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Peace Corps Writers November 2001
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Peace Corps Writers November 2001
A Worthy Nominee
The effort to secure a suitable director of the Peace Corps and not Gaddi Vasquez continues. The Committee for the Future of the Peace Corps presented their objections to the nomination of Mr. Vasquez on Wednesday, November 14, 2001at a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Committee will meet to discuss and vote on the nomination during the first week of December. For those who could not attend the hearing, we have including in this issue our side of the discussion.
Peace Corps readings are still happening
The celebration of the Peace Corps 40th anniversary continues with readings by published Peace Corps writers in cities across America.
Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 199193) read at the Beaumont Branch of the Lexington Public Library on November 12 in Lexington, Kentucky. Thanks to efforts by Angene Wilson (Liberia 196264), the Lexington libraries dubbed November Peace Corps Month, are highlighting RPCV writings, and have made Peace Corps recruiting materials available our Third Goal work continues.
Mark also read at Sunnyside, Washington Irvings historic home in Tarrytown, New York, on October 24. This was the second reading done by Peace Corps writers for The Hudson Valley Writers Center there.
One of Peace Corps Writers most active supporters, author and book publisher Geraldine Kennedy (Liberia 196264), has organized three readings in California. The most recent was in Santa Monica at the end of September. At that reading, Lawrence Grobel (Ghana 196871), who has written a number of books and done celebrity interviews for Playboy, told the audience, I owe my career to my experiences in the Peace Corps. The books Ive done are with people like John Huston, James A. Michener, Marlon Brando, Truman Capote, Oliver Stone, Saul Bellow, Alex Haley, and others, all of whom had this in common: they were and are interested in the world around us. What I had to bring to them were my stories, the three years I spent in Ghana, traveling around Africa: stories about visits with fetish priestesses, with people who spoke of ghosts, with getting locked in the dungeon of a former slave fortress, with dancing to the beat of a different drum. My stories allowed me to entertain these people, and they in turn were willing to open up and tell me their stories.
More in this issue . . .
We Are All Sisters
Tanya Elders (Malawi199799) is undertaking a project that is very dear to her heart, and one that is worthy of us all. It is a website called We Are All Sisters that features stories about women in every country where Peace Corps Volunteers serve or have served. This website is completely nonprofit and is built and maintained with donated manpower. Tanyas goal is to launch this website by March 8, 2002 International Womens Day. We Are All Sisters would serve as a place where women in developed countries could learn about women in developing countries, where they could experience a piece of another womans life and perhaps find relatedness in their lives. We tell you how you can participate.
Hearts & Minds
Peace Corps Volunteers serve for two years, and when they leave their assignment, they take with them part of the country of their service. For many, a day doesnt pass where their host country doesnt come back to them in odd ways. The late novelist and short story writer Maria Thomas, who served in Ethiopia, once wrote, If you ask people who ever lived in Ethiopia, they tell you that you never put it behind you.
The same is true for Tom Gouttierre, and his country, Afghanistan. He has never put Afghanistan behind him. Tom went as a PCV to Kabul in 1965 to teach English and stayed for ten years as a Volunteer, a Fulbright Fellow, and finally, as the Executive Director of the Fulbright Foundation. He came home to set up the first (and only) Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Today, after more than 37 years, he is a leading expert on Afghanistan and the region. Lately he has appeared on CNN, C-Span, and NPR Radio and has written about the country in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Time Magazine. We spoke to Tom in early November about his Peace Corps experience, Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, and the war that is raging.
We also have much more in this issue. Please read on . . .
The case against . . .
The Committee for the Future of the Peace Corps urges the United States Senate to reject President Bushs nomination of Mr. Gaddi Vasquez to be the next Director.
The record of Gaddi Vasquez:
- Vasquez was disgraced as an Orange County, California, Supervisor after the county went bankrupt in December 1994. It had lost $1.7 billion, the largest governmental bankruptcy in US history. In a scathing report (January 24, 1996 - release 36761), the SEC concluded with this reprimand of the Board of Supervisors: The Board members did not fulfill their obligations under the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws.
- Vasquez resigned under pressure prior to a recall vote in 1996. California Govenor Pete Wilson expressed dismay and declared that the Orange Coounty Board of Supervisors has abdicated its leadership role. (LA Times, Aug 17, 1995.)
- Vasquez opposed HIV training to country employees at the height of this epidemic.
The prior experience of Gaddi Vasquez:
Currently, Gaddi Vasquez heads the public affairs department for Southern California Edison Company. Previously, he served in several low-level roles in the administration of California Govenor George Deukmejian before becoming his deputy appointments secretary. In 1988, the governor appointed him to the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
In summary, his qualifications for the Peace Corp show:
- No management experience running a large agency or institution.
- No international experience.
- No academic expertise in international relations or development.
- No demonstrated ability at fiscal management.
The Los Angeles Times stated (8/20/2001):
Vasquez proved to be a timid public official, the antithesis of what a Peace Corps Director should be . . . . The bankruptcy occurred on his watch, and he along with his colleagues had been asleep at the switch. That doesnt inspire much confidence in his ability to lead in the international arena or run a large bureaucracy.
The Peace Corps after September 11
- More than ever, the Peace Corps needs a dynamic, qualified leader to deal with critical problems around the world:
- In the dozens of Islamic nations, where Volunteers represent the face of America.
- In dealing with HIV in Africa and Asia (where Volunteers are required to have training in HIV prevention.)
- In the face of world terrorism, the 7,000 Peace Corps Volunteers in 71 countries will need inspired leadership at the top to deal with new challenges.
For these reason, former Peace Corps Directors Sargent Shriver (196266), a Democrat, and Jack Hood Vaughn, (196669), a Republican, oppose the Vasquez nomination.
The Committee for the Future of the Peace Corps is a group of concerned Americans including former Peace Corps Directors, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, former Peace Corps Staff members, and foreign policy experts in the foreign affairs, public policy and public service arenas. For more information contact: Barbara Ferris at 202-530-0563 or John Coyne at 914-654-5281.
The SEC Report and Gaddi Vasquez
A Public Rebuke
In December 1994, Orange County revealed it had lost $1.7 billion dollars and filed for bankruptcy. It was the largest governmental bankruptcy in the history of the United States. The cause a case of risky investment gone bad, and with no oversight by the Board of County Supervisors.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) laid the responsibility for Orange Countys fiscal disaster directly at the feet of the Board of Supervisors. In its report of January 24, 1996 (Release 36761), the SEC stated, in part:
Public officials have ultimate authority to approve the issuance of securities and related disclosure documents . . . have responsibilities under the Federal securities laws as well. A public official may not authorize disclosure that the official knows to be false. Nor may an official authorize disclosure that may be misleading. When a public official has knowledge of facts bringing into question to issuers ability to repay the securities, it is reckless for that official to approve disclosure to investors without taking steps appropriate to prevent the dissemination of false or misleading information regarding facts. This would include questioning officials and becoming familiar with the documents.
The report concluded:
The supervisors approved official statements that among other things, failed to disclose certain material information about Orange Countys financial condition that brought into question the Countys ability to repay its securities absent significant interest income from the County Pools (Pools were operated as an investment fund managed by Orange County in which the County invested.)
. . .
Furthermore, the supervisors were aware of material information concerning Orange Countys financial condition that called into question the countys ability to repay its securities. Nevertheless, the Supervisors failed to take appropriate steps to assure disclosure of these facts. The Board members did not fulfill their obligations under the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws.
The Reaction to the Boards Failure:
- SEC Chairman Arthur Leavitt Jr. suggested that voters throw out any politicians who placed the publics savings in such speculative investments. (LA Times12/29/94)
- California Govenor Pete Wilson expressed dismay and declared that the Orange County Board of Supervisors has abdicated its leadership role. (LA Times, Aug 17, 1995.)
Testimony of Jack Hook Vaughn
former Director, The Peace Corps
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia (Retired)
before the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate
November 14, 2001
The confirmation hearings of the nominee for Director of the Peace Corps
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen of this distinguished Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today representing the Committee for the Future of the Peace Corps. We are grateful to the Committees positive response to our unprecedented request to have our voices heard the voices of the Peace Corps Family. The Committee is made up of thousands of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, former staff, concerned citizens, friends and their families from across the country and around the world who have come together to form this distinguished Committee to oppose the nomination of Gaddi Vasquez as director of the Peace Corps because he does not posses the qualifications, leadership tools or the demonstrated financial management skills to head a large federal agency. We are a non-partisan group representing the Peace Corps family.
With me today are John Coyne, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Ethiopia I, 6264, and editor of PeaceCorpsWriters.org; Barbara Ferris, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Morocco 8082, who served as the Women in Development Coordinator for the Peace Corps and most recently, as chair of the 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Peace Corps; and Hugh Pickens, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Peru 7273 and publisher of PeaceCorpsOnline.org. And behind us are just a small percentage of the thousands of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, former staff, recently evacuated Volunteers from Uzbekistan and Tajikstan and others who are part of the Committee for the Future of the Peace Corps and who share my disappointment and sadness in President Bushs decision to nominate a clearly unqualified individual to be Director of the Peace Corps.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has had, through the centuries, the responsibility of deciding weighty questions related to Americas place in the world and its relationship to its neighbors, friends and adversaries around the globe.
Todays discussion is no different. Whether to confirm a Presidents nominee as Director of the Peace Corps is among the most important decisions this Committee can make.
As a former Director of the Peace Corps and retired Ambassador to Colombia under President Nixon, and as someone who was fortunate enough to be at the creation of what many people believe to be one of the finest example of Americas foreign policies, I want to voice my grave concern to you about President Bushs nominee to be the new Director of the Peace Corps, Gaddi Vasquez.
Today, the mission of the Peace Corps is more urgent than ever, and more difficult. The new Peace Corps Director must possess a depth of knowledge about the democratic and economic transitions in the countries where Volunteers serve. The director is the key person, not only repositioning the Peace Corps to play new roles in the transitions underway in country after country, but in inspiring Volunteers and staff to the maximum effort. It is in this context that the President and this Committee need to work together in identifying and confirming the best possible leadership for the Peace Corps. This nomination is incompatible with a forward vision of the Peace Corps.
These are the qualities along with the stature to inspire confidence inside the U.S. and around the world that President Bush must insist on in the person who will direct the Peace Corps in the age of terrorism. The President has chosen wisely an experienced team of leaders in the Vice President, Secretary Powell, Advisor Rice, to meet the current foreign policy challenges of our nation. Why not a demonstrated leader of equal caliber, experience, skill and intelligence for the critical role of Peace Corps Director?
Volunteers dedicated to peaceful change are vital in any effort to improve both the appearance and substance of U.S. involvement overseas. All they need is an experienced and knowledgeable Director, someone with both the skills and experience combined with the commitment they bring to each country to promoting peace in the world.
Peace Corps Volunteers should be on the vanguard of the rebuilding and reconstruction of Afghanistan once stability comes. More than 1,800 Americans have served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Afghanistan and who continue to live and work the third goal of Peace Corps to bring the world back home. Every Peace Corps Volunteer and staff member who served there knows we were popular there. Let me share with you an excerpt from an article in the October 4th edition of The New Jersey Record:
Peace Corps, aid can defuse terrorism, ex-envoy say
To truly win a war against terrorism, the Bush administration should beef up the Peace Corps and launch a new version of Americas post-World War II policy that rebuilt shattered Europe and Japan.
Thats the advice a retired Pakistani diplomat offered at a Caldwell College forum two weeks ago as he explained how stressed Third World societies can produce murderous hatred . . . . Along the same lines, he said, America is widely admired in the Third World for the work of the Peace Corps Volunteers. That agencys assistance to people at the village and neighborhood level should be greatly expanded, he recommended.
This statement, it should be noted, is from a former Pakistani diplomat. And he is not alone. Walter Cronkite, in response to David Lettermans question of What can we do? just after the September 11 attacks, answered, Join the Peace Corps!
I believe the Peace Corps needs a Director of stature with a demonstrated record of sound personnel and fiscal management combined with competent leadership. There are over 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers living and working in 71 countries with a budget of over $265 million dollars. The Director must bring to the agency the fiscal management experience necessary to run a large organization along with an acute understanding of global affairs.
Unfortunately, Mr. Vasquez is not that person.
- He has no international experience. He has not had the opportunity to gain any significant international experience of noted accomplishments in either the public or the private sector. The totality of his international experience was as an election observer in Armenia. Observer is not a management or decision making role.
- He has not demonstrated financial management capabilitieshe oversaw the largest bankruptcy this country has ever seen costing taxpayers of Orange County $1.7 billion. As Supervisor of Orange County, CA, he was responsible for the financial ruin of one of our countrys most affluent communities. His financial improprieties disqualify him even for consideration as a Peace Corps Volunteerhow in the world then can such a person be put in charge of this complex organization?
The Securities and Exchange Commission Report of January 24, 1994 states:
In this case, the Supervisors approved Official Statements that, among other things, failed to disclose certain materials information about Orange Countys financial condition that brought into question the Countys ability to repay its securities absent significant interest income form the County Pools. The Supervisors were aware of material information concerning Orange Countys financial condition; this information called into question the Countys ability to repay its securities. Nevertheless, the Supervisors failed to take appropriate steps to assure disclosure of these facts. In light of these circumstance, the Board members did not fulfill their obligation under the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws in authorizing the issuance of the municipal securities and related disclosure documents.
Mr. Vasquez resigned from the Orange County Board of Supervisors after a recall effort was initiated in 1995 and after Orange County filed for bankruptcy costing local taxpayers $1.7 billion dollars and leading to the indictment of two of his colleagues.
In addition, during his tenure on the Board of Supervisors, Mr. Vasquez voted against allowing individuals with HIV/AIDS to gain access to public housing. As Peace Corps Director, Mr. Vasquez would be in charge of one of the worlds largest international AIDS education programs.
Mr. Chairman, we are aware that several groups have declared their support for Mr. Vasquez nomination, but we hold such support suspect in light of Mr. Vasquez record. We wonder if these backers would be so exceedingly generous with their support if Mr. Vasquez were being considered to head their organizations. We also doubt if any of these organizations or each congressional office has a budget of $265 million a year to manage?
We recognize President Bushs right to nominate a candidate of his choosing to head the Peace Corps and we applaud him for recognizing the need to include Hispanic Americans among his appointees. But we ask that an alternative to Mr. Vasquez be nominated for Peace Corps director and we ask that the nominee have the same stature and credentials as the Presidents foreign policy team now in place.
One week ago, President Bush called upon all Americans to come to the service of our nation. I can assure you, Senators, based on my years in international service, that all Americans are willing to serve their country. Many are eager to join the Peace Corps and serve overseas in the Peace Corps.
Give the Peace Corps a leader with the vision of a Sargent Shriver, give them a leader with the compassion of a Loret Miller Ruppe, give them a leader with the fiscal background of a Paul Coverdell, and they will receive the direction and support to continue the good work with the same skills and talents and dedication of the over 162,000 Volunteers who have already served our country without pay, without fanfare, and without regret in over 135 countries of the world.
Again, who has done more than Peace Corps Volunteers to promote global peace by fighting poverty, ignorance and disease? As Loret Miller Ruppe often said, Peace isnt the absence of war it is the absence of the conditions that cause war poverty, hunger and disease.
As a Republican who has served his Party and his County equally, it pains me to no end to sit here before you today in opposition to a fellow Republican nominated by a Republican President.
This is neither the place nor the time for on-the-job training in exchange for a $100,000 political party contribution. This is the time for a director of the Peace Corps to bring significant international and fiscal management experience and who can rally the good will and desire of a new generation of young people, and others, including, men and women like myself who are willing to do something for their country.
In the aftermath of September 11, everything in American life has changed. What has not altered is the basic mission of the Peace Corps, but the Peace Corps will have a forward vision. For 40 years, 162,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have given 300,000 years of service and used their skills and training in over 135 countries speaking 330 languages to promote development and seek understanding in the world. Then they bring the world back hometo teach Americans what it means to cross cultures in the name of peace.
From deep personal experience as the second director of the Peace Corps, I can promise you, the Senate, and the president that if he were to say to this so-called Nine-Eleven Generation, America needs 20,000 young people to join the Peace Corps today, with 500 going to Afghanistan after rigorous selection and training, that the White House Mail Room could not handle the volume of mail it would receive.
It must be hard being young today. The Peace Corps, and, more importantly, Peace Corps Volunteers proudly serving our country overseas, deserve a director worthy of a their commitment to Toughest Job you Will ever Love!
FINALLY, again, I urge you to vote against Mr. Vasquez for director of the Peace Corps based on his lack of demonstrated financial management ability, his lack of foreign policy involvement, and his lack of large-agency management experience.
We, The Committee for the Future of the Peace Corps, again thank you for the unprecedented opportunity to testify here today. We want to assure you that we will continue to mobilize thousands of people in the Peace Corps family who are concerned about the future of this agency. We will work cooperatively and in the volunteer spirit with whoever is finally confirmed as agency director. But Peace Corps Volunteers and America as a whole deserve a skilled and experienced director of equal caliber to the Presidents foreign policy team than Gaddi Vasquez in this time of international crisis, economic challenge, and global opportunity. Thank you.
