Peace Corps Writers — September 2005

    This print version of Peace Corps Writers does not include information from the Current Issue page that provides links to each of the articles, any information that appears in the yellow sidebars, links, book covers, photos or other graphics that appear on any of the pages. Nor does it include newly archived or resource material including copies of RPCV Writers & Readers, bibliographic listings, or Journals of Peace material.

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    Click on title of article to jump down to read. Or just print the whole thing!
    Front Page — September 2005
    Recent Books by Peace Corps Writers — September 2005
    Literary Type — September 2005
    Talking with Monique Maria Schmidt
    Review — Last Moon Dancing
    Review — A Little Love Story
    The Booklocker — An African Season
    A Writer Writes — "Dancing with Madness"
    War and Peace Corps — "On War and Peace"



Peace Corps Writers - first page

We have a blog!
Peace Corps Writers has a new feature. Thanks to the hard work of the Writer’s publisher, Marian Haley Beil, we now have a new venue for PCVs and RPCVs to write about their experiences during their Volunteer service. Go to www.PeaceCorpsWriters.blogs.com and post short items about your Peace Corps experience.
     When you post your writings, you can either type into the “Post Body” box, or you can copyfrom an MSWord document and paste into the box, but the file MUST have been saved in the “Text Only” format. Be sure to select under “Categories” the name of your country so that your piece will be posted with the other articles about that country. We ask that you limit each individual posting to no more than 2000 words.
     Pat Owen (Senegal 2003–05) has started our blog off with a wonderful piece entitled “African Time.”

Peace Corps Fund awards celebration
The first annual Peace Corps Fund “Live a Life of Service” Awards were given out on September 29th at the Puck Building in New York City. Five RPCV educators in the New York City Public Schools were honored: Ingrid Buntschuh (Kenya 1985–87), Allison Granberry (Western Samoa 1988–90), Kirsten Larson (Senegal 1995–98), Pedro Santana (Kenya 1988–90), and Ira Cornelius Weston (Kenya 1979–81). The awards were presented by Caroline Kennedy. The Peace Corps Fund supports programs, projects, and activities conducted by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who wish to implement the Third Goal of the Peace Corps: to help Americans understand the people and cultures of other countries — and thereby make our country better informed and more engaged in world affairs.      Since 1987 that has been the primary aim of Peace Corps Writers as we promote the writings of RPCV, many of whom are writing about their countries of service.
     Thanks to the many Peace Corps authors who donated signed books to be auctioned off to benefit the Fund. Over $2,000 was raised from the book auction for the Fund. Lucia St. Clair Robson (Venezuela 1964–66) signed and sold her recent book Shadow Patriots: A Novel of the Revolution, to help support the Peace Corps Fund.

And then Sarge said to me . . .
Chuck Kleymeyer (Peru 1966–68) is a Culture and Development Sociologist who has worked in international grassroots development since the Peace Corps. His latest book, Padre Sol, Madre Luna, is a trilingual collection (Spanish, Quichua/Quechua, and English on each page) of true short stories about his three decades of work in the Andes. It can be obtained from Epica Books (epicabooks@epica.org) all proceeds going to the non-profit publisher in Ecuador, Abya-Yala.
     Chuck recalls his first meeting with Sarge:

IN 1965 OR SO, Shriver made a promotional speaking visit to Stanford University, where I was a Creative Writing major. At that time, Stanford had the highest per-student Peace Corps sign-up ratio in the United States.
     I arrived at the event early and noticed Sarge duck into a one-man bathroom in the Student Union where he was to speak. Five minutes later, I heard the doorknob turning — first tentatively and then desperately. This was followed by fists beating on the door, and a plea of “Someone get me out of here.” Being the only one around, and having had lots of experience with that particular in- house, I leapt to the rescue. Speaking instructions through the door, I had him out in no time.
     Shriver emerged with a sheepish grin, and said something to me like, “Son, if you can get me out of that damn bathroom, I want you in the Peace Corps!”
     I am convinced that this incident explains why I was the only person in my training group (Rural Community Development/ University of Missouri - Kansas City) to get not only the country he requested (Peru), but the region of the country (Cuzco/Apurimac).

In this issue
Writers in the news

Peace Corps writers have been popping up all over the place with op-eds in newspapers, e.g., William F.S. Miles (Niger 1977–79) in the Boston Globe on his host country; Kevin Lowther (Sierra Leone 1963–65) on the new military bill that links the Peace Corps with the War Corps in the Christian Science Monitor. Mike Tidwell (Zaire 1985–87) has been on network and cable news and PBS commenting about climate change, as well as the recent hurricanes. Mike is the author of Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast. Within the last month, two RPCV writers, Peter Hessler (China 1996–98) and Tony D’Souza (Cote D’Ivoire 2000–02, Madagascar 2002–03) were published in The New Yorker. Roland Merullo (Micronesia 1979–80) has a short story in Golf World’s inaugural fiction issue.
     Read about these writers and others in this issue’s Literary Type, a column that also includes news about who is being published, where, and when.

Do read Emalee Gruss Gillis’ (Gabon 1984–86) touching account of being locked up in a psychiatric hospital in Cote d'Ivoire, having been left there in 1986 by the Peace Corps and the U.S. Embassy. Emalee survived her mental illness and has written her memoir, Dancing With Madness. Once you read an excerpt from the first chapter of her book you will be anxious for the book to be published.
     There is more, of course. On the Vietnam front, Terry Campbell (Tanzania 1985–87, Dominican Republic 1989–92 and Crisis Corps: Dominican Republic 2001–02,) remembers how he dropped out of college in 1967 and went to Vietnam, then later joined the Peace Corps. His “On War and Peace” compares the two tours of service.
     We interviewed a very fine (and funny) new writer, Monique Maria Schmidt (Benin 1998–2000.) Her book, Last Moon Dancing: A Memoir of Love and Real Life in Africa was published by Geraldine Kennedy (Liberia 1962–64) author and owner of Clover Park Press.
     We also interviewed a Peace Corps “treasure” — M'hamed El Kadi, a staff member in Morocco for fourteen years, and still going.
     In the BookLocker we feature An African Season written by Leonard Levitt (Tanzania 1963-65) and published in 1966. Besides all of that, there are also reviews of two recently published books by RPCVs.
     And finally, Marian Beil and I thank you for your continued support of our online literary magazine whose goal is to spread the word on the written words of RPCV writers.
     Read On.

