Texte de Masha Hamilton


« Fiona Sweeney shoved a pair of rolled-up jeans into the corner of her purple duffel bag. Outside her bedroom window, a siren's wail sliced through the white noise of a wet snowfall. Those eerie man-made moans were part of New York City's wallpaper, a signal of trouble commonplace enough to pass unnoticed. But Fi registered this one, maybe because she knew she wouldn't be hearing sirens for a while. She turned her attention back to her bag, which still had space. What else should she take? Lifting a framed snapshot, she examined her mother as a young woman, wading into a stream, wearing rubber boots and carrying a fishing pole. Fi cherished the photograph; in real life, she'd never known her mother to be that carefree. The mother Fi had known wouldn't want to go to Africa. In fact, she wouldn't want Fi to go. Fi put the picture facedown and scanned the room, her attention drawn to a worn volume of Irish poetry by her bedside. She tucked it in. "How about the netting(1)?" Chris called from the living room where he sat with Devi. "Already in," Fi answered. "And repellent?" asked Devi. "Yes, yes." Fi waved her hand as though shooing away a gnat – a gesture that Chris and Devi couldn't see from the other room. "Should have kept my mouth shut," she murmured. Early on in her research about Kenya, she'd discovered that the country's annual death toll from malaria was in the tens of thousands. She had pills; she had repellents; logically, she knew she'd be fine. Still, a figure that high jolted her. She became slightly obsessed and – here's the rub – discussed it with Chris and Devi. Mbu – mosquito – had been the first Swahili word she'd learned. Sometimes the insects even dive-bombed into her nightmares. Eventually, mosquitoes became a metaphor for everything she feared about this trip: all the stories she'd read about a violent and chaotic continent, plus the jitters that come with the unknown. And what wasn't unknown? All she knew for sure, in fact, was why she was going. Fi's mom had never been a big talker, but she'd been a hero, raising four kids alone. Now it was Fi's turn to do something worthwhile. "Fi." Chris, at the door of the bedroom, waved in the air the paper on which he'd written a list of all the items he thought she should bring and might forget. Money belt. Hat. Granola bars. "Have you been using this?" he asked half-mockingly in the tone of a teacher. "I hate lists," Fi said. He studied her a second. "OK," he said. "Then, what do you say, take a break?" "Yeah, c'mon, Fi. We don't want to down all your wine by ourselves," Devi called from the living room, where an Enya CD played low. Pulling back her dark, frizzy hair and securing it with a clip, Fi moved to the living room and plopped onto the floor across from Devi, who sprawled(2) in a long skirt on the couch. Chris poured Fi a glass of cabernet and sat in the chair nearest her. If they reached out, the three of them could hold hands. Fi felt connected to them in many ways, but at the same time, she was already partly in another place and period. A soft light fell in from the window, dousing the room in a flattering glow and intensifying the sensation that everything around her was diaphanous, and that she herself was half here and half not. "You know, there's lots of illiteracy in this country," Devi said after a moment. "That's why I've been volunteering after work," Fi said. "But there, it's different. They've never been exposed to libraries. Some have never held a book in their hands." "Not to mention that it's more dangerous, which somehow makes it appealing to Fi," Chris said to Devi, shaking his head. "Nai-robbery." Though he spoke lightly, his words echoed those of Fi's brother and two sisters – especially her brother. She was ready with a retort. "I'll mainly be in Garissa, not Nairobi," she said. "It's no more dangerous there than New York City. Anyway, I want to take some risks – different risks. Break out of my rut. Do something meaningful." Then she made her tone playful. "The idealistic Irish. What can you do?" "Sometimes idealism imposes," Chris said. "What if all they want is food and medicine?" "You know what I think. Books are their future. A link to the modern world." Fi grinned. "Besides, we want Huckleberry Finn to arrive before Sex in the City reruns, don't we?" Devi reached out to squeeze Fi's shoulder. "Just be home by March." »
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile, 2007

1. In what country does the scene take place? Justify your answer by quoting from the text.
2. How many characters are present in the scene? Name them and say which one is the main character.
3. Give additional information about the main character (surname, nickname, family composition).
4. Pick out two quotations to prove that the main character is about to leave.
5. The main character's destination is Kenya. Rewrite the following sentences using words from the text to complete them.
Kenya is a country in (1) ...... where (2) ...... and English are the two official languages.
Nairobi is the capital while (3) ...... is a smaller city.
a) How does the main character feel in the passage from "Early on…" to "… the unknown"?
b) Give at least three reasons why the main character feels this way. (30 words)
a) Who was an inspiration for the main character to do something out of the ordinary? Justify with a quotation.
b) In what way was this person an inspiration? (20 words)
Among the following sentences, choose the one which explains what the play on words "Nai-robbery" means.
a) The crime rate in Nairobi is very high.
b) Women in Nairobi wear very fashionable dresses.
c) Life in Nairobi is very expensive.
d) You'll never be robbed in Nairobi.
a) Which people does the pronoun them refer to in the sentence "Fi felt connected to them in many ways"?
b) Do these people approve of the main character's decision to go to Kenya? Sum up their arguments. (30 words)
10. What arguments does the main character give to refute theirs? (30 words)
11. Quote elements from the text to show that, despite their disagreement, the atmosphere is cosy and comfortable in the passage from "He studied…" to "… and half not".
12. Explain why the people present in the scene have decided to meet at the main character's home. (30 words)
13. Analyze what personal benefits the main character hopes to derive from this Kenyan experience. (30 words)
Choose subject 1(a+b) or subject 2.
a) Write the letter the main character sends to a friend after living and working in Kenya for a few weeks. (150 words)
b) One of the characters suggests that all that people in developing countries want is "food and medicine". To what extent do you agree? (150 words)
2. Is it possible to combine idealism with a professional career? (300 words)
(1)net: to protect oneself against mosquitoes
(2)sprawl : (here) sit or lie casually, in a relaxed manner.


1. The scene takes place in the USA: "New York City".
2. There are three characters present in the scene: the main character, Fiona Sweeney and her friends Chris and Devi.
3. The main character's surname is Sweeney and her nickname is Fi. She has one brother and two sisters and her mother raised them on her own.
4. "Fiona Sweeney shoved a pair of rolled-up jeans into the corner of her purple duffel bag."
"… she knew she wouldn't be hearing sirens for a while."
"She turned her attention back to her bag. What else should she take?"
"The mother Fi had known wouldn't want to go to Africa. In fact, she wouldn't want Fi to go."
"Eventually mosquitoes became a metaphor for everything she feared about this trip."
"All she knew for sure, in fact, was why she was going."
"Chris […] waved in the air the paper on which he'd written a list of all the items he thought she should bring and might forget."
5. Kenya is a country in Africa where Swahili and English are the two official languages. Nairobi is the capital while Garissa is a smaller city.
a) The main character feels scared, anxious, worried, frightened, uneasy, ill-at-ease.
b) She feels this way because she knows that mosquitoes are everywhere and are the cause of malaria a sickness many people suffer from and even die from. Moreover, she knows that is it a country where violence is present that's why she is quite terrified.
a) The main character's mother was an inspiration for her to do something out of the ordinary: "Fi's mother… had been a hero…", "Now it was Fi's turn to do something worthwhile."
b) Fi's admiration for her mother has pushed her to identify with her mother who raised her four children on her own, that's why Fi wants to do something which is unusual.
8. The play on words "Nai-robbery" means that: the crime rate in Nairobi is very high.
a) In "Fi felt connected to them in many ways…", the pronoun them refers to Chris and Devi.
b) As Chris and Devi perfectly know that the country is dangerous and that Fi is going to put her life at risk, they do not agree with her decision to go to Kenya. In addition, they think fighting illiteracy there is not the main issue since for them people in Kenya are much more interested in food and medicine.
10. To refute their arguments, first she insists on the fact that she won't be in Nairobi but in Garissa, a town which is less violent than the capital, then she mentions that New York City is also a violent city. Eventually, she explains that fighting illiteracy is very important for the country so as to help it improve.
11. "We don't want to down all your wine by ourselves."
"… an Enya CD played low."
"Fi… plopped onto the floor…"
"Devi… sprawled in a long skirt on the couch."
"Chris poured Fi a glass of cabernet…"
"A soft light fell in from the window, dousing the room in a flattering glow and intensifying the sensation that everything around her was diaphanous…"
12. They have decided to meet because Fi is about to leave for Kenya and they all know they won't see each other for quite a while. Chris and Devi have come to help her to pack her things and help her not to forget anything and say good bye.
13. Fi wants to escape from a big city, she wants to change life by forgetting her daily routine. She also wants to find a meaning to her life and feel she does something useful like what her mother did and to bring something to somebody else.
a) Expression personnelle. Respecter la psychologie du personnage et pensez à présenter votre travail sous la forme d'une lettre (en-tête, formule de politesse au début et à la fin). Il s'agit de faire une narration et de donner des exemples de ce qu'elle a fait, de sa découverte du pays, de ses impressions et sentiments.
b) We may wonder if what people in developing countries want is "food and medicine".
This statement seems quite simplistic not to say derogatory.
This is clearly a western point of view or the one of a person who lives in a developed country and it must be explained and clarified.
Needless to say that in the western world food is not a problem and the access to medicine as well. However when we take into account the different social classes, not everyone is able to buy food and to have an easy access to medicine due to their economic situation. This is all the truer for people who live in developing countries where the life standard is totally different and where most people live in poverty and lack the bare necessities such as clean water, food and health care.
Developed countries can and must help these peoples to meet these basic needs. That is what is the most urgent, but helping them develop and improve their living conditions is also necessary. That's why western countries must share their technologies as well in order to enable them attain self-sufficiency through economic growth. Thanks to their development they will depend less on international aid and will be able to develop their agriculture and industry and as a consequence education and their medical system will also develop. With development employment will improve as well as the living conditions and people will be able to send their children to school, to provide for their family and to afford the medical care and the medicine they need.
That's why giving food and medicine is necessary but it is only the first step to improve people's lives and to help them develop.
2. Needless to say that combining idealism with a professional career seems quite difficult at first sight. I believe idealistic people passionately want to do what is good, want to provide services to others that represent quality, want to seek out what is best for themselves and the others. They want to feel that they are useful and want to improve people's lives in one way or another.
When you look for a job even though you have ideals you can't necessarily find one which will enable you to develop these ideals. Let's take the mere example of workers or employees. It seems obvious that these people have no choice but to put their ideals aside when they are at work.
However, I think there are jobs which allow people to combine idealism and career, but these jobs are not a majority. This combination is only possible in some fields such as journalism, politics and charities.
The best example is maybe the one of politicians who have an ideal and who devote their career and life to try to achieve it. The career of a politician might be connected to his ideal and it seems quite impossible to become a politician without any ideal.
To some extent, journalists may also combine idealism and a professional career when they work for a newspaper which is clearly in favour of a political idealism.
Other people, like those who work for charities are also able to attain that combination since they have chosen to do that kind of job because they clearly believe in idealism. If we look at the past, we may see that people were also able to combine idealism and a career.
Famous people like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Ghandi have clearly achieved that combination successfully, but Lenin is an example of a failed combination since the revolution and government of the country turned into dictatorship.
The French doctor's non-governmental organisation is also another example of people who live up to their ideal and lead a professional career.