Wednesday, November 14, 2001
Hearings for Nominee for Peace Corps Director
by Barbara Ferris (Morocco 198082)
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I thank you for the opportunity to be here today to congratulate Jody Olsen as the Deputy Director and to testify in opposition of Gaddi Vasquez as the nominee for Peace Corps director on behalf of nearly 15,000 people who have joined me on The Committee for the Future of the Peace Corps.
I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Morocco; I served as the Women in Development Coordinator for the Peace Corps for five years and I chaired the 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Peace Corps where our nation recognized the contributions of 162,000 Volunteers, who gave 300,000 years of service in 130 nations, speaking 330 languages. As a result of my Peace Corps experience, I established the International Womens Democracy Center (www.iwdc.org), an international non-governmental organization which trains women leaders outside the United States how to run for elected office, how to lobby their legislators, and how to advocate for issues central to their communities. For the past 20 years, I have worked on a wide range of public and international policy and economic development programs to empower women in over 100 countries.
President Bush has surrounded himself with a skilled, experienced foreign policy team in Vice President Cheney, Secretary Powell, NSA Rice, Secretary Rumsfeld, Administrator Natsios and many others. We are deeply disappointed and saddened that The Peace Corps, which is our nations best and most respected goodwill ambassador for forty years, was not given this same skilled and experienced consideration for leadership. In a time when the United States is challenged as never before, the Peace Corps needs a leader of stature with a significant record of achievement, a demonstrated track record in financial management and an unblemished record of public service. This nominee possesses none of those qualities.
The Peace Corps will be on the vanguard of reconstruction and rebuilding in Afghanistan once the country stabilizes. As we know, the Peace Corps has the capacity to place a Volunteer on the ground within six months of a request from country. Of the more than 1,800 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Afghanistan, only one who directs the Afghan American Center in Omaha has been called upon by our government during this time of international crisis. More importantly, the Friends of Afghanistan, a group of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have served that country and their friends, have supported a wide range of small scale projects for the past 10 years in the country they called home for two years.
Unlike any other federal agency of the government, the Peace Corps has enjoyed 40 consecutive years of bi-partisan support from Congress. No other federal agency can claim a family as diverse, as opinionated nor as committed to the 3 goals of the Peace Corps helping people help themselves; having people from other cultures get to know Americans; and bringing the world back home. The Peace Corps has 7,200 Volunteers in 71 nations with 450 staff and an annual budget of $265 million the agency must have skilled leadership to navigate its journey in our changed world.
In six weeks, nearly 15,000 of us mobilized across the country and around the world through faxes, emails and phone calls to raise our voices in opposition its not personal its just that the world as we knew it has changed since September 11 and Peace Corps needs an experienced leader with the depth of knowledge of our intricate relationships with 71 other nations and the demonstrated financial management skills to make split-second decisions which will impact many lives not one who has to spend a year doing on the job training. In this hearing room are not high paid lobbyists, but a diverse group of Americans including those recently evacuated from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan whose experiences around the world have transformed us, but more importantly, have made us acutely aware of what it takes to truly lead the Peace Corps.
The opposition to Gaddi Vasquez is based on his lack of demonstrated financial management skills and his lack of significant international experience combined with the January 24, 1994 Securities and Exchange Commission Report of the Investigation into the Matter of the County of Orange, California as it relates to the conduct of the Members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, which states,
Public entities that issue securities are primarily liable for the content of their disclosure documents and are subject to the proscriptions under the federal securities laws against false and misleading information in their disclosure documents. In addition to the governmental entity issuing municipal securities, public officials of the issuer who have ultimate authority to approve the issuance of securities and related disclosure document have responsibilities under the federal securities laws as well. In authorizing the issuance of securities and related disclosure documents, a public official may not authorize disclosure that the official knows to be false; nor may a public official authorize disclosure while recklessly disregarding facts that indicate that there is a risk that he disclosure may be misleading. When, for example, a public official has knowledge of facts bringing into question the issuers ability to repay the securities, it is reckless for that official to approve disclosure to investors without taking steps appropriate under the circumstances to prevent the dissemination of materially false or misleading information regarding those facts. In this matter, such steps could have included becoming familiar with the disclosure documents and questioning the issuers officials, employees or other agents about the disclosure of those facts.
The Supervisors approved official statements that failed to disclose certain material information about Orange Countys financial condition that brought into question the Countys ability to repay its securities absent significant interest income from the County Pools. The Supervisors were aware of material information concerning Orange Countys financial condition; this information called into question the Countys ability to repay its securities. Nevertheless, the Supervisory failed to take appropriate steps to assure disclosure of these facts. In light of these circumstances, the board members did not fulfill their obligation under the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws in authorizing the issuance of the municipal securities and related disclosure documents.
Mr. Vasquez resigned from the Orange County Board of Supervisors after Orange County filed for bankruptcy costing taxpayers $1.7 billion dollars and a recall effort was initiated which led to the indictment of two of Vasquezs colleagues.
In addition, in 1989 during his tenure, Gaddi Vasquez voted with the majority of a bitterly divided Board against a measure that would have barred discrimination against people with AIDS in employment, education and housing. In January 1992, a broader measure was brought before the Board that would bar discrimination business, employment, education and housing against those infected with HIV and AIDS sufferers or those perceived to be infected. Explaining his unchanged position, Vasquez was quoted in the LA Times as saying, There are already laws on the federal books and nothings changed as far as Im concerned. As you know, thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers going to Africa are now trained in HIV/AIDS education and prevention.
Our nation is built on Rule of Law and it is the essence of a functioning democracy. Our government puts millions of dollars into programs in emerging democracies around the world to help people build their civil society and each and every one of us in this room know that the concept of Rule of Law is the foundation of a flourishing democracy. In my work around the world with IWDC, as I help women leaders build their own democracies, the concept of Rule of Law presents an enormous challenge to building civil society as many people are used to solving problems with violence. In our unprecedented request to testify here today in opposition of Gaddi Vasquez for director of the Peace Corps, we have exercised the basic freedoms that ensure we continue to flourish as a democracy that many around the world strive for. Vasquez failed to do his job as required by the law and he failed to disclose information as required by federal antitrust law. I believe that we must give serious consideration to the Rule of Law and the example we would give to leaders of emerging democracies with a leader who has failed to abide by the law.
Finally, this past Sunday, one of our baseball heroes, Mark McGuire announced that he would not sign the $30 million dollar contract because he does not have the skills necessary to support his organization or his fans. This move has been hailed as one of extraordinary leadership. It is our hope that Gaddi Vasquez will demonstrate similar leadership and step aside as nominee for director of the Peace Corps.
On behalf of The Committee for the Future of the Peace Corps, I want to thank the committee for the opportunity to have our voices heard today.
November 14, 2001
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
In October of 1960 when John F. Kennedy was campaigning for the presidency, he spoke after midnight on the campus of the University of Michigan and introduced the idea of a Peace Corps.
I was one of the first students to be swept up by his challenge to go to Asia, Africa, or Latin America and contribute a few years to my country. I had never thought of leaving the U.S. before. I would never even have thought of leaving my hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Now I wanted to be part of the New Frontier. I wanted to do something for my country.
In the summer of 1962, I went to Washington to train with the first group of Volunteers to Ethiopia. Towards the end of our session we went to meet President Kennedy in the Rose Garden. Leading us was Harris Wofford, then Country Director for Ethiopia and later, as you know, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. Also in our group was another young Volunteer like myself, the late senator from Massachusetts, Paul Tsongas.
On our first night of training, all of the Ethiopia Volunteers went en masse for a long walk on the C&O Canal. Leading us was Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas who had recently saved the canal by having it designated a historic monument. At the end of the two miles, we stopped for hot dogs, beer, and an impromptu talk from a lanky kid named John D. Rockefeller IV. I am not sure if Senator Rockefeller remembers that evening or not, but he was just back from studying in Asia and was working at the Peace Corps headquarters with Sargent Shriver.
Later, on the White House lawn, President Kennedy told us, I hope that you will regard this Peace Corps tour as the first installment in a long life of service, as the most exciting career in the most exciting time, and that is serving this country in the sixties and the seventies.
Well, here it is the 21st-century, and those of us who served are still fulfilling the Third Goal of the Peace Corps: to bring the world back home, by promoting understanding and cooperation around the world, and by continuing our commitment to global peace by supporting the Peace Corps. In 40 years of service in the developing nations of the world, the Peace Corps has come to represent the best that America has to offer the world. It is also one of Americas best bridges of friendship to the peoples of the world, a mission that is more critical today than it ever has been.
The Peace Corps is more important than ever, but the job of Volunteer is much tougher. In the 1960s, my group of Peace Corps teachers was cheerfully welcomed on the streets of Ethiopias capital, Addis Ababa. Now, a Volunteer in almost any part of the developing world will immediately encounter some form of anti-American hostility, if not outright menace. Being a Volunteer today in this time of terrorism requires excellent training and a director who is highly experienced in international affairs and diplomacy. Volunteers who serve in Central Asia, in Jordan, in the many nations of the world where Islam is the faith of the majority, need to know that decisions about their safety are being made by a director who is familiar with conditions and beliefs in the developing world.
Parents and taxpayers, too need to know that the Peace Corpss leader is someone who understands the world, not someone like Gaddi Vasquez who has already proven himself incapable of running even a county in California. How, with that track record, can any of us trust that he will direct an agency with a budget of over 265 million dollars?
While we have had only 170,000 people who have served overseas, we have touched the lives of individuals in over 135 countries, we have made lifelong friends, and we have, to an amazing degree, changed the global perception of America by living among the peoples of the world. We have come home again and in our daily lives, within our extended families, and within our communities, we have taught Americans about the world. Our impact has been subtle but significant. Sargent Shriver once said that the real impact of the Peace Corps would come when Volunteers became parents. Their experiences in the Peace Corps would influence how they raised their children. That is certainly true. In 2002, over 10% of the Volunteers serving overseas will be the children of that first generation of young people, those Kennedy kids who responded to the presidents call to do something for their country.
Today, all over America, young people are facing the age of terrorism and asking what they can do for their country. Today, the mission of the Peace Corps is more urgent than ever, and more difficult. To carry out this mission, the Peace Corps needs a visionary leader with international experience, superior judgment, idealism and ideas.
President Bush has surrounded himself with an extraordinarily experienced team to meet the current foreign policy crisis. We need someone of equal caliber, of international experience, skill, and intelligence, for the critical role of Peace Corps Director.
Thank you for your time and attention to this statement from a concerned former Peace Corps Volunteer.
John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962-64)
Presented by Hugh Pickens, Publisher, Peace Corps Online
November 14, 2001
Thank you Mr. Chairman for the opportunity to be here today to state my opposition to Gaddi Vasquez for the position of Peace Corps Director.
My name is Hugh Pickens and I am the Publisher of Peace Corps Online, an online News Forum and monthly email newletter that serves over 7,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Peace Corps Online opposes the confirmation of Gaddi Vasquez as the next Director of the United States Peace Corps.
It is the Presidents prerogative to appoint whom he wants to head the Peace Corps. This is a prerogative that is normally respected by the U.S. Senate in its role to advise and consent. But we believe that the nomination of Gaddi Vasquez is too divisive, too partisan, too ill-advised, and too egregious a failure to understand the nature of the Peace Corps to let it stand without speaking out.
Before we elaborate on the reasons that we oppose Gaddi Vasquez, lets get two things out of the way: Politics and Ethnicity.
The Politics of the Appointment
We are not interested in party politics. Whatever political reasons George W. Bush may have for appointing Mr. Vasquez are irrelevant to us. Whatever purely political reasons Democrats in the Senate may have for opposing him are also irrelevant to us. This News Forum represents Returned Peace Corps Volunteers they are our only constituency. Any position we take is based on what we think is best for the Peace Corps political calculations do not enter into it.
The truth is that the majority of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers would like to see the Director-ship of the Peace Corps become a non-partisan position with support from both parties. We are tired of seeing the Peace Corps become a political football as it was during the recent fight to rename Peace Corps Headquarters. After 40 years of serving America, returned volunteers are sure of one thing there is no Republican way, there is no Democratic way there is only the right way to run the Peace Corps and that is by keeping political agendas out of the Peace Corps and providing it with the best leadership America has to offer.
Mr. Vasquezs Ethnic Background
As we have said before, our opposition to Mr. Vasquezs nomination for Director has nothing to do with his ethnicity. On the contrary, his Hispanic background and Spanish speaking ability can only be seen as a plus for his nomination. But just as it would be wrong for us to base our opposition to his nomination on his ethnicity, it would be equally wrong for volunteers to remain silent based on a fear of being labeled prejudiced.
Why We Oppose Mr. Vasquez
There are three reasons why we do oppose Mr. Vasquezs nomination: we dont think he has the qualifications or background to run the Peace Corps, we dont think he has the moral stature to represent the Peace Corps to the world, and we dont think he has the vision and understanding of the Peace Corps to lead it into the 21st century. Lets take these factors one at a time.
Qualification and Background
We have stated in other forums that Gaddi Vasquez does not have the international experience, the experience working in a humanitarian organization, and the CEO experience to head an agency that has 7,000 volunteers in the field in 70 countries and a budget of $270 million. When you put Mr. Vasquezs experience up against that of former Directors like Sargent Shriver, Jack Vaughn, Joseph Blatchford, Carolyn Payton, Carol Bellamy, or Mark Gearan, he just doesnt measure up.
For example, Nixon appointee Joseph Blatchford came to the Peace Corps after founding and running his own privately financed volunteer organization called Accion which placed over 1,000 volunteers in Latin America. Peace Corps Founding Director Sargent Shriver had a long and distinguished career in business and public service before the Peace Corps. Carol Bellamy was a returned Peace Corps volunteer, worked in the private sector in law and finance, served five years in the New York State Senate, and has since gone on to become Executive Director of UNICEF. There have been other Directors with less sterling resumes but none as meager as that of Mr. Vasquez, and if there were, we would oppose them too.
Some have said that Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are bitter because they want to see one of their own as Director. While there are many distinguished returned volunteers who have long records of public service who would make great Directors, we do not advocate that Peace Corps Directors must be returned volunteers. While we are proud of returned volunteers like Carol Bellamy, Mark Schneider and Charles Baquet III who have led the agency, we recognize that sometimes it is a good idea to bring in outsiders with a fresh perspective. The Peace Corps was built on the idea of remaining non-bureaucratic and re-inventing itself every ten years. Bringing in an outside Director can be a good way to keep the Peace Corps fresh.
This is not the case with Mr. Vasquez who simply lacks the relevant experience to lead the Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps is an organization that was built on a dream. The only things we have to offer America and our Countries of Service are our idealism, our skills, and our hard work. The Peace Corps is supposed to exemplify the best and most noble ideals of America. We expect a lot from our volunteers and we should demand even more of the men and women who lead them.
Mr. Vasquez does not meet the minimum standards of honor and integrity that we expect of any man or woman who seeks to lead the Peace Corps. His role in the Orange County bankruptcy, his failure to take any responsibility for it, his censure by the SEC, and his resignation to avoid a grand jury investigation all combine to create the appearance of someone who has something to hide and thats not the kind of person who can represent the Peace Corps effectively as a spokesman or as a representative before foreign governments.
Its true that he wasnt convicted. Hes innocent until proven guilty. Thats true. But do we really want the standards for a felony indictment to become the minimum qualification for a government position of such high trust and visibility? Richard Nixon and Ollie North werent convicted of anything either would we have wanted either one of them to lead the Peace Corps? We hope not.
And while we are on the subject of government positions, we know that it is customary to reward large campaign contributors with ambassadorships. Gaddi Vasquez made a $106,000 contribution to Bushs campaign. Do we really want to leave the impression that the leadership of the Peace Corps is now up for grabs to the highest bidder? It may not be wrong or illegal, but it looks bad, and its not the image that we want the Peace Corps to project overseas.
Vision and Understanding
Since its founding, every decade has seen new Peace Corps themes and directions: Sargent Shrivers vision for the 60s of education and community development; Joseph Blatchfords vision in the 1970s of new directions and self-reliance; Loret Miller Ruppes vision for the 1980s of rebuilding the agency; and Elaine Chaos vision for the 1990s of crossing the Iron Curtain to help our former adversaries in Eastern Europe and Russia.
Its time for another sea change in Peace Corps philosophy. The Peace Corps is at a crossroads. The next Director will have to rethink how the Peace Corps can best serve a wired world that gets smaller and more inter-dependent every day, and needs to figure out how to effectively channel the enthusiasm and experience of its returned volunteers, many of whom are baby boomers who want to get involved in volunteerism again with the Peace Corps.
Gaddi Vasquez has not shown any indication that he understands the Peace Corps, its mission, or that he has any vision for the Peace Corps beyond using it as a stepping stone to rehabilitate his image. He is not a strategic thinker. We need to see proof that Mr. Vasquez understands the Peace Corps and its future. That proof has not been forthcoming.
The Summing Up
Gaddi Vasquez has major deficiencies in the three areas that matter most. No other nominee in Peace Corps history has come before the Senate with such handicaps. If his only liability was his lack of experience in international affairs and lack of CEO experience running a large organization, most Returned Peace Corps Volunteers would be unhappy with his nomination but probably would be willing to accept him.
If the President nominated a candidate who had no prior history in volunteerism, no understanding of the Peace Corps, and no vision for the future of the agency, most returned volunteers would be dismayed, but would probably still say, Give him a chance.
It is his lack of moral stature and integrity that makes his nomination unacceptable.
One of the three goals that John F. Kennedy articulated for the Peace Corps when it was founded in 1961 was to help promote a better understanding of the American people on the part of the peoples served. That goal is just as valid today as it was 40 years ago.
But what kind of America does the Peace Corps portray to the world if it is led by a man who resigned his last public office in disgrace to avoid a recall campaign by his constituents and a grand jury investigation into charges of misconduct in office?
Returned Volunteers normally do not get involved in electoral politics, trusting that each administration will respect the Peace Corps, its heritage, and its reputation.
This time is the exception. Returned Volunteers should make up their minds and write their senators to express their concerns about the nomination of Gaddi Vasquez.
WHY DOES IT MATTER ANYWAY?
Some RPCVs will say Why does it matter anyway? Hes not the best candidate but they could have picked worse and the staff does all the real work anyway.
It does matter, and Id like to quote from Senator Chris Dodds tribute to the late Loret Miller Ruppe, that he made in a speech on the Floor of the Senate on September 5, 1996, to show why it matters:
Mrs. Ruppe . . . fought battles at home. When President Reagan appointed her in 1981, the Peace Corps budget was rapidly declining and was less than that of the military marching bands. By the end of Mrs. Ruppes tenure she had succeeded in increasing the agencys budget almost 50 percent. In addition to budgetary challenges, Mrs. Ruppe gave the agency a political facelift by projecting the agency as non- partisan, despite the fact that she herself was a political appointee, and increasing its viability on both national and local levels. As she noted We took Peace Corps out of the pit of politics and made it non-partisan. It must always signify Americans pulling together for peace. As a result of her efforts, Mrs. Ruppe was respected and admired by Democrats and Republicans alike. In terms of national visibility, she brought much needed congressional and executive level attention to the Peace Corps. Prior to her leadership the organization was nicknamed `the corpse and many believed its end was near. Under her command however, the organization was revitalized and its future secured. On a local level, she worked hard to increase young Americans interest in participating in the program. By 1989, she had raised the number of volunteers by 20 percent.
The direction, funding and morale of any organization is often the direct result of the one at the top. The leadership sets the tone. You can have the finest staff in the world but their work will be nullified by bad leadership. The Peace Corps is at a crucial juncture. It will require the best leadership that America has to offer to adapt to a new direction for the new century. It requires a leader with vision and understanding, unblemished integrity, and the background, skills, and experience to effectively deal with the problems the Peace Corps will face.
Gaddi Vasquez is not that man.
A Writer Writes
by Thor Hanson (Uganda 199395)
Very simple: let the sky draw itself closed,
taking with it the hills, the fence post, the object
of desire. Write our names in ash on the hearth
and the fire will burn all night. I too have spent time
alone, rubbing the shine from stars and raking
the beach until a single shell is left, bone white
and dropped like a wish. There is no moon tonight and the shore
is mostly memory, an understatement of waves and tree,
black rocks in spindrift armor, where a kelp-stranded crab trap
shares the reef with herons, a gull, and the skin from last
Weve both lost seasons to solitude, our memories yellowed
like settlers in an old photo, hands crossed, faces just as stern
and mouths so full of loathing. Theyre gone now, like summer
wings and water signs, or places safe from healing. Ive grouped
everything in threes and traced the ground beneath me with
ancient sand and order: a silent forest of reasons,
trunk upon trunk. Finally, the skies find a new idea for
weather: cold, wet fog in the morning and trees no more than
On Cascade Lake two teals take flight to mark my passing,
females, wood-hued like the man I met from Pakistan
whod lost his wife and told me: One day I will be brilliant.
Im studying to know your father. He made no sense
but led me to believe him with nods and assurance,
a gaze made sad by the yearn of his twice-forgotten eyes.
Its true: the world remembers winter
the same way darkness comes for my eyes
on nights I fight to sleep, a winding cloth of cotton
flecked with the silver fire I cling to
like the windborne spray of shattered waves,
so brief, so futile, so soon to be blamed for failing.
Finally won the 2001 Joy Bale Boone Poetry Prize awarded by Wind Magazine.
Thor Hanson is a writer and naturalist from the Pacific Northwest. After the Peace Corps he lived and studied in Kenya and Tanzania. Hanson s articles on travel and natural history appear regularly in periodicals and newspapers, and his poems have been featured in Dog River Review.
Hanson is the author of The Impenetrable Forests, a memoir of his work with Ugandas endangered mountain gorillas, and he contributed to the forthcoming Wilderness Comes Home: Rewilding the Northeast. Hanson studied ecology and writing at the University of Redlands and received his Masters degree from the University of Vermonts Field Naturalist Program.
Talking with . . .
An interview by John Coyne (Ethiopia 196264)
ONE OF THE PEOPLE to whom the news media and Congress have turned since September 11, 2001, is Tom Gouttierre (Afghanistan 196567). Gouttierre is director of the nations unique Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Nebraska.
For 37 years he has lived, worked, and studied Afghanistan as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kabul, as a Fulbright Fellow, and then as Executive Director of the Fulbright Foundation in Afghanistan. Gouttierre has made presentations on aspects of the war in Afghanistan, on US-Pakistani Relations, on International Terrorism, and on Human Rights in hearings before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the US House of Representatives Committee on International Relations. He has been invited to present his views on Afghanistan and human rights issues in hearings before committees of the British Parliament, the French National Assembly, the Norwegian Storting, and the UN Select Committee on Human Rights. Since 1986, Gouttierre has served as the American specialist on Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and South Asia at the meetings of the US - Russian (formerly Soviet) Task Force (the Dartmouth Conference) on Regional Conflicts.
Gouttierre speaks, reads and writes Afghan Persian (Dari), Iranian Persian (Farsi), and Tajiki Persian (Tajiki), and has published numerous articles about Afghanistan society, culture, and politics. He is the co-author of a two-volume language textbook (Dari for Foreigners); original Dari poetry, and had translated Persian poetry. Today he serves as the Dean of International Studies and Programs at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and as the Director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
We spoke to Tom recently by phone about his Peace Corps experience, Osama bin Laden, and Afghanistan today.
Did you go into the Peace Corps from directly from college?
Yes. I was raised in Maumee, Ohio, and worked in my Dads pastry shop. I got my Master Baking Certificate when I was 18, but I had never been anyway from Maumee until I went to Bowling Green State University. The college was 13 miles from Maumee and I never saw it before starting school. The first plane I flew on was when I went to Peace Corps training.
Where were you at a PCV in Afghanistan and what was your job?
My wife, Mary, and I taught in Kabul. I taught English in a secondary school and also coached basketball. I was, in fact, the first male to be approved to coach girls. I also established the first high school girls league. We had four teams. And I coached the boys as well.
In the ten years that I lived in Kabul, I also coached the Afghan National Basketball Team. This was during the time I was director of the Fulbright Foundation in Afghanistan.
From your experiences in the region, where do you think the U.S. went wrong with Afghanistan? How did we get to where we are today?
After the cold war, the U.S. dropped Afghanistan. We were no longer involved in the events of the country. We could have led the Afghan people to reconstruct their social structure, social fabric, infrastructure, and economy. It was a country that needed a Marshall Plan of reconstruction, because it looked very much like the financial district in New York City today, or Berlin after World War II. It had lost millions of people, and almost all of its trained talent.
What about the region? Where have we gone wrong there?
We have not had a good long-term policy relating to Central Asia, South Asia, and Afghanistan. Our government didnt understand how to effectively work with the competing Afghan resistance parties after the Russians left. The last time we had a real policy concerning Afghanistan was under former Secretary of State George Schultz. James Baker did not have one, nor did Warren Christopher, nor did Madeleine Albright. I was waiting to see if Colin Powell would have one, but all thats been pre-empted. Now we have a policy, but its been forced upon us by war.
What did the Afghans want?
A lot of them would have been happy to see the removal of the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, and the Pakistanis from their country. The Taliban does not represent the average Afghan. If we have to go into Afghanistan, we need to remember that there are many there who would like to cooperate with us, with whom we could work in the future, so that we could help preclude a repetition of these circumstances.
How do we do that?
The key is an aggregate working with the UN and by working directly with the Afghans. Working towards reconstruction. If we dont, well face the same problems there, as well as, in Pakistan.
We need more people-to-people involvement. We need more of the kind of work done by Peace Corps Volunteers and Fulbright scholars. You listen to the media and everyone is asking, why do they hate us? Well, they hate us because 30 years ago we stopped communicating with them. We pulled out of their lives and their country.
Do you think that former PCVs from Afghanistan have anything to
Contribute to understanding the country?
Of course. The Third Goal. No one in this country understands the positive aspects of the Afghan culture. Afghanistan is a beautiful country with a rich culture, but you dont see that today. Former Volunteers can put a face on the Afghans.
What was Afghanistan like when you were living there as a PCV?
It was a very different country. Women were not wearing a veil. There were actually more women in college than men. There were women in the government, women as cabinet ministers. Women were equal. Also it was a time when everyone went to movies, went out dancing. There was no religious or gender concentration. Afghanistan was a joyful place.
Have you ever seen bin Laden?
No, but I saw his compound in Kandahar, and I once saw his motorcade. I have maps in my office of his training camps in Afghanistan.
When was it that you saw his motorcade?
I spent several months studying him for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in 1996 and 97. At the time I used my sources to confirm for then-U.N. Secretary General Boutros Bourtros-Ghali that bin Laden had indeed returned to Afghanistan after leaving Sudan.
Could the Taliban throw bin Laden out of Afghanistan?
No, its more likely that he could throw them out. The Taliban have become a junior partner in the strategic plans of Osama bin Laden and the Pakistani extremists.
How have the wars with the Russians and today touched you?
Well, I no longer have the houses I lived in when I was in the Peace Corps and with Fulbright. They are all rubble. I have also lost so many good Afghan friends, in the war and because they have become refugees.
What do you try to achieve with your International Studies Program at Omaha?
We started here in Omaha in 1973 and today we have 160 students majoring in international studies. We have over a thousand international students studying here, and about 500 of our students studying overseas. The International Studies Program has an undergraduate degree in international business and commerce, secondary school teaching or government service. We have 160 majoring in international studies at the college.
What do you tell your students to do when they graduate?
I tell them to join the Peace Corps. I tell them to apply for a Fulbright. I tell them to go out into the world. It is what I did and it has made all the difference in my life. Remember, I started as a baker in Maumee, Ohio, and if I could leave home, anyone can. The Peace Corps was my ticket to a wonderful and eventful life.
River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler (China 199698) has just been awarded the 2001 Kiriyama Pacific Rim Prize in the nonfiction category. The announcement was made on Saturday, October 20, at the 14th annual Vancouver International Writers Festival. Hessler will share the $30,000 prize with fiction winner, Patricia Grace of New Zealand.
Among the thousands and thousands of prose pieces written about the September 11 attack is a thoughtful piece by George Packer (Togo 198283) that appeared in The New York Times Magazine published September 30. The piece entitled, Recapturing The Flag is on how a generation of liberal skeptics now know the deep emotions of patriotism. Writes Packer author most recently of Blood of the Liberals My political views havent changed since Sept. 11. Even as the sight of other peoples flags stirred me, I did not go out and buy my own. Some part of me still shrinks from the display of patriotism, as if it would violate the emotions itself. I dont desire war but I know that patriotic feeling makes individuals exceed themselves as the bland comforts of peace cannot.
William McCauley (Sierra Leone 198587) has won this years William Peden Prize in Fiction, given by The Missouri Review. McCauley won the award for his story Mister Henrys Trousers, which appeared in the popular Knopf Files issue of The Missouri Review. McCauleys stories have also appeared in Confrontation and Geraldine Kennedys anthology From the Center of the Earth. His novel, The Turning Over, was published by The Permanent Press in 1998.
The William Peden Prize in Fiction is named for a founding editor of The Missouri Review, the literary magazine of the University of MissouriColumbia. The annual prize awards $1000 cash to the best work of fiction published in the previous volume year of the magazine. Selected by an outside judge of national reputation, the winner is invited to travel to Columbia, Missouri, to meet with the editors of the magazine and attend a reception in his or her honor. This years judge was Alice McDermott.
The Kennedy Men 1901-1963 by Laurence Leamer (Nepal 196567) appeared on The New York Times extended bestseller as #31, three days after publication. The book has also been receiving wonderful reviews. Reviewer Joe Sciacca in The Boston Herald on Sunday, October 21 summed it up best by writing, With all thats been written about the Kennedys, its hard to imagine that you could fill a book with what we dont know about Americas most remarkable political family. But Laurence Leamer has done it with his new work, The Kennedy Men: 19011963. Sciacca goes onto say, The Kennedy Men is a fine work of research and an absorbing read as well.
Charles Michener (Ethiopia 196264) senior editor of The New Yorker has a long piece in the November 12 issue on soprano Renee Fleming who sang recently at Ground Zero for the memorial service for families of victims of the World Trade Center. Fleming is the biggest-selling soprano in the world today, and among female singers her record sales are eclipsed only by those of the mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli.
Since September 11, getting on a plane or a train seems a lot more complicated. Travel & Leisure Magazine, in their December issue, asked a series of writers about traveling now. One of the writers was Peter Hessler (China 199698) who wrote about flying recently from Beijing to Wenzhou, in the south of China, and then back to Beijing. Hessler also reflected on travel he did in post-Communist countries in 1993 and how he is still traveling the world.
Peter has an article at the Travel & Leisure website dated 9/1/01 entitled Chongqing, China: City of the Future.
Recent Books by Peace Corps writers November 2001
Invitations to Love: Literacy, Love Letters, and Social Change in Nepal
by Laura M. Ahearn (Nepal 198286)
University of Michigan Press, $24.95
The Bronze King (The Sorcery Hall Trilogy, Book 1)
(reissue young adult )
by Suzy McKee Charnas (Nigeria 196163)
Wildside Press, $15.95
The Golden Thread (The Sorcery Hall Trilogy, Book 3)
(reissue young adult )
by Suzy McKee Charnas (Nigeria 196163)
Wildside Press, $15.96
Music of the Night
(fantasy, horror and science fiction short story collection)
by Suzy McKee Charnas (Nigeria 196163)
The Silver Glove (The Sorcery Hall Trilogy, Book 2)
(reissue young adult )
by Suzy McKee Charnas (Nigeria 196163)
Wildside Press, $14.95
by Suzy McKee Charnas (Nigeria 196163)
The Vampire Tapestry
(reissue as ebook)
by Suzy McKee Charnas (Nigeria 196163)
Richard and Sabina
by Jack Cole (PC staff: Afghanistan 196870, Swaziland 19701971, India 197173)
Xlibris Corporation, $21.99
Kinky Friedman's Guide to Texas Etiquette:
Or How to Get to Heaven or Hell
Without Going Through Dallas-Fort Worth
by Kinky Friedman
Cliff Street Books; $22.95
Families As We Are:
Conversations from around the World
by Perdita Huston (Staff: PC/W 197881, CD/Mali 199799, CD/Bulgaria 19992000) with a foreword by Richard C. Holbrooke (Staff: CD/Morocco 197072)
Now Let Me Tell You What I Really Think:
Playing Hardball with Chris Matthews
by Christopher Matthews (Swaziland 196870)
Free Press, $25.00
Tales from the Jungle . . . A Gringa in Nicaragua
by Rachael Tyng McClennen (Nicaragua 199698)
Self-published with Amigos de las Americas (Seattle), $15.00
Life in Hong Kong
(The Way People Live series)
by Tony Zurlo (Nigeria 196466)
Lucent Books, $27.45
A Stained Dawn
Poems About Africa
by Christopher Conlon (Botswana 198890)
Mango Biscuit Press
605 Thayer Avenue
Silver Spring, Maryland 20910
Reviewed by Ann Neelon (Senegal 197879)
We must take the feeling of being at home into exile, wrote Simone Weil. We must be rooted in the absence of a place. These lines have stuck with me for over twenty years now partly, I think, because they get to the heart of what it means to be a Peace Corps Volunteer living as a representative American in a foreign place. Like Weil, PCVs understand that the comfortable (read Americans) need to be afflicted in order to see. Again like Weil, by uprooting themselves, PCVs seek a greater reality, albeit not necessarily the spiritual reality Weil sought.
Im convinced that unlike perhaps most of us, Christopher Conlon took the feeling of being at home into exile long before he hit country (in his case, Botswana in 1988).
When I was thirteen
my father lived
in distant cities
and his face was a telephone
. . .