John Coyne
Editor


Recent books by Peace Corps Writers — September 2005

An American Affair
(Short story collection)
(Winner of the 2004 George Garrett Fiction Prize: Stories)
by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 1991–93)
Texas Review Press
August 2005
172 pages
$18.95

The Master And The Dean
The Literary Criticism Of Henry James And William Dean Howells

by Rob Davidson (Grenada 1990–92)
University of Missouri Press
July 2005
298 pages
$44.95

Behind Enemy Lines
A Memoir
by John Durand (Philippines 1962–64)
Puzzlebox Press www.puzzleboxpress.com
312 pages
September 2005
$15.95

MaryJane’s Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook
For the Farmgirl in All of Us

by MaryJane Butters
Emalee Gruss Gillis (Gabon 1984–86), contributor
Clarkson Potter
May 2005
416 pages
$35.73

How Animals Care for Their Babies
(Children, grades K-3)
by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 1991–93)
Texas Review Press
August 2005
172 pages
$18.95

The Treasures and Pleasures of Bermuda
Best of the Best in Travel and Shopping

by Ron Krannich (Thailand 1967)
and Caryl Krannich
Impact Publications www.ImpactPublications.com
September 2005
234 pages
$16.95

Conviction
Solving the Moxley Murder
A Reporter and a Detective’s Twenty-Year Search for Justice

by Leonard Levitt (Tanzania 1963–65)
Regan Books
October 2004
320 pages
$24.95

A Little Love Story
A Novel
by Roland Merullo (Micornesia 1979–80)
Shaye Areheart Books
August 2005
288 pages
$23.00

Japanland
A Year in Search of Wa

by Karin Muller (Philippines 1987–89)
Rodale Books
October 2005
304 pages
$23.95

The Assassins’ Gate
America in Iraq
by George Packer (Togo 1982–83)
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
September 2005
467 pages
$26.00

The Woodsman’s Daughter
by Gwyn Hyman Rubio (Costa Rica 1971–73)
Viking Publishing
August 2005
416 pages
$24.95

The Road Taken
Two Years in the Tropics as a Peace Corps Volunteer

by Barbara L. Rang (Philippines 1967–69)
Self-published
2005
144 pages
Price: $10.00
(To buy the book: Send a check ($10.00 for the book + postage ($1.50 book rate; $2.50 first class) to the author at: 10682 N. Roynona Road, Hayward, WI 54843.)

The Violet Shyness of their Eyes
Notes from
Nepal
(Revised edition with new introduction and epilogue)
by Barbara Scot (Nepal 1990–92)
Calyx Books
September 2005
240 pages
$15.95


Literary Type — September 2005

A Little Love Story by Roland Merullo (Micronesia 1979-80) was reviewed positively in the Sunday New York Times Book Section on September 25, 2005. Reviewer Maggie Galehouse writes, “To say Merullo’s latest novel is true to its title is to diminish the impact of this thoughtful, restrained (yet very sexy) book.”
     On another front, Roland has a short story in Golf World’s inaugural fiction issue published on September 2. Roland’s short story, “When a Man Loves a Woman,” is about a high-stakes match at a remote Russian golf course.

When I Was Elena by Ellen Hiltebrand (Guatemala 1991–93) is a non-fiction account of Hiltebrand’s Peace Corps years that will be published by The Permanent Press early next year.
     Hiltebrand’s book is described as “an extraordinary account of a young American woman’s sojourn in the guerrilla-infested mountains of Guatemala. Shattering the concept of a typical memoir, the author’s personal story is interlaced, chapter-for-chapter, with tales told from the perspective of seven host country national women she encountered during her journey. At once a coming-of-age adventure and a haunting history of the struggle to overcome oppression — both personal and cultural — this genre-breaching work heralds the arrival of a daring new talent in American literature.”
     The editor of The Permanent Press, Marty Shepard, has published several important literary works by RPCVs including Under the Neem Tree by Susan Lowerre (Senegal 1985–87).

An Editorial entitled “The war corps” written by Richard Lipez (Ethiopia 1962–64) appeared in The Berkshire Eagle, on August 23. Lipez writes about the Congressional Bill of Senators McCain and Bayh where military enlistees could complete their post-active-duty military obligations in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. Lipez writes, “One of the great strengths of the Peace Corps since its founding by JFK in 1961 has been its independence from other branches of the government and its ability to function outside short-term foreign-policy goals. The Peace Corps has served America well by representing the country’s best values abroad — and by promoting health, education and freedom from want — without taking stands on foreign-policy positions.”

Also writing about the issue is Kevin Lowther (Sierra Leone 1963–65.) Kevin wrote an op-ed essay for the Christian Science Monitor published on September 20th and entitled, “‘Service to your country’ muddied by Peace Corps-military agreement.” Kevin spent eight years as a Peace Corps Volunteer and staff member and is the coauthor of Keeping Kennedy’s Promise, a critique of the agency in its early years. In his recent op-ed, Kevin wrote, “Volunteers have always faced suspicion abroad that their true purpose was intelligence gathering and political proselytizing. However, the Peace Corps from its inception has been officially insulated against exploitation — covert or otherwise — by the State Department, the CIA, or the military. The McCain-Bayh provision threatens this separation, at no benefit to the Peace Corps and very little to the military.”

William F.S. Miles (Niger 1977–79), author of Hausaland Divided: Colonialism and Independence in Nigeria and Niger, is a professor of political science at Northeastern University and published an Op-Ed in the Boston Globe on August 23 regarding the recent Niger crisis. In summing up his long association with the nation based on his Peace Corps experience, he writes: “Niger — that beguiling nation whose existence I’d ignored throughout my formal education — certainly changed my view of Africa, Islam, and humanity itself. It would be a pity if the world’s well-intentioned but one-sided preoccupation with Niger’s crop crisis only reinforced old stereotypes about hardship and poverty in Africa. Niger can teach us much more than that.”

A section of Tony D’Souza’s (Cote D’Ivoire 2000–02, Madagascar 2002–03) forthcoming Whiteman appeared in the September 5, 2005 issue of The New Yorker.
     And in the September 26th issue The New Yorker ran an article by Peter Hessler (China 1996–98) entitled “Car Town” about the city of Wuhu, the new Detroit of China.
     Hessler’s new book on China, Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present will be published in the spring of 2006.

Journalist and author David C. Anderson (Costa Rica 1964–66) died on September 15th in New York City. The cause of his death was cancer. Anderson was an editorial writer for the New York Times and author of a number of books including Children of Special Value: Interracial Adoption in America published in 1971 and based on his own adoptions across racial lines. In 1988 he published Crimes of Justice that drew on crimes committed against him and his family. His next book, Crime and the Politics of Hysteria published in 1988 that attempted to separate fact from fiction in the case of Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who committed a rape in 1986 while on furlough from prison under a Massachusetts program. In 1998, he published Sensible Justice, which argued that rehabilitation of prisoners was being ignored. From 1999 until 2003 he was the director of communications for the Ford Foundation and in 2001 he wrote with his son The No-Salt Cookbook: Reduce or Eliminate Salt Without Sacrificing Flavor, a book that grew out of Anderson’s efforts to lower his blood pressure.

George Packer’s (Togo 1982–83) new book, The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq has just come out from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. In the Friday, October 7th New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani writes, “If his [Packer] assessment in these pages of the Bush administration is scorching, it is because he writes as one who shared its hopes of seeing a functioning democracy established in Iraq and who now sees the chances of that happening dwindling in the wake of the administration’s bungled handling of the war and occupation.” Summing up, Kakutani says, “In the end, Packer blames administration members’ arrogance and carelessness about human life (amounting, in his words, ‘to criminal negligence’) for many of the current problems in Iraq. ‘Swaddled in abstract ideas,’ he [Packer] writes, ‘convinced of their own righteousness, incapable of self-criticism, indifferent to accountability, they turned a difficult undertaking into a needlessly deadly one. When things went wrong, they found other people to blame. The Iraq War was always winnable; it still is. For this very reason, the recklessness of its authors is all the harder to forgive.’”


Talking with . . .

Monique Maria Schmidt

    An interview by John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962–64)

    OVER A YEAR AGO I received an email from a woman wanting to know if Geraldine Kennedy (Liberia 1962–64) was the “real thing” because Geraldine wanted to publish her Peace Corps book. I emailed the woman saying that not only was Geraldine the “real thing” but if Geraldine wanted to publish her book then she was truly fortunate. I did not hear from the woman again, but Geraldine sent me a note saying she had found a “great writer” and shortly afterwards Geraldine sent me a book by Monique Maria Schmidt (Benin 1998–2000) entitled Last Moon Dancing. “Ah,” I said, so this is the great writer and her book. And what a book it is. Monique tells the story of her two years teaching in Benin with great humor and great prose, and while we haven’t met, I understand that in person, Monique is quite the great woman herself.
         From Geraldine, I received Monique’s email address and we began a correspondence about Last Moon Dancing. This was not easily done because Monique has the habit of not reading her email and she tends to move around a lot.
         Nevertheless, here is what she had to say when we did connect.

    Monique, what prompted you to join the Peace Corps?
    I spent my junior year abroad in France and wanted to travel again and be able to use my French. However, I didn’t want to be just a tourist. I wanted to actually be a part of a community. I also wanted to do something more “rugged” than the university in France — and Africa definitely was. I thought Peace Corps provided an ideal opportunity to help others while learning.

    Where did you go to college?
    I went to undergrad at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and graduated with majors in French and Communications. I went to grad school for creative writing at Syracuse University after my service.

    Did you go to the Peace Corps right after college?
    Yes. I left for Africa a week after my college graduation.

    What was your Peace Corps assignment?
    I was teaching English in the village of Glazoue, Benin, West Africa.

    You have a great sense of humor that comes out in your book. Tell us the funniest thing that happened to you while you were a Volunteer?
    Hmmmm . . . there were so many moments . . . however, I think the moment that makes me laugh the most often since my return happened on the “safari” some of my Peace Corps friends arranged. It was our first vacation in-country and probably one of the best vacations during my service. We didn’t have enough money to go on a real safari or stay in a hotel; so we rented a “mini-van” and a hired a guide and bought baguettes and cans of tuna-fish for our three day trip. On the first night, one of my friends opened the can of tuna-fish and spilled it all over her jeans . . . and she didn’t have another pair to change into . . . after sleeping on the ground and then riding on top of the mini-van for three days in tuna-oil covered pants, she made quite the contrast when we walked past the French tourists sipping champagne next to their range-rover. That combined with her wind blown hair is an image I’ll always remember.

    Were you thinking about writing a book about the Peace Corps while you were in Africa?
    No. When I was in Africa, I was more interested in writing letters home to people and writing poems for myself and others. However, Africa was when I discovered that I truly loved writing and came to believe in the power/necessity of the written word. I decided during my Peace Corps service that I wanted writing to be part of my life; I just wasn’t sure exactly how to make it work.

    In terms of writing the book, what was the process? For example, did you use a journal or those letters home?
    The process of writing this book was fairly complicated. I reread my journals and letters I had written and the letters others had written me. I looked at the poems I had written in Africa and tried to mesh them with the ones I was writing at graduate school. It was tricky because the environment changed my writing. The material from Africa was more rhythmical and spiritual. My writing in grad school became more “crafted.” Also, I didn’t want to write a standard “narrative.” I wanted the form of the book to capture the emotional intensity of the experience while trying to present life as it was for me . . . some actual living, some reflective journaling, and some letter writing. The form really made the writing process challenging . . . a lot of small pieces of paper arranged and rearranged and then rearranged again.

    How many drafts did you write (roughly) of the book?
    Ohhhh . . . the drafts!!! Each time I thought it was finished, it wasn’t. It has been in four or five forms

    How did you find your editor?
    I looked for small presses, and I also looked at the Peace Corps Writer web page for editors accepting Peace Corps material. Clover Park Press was the one which accepted my manuscript.

    Do you have an agent?
    No.

    Have you read any other books written by RPCVs? If so, which ones did you like, or think are like your book?
    I’ve read the book of short stories written by various Volunteers, and I think, content-wise, we have similar stories. I’ve also read Marnie Mueller’s Green Fires, and I admire the fact that she writes a very lively, human, yet political, story.

    Do you think that RPCV writers have another way of looking (and writing) about the world because of their experiences as Volunteers?
    I don’t know about other writers, but for me, the answer is definitely yes. The two years I spent in Africa definitely changed the way I look at the world. I think a lot of my writing centers on people because that is one of the important lessons I took away from Peace Corps . . . the importance of good people, of strong communities. I also end up writing a lot about misperceptions . . . of myself by myself and others and of others by myself and others. Additionally, being an RPCV makes me aware of the effort needed for successful cross-cultural communication, within and outside one’s “home” culture; so a common theme in my writing is “belonging/not belonging.”
         Also, being in the Peace Corps made me realize the importance of stories in creating understanding and maintaining connections, on personal and national levels. Basically, I think good writing tries to present the “truth” of an experience, or accurately portray the humanity that can sometimes be overlooked in a fast-paced world, and my experiences in Africa made me more aware of the importance of finding the “truth” and appreciating humanity.

    Do you have plans for more travel?
    At this moment, no, but my life has never been predictable.

    You have just finished a masters in creative writing. Was getting that degree helpful to you in your writing?
    Grad school was very fundamental in my being able to write the book. It was three years spent focused on writing which gave me great opportunities to try different formats and styles while receiving feedback on what worked and what didn’t work. It was also very beneficial to be around people whose main focus was writing. Additionally, I was able to take classes that discussed literacy and women’s international issues which helped me understand my Peace Corps experience better.

    What are you working on now? Another book? A novel?
    I don’t know whether it will be a novel, or rather, I should say I don’t know what form it will be in. Poetry is my first love, but I really like the format of this book with its mixture of poetry and prose. The next one might be the same format — I’ll let you know when it’s finished.

    From your bio it appears you have had an interesting upbringing, being raised on a sheep farm in a Mennonite community. Have you thought about writing about your upbringing? Also, was this sort of childhood helpful for you in living in Africa?
    I definitely have an interest in my upbringing . . . the older I get, the more I realize how it has shaped who I am and what I value and how I see the world. I have thought about writing more about it, but I’m not so sure that it is interesting enough for others to want to read. And yes, the tenacity that it takes to keep a small family farm going is the same tenacity that I used in Africa. My childhood rooted in the Mennonite church definitely gave me the curiosity and the compassion to establish an initial interest in Peace Corps.

    You have also lived and worked in Japan, the West Indies and Latin America . . . can you tell us a little about what you were doing in these countries?
    I went to Japan while in high school on a Kikkoman/Youth For Understanding/FHA (Future Homemakers of America . . . now FCCLA) summer exchange program. I lived with a host family and went to school . . . but not often since I didn’t speak Japanese. In the West Indies I was working for an organization called Visions Service Adventures which gives high school students cross-cultural community service opportunities in the States and overseas, and in Latin America, I taught English at a University.

    Where are you living now in South Dakota?
    I’m on the farm right now . . . and actually really enjoying feeding the bottle lambs, even though they snot on my legs when I walk in the pen . . . “Snot” may not be a normal verb, but in lamb jargon it exists to describe the time when the lambs mistakenly think that by rubbing their wet noses up and down your legs, they will get them to produce milk . . . I don’t look at this phenomena as a sign of some lack of intelligence, rather, a sign of their optimistic whole-hearted belief in miracles.

    Do you have a poetic description of life on the farm?
    A poetic description . . . hmmm . . .

    A silent combine waits next to stacked straw bales. Flat gravel roads quietly hold sprawling sunsets as evening breezes grow overnight into winds which make biking in the mountains seem easy . . . mourning doves, hidden somewhere in the evergreens, accompany the sleek wriggle of my parents’ puppy as she chases dragon flies through chest-high purple Canadian thistles on the banks of our dug-out.

One last request. Pick a paragraph from you book that you love. Something that you think is well written. I’ll add that to your interview so people can get a “taste” of your prose and style.
I think I like the ending of the prologue because it really sums up (I hope) how meaningful my time in Africa was . . . even though I often joke about it . . .

I usually joke about my years spent in a West African village, as if they were simply a sweaty, stinky, rat eating, tummy-cramping adventure, as if Afi and the villages hadn't given their homes, their laughter, their grooves, their children, their food, their lives, as if they hadn't given and given and given their strength, their love, their spirit — concocted with a little mango breeze, some marche dirt, and a little Nigerian palm oil — bounded and danced and lived.
     So did I. With wind wrapped around my stomach, the sun scorched freckles on my skin. I danced at night under raving stars, living in the wild with God.

Thank you, Monique.
Thank you! This was fun.


Review

Last Moon Dancing
A Memoir of Love and Real Life in Africa
(Peace Corps experience book)
by Monique Maria Schmidt (Benin 1998–2000)
Clover Park Press
May 2005
240 pages
$24.95

    Reviewed by Joe Kovacs (Sri Lanka 1997–98)

    LAST MOON DANCING PROVIDES AN UNUSUALLY textured account of one Peace Corps Volunteer’s teaching assignment in the small West African nation of Benin. Monique Maria Schmidt’s debut book is a pastiche of prose, poetry, song, scraps of letters to Schmidt’s childhood friend Angela and an occasional language lesson for her school students, providing readers with a glimpse of her two years in West Africa. The result is a raw and humorous narrative which would resound with any Volunteer.
         Schmidt served as an English teacher in Glazoue, a small town along the Queme River several hours north of the coastal city of Cotonou. Her arrival heralds a number of judgments against her from the community, which, while not intentionally malicious, are pointed enough to affect Schmidt’s sensitivities. Her usefulness is questioned because she cannot balance a basin of water on her head. (Two students fetch well water for Schmidt and her lone attempt to perform the task herself ends in disaster.) While teaching a lesson on similes, Schmidt displays consternation at a student’s ability to write a technically correct sentence about her: “Madame is as fat as an elephant.” And while enjoying the privacy of her own living quarters, Schmidt’s solitude becomes ironically the source of greater public attention with neighbors wondering where her “husband” is. Villagers explain away her frustrations with Glazoue life as a lack of sufficient sex.
         Still, the apparent absurdities that often serve as bottom-line judgments of Americans in the developing world (along with the frequent accusation that we’re all CIA agents!) hide the more significant affection that host-country nationals typically hold for Volunteers. Following an argument with Big Mama, a villager with whom Schmidt enjoys a close relationship, Schmidt purchases a bush rat at the market as an act of contrition (bush rat being a local delicacy.) Confronted by villagers who want to know how she came by the rat, an emotional Schmidt blurts out that she caught it. As disbelieving villagers await an explanation, Big Mama coyly describes the process for capturing a rat so that all Schmidt needs to do is agree that yes, this is exactly what happened to save face and not get caught in a humiliating lie. Thus is a close friendship restored between two women across cultures, rendering as unimportant the easy laughter that typically confronts Schmidt in her daily dealings with Glazoue.
         The narrative moves easily between Schmidt’s experience in Africa and her childhood memories. Surrounded by unfamiliar cultural entities in Glazoue, Schmidt backtracks to her past to discover her identity’s roots: recalling adolescent concerns about sexual relationships, lingering misunderstandings about how her parents came together as Mennonite farmers in South Dakota, and comic memories of an endless series of dogs that lived with the family. Still, whatever insecurities she may confess regarding relationships and occasional bouts with loneliness, Schmidt does develop a close friendship with another Volunteer, Beaker, and several students who exhibit a spirited optimism unlike other defeated villagers.
    Schmidt holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Syracuse University. She had the good fortune, following her two years of international service, to learn how to write and relive in words her Benin experience. The manuscript of Last Moon Rising became her graduate school thesis, and the book itself is a celebration of language and Schmidt’s versatile ability to confer meaning in words, as well as a story about Africa. Shifts between Roman prose, italicized poetry and typewritten letters draw attention to the very written means of communication. Schmidt confesses in her book that she had an insurmountable need to tell her stories. “They [the stories] will tussle with each other, different versions taking different shapes and then trying to get out. Trying to squeeze themselves out of where you have shelved them with the reassurance that you will come back. Someday. Someday you will come back to them.”
    Fortunately for the reader, this self-conscious attempt to articulate her stories so soon after her Peace Corps service — before time or unreliable memory could dilute their power — helps Schmidt retain the raw sense of her experience. She conjures narrative images of dancing and singing and the almost sensual effect of the wind brushing her body, restoring an enchanting spiritual immediacy to the events, the sense that they are occurring at the moment she writes them. She chooses unusual poetic juxtapositions of imagery (“. . . my heart wanted to dance with tigers, scratch the noses of hippos,” “If I drowned in my own sweat, would it be a catastrophe, mosquitoes’ wings quivering into silence?”), offering a lyrical shift in pacing from the more straightforward prose accounts of life in Glazoue. I found the effect of her poems unbalanced: while many did fabulously draw attention to the depth of her personal experiences, I found other images puzzling more than enlightening. Still, Schmidt does not lack in ambition and her words read like smoldering flames streaming across the pages.
         One would expect that Last Moon Rising helped this RPCV bookend her overseas experience with a cathartic narrative. She confesses in the acknowledgments section that she has never “gotten over” her Peace Corps experience. “Some days it nourishes my soul; some days I worry it will break me.” This sentiment will sound undoubtedly familiar to other Volunteers. Seven years after my service has ended, I still find threads of the Peace Corps experience in my daily life, in the nature of my writing, in the friends I keep and in the work I do. Last Moon Dancing offers Schmidt an opportunity to share an account of her life in Benin that is up close and personal. No doubt the words she has penned, and a million other words about her experience, will live on in her head for the rest of her life. A book, after all, is done once it is published; memory, on the other hand, never dies.

