Peace Corps Writers November 2007
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Peace Corps Writers
FOR THIS ISSUE of Peace Corp Writers I talked with Jason Sanford (Thailand 199496) who is the editor of the online literary magazine storySouth. We interviewed Jason about the magazine, his interest in promoting writings from the New South, and the talented writers that he has published.
In A Writer Writes we have a piece by Jason Spears (Moldova 200304) who writes about “Moldovan Mothers.” For some reason, we don’t have many writers from Moldova. But this is great piece by Jason.
There is a listing of 24 count them! Recently Published Books. What is surprising here is the range of these books, from non-fiction to first person accounts of life in the Peace Corps, to children’s books. The writing talents of RPCVs keep astonishing me.
For books reviews, we go from Chris Matthews' (Swaziland 196870) book Life’s A Campaign: What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation, and Success to The New York Postcard Sonnets by Philip Dacey (Nigeria 196365).
Let Marian and me know what you are thinking about what you would like to see on this online literary magazine about Peace Corps writers.
We hope you have a wonderful holiday season and may peace break out all over the world in the coming year.
Recent books by Peace Corps writers: November 2007
Back to Misery Bay
by Lauri Anderson (Nigeria 196567)
North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc.
City of Light, City of Dark
Exploring Paris Below
by Valerie (Piotrowski) Broadwell (Morocco 198183)
The Changeful Map
by Sally Stout Cook (Kingdom of Tonga 198284)
[published under the name Sally Stout]
Story Weaver Press
The New York Postcard Sonnets
A Midwesterner Moves to Manhattan
by Philip Dacey (Nigeria 196365)
Rain Mountain Press
by Floyd B. Davis (Ethiopia 196365)
What’s Wrong With Microfinance?
edited by Thomas Dichter (Morocco 196466; staff: PCD/Yemen 198082) and Malcolm Harper
Practical Action Publishing
Best American Fantasy
edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
Contributor: Tony D’Souza (Cote d’Ivoire 200002; Madagascar 200203)
by Martha Egan (Venezuela 196769)
Taxi to Tashkent
Two Years with the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan
by Tom Fleming (Uzbekistan 200305)
The Economic Naturalist
In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas
by Robert H. Frank (Nepal 196668)
How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class
by Robert H. Frank (Nepal 196668)
Berkeley: University of California Press
The Arrow and the Olive Branch
Practical Idealism in US Foreign Policy
by Jack Godwin (Gabon 198284)
by Alan Gottlieb (Ecuador 198081)
African Cultural Astronomy
Current Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy Research in Africa
edited by Jarita Holbrook (Fiji 198891) with Rodney Thebe Medupe and Johnson O. Urama
The 1928 Footrace across America
by Charles B. Kastner (Seychelles 1980-81)
University of New Mexico Press
Zion in the Desert
American Jews in Israel's Reform Kibbutzim
by William F.S. Miles (Niger 197779)
State University of New York Press
by Joseph Monninger (Burkina Faso 197577)
(Young adult 13 and up)
The Bight of Benin
by Kelly J. Morris (Togo 196872; staff: Togo APCD 197479,PC/W 197981,PC/RTRO 1982, Benin APCD 1983, Togo APCD 198384, PC/W 19952001)
How to Drink Beer and Save the World
by Christopher Mark O'Brien (Senegal 1995)
New Society Publishers
by James Rumford (Chad 197174; Afghanistan 197475)
(Children ages 912)
Reclaiming Honor in Jordan
A National Public Opinion Survey on "Honor" Killings
by Ellen R. Sheeley
Black Iris Publishing
New Faces at the Crossroads
The World in Central Indiana
by John Sherman (Nigeria 196667, Malawi 196768)
Jeffrey A. Wolin (photographer)
Indiana University Press
The Elephanta Suite
by Paul Theroux (Malawi 196365)
Four Feet, Two Sandals
by Karen Lynn Williams (Malawi 198083)
and Khadra Mohammed
Illustrated by Doug Chayka
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Literary Type: November 2007
The November 26, 2007 issue of The New Yorker had two fine pieces by RPCVs writers. George Packer (Togo 198283) writes in The Talk of the Town what Republican candidates have to say about the war, and how they are driving themselves further to the Right.