My mother drank
until her eyes
were those of a doll
slipped through her fingers,
he writes in African Child, American Child, Poem in Two Voices. To his credit, Conlon steers away from the confessional road it might have been convenient to take with such material. In A Stained Dawn: Poems About Africa, the darknesses of America and the darknesses of Africa are like tectonic plates. When they collide, as they do in Conlons best work, we get something truly earthshaking.
Morning and Night (which open and close the collection) barely appear on my Richter scale. These poems make mythic and chronological sense, but dont carry a lot of psychic weight. They are impressionistic pieces a little soft because theyre overly poeticized. These lines from Morning are representative:
This is African girls in blankets
lighting cooking fires down the hill:
this is birds bluer than any sky
trying softly twittered notes
in the naked trees.
A few other landscape poems (for example, Kalahari and Noon) pack more of an Imagist punch. Still, I dont hear Conlons voice speaking incontrovertibly in these short poems.
I do hear it in Johannesburg: A Call Girl. This poem is amazing. Even at two hundred rand, its a tawdry thing, it begins and continues, in the long deceptively prosy lines I tend to associate with C.K. Williams, until tawdriness is the furthest thing from the readers mind. Are the sex partners jam-filching children, or are they two imminent criminals? Both possibilities exist in every line. The sex doesnt get too far. Joanne commingles instead with the amazingly integrated city outside their designation, with its
who, every few blocks, study passing faces, guns hanging from their arms like cigarettes
from their lips.
A screaming police car signifies climax. When dawn arrives, it is as a frightened girl not unlike Joanne.
For Wilfred Owen is another favorite. Its comparison between the unreal savagery of an African thunderstorm and that of World War I is riveting. Other poems high on my Richter scale include Soweto, Justin in a Garden of Flowers and A Poem I Didnt Write. Unlike the tourists on the bus into Soweto, these poems do not snap easy pictures of poverty and racism and cluck their tongues. Rather, they burden us with the responsibility of the struggle to understand the other. In Pig-Chasing by Starlight, yet another favorite, even the lizards participate:
Stonelike Kalahari lizards
study all this closely,
what new strangeness
the white people have brought now.
The reality is that the World Trade Center disaster has changed the way we live in the United States. We are now more nervous than ever about the strangers in our midst. It is thus increasingly imperative that we listen to voices such as Conlons that urge us not to come to any easy conclusions about those who are not like us. There are bridges to cross between the self and the other, and A Stained Dawn helps us to find them.
Ann Neelon recently won fellowships from both the Kentucky Arts Council and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. Her work will appear in Bearing Witness: Poetry by Teachers About Teaching, to be released this month. She is the author of Easter Vigil, winner of the Anhinga Poetry Prize.
Families As We Are:
Conversations from around the World
by Perdita Huston (Staff: PC/W 197881, CD/Mali 199799, CD/Bulgaria 19992000)
with a foreword by Richard C. Holbrooke (Staff: CD/Morocco 197072)
Reviewed by Sharon Dirlam (Russian Far East 199698)
PERDITA HUSTON LISTENED to fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, children and grandchildren. She learned about their hopes and frustrations, sometimes about their overwhelming despair, other times about their love for each other and their plans for a better future.
She interviewed scores of families people from different generations and different countries and different world views and documented their comments. In this important book, we too can listen to these ordinary people, who so seldom have our attention, and we can learn from them.
Huston writes that when she first considered writing Families As We Are, a book on contemporary families, people said, Oh, dont do that! The family is too controversial. And that, she concludes, is just the point. While families struggle to cope with the rapidly changing world, politicians condemn the transformations underway . . . . They cast the beleaguered family as villain for all that ails contemporary society.
It is hoped that her book will give them pause, that at least some might see the need to support families of all kinds through these troubled times.
Huston explains how she found the people she chose to interview. She selected countries that she thought would reflect the major global trends of modern life economic transformation, urbanization, the migration of workers, and environmental stresses. She chose the United States, Japan, Thailand, Bangladesh, China, Mali, Uganda, Egypt, Jordan, Brazil and El Salvador. Then she asked sociologists and activists in each country to introduce her to families coping with these trends.
She usually spoke with three generations, enabling her to find commonality across cultures. Her subjects included farmers and office workers, impoverished and affluent people, multigenerational and nuclear families, close-knit families and families separated by distance or by education. She also found people who created families from a common bond prostitutes struggling to raise their children, and families consisting of street children who help each other stay alive.
Huston and an interpreter interviewed each family member alone, so each one would feel free to speak openly. The hundreds of hours of conversations were recorded and transcribed, and the result is a fascinating and detailed record of each individuals perception of family life.
Interspersed with the interviews is a remarkable spectrum of statistics. A sampling: In the past century, the average life span in the world has increased almost 30 years; there are 13 million AIDS orphans in the world; 25 percent of the worlds families are headed by women.
Huston recognizes the family as a constant force, although it takes a variety of forms.
Throughout history, family forms have evolved to meet the changing demands of society, she writes. The pace of change sets us apart from generations past. It demands immediate adjustment.
In the United States, Huston interviewed a family from a small farming community in Missouri, an Indian family on the Paiute Native American Reservation, and a lesbian couple with an adopted daughter.
While some of Hustons interviews do touch on the growing disparity between the worlds rich people and its poor people, there is no foreshadowing of the increasing intolerance of Islam fundamentalists, no anticipation of the hatred toward America that would applaud terrorist acts. Hustons subjects were looking the other way toward a better future for their daughters, toward increasing prosperity for all their children.
Yet the older generations did express apprehension about the pace of change. They worried that their grandchildren no longer showed respect for their elders, felt little responsibility for their family members, and lacked a sense of commitment to their community.
The interviews took place over a four-year period just before the turn of the 21st Century. In Uganda, Huston spoke with grandparents who were raising several grandchildren whose parents had died of AIDS. In Bangladesh, she met prostitutes who lived together and cared for each others children. In Thailand she recorded the stories of Cambodian refugees.
Chapters are arranged by topics, such as Families As We Were, focusing on patriarchal and multigenerational families in various countries, and Living Together, Growing Apart, showing a trend toward smaller and nuclear families. Other chapters focus on the elderly, womens changing roles, mens changing roles, ways in which childhood is changing, environmental issues, health and politics, disintegrating families, and, finally, public policies.
The inclusion of family photographs enriches the book. These priceless pictures capture the essence of their subjects, their love for each other, and their pride in being chosen.
It appears that there was a basic list of questions, weaving a common thread through the multitude of interviews. These questions elicited comments on the changing roles of men and women, attitudes of the generations toward each other, the familys place in the community, earning a living, and outside forces impacting the family, including disease and war and politics.
In Families As We Are, the author is writing down the words and thoughts of the voiceless, helping give them shape and, above all, giving them to us, writes Richard C. Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in his foreword. Both he and the author were Peace Corps country directors.
Journalist Sharon Dirlam, a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, has written Two Years Beyond Siberia, a nonfiction narrative about her Peace Corps service that is now making the rounds of agents and publishers, and two stories published in Travelers Tales: A Womans World.
To Preserve and to Learn
Moritz Thomsens Living Poor
THERE IS A BIT OF A DONNYBROOK taking place in the world of book lovers these days. It seems Jonathan Franzen, on tour to promote his latest offering, The Corrections, has been expressing his dismay at being chosen as one of the Anointed Few to be invited by Oprah Winfrey to appear on her monthly book club program. Oprah heard of his hesitancy to take her oft-suckled teat and liked it not; as a result she withdrew her offer, setting the stage for a good old-fashioned brawl between elitist authors like Franzen and popular authors like those championed by Winfrey.
This sort of flareup is not exactly new, but Salons Laura Miller saw this latest battle as her chance to make some pointed observations on this long-standing feud. In her article of October 26, Book Lovers Quarrel, Miller absolutely nails the deeply unattractive tendency for book people to act like stingy trolls sitting atop a mound of treasure they dont want to share. If they did, it would be a lot harder to use their reading habits as a way of feeling better than other people.
Thats quite a statement to lob into the fray, made all the more stinging by the fact that its true. Perched squarely atop my own precious pile of treasured authors is a man named Moritz Thomsen. While I may offer in my own defense a long-held desire to write about him, possibly something along the lines of a full biography, I must confess a certain troll-like satisfaction that nobody I mention him to has ever heard of him. Its a trite phrase, I admit, but Moritz Thomsen could well be the finest American writer youve never heard of.
