Exchange Is Not Robbery: More Stories of an African Bar Girl

John M. Chernoff

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Paperback (424 pages)

University Of Chicago Press


Editorial Description

While living in West Africa in the 1970s, John Chernoff recorded the stories of "Hawa," a spirited and brilliant but uneducated woman whose insistence on being respected and treated fairly propelled her, ironically, into a life of marginality and luck as an "ashawo," or bar girl. Rejecting traditional marriage options and cut off from family support, she is like many women in Africa who come to depend on the help they receive from one another, from boyfriends, and from the men they meet in bars and nightclubs. Refusing to see herself as a victim, Hawa embraces the freedom her lifestyle permits and seeks the broadest experience available to her.In Exchange Is Not Robbery and its predecessor, Hustling Is Not Stealing, a chronicle of exploitation is transformed by verbal art into an ebullient comedy.  In Hustling Is Not Stealing, Hawa is a playful warrior struggling against circumstances in Ghana and Togo. In Exchange Is Not Robbery, Hawa returns to her native Burkina Faso, where she achieves greater control over her life but faces new difficulties. As a woman making sacrifices to live independently, Hawa sees her own situation become more complex as she confronts an atmosphere in Burkina Faso that is in some ways more challenging than the one she left behind, and the moral ambiguities of her life begin to intensify.Combining elements of folklore and memoir, Hawa's stories portray the diverse social landscape of West Africa. Individually the anecdotes can be funny, shocking, or poignant; assembled together they offer a sweeping critical and satirical vision. (20050122)

Reader Reviews

Further Along the Journey
John M. Chernoff's "Exchange Is Not Robbery" continues the adventures of Hawa, the West African bar girl introduced in "Hustling Is Not Stealing", which appeared several years ago. The two volumes are best read continuously, giving the reader the benefit of Chernoff's comprehensive and fascinating introduction to the first book. Hawa's vibrant personality and humor continue, but as she returns to Burkina Faso, the tone darkens somewhat. She moves between Ouagadougou and the village where her sick father lives, making observations about the sexual politics of being an "ashawo" and the economic stresses of the independent lifestyle she has chosen. Hilarious, but awful at the same time, are the stories of her encounters with French men (of whom she has a very low opinion!) and the lengths to which she must go just to survive. Awful but not hilarious at all is the oppressiveness of village life for women. Hawa never becomes bitter, but she expresses a greater sense of what her autonomy has cost her. This volume is also rich with folklore and magic, which blend seamlessly into the harshest realities. This book, like its predecessor, is unique and absolutely wonderful. I was sorry when it ended.