These days Chris Starace is a Westchester high school teacher, but when he graduated college in the mid-90s his life was quite a bit different. Starace joined the Peace Corps from 1995 to 1997 and was sent to West African nation of Benin. He had less cash flow than other recent graduates—living on only $6 a day.
The Ossining resident said he learned a lot during that time as he got used to a new culture in a remote West African village. Starace says he also developed strong relationships with people of Benin. Those friendships helped him appreciate the country, while other outsiders had a hard time seeing past Benin's shortcomings.
Starace's book tells the story of his strange encounters with Voodoo, being stuck in a sandstorm, and getting diagnosed by a traditional healer. The book also details how Starace dealt with reverse culture shock when he came back home to the United States. "There's a lot of things that really struck me. It's the way people interact here. People are very busy here with work and they don't really talk to strangers," said Starace. "The idea of community here is based on interests. People here don't really have time to get to know people that they don't have a common interest with. In Benin everybody lives outside their house because it's very hot, and they know their neighbors very well."
After getting married a few years ago, Starace traveled back to Benin in 2004 with his wife. He says going back gave him the opportunity to relive the experience and assess the contribution that he made to the West African country. Starace says when he went back to Benin he was taken aback by the changes that the country had undergone in his absence. "I was surprised about the population growth. It seems like it's growing quite quickly—it was more crowded," said Starace. "In the developing world they talk about how the birthrate is pretty high and there are lot of young people in the population—it's definitely growing quickly there."
Starace says that technology has also been a game changer in Benin since his original visit back in the mid-90s. "When I was there no one had cell phones, but now a lot of people use cell phones—even villagers," said Starace. "They use pre-paid cell phones… They're very poor, but they can still make a couple calls every week."
These days Starace is a high school French and Spanish teacher at New Rochelle High School. He and his wife have two young daughters that they are raising in the Village of Ossining. If you'd like to pick up Starace's book, you can get it at Tobeninandback.com, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com as well as many other online booksellers in e-book formats, soft cover and hardcover. For a preview see the website: www.tobeninandback.com.