. The stars I am used to have become some other stars. These stars are large and brilliant and so many that they fight with each other just to reserve their spots up in the sky.
One, two, three... I count them with my finger, but before I can even finish pronouncing the f in four everyone starts screaming.
Stop! Host Mom yells in Abe as she rushes toward me, grabs my hands and pleads. Counting the uncountable is bad luck.
Before Padre! gets oversaturated in the personal of the author or the public of the Ivory Coast it transitions back to the purposefulness that kickstared this voyage in the first place, the Peace Corps. The singular grievance I have with Padre! is too often the documenting of events pushes Moore's commentary into the background. Fortunately as the book draws to a close Moore reflects on the internal and external impact of her time served.
Seeing her smiling face as I leave and the questions in all of the children's eyes. Let's me know that this whole stressful experience is worth it. That is what Peace Corps is all about. Taking chances, not knowing if your work is going to amount to anything but going through it anyway, searching for more than acceptance or gratitude but finding extra satisfaction if you do happen to get either and developing who you are and who you want to be for yourself.
As Moore boards a plane back home it is not as some sort of conquering hero but rather as someone who no longer needs to theorize about the cost and impact of her task. Final scores are necessary but they rarely tell the whole story of a game. The more profound truths are typically found along the way to the goal.