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Ossining Author Describes Life In West Africa

OSSINING, N.Y. – In the small village in Benin, West Africa, where Chris Starace was stationed as a Peace Corps volunteer, there was no running water at most homes and men were allowed more than one wife.

Starace, who now lives in Ossining, adapted to the way of life there and fell in love with the friendly, vibrant culture. "People (there) have a lot of time and they enjoy talking. There's a strong sense of community," he said. "Here, everyone's basically in their house or in a car. In Benin, everybody's out interacting with people."

Starace compiled a collection of short stories and essays that he wrote about his life in Benin and two weeks ago, he published a paperback book, "To Benin and Back," through the self-publishing company, iUniverse. "It took me 14 years working at it (to get published)," Starace said. "In total it cost $3,000 and my goal is to break even."

Starace's book talks about aspects of Beninese culture such as the local markets, the bush taxi rides, voodoo, and the low cost of living that allowed Starace to live well on $6 per day. One moment that Starace remembers well is when he was addressing a group of Beninese men and women about how one could try to save money. Starace suggested having less children, and for the polygamous men, less wives.

One man stood up and asked if he has three wives, would it be a good idea to get rid of two of them? "I said, 'Of course not. You already married them, you can't get rid of them now,'" Starace recounted. "The women jumped up and started hugging me and shaking my hand."

Starace lived alone in a cinder block house with a tin roof in the small village of Allada, close to the Atlantic coast. He took bucket baths using rain water collected in a cistern outside his house, and he had a filter system to make the water drinkable. People in the village called him "yovo," which means "white person."

Starace's Peace Corps assignment was to teach people about small business practices such as book keeping, basic marketing, profit-loss margins, how to make a business plan and product differentiation.

"I really admire Beninese people for being so resilient and resourceful," Starace said. Seven years after he returned from the Peace Corps, Starace traveled again to Benin, accompanied by his wife.

"I loved it. It was great to see all my old friends. Everybody remembered me and they had a party for me," Starace said. Starace is now a French and Spanish teacher at New Rochelle High School. He and his wife have lived in Ossining for 10 years and they have two daughters, ages two and five.

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