Thomsen wrote four books in his lifetime: Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle, The Farm on the River of Emeralds, The Saddest Pleasure, and My Two Wars (a fifth manuscript, Bad News from a Black Coast, is still being shuffled about by hesitant publishing companies). His life came to a painful end on August 28, 1991, in his apartment in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He was 75 years old, suffering from advanced emphysema brought on by years of chain-smoking, combined with cholera, a scourge of third-world countries; his body broken as well from a lifetime of toil as a farmer and Peace Corps Volunteer. He joined the Peace Corps at the age of 48, spent about four years as a Volunteer in Ecuador, and just never left. Thats about as much biographical information you would need to introduce excerpts of his work or even to put on dust jackets, since Thomsens four books are all memoirs; they contain everything he cared to say about his extraordinary (my word, not his) life.
Thomsens choice of memoir as his genre may partly explain his little-known status. When writing a memoir, its easy to slip into writing an autobiography, and from there into outright self-aggrandizement or self-pity, and Thomsen has been accused of both by his detractors. Tim Cahill, for one, wrote a mostly positive review of The Saddest Pleasure for the New York Times Book Review, but expressed . . . an urge to grab Mr. Thomsen, to shake some sense into him for what he saw as Thomsen feeling sorry for himself. But Thomsen avoids these pitfalls as long as readers see that he is writing down stories of his impressions and the stories of others lives, with Thomsen taking center stage only when the time has come for a good dose of self-deprecation. If he needs to point out the foibles and eccentricities of humans, he has at his disposal his favorite target for scorn himself.
Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle, published by University of Washington Press originally in 1969, was Thomsens first book, and is considered to be one of the best accounts of the Peace Corps experience to this day. You find no easy answers to the problem of poverty in this or any of Thomsens works; what you do find is his unparalleled ability to observe what goes on around him, even as he becomes more and more a central figure in the mad yet beautiful, heroic, often tragic cast of characters in the coastal Ecuadorian village of Rioverde (Green River).
Thomsen writes sparingly of his motivation for joining the Peace Corps in 1965. That comes later, when we are introduced to Charlie Thomsen, Moritzs father, a man who comes off ultimately as a monster and a source of endless torment and self-loathing, brought horribly to life in My Two Wars. He is mentioned only once in passing in Living Poor; we will get to know him better soon enough. For now, Thomsen speeds the narrative along through his initial Peace Corps training in Bozeman, Montana, and mustering out to Ecuador, where the first problem is where to send him.
His first trip into the country gives us a glimpse of one of Thomsens lifelong grievances: rather than being dazzled by the stupendous terrain of the Ecadorian interior, his gaze is riveted on people below the lowest rung of the social ladder: Superimposed like a black shroud over this mountain area of natural splendor is the situation of the Indians who, since the time of the [Spanish] conquest, have been robbed, murdered, and exploited; now, centuries later, their situation is basically unchanged . . . . Since in the past all change has been for the worse, they resist all change now. A burning rage toward the state of two-thirds of the worlds population permeates Thomsens work, a rage he was never able to tuck away safely for any period of time.
His initial stint cut short by a life-threatening lung infection, Thomsen re-enlists in the Peace Corps and this time finds himself in Rioverde, a small fishing village on the Ecuadorian coast, and the drama unfolds in earnest. Here he meets people who will shape his narrative not just in Living Poor, but in his other books as well: Alexandro Martinez, his neighbor and guide in his first weeks in Rioverde; Bill Swanson, an old gringo expatriate who never tired of bending Thomsens ear with tales of how a month after youre gone, nobody will ever know you were here; Alvaro, the local storekeeper turned bitter enemy when Thomsens efforts to establish a cooperative threaten his monopoly and power; Wai, the town hero and best boy, with his perpetually pregnant wife, scrabbling hungry horde of kids, and frightening widowed mother; various minor characters like Wilson, Jorge, Pancho, Ricardo, Ernesto, Clever, and others.
Here we meet Ramon Prado, a poor young zambo or beach bum who is to figure prominently in the course of Thomsens life and therefore his books, in ways neither could ever have known when. Ramon comes forward as the first Rioverde resident to face up to his fears of great change and ask for help; Thomsen sets him up with half a dozen chickens and Ramons life is never the same. Immediately Ramon and Alexandro are seen as Thomsens favorites, set apart from the people of the town.
In Living Poor, Thomsen first displays his gift for understanding what it is like to live in absolute, crushing poverty, poor in a way no American will ever know:
Craziest and most interesting is the problem of incentive. Many of the people of Rioverde, for instance
didnt want anything. To talk to a man about tripling his income was to fill him with confusion; he got nervous; he started to laugh; he wanted to go get drunk. The poor man from the moment of birth was so inundated with problems, so deprived, that to end up wanting things was a sort of insanity. What he wanted was to stay alive another day to tell jokes and visit with his friends in the sweet night air . . . he wanted ten sucres from time to time so that he could drink and dance and feel cleansed of life.
Another telling paragraph:
Living poor is like being sentenced to exist in a stormy sea in a battered canoe, requiring all your strength simply to keep afloat; there is never any question of reaching a destination. True poverty is a state of perpetual crisis, and one wave just a little bigger or coming from an unexpected direction can and usually does wreck things. Some benevolent ignorance denies a poor man the ability to see the squalid sequence of his life, except very rarely; he view is rather as a disconnected string of unfortunate sadnesses. Never having paddled on a calm sea, he is unable to imagine one. I think if he could connect the chronic hunger, the sickness, the death of his children, the almost unrelieved physical and emotional tension into the pattern that his life inevitably takes he would kill himself.
The story in Living Poor unfolds essentially as described above, with one hopelessly complicated situation following the other, and would be depressing as well were it not for Thomsens ability to capture the sublime and ridiculous, often in hilarious fashion. Like most Peace Corps Volunteers then and since, he stumbled into Rioverde with the noblest of intentions and soon found himself on the receiving end of astonished, uncomprehending stares; his ideas and plans and offers of assistance were seen as sheer madness, rebuffed time and again with the people arent accustomed to doing it that way. His ventures in raising chickens, breeding pigs, planting coconut trees, and ultimately organizing the town into a cooperative are an unending roller-coaster of backbreaking labor, precarious success, and horrible defeat.
Just as the reader begins to think Thomsen has managed to become a part of Rioverde society he points out the gulf that always existed, even after years of living and working in the town. He constantly struggles to find enough to eat, paying exorbitant prices for what few eggs, cans of tuna fish, sacks of rice, and bottles of beer he can scrounge. Still he has to travel to Guayaquil every month or so to gorge himself on hamburgers, milkshakes, pork chops, and green vegetables. He realizes that, no matter what he tries to tell himself, he is never going to be a real part of a town where everyone subsists on rice, plantains, and the occasional pile of fish, while he can just pack up and go to town and stuff his face with protein. How can he consider the prices he pays to be outrageous when the money he pays is all that separates entire families from physical or financial ruin, and the eggs on his plate are desperately needed by protein-starved children?
Living Poor is simply too wonderfully written to put down once the reader becomes wrapped up in the horrifying, hilarious, heartbreaking, fascinating story that unfolds around Thomsen and Ramon, as they find themselves further and further distanced from the people of Rioverde. Thomsens book is not exactly a groundbreaking work Peace Corps Volunteers have written of their experiences since before and long after Thomsens stint but it stands alone by virtue of Thomsens unique insights and writing style. Some have found his work oppressively dark, especially the books he wrote near the end of his life, but Thomsens cynicism is tempered by his obvious love of people, a love he fights terribly to keep in the face of betrayals and disappointments.
Moritz Thomsens Living Poor first appeared in the November 2001 issue of Smokebox (www.smokebox.net) and is published here with the permission of the author.
Opportunities for writers
- Tanya Elders (Malawi 199799) is creating a website that features stories about women in every country that Peace Corps serves or has served in. The website would serve as a place where women in developed countries could learn about women in developing countries, where they could experience a piece of another womans life and perhaps find relatedness in their lives. The website would work to create a global community for women. We Are All Sisters is completely nonprofit and would be built and maintained with donated efforts. Visit the site at www.allsisters.com and learn how to make submissions. Stories should be no longer than 2500 words. Deadline for submissions to be included in the site launching on March 8th, 2002 International Womens Day is January 12, 2002.
- Paul Alan Fahey (Ethiopia 196871) is the editor of Mindprints, a literary journal for writers with disabilities that is also open to any writers with an interest in the field or with something to say about it. The first issue was published Fall, 2000 and has sold out. Issue #2 is at the printer, and Mindprints is now accepting submissions for #3. The magazine is looking for short shorts and short memoir (250750 words), poetry to 25 lines, black and white photography, and artwork. They are also looking for flash fiction and creative non-fiction. The deadline for issue #3 is April 1, 2002.
E-mail Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.