Skip to content

Green Oranges on Lion Mountain

May 15, 2012

By Emily Joy

Em, a lightly fictionalised youngish doctor from York (pen name of Dr Gail Haddock, a Scottish GP) wants to save the world, save lives and save her soul. And find herself a man. She goes to work for VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) in Sierra Leone. Step one – mug up Maurice King’s Primary Surgery. When Dr Haddock learned I was distributing Maurice’s Primary Mother Care (details here) she sent me a copy of her lovely memoir Green Oranges on Lion Mountain. Here’s my review.

Em arrives in Serabu Catholic Mission Hospital, a plump, pampered, agnostic westerner, who has failed to learn to operate.  The diminutive but intimidating Sister Ignatius, a. k. a. Margaret Thatcher, and the gentle Dr Philippe, “On y va”, knock her into shape. The first half tells of the typical triumphs and disasters of a naive volunteer in Africa –  advanced disease, servant problems, operating way beyond your level of competence. Some fistulas close, bones heal and grafts take, but often they don’t. Mothers and children die, and some wounds never heal.

Her predecessor has gone into public health on the grounds that you can do more good there, and soon Em, like so many before her, wonders how much she is really helping. Unused electric birthing chairs donated by well meaning charities, and smuggling condoms past the Catholic authorities, sap the will. Em is good on her own self doubts and on the real heroes, the stoical patients and local staff.

Eventually the Liberian civil war spreads to Sierra Leone and Sister Ignatius shows her mettle facing down the soldiers. Em stays on too, against her better judgement, largely to avoid the embarassment of being the first to leave. She survives, but 50,000 Africans and the missionaries Father Felim MacAllister and Karin, Zietje and Eelco Krijn, killed in nearby Panguma hospital, weren’t so lucky.  The book is dedicated to them.

And a man?  No joy for Joy in Sierra Leone – she had to return to Scotland to find one of those.

Jim Thornton

Green Oranges on Lion Mountain. Emily Joy. 2004. Eye Books, London.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: