Those Who Eat Like Crocodiles
By Laura Fitzgerald
A powerful memoir that explores an outrageous public health initiative and an unlikely love story
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Those Who Eat Like Crocodiles is for anyone who has tried to understand - and be understood - in an alien environment. It is for anyone who knows what it’s like to reach a crossroads in life and realize that, somewhere along the way, the rules of the game changed and you weren’t notified. It’s for anyone who has had to confront an unwelcome and disappointing discovery: that you may not be the person you spent your whole life believing you were.
This is my memoir. It is a coming-of-age story and it is a love story -- but it is also one of an outrageous public health initiative that asks how one country is separate from the other, one person from another.
My story begins in my twenties. I am an American midwife and I believed that those concrete clinical skills would be my ticket to a more meaningful life. Yet age 32, working in a chaotic hospital in Tanzania, I hit a wall and became convinced I was a failure. The truth was that I felt far too squeamish for the labor ward.
Days later, a chance encounter at an expat club in Dar es Salaam led to a job with a prestigious global health organization. It was 2008 and scientists believed they finally had an effective tool to fight the HIV epidemic raging through sub-Saharan Africa. The data-backed method: male circumcision. It would be the focus of my new job. I figured I could roll with it.
I went to Swaziland, now known as eSwatini, a nation devestated by the disease, armed with dozens of pre-conceived solutions. So did our US funders. Here we would circumcise an entire nation, they decided, and save countless lives. It was a prospect laden with sexual, cultural and political implications.
Soon the issues dominating my work life filtered into my romantic life when I fell for an enigmatic Swazi, a man with a royal past and a complex present. A conversation about them suddenly became about me, about us. During a year marked by the greatest absurdity I’d ever known, Swaziland proved a testing ground not for a public health program but for my own ability to cope and to connect in a place where I was viewed as one of those who eat like crocodiles. This is a hard, comedic, and very personal story of a strange and life-defining time.
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A graduate of Yale University School of Nursing and a certified nurse-midwife, Laura has worked in direct client care and in public health programmes domestically and overseas. She has served extended posts in Malawi, Tanzania, Swaziland and Pakistan. Since childhood, writing has helped her make sense of the world. As an adult, she has written several technical and creative non-fiction pieces published in Global Health Science and Practice, The Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, and the American Journal of Nursing, among others. Those Who Eat Like Crocodiles is her first book. She, her husband and their two young daughters split their time between homes in southern Africa and Baltimore, Maryland.
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