Peter Hessler (China 199698) is back with another “Letter From China,” this one on driving in The People’s Republic. Just reading it scares a person. For example, in 2004 the World Health Organization report found that China, while having only three per cent of the world’s vehicles, accounted for twenty-one per cent of its traffic fatalities. The piece is full of details, such as that headlights were banned in Beijing until the mid-eighties. It was only in 1983 when Chen Xitong, the mayor of Beijing, made a visit to New York and during a meeting with NYC’s mayor, Ed Koch, Peter writes, “Chen made a crucial observation: Manhattan drivers turn on their lights at night.” Chen went back to China and decreed that Beijing motorists do the same. Later Chen would end up in prison for corruption, but as Peter points out, “at least he did his part for traffic safety.”
In many recent publications including this issue of our newsletter were reviews of The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963-65). In The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, November 11, 2007) reviewer Walter Kirn writes, “Theroux’s new book of three novellas, The Elephanta Suite, is his attempt brought off with mixed results but distinguished by worthy intentions and sturdy tradecraft to display and explain contemporary India in all its swarming, seductive, anachronistic, disorienting dynamism.” In this issue, read John Woods (Ethiopia 196568) review and you decide.
John Flynn (Moldova 199395) has published the short story “The Size of Need” in Fifth Wednesday Journal. The story is about an aging salesmen of religious goods, and is set in a 20s-era lounge and eatery in a fictitious industrial city.
Mishelle Shepard (Czech Republic 198486) has written an article for the long-time-Peace-Corps-supporting publication Transitions Abroad about successful RPCVs. The article notes both RPCVs contribution to continued Peace Corps success as well as the influence of the Peace Corps experience on the returned volunteer.” Do read it.
Once again Peace Corps Writers co-sponsored with the RPCVs of South Florida a booth at the largest book fair in the U.S, the Miami Book Fair International from Friday November 9 to Sunday November 11. RPCV writers were offered an opportunity to sell and sign their books at the booth. Greg Zell (Nigeria 196264) of the Miami group was the booth chairman.
Next June Bloomsbury Press will publish Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex edited by Ellen Sussman. Along with 200 other writers, Mary-Ann Tirone Smith (Cameroon 196567) has contributed an entry. She hesitates to say what her word is as Peace Corps Writers is a family publication.
Talking with . . .
An interview by John Coyne (Ethiopia 196264)
I FIRST HEARD about storySouth and from Jason Sanford (Thailand 199496) over six years ago when he went online with his magazine. He has managed on his own, with a little help from his friends, to produce a first class Internet magazine. I finally got around to emailing Jason and getting his story. Here is one Peace Corps writer/editor who is making a difference. As Jason writes about storySouth, “online fads can’t help but fade away; great writing endures. storySouth is all about the writing.”
Jason, where are you from in the south?
I was born and raised in central Alabama near a small town called Wetumpka. I literally grew up at the end of a mile-long dirt road, surrounded by cotton fields and the deserted ruins of an old sharecropping farm. My brother and I constantly played in these falling-down houses and barns and I think that influenced my eventual course of study at Auburn University, which was anthropology with a specialization in archaeology.
And then you joined the Peace Corps?
Yes, I was a TEFL-crossover Volunteer in Thailand from 1994 to 96. I taught in a junior high school in the village of Sa Klee in central Thailand.
Sa Klee was a fascinating village. Situated on a small river, the village was in a traditional rice farming area. However, because the village was only two hours from Bangkok and situated near a major highway, a number of extremely large factories had been built around the village. One shoe factory on the edge of Sa Klee employed over 15,000 workers, many of them immigrants from the poor Northeastern part of the country. So in this village you had two hundred year old teak houses standing a hundred yards from plywood and tin slums. Because of this cultural clash between new and old, the teachers at the school really worked hard to improve the well-being of everyone in the area. That’s where the crossover part of my title came in.
Why would a kid from the rural south join the Peace Corps in the first place?
I joined because I both wanted to help people and also see other parts of the world. My family really believes in service to both our country and humanity and I saw Peace Corps as a good way to do this.
Okay, what happened to you after your tour?
Well, I met my wife-to-be in Thailand she was serving with the Peace Corps in the Northeastern region of the country and after our service was up we moved to Minneapolis. There was a large RPCV Thailand community in the Twin Cities, so we knew something about the area. I eventually went to work as a senior editor at a publishing company in the area, where I edited anthologies of fiction and poetry for children (among other books).
And that editing led to you starting storySouth?
While I was working at this publishing company, I grew increasingly frustrated at how little control I had over what I published. Because the anthologies I edited had very specific guidelines and requirements, the works I helped select were in many ways extremely formulistic. I rejected dozens of quality stories and poems each week writings that under other circumstances I would have jumped at publishing. The only solution I saw to this frustration was to create my own literary journal.
However, I’d been in publishing enough to know how hard it is to launch a new print publication, and that’s without even considering the financial challenges. I decided that the way to go was to publish the journal exclusively online. I thought that an online journal that practiced professional-level editing would have a great chance at success. And because I was so far away from my home state of Alabama, I decided to focus on writings from the New South, which to me is a celebration of the immense changes the Southern United States have undergone in the last few decades. The Civil Rights Movement, the influx of new people to the region, the dying of agricultural traditions and the boom of industrialization all are aspects of the New South.
Do you see yourself then as a continuation of the Southern Agrarian movement of Allen Tate and other conservatives in the south who wanted to keep the south “old” as expressed in Tate’s book I’ll Take My Stand?
Absolutely not. First off, I refuse to believe in any ideal utopian society having ever existed anywhere in the world, be it in the South, the North, or Shangri-La. There are no perfect societies except in people’s memories and then the simple truth is that people aren’t remembering how life really used to be.
Second, I find the Southern Agrarians to be massive hypocrites. Tate, for example, lived most of his life in the North, either in New York City or New Jersey, where he taught at Princeton University. The other Southern Agrarians fell along similar lines, and even when they didn’t they weren’t exactly spending their lives working under harsh agricultural conditions, as many people in the South did at the time. And that’s without even getting into that group’s backward views on race relations and equal rights. No, I don’t bemoan the loss of their version of traditional Southern culture, which was always more myth than truth. My South involves the Civil Rights Movement, the equality of all people, the influx of new ideas and ways, all of that mixed with a love for the best parts of Southern history and culture and an acknowledgment of the equally horrible parts.
About your website. Have you published any RPCV writers on your site?
Not to my knowledge, although we have published a large number of writers from around the world and have also honored RPCV writers in our annual Million Writers Award for best fiction. I should add, though, that storySouth is always open to Peace Corps writers. The same can also be said about the online publishing world. For example, ducts.org has published a number of great columns by Benjamin Malcolm, a Peace Corps Volunteer I served with in Thailand. And I just profiled on storySouth a new online journal called Our Stories which is edited and published by Alexis E. Santi, who served with the Peace Corps in Romania. There are so many RPCVs involved in online publishing that I couldn't begin to list them all and that's without even mentioning all the Peace Corps bloggers or even your wonderful website.
Have many of the people that you first published gone on to publish books?
Yes, quite a few of the authors we’ve published have gone on to publish novels and short story collections, including Kat Meads, Krista McGruder, Greg Downs, and many more. In addition, quite a few writers we’ve published have later gone on to much bigger and better things. Perhaps the best example of this is poet Natasha Trethewey, a gifted poet we published back in our spring 2002 issue and who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.
Is there a future for little magazines in print or will they be online?