    Joe Kovacs served as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language in Sri Lanka. He writes for WorldView magazine and is currently seeking an agent for his novel Billy Maddox Takes His Shot. He also is a martial arts practitioner and holds the rank of brown belt in tae kwon do.


Review

A Little Love Story
A Novel
by Roland Merullo (Micronesia 1979–80)
Shaye Areheart Books
August 2005
288 pages
$23.00

    Reviewed by Will Siegel (Ethiopia 1962–64)

    ROLAND MERULLO’S VERY READABLE fourth novel casts its story far beyond the irony of the title. We all know there are no “little” love stories. He weaves the thread of love through a series of unexpected turns that kept this reader interested, turning the page and wanting to get to the next short chapter. Among other virtues, Merullo displays his abilities as a writer throughout. He keeps the first person narrative spare with the hint of self-depreciation. This assured honest voice tells a tender and desperate love story that moves along a swerving road. When the tale takes a turn, we lean the other way to keep our balance.
         The Acknowledgements, before the novel begins, serve as a kind of prologue and give us a major clue of an element of the novel — cystic fibrosis. I wondered about the wisdom of this, but the prologue leads us right into the story where Jake meets Janet after a year of mourning for a former girlfriend. The details of the romance, like the details of Jake’s life, are given to the reader on a need-to-know basis, which creates a certain eagerness to know more.
         Even the near-cute meeting between Jake and Janet provides a distance for the reader to watch the romance develop. In rhythmic episodes their separate lives are revealed at the same time their “little” love story unfolds.
         Many bright shots of Boston along the way give the novel a strong feeling of place:

    After the meal I said I wanted to walk to the Back Bay, my favorite part of Boston. In the 1800s it was just marshy tidal flats, but as the city grew, the area became more valuable and marshes were filled in with thousands of tons of granite from quarries in Needham. Something about the flat straight avenues lined with four- and five-story brownstones, something about the particular mix of buildings on Boylston Street, — clothing stores, churches, skyscrapers, little take-out Thai and Szechwan eateries — something about the beggars and businessmen, something about it just felt to me the way a city is supposed to feel — edgy, busy, a visual feast.

         We also get a convincing look into Jake and his professions as daytime carpenter as well as a painter who sells his canvases. The details of each of these trades go a long way toward making Jake a comfortable and authoritative narrator. We meet up and enjoy Jake’s enthusiasm for his carpenter partner, Gerald, a dropout comeback father of twins — someone you’re grateful to have on your side. There is also Jake’s strange, ailing mother (perhaps the least convincing character in the novel), and his monk brother who provides a spiritual patina to the story. Then there is Janet and her highly political job, her other love interest and her mother. All these people confront an illness seeming beyond anyone’s power to change. Through it all the thread of love draws the reader along.
         Another important element, the mystery of Jake’s previous girl friend, Giselle, is revealed nearly half way through the book one link at a time.

    She wanted to start having children and I was fine with that idea. But she had a whole plan — three children, a certain kind of house in the suburbs . . . Alright. Gisele had grown up poor — her parents were from Brazil, actually. After she met me she started to make a lot of money and then she started to worry that if she stopped to have kids she’d be poor again. But she didn’t want to leave the kids and fly all over the place every few weeks. It was a big confusion for her.

         In the chapter about Giselle we learn even more about Jake and Janet and watch them become closer. In fact, several love stories converge into a sense of urgency in the main story. We find ourselves at a point where all the characters need to overcome circumstances — for themselves as well as the lovers. During this conclusion, the reader can ask for nothing more than to watch the story unfold.
         I have skipped details because I hope you will be intrigued enough to go out and buy the book and read it. Merullo is a writer who not only writes well; he creates a unique take on our recent shared history through the narrative. He combines this with a love story that grows, a perspective on the past and an ending that left me satisfied in the way of a full and challenging day — looking for more to be revealed.

    Will Siegel is a writer living in Boston. He was a Volunteer with the first group of PCVs to Ethiopia.


Booklocker

An African Season
by Leonard Levitt (Tanzania 1963–65)
Simon and Schuster
1967
223 pages

    SARGENT SHRIVER WOULD WRITE about An African Season, “The first book which truly conveys the flavor of Peace Corps work, the realities of it, the challenges, the frustrations . . . An extraordinarily fine book.” Levitt’s book is about his one year in rural Tanganyika, as the nation was called at the time. Levitt was a secondary school teacher in Ndumulu School in Mbeya and his book is a wonderful look at Tanganyika in its last days of British colonial rule. The nation would become Tanzania in 1964 when Tanganyika joined with the island of Zanzibar.
         It is also worth reading for Levitt’s clear eye for details and telling incidents. Here are his first impressions on arriving in up-country Tanganyika. Levitt arrives late at night in Mbeya with another PCV and their Associate Peace Corps Director, Kim Buck. They briefly visit the secondary school and meet the African headmaster of Ndumulu School, who tells them that the school community had been waiting for these Volunteers since morning, and had prepared a welcoming dinner, and that all the teachers and their wives would be there. But APCD Buck has other plans. He is in a rush to take the new PCVs to a party at the home of Martin Martinson, an English tea planter.
         Levitt writes:

    It was nearly nine o’clock when we arrived at Martin Martinson’s, and there were people swarming all over his lawn, white people, with a charcoal fire in the middle where steaks were roasting, the coals glowing a soft red in the darkness.
         Martin Martinson ran over to us as we climbed out of the Land Rover. He was very short and very fat, with blond hair that fell over his eyes. He was very drunk.

    Then Levitt meets up with the wife of the head manager of the tea plantation. After getting her a drink, the woman tells him that she is going home because of uhuru.

         Levitt continues:

    Then she said quite suddenly, Is it true that you have come here to help the Africans and to live among them, and I nodded. Yes, it was, and she said, “Whatever for, and before I could think of anything to say, she had flipped away, leaving me by myself . . ..”

    Levitt’s book is only about his first year of service, a vacation trip to South Africa, and then back to Ndumulu for his second year. He hitchhikes back, grabbing a ride on top of a truck, hanging on tight to keep from falling as it begins to rain “with a wind that smashes the rain into my face, but we are moving, the world flying beneath me, and I am heading home to Ndumulu.”.
         The book came out in 1966 and is one of the very first books on the Peace Corps. Also, it is one of the best. Look for it online. It’s worth the search.


A Writer Writes

Dancing with Madness

    by Emalee Gruss Gillis (Gabon 1984–86)

    This is an excerpt from the opening chapter of a Peace Corps memoir that begins behind the locked gate of a dangerous psychiatric hospital in Africa where the Peace Corps and the U.S. Embassy abandoned Emalee Gruss Gillis in 1986. Through an eighteen-year journey with repeated psychosis, she eventually regained her health by taking the best of care from Africa and the best from the West and leaving the worst of both behind.
         Her journey is unique because few people fall so low that they lose their ability to speak as she did and it is somewhat rare for a person with a case as severe as hers to rise above the illness to live a complete and full life.

    The Voice

    HIS VOICE WAS SOFT, but there was no man, no mouth, no tongue.
         “I want to teach you more,” he said from inside my brain.
         I sat, alone, in a bamboo chair on the porch of a hut in Togo, West Africa, with miles of prairie land all around me that looked golden in the early morning light. Two weeks earlier I had finished my Peace Corps service in Gabon, Africa, and had stopped off in Togo to visit some friends before embarking on a grand adventure to cross the Sahara Desert with another friend. I wore a loose dress in a wild African print in shades of bright red, and my dark brown hair had been cropped off the week before by a fellow Volunteer unskilled in the practice of haircutting.
         The strange voice that appeared in my mind had never been there before. Up to that point my inner thoughts were mine alone. Someone was in me and it terrified me, but intrigued and fascinated me at the same time. Who was this? What did he mean by wanting to teach me more? More what?
         My mind raced back to the night that had just ended. All night, my brain sped forward against the steady, rhythmic beat of the songs of night insects and prairie animals.
         Over and over again, I remembered an African child I saw the day before her death. The two-year-old child was lying on a cot in an open-air building subdivided into a few rooms at a makeshift local hospital. The room had no medical equipment, only the bed, the girl, and relatives sitting on their haunches and crowding the room. Other relatives squatted outside.
         The child’s skin hung in loose folds on her arms and legs. Her eyes looked huge in her withered and wrinkled face. She looked like an old, sad woman. The girl stared at me with a dull fixation. She was dying from dehydration, one of the most common causes of childhood death in Africa. In the West this problem would have been handled easily with intravenous flows of key liquids, but in that village there were no IV’s. The family was trying to feed her water with salt and sugar as a substitute, but it was too little and too late.
         Other scenes from Africa kept repeating in my mind during that long night before I heard the voice. I remembered pygmies bent over laughing, slapping themselves in their joy until they fell off their chairs and rolled on the clay earth in front of their huts.
         Joy, joy, joy.
         Then I thought again of the child.
         Death, death, death.
         Morning light had come full on when I heard the voice. What could this voice teach me about death and joy? In a sudden panic I realized that I didn’t want to know. What happens after a voice comes into a brain? Does it get mixed up with my thoughts and I’m no longer in charge of where my thoughts go? What kind of a voice is this? Where has it come from? Why is it here? My mind was spinning too fast. I wanted this voice out of my head. I needed help.
         I jumped up from my chair and charged into the hut where my two friends were staying. Barry and Mark sat cross-legged on a floor mat sipping tea. When they saw me, both of them looked up. Barry had deep blue eyes and Mark had dark brown, but both sets of eyes carried the brightness found in intensely vibrant people.
         I blurted out, “There is a voice in my head that isn’t mine.”
         Steam rose from the mugs in their hands.
         “Wow!”
         “Cool,” said Mark.
         “He could take you to a new level.”
         “I know people who have meditated for years hoping for a chance to channel someone from another world.”
         The questions came to mind again. What did he want to teach me? Who wanted to teach me?
       My fingers traced the wood in the doorway. I wondered if Barry and Mark could be right. After all, Catholic saints are said to have seen visions. Africans talk to dead ancestors.
         I glanced at one friend then at the other. It might be a fine ride, a grand adventure. I lay down in a room of my friend’s hut, ready. A fly circled around me and buzzed thinly. I opened myself to this new experience.
         Speaking softly, the voice said, “Spirituality is an energy that can change people and even move things. Watch—”
         He is in my head. I’m too scared to see anything he wants to show me. I’m keeping my eyes closed.
         I turned and tossed in the bed, but the voice’s simple request to watch was alluring. After a few moments, my eyes began to open.
         A woven hamper seemed to move. Something rattled.
         How did he make that hamper move? What kind of power is this?
         I’m thirsty.
         Before I could sit up, the thirst went away.
         He made my thirst go away like Jesus quenched the thirst of wedding guests during his first miracle.
         I waited poised for his next act and then realized suddenly that I had to go the bathroom.
         All of a sudden I don’t have to go. He must have changed that, too.
         My friend who was resting with me jumped out of bed and shouted out, “She wet the bed.”
         I jumped out of bed and was shocked to find my dress soaked and the wide circle of wetness on the bed.
         “You’re going in too deep,” said Barry. “We need to get you back.”
         Mark came into the room and gave me a motion sickness pill that he thought could help me sleep. I changed into a clean baggy dress and lay down in a different, dry bed, so I could sleep this thing off.
         The voice came back as soon as I lay down.
         “I want to take you on a journey,” he said.
         How can I ignore this spirit or whatever it is?
         I took deep breath after deep breath.
         The voice told me to find one symbol for my rationality, one symbol for my emotional self, and one symbol for my spiritual self. I pictured three round windows in my brain. I tried putting animal symbols in each window. I put a cricket in the window for spirituality, and it swung open.
         The voice said to close the other two windows and let all of myself flow through the opening for spirituality.

            

    WITH THE VOICE AS GUIDE, I could see Westerners below me standing alone and far from each other. Looking down on Africa, clusters of African children with withered faces extended their arms toward me. I skimmed like a dragonfly across the sky. I saw how Africa could help the West and how the West could help Africa. The West needed more connections and Africa needed technology to help heal their children. In the middle of my soaring and seeing, the voice interrupted me.
         “I have taught you what you need to know.”
    Then quiet.
         I slowly opened my eyes and saw a dismal room with four metal cots. The mattresses were thin and dirty. I looked on the floor next to me, and on the stained green linoleum I only saw a pair of flip-flops. My backpack and wallet were gone.
         I looked down at my clothes. I went to sleep wearing a dress, and now I wore pants and a top.
         Who’s been touching me? Who has my passport?
         I thought I must be in the middle of a nightmare, so I went back to sleep. When I opened my eyes again, it was all still there — the green walls, the metal beds, the wrong clothes. I sat up slowly. My panicked thoughts came through a cloud of deep fog. Maybe whoever changed my clothes drugged me.
         I noticed the scratched-up door to my room.
    Who’s out there? Will they hurt me or help me?
         I walked slowly through the fog in my head towards the door. I paused before I opened it. Part of me was hopeful, another part was afraid to find out what lay ahead. As I opened the door, a long dim hallway came into view. Step by step I slowly made my way down the dreary hall.
         Where are Barry and Mark?
         I saw a rectangle of light at the end of the hallway, and I stepped through the doorway. I saw dozens of Africans standing or crouching in an enclosure bordered with a ten foot high fence. A man with matted hair in a jungle print shirt waved his arms in the air at nothing. A woman wearing a wrapped skirt with a headdress in wildly different patterns walked slowly in place. Some people talked out loud to no one. Some people moaned, some muttered, some shouted. The Africans sat on the dull blacktop that made up the floor of the enclosure.
         The enclosure looked like a cage.
         The only bright point to the cage was the piece of jungle that remained in tact just beyond the fence. The huge leaves of the plants pressed against the diamond-shaped openings in the fence separating me and these other people from the rest of the world. I could hear the sound of traffic beyond the wild plants in the garden.
         My fears began to mount. One woman was shouting and I thought she might be shouting at me. A man walked in place pawing the ground. They looked crazy, insane. One woman leaning against the fence had red wavy lines painted on her arms, legs, and face. A man who stood staring into space had white spots and slashes painted on his body. Others had green or blue or yellow markings painted on their exposed flesh. I had lived in Africa long enough to know that those paintings were the work of medicine men. They must let medicine men into this place.
         I looked up and saw a big lock on the end of a thick chain wrapped around the fence gate. I’m locked in. This is an insane asylum, and I am locked in.
         Backing out of the doorway, I walked slowly down another hall, looking for help. I heard voices coming from a room.
         I stepped into a dark office where two African women in white lab coats lounged on a sagging couch and another leaned against a metal bureaucratic desk. A man, dressed in a white jacket sat behind the desk. All four were eating oranges.
         When the man saw me, he slowly stood up and shook my hand formally. He said brightly in French with that unmistakable African sing-song accent, “So you are awake.”
         He sat down behind the desk. There was nowhere else to sit in the room, so I kept standing. The banged-up dull green metal desk stood between me and this doctor or nurse or nurse’s aid or whoever he was.
         As I looked around, the women continued to eat languidly, slowly peeling the fruit and letting individual pieces fall into their mouths. They licked their long black fingers, showing the light pink of the heels of their hands when they pulled off another slice.
         “Where am I?” I asked the man.
         “You are in a psychiatric hospital in the Ivory Coast.”
         A psychiatric hospital? An insane asylum? For a moment all my air left me and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Then I remembered that he said I was in the Ivory Coast. I had fallen asleep in Togo.
         “How did I get to the Ivory Coast?”
         “The embassy flew you here. They sent these oranges for you. Here, have one. We’ll let them know that you’re awake.” I peeled the orange. I ate the orange slowly and let the juice rest in my mouth.
         Somebody knew I was in this place. Somebody cared enough to send me some fruit. They’ll be here shortly and this nightmare will end. I finished the orange.
         From the way the nurses glanced toward me, it was clear that I was supposed to leave the office. I went back into my room to wait for someone to get me, but hours passed as I lay on the mattress staring at the walls. Suddenly the door to my room burst open and a large woman entered and started smacking the walls and floor of my room with a rolled up sleeping mat.
         She whipped her mat soundly on the floor near me.
         I backed into the corner of my room.
         Is she going to hurt me with that thing? She came nearer and nearer, but I couldn’t scream. It felt like a dream where I try to call out loud, but sleep stopped the sound from coming to my mouth.
         She hit the mat again in front of me. I crouched in my corner as she continued to beat the room, then suddenly she left.
         As the room became quiet again, I realized that I was not safe in that institution. I decided that I should return to the cage where I might be safer with more people, and I’d be closer to the nurse’s office.
         When I walked back into the cage, a large man wearing a t-shirt that fit tightly over his broad chest and a pair of shorts that had a large rip on the side, moved quickly towards me, yelling and waving his arms. I backed up closer to the fence. Two strong-looking unpainted African women moved between me and the man and they slowly urged him away from me.
         “Tu es ici avec qui?” asked one of the women. Who are you with in here?
         “No one.”
         “Eeeeeeeh,” they said together.
         “White people! An African would never put someone in here without a family member to take care of them and keep them safe.”
         “We will be your family. We will take care of you,” they told me, and they did. I sat on the ground with my back against the fence. I didn’t know if it was because I was the only white person in the institution, but people in the cage approached me frequently. A young woman came steadily towards me. Another came closer and stared at me. Others called out to me. The women repeatedly redirected anyone who came near.

            

    WHEN EVENING BEGAN TO COME ON I realized slowly that the embassy offices must be closed. The people in the embassy offices had left for their snug beds at home, leaving me in an insane asylum for the night.
         As darkness fell, one patient after the other unrolled a sleeping mat and eased onto it. Family members gently coaxed their relatives to lie down. Fewer and fewer moved about in the cage. By the time the moon had risen, almost everyone had lain down. But the night did not bring peace. Someone would suddenly jump up and start to scream. His family calmed him, but soon another was up groaning loudly into the night. I watched everything from the doorway with my back to the hall.
         As night settled in, I did not lie down on a mat. I didn’t have one. The patients must have brought them with them. Besides, I didn’t want to lie next to any of the patients in the cage. I didn’t trust any of them enough. The noise level rose as the night wore on. The moans became louder, the screaming more frequent.
         Deep into the night, I still sat on that stoop, sleepless but completely exhausted. Finally, I could take the screaming no more. I felt my way through the darkened hall to the small room where I had originally awakened. Lying down on a cot, I hoped no one had followed me. From time to time I fell asleep briefly, only to waken startled by the screams from the cage.
         Each time I woke up during that long night, I remembered that I was in a mental institution in the Ivory Coast and I was locked in.

    Emalee Gruss Gillis is a freelance writer. Her work appeared in a book published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers entitled MaryJanes’ Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook: for the Farmgirl in All of Us and also in the magazine MaryJanesFarm. A short story she wrote appeared in the journal Landescapes. Five of her poems appeared in an anthology entitled Touched by Adoption. Emalee has written numerous technical pieces in the arenas of agricultural exports, community development, public policy, and transportation planning. Her email address is emalee@pullman.com.


War and Peace Corps

On War and Peace
by Terry Campbell (Tanzania 1985-87; Dominican Republic 1989-92 & Crisis Corps Dominican Republic 2001–02

    IN THE FALL OF 1967, I had a lot going for me. I was a student at Columbia College in Chicago majoring in journalism. It was a great time, a time of change, of freedom of expression, from Richard Burton’s interpretations of Shakespeare to Artaud and Theater of the Absurd, a time of opposites, from the meditative poetry of Rod McKuen to the howling madness of Allen Ginsberg, from the music of Lawrence Welk to the music of anyone under the age of thirty, from the tearful speeches of World War I veterans on Memorial Day to the rebellious voices of the civil rights and anti-war movements. It was a time of “elegant plumage and fine feathers,” and “fighting soldiers from the sky,” Irish Christian Brothers High School education and rejection of the crew cut and swaddling-clothes morality of the fifties. It was a time of LSD, uppers, downers and pills that could take you further than any chariot or book. It was amoebas floating on walls in hip clubs called discotheques in the south Loop, black jazz and blues at 51St and Wentworth, and hippies sleeping in abandoned buildings on Wells Street under the el tracks.
         I was from a blue collar background. Mom had been a secretary for the WPA, Dad had been on Iwo Jima, Bougainville, Guam and Midway Island during the war. I wasn’t a radical kid looking to protest, I was a product of the Ice Box and If It Quacks Like A Duck generation, tempered by a hard discipline, a liberal,
         Laisse faire, sell Santa Claus on Christmas Eve capitalist sending pennies to the missions in Africa.
         I was educated by nuns who never left the convent and priests who later became pedaphiles. I was taught to love Jesus but never take a back seat to anyone.
         In the end, I withdrew from college and joined the Marines, because so many guys in my neighborhood were doing the same. Guys who rebuilt engines on their fathers’ cars and took their lacquer blond girlfriends to Oswego and US 30 dragstrips to see “Big Daddy” Don Garlitz race his nitro fuel burning funny cars. The reasons guys were going into the military varied from learning a trade to being a hero like on all the TV shows we watched as kids; Combat, The Rifleman, Bonanza and The Big Valley. We all wanted to be like Lucas McCain and Rowdy Yates. We believed that men won the West with their six shooters and World War II with their M1s.
         I was no different from many kids just turning eighteen. I could have stayed in college and been deferred, but the guys who came back from overseas with sidewalls and bulging arms, talking about foreign lands was more enticing than the talk of “keggers” and getting “crabs” from some farm girl in Iowa City.
         So I took the plunge, boarded my first airplane bound for Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego two days after Christmas. There I saw my first palm tree, smelled my first salt sea breeze and was turned into an American fighting man by some of the most squared away, hard-nosed pricks I’d ever met in my life. They were called DIs. I did everything so many others did, was hardened as so many others were hardened, learned to march in formation, crush a man’s head with a pugil stick, shoot an M14 and do squat thrusts forever. And I loved the taste of sulfur that stayed on your lips long after your ammo was spent. I became a Marine and was very proud of that fact. I wanted to fight in Vietnam, but I had one thing going against me, my damned IQ, it was too high! Most of the guys around me didn’t have what I had. They were black, hillbilly, or guys who took shop in high school. A few were actually illiterate. I remember the day everyone received their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) and the cloud of doom that hung over the guys who were made basic infantry. I was made an engineer. They went to Camp Pendleton to fire the M60 and .50 caliber machine guns and set up ambushes. I went to Fort Belvoir, Virginia to learn heavy equipment mechanics. Years later, most of them ended up psychologically ill or in law enforcement. Years later, I ended up in the Peace Corps.
         At the time, I was disappointed. I wanted to blow things up, to snipe and snoop in the jungle. I did everything, like request mast, like be incompetent, everything I could think of to get my MOS changed, but it was impossible. I was told to square my ass away or be sent to the brig. So I obeyed, I did what the Marine Corps asked me to do.
         It was a violent time. During my first leave in April 1968, Martin Luther King was killed, followed by riots and fires. Later Bobby Kennedy was killed, followed by the infamous Democratic National Convention. And I knew guys whose fathers were big Chicago cops, the kind who wore weighted black gloves and whacked protestors on the kneecaps with night sticks.
         I went to Vietnam in September and it only got worse. I learned a lot of things while I was there about courage and abuse, but the thing I learned most was that people don’t like each other, especially people who are strange to them. Vietnam was as much about fighting amongst ourselves, black against white, South against North, Chicano against anyone who wasn’t Chicano, as it was about fighting against the Viet Cong and NVA. No one wanted to know anything about anyone else, and what a shame, because there was so much to learn from other people; the incredible black lingo, “layin’ up in the crib,” and “I was so mad I coulda’ bit a hot brick and dared my lips to blister.” The twangy, sexy music of Tammy Wynette and Hank Williams. The great intellects of the American Indians.
         I never fired my rifle at any human target, but was riding in a reckless convoy once which killed four Vietnamese. Two guys in my unit were killed; one while on patrol by friendly fire, the other in a racially motivated fragging incident. It was strange time. It was easy to hate the guy next to you. We were a house divided. What could any one person do about that?
         In 1969, the US government started a program called Vietnamization. As a part of turning over the war to the South Vietnamese, we were to teach them what we knew, namely how to repair heavy equipment. We had three old men who used to wash parts and make soda runs to the PX for us. We never taught them anything, but it was a challenge just to try. During this time, I got to know the Vietnamese as people, not just “those ungrateful bastards whose war we have to fight for them,” They were gentle people who wanted nothing more than to work, get along and live in peace.
         Vietnamization didn’t work very well, but I learned to appreciate another culture. One Friday, I went to the village of Lee Van Tieng and met with his family. They were ordinary people, with ordinary needs, a house, clothes, food on the table. I remember Lee running around making sure everything went right, just like someone would do if you visited their home in the United States. We smoked a few bowls of tobacco, ate rice and fish, sat and talked. I tried learning Vietnamese. I liked being a military man who could put down his rifle and get involved with people on another level.
         I didn’t join the Peace Corps because of my work with the Vietnamese, but so much of the Peace Corps reminded me of the time when I worked with those old men in a hopeless effort to teach them to be mechanics. I can’t change what I am, an aggressive, often impatient, success-driven American, who sometimes likes to play violent video games, but I also like new things, going to new places, working with people who can learn from me and from whom I can learn.

    Terry Campbell went to Tanzania and served as mechanical engineer at Mwamapuli Irrigation Project, supervised the clearing of sixteen hundred acres of land and construction of canals for rice production. Then he joined up again and went to the Dominican Republic as an Appropriate Technology Water Volunteer, supervised the design and construction of solar composting latrines to prevent ground water contamination. His last Peace Corps tour was with the Crisis Corps in response to the earthquakes of 2000 and 2001. He supervised the design and construction of fifty earthquake resistant houses in 5 months. Terry also served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam from 1968–70 as a heavy equipment mechanic and operator. Today, he lives in Chicago and owns his own landscaping company.