Even though I deeply love paper magazines and journals, I’m afraid that the latter is the future as I see it. The simple fact is that publishing a printed literary journal is a no-win situation unless you have an incredibly rich uncle or university willing to continually bail you out. Most little magazines and journals have a distribution of less than a thousand copies. The average online journal like storySouth receives that many readers in a day or two. When you add in how expensive it is to print a publication, and the fact that brick and mortar bookstores rarely stock literary journals and magazines these days, then publishing online becomes a very appealing alternative to print.
That said, I do believe the biggest literary journals and magazines will maintain a print presence. But those little magazines which are created merely for the love of writing those will be increasingly seen online.
Often I’m asked where people can read the writings of RPCVs I have interviewed. What would you suggest on your writings?
Almost all of my writings are either on my website at www.jasonsanford.com or linked from that site. While I publish my stories and essays in a number of different places, I always try to keep my website up-to-date with links and material.
What Peace Corps writers and or books have you read and liked?
Moritz Thomsen’s Living Poor has always stuck with me. I’m also a fan of a number of Paul Theroux’s books, although I wasn’t overly impressed with My Secret History, which focused on a slightly fictionalized version of his Peace Corps experience. I love the poetry of John Brandi and have also enjoyed some of Roland Merullo’s books. One short story collection which has long stuck in my mind is Maria Thomas’ Come to Africa and Save Your Marriage, which I’m happy to note was rereleased by SoHo Press this year for the book’s twentieth anniversary.
What advice would you give to a writer coming back from the Peace Corps and wanting to get published?
Write. Read. Write even more. Be sure to submit your work because editors will never accept your writings if they remain hidden on your hard drive. I’d also suggest creating a website or blog. That’s how many new writers are gaining exposure.
What’s next for Jason Sanford?
One of my short stories will be published in an upcoming issue of Interzone, a top-notch science fiction magazine in England, and a few of my critical essays and reviews are due out soon in different magazines and journals. I’m also trying to wrap up a novel by the end of the year. In early 2008, I begin work on the fifth annual Million Writers Award, which is an award I run each year for the best short story published in an online magazine or journal.
Thanks, Jason, for your time.
Thank you, John.
The 1928 Footrace across America
by Charles B. Kastner (Seychelles 1980-81)
University of New Mexico Press
Reviewed by Philip Damon (Ethiopia 196365)
TRAVELING DISTANCES by the running footstep is a relative matter. Starting from having to catch the occasional bus, there is a scale of increasing levels of exertion up to unimaginable distances, speed, frequency, and accumulated time and mileage.
Practicing distance or “endurance” runners comprise three essential types, which can be thought of as the running natures. And since practicing runners who by their nature fall into one of these types run more or less regularly in organized races, it follows that the variety of races reflects the three natures. Of course some accomplished runners eschew all sanctioned races, yet even such individualistic harriers do their lonely running according to their natures, which primarily have to do with aptitudes for distance.
Most runners who enter races expect or hope to finish in a respectable time, signaling their best effort, even at the back of the pack. If they’re beginners, they may opt to enter a shorter race, a 5K, 8K or 10K, because they know they can finish even if having to limp. Or they may be experienced age-division runners, who have discovered these to be the best distances for their running nature and who are willing to suffer from early in the race yet for a briefer period of time. These men and women run in the front of the pack, at least within their age divisions. It is also common for runners to cut their teeth at these distances and then graduate (if not upward, then outward) into the half and full marathon. It necessitates a greater investment, in training and races, to satisfy the demands of this second “nature” and to meet its fundamental challenges in distance and effort. In terms of racing, this type of running is epitomized by the marathon. For most of us road racers, the marathon is (short of the capital-I Ironman) the king of all events. It is hard to run 26.2 miles at the best pace you can muster.
But there are other, even longer races, which dwarf the marathon, making it look as comparatively puny as a marathoner would consider a holiday costume-party 5K fun run. Most of these longest races are off the radar even of marathoners, and all involve trail running and extreme distances in resistant conditions, incrementally beyond the marathon to 50K, 50 mile, 100 mile and more, across Death Valley and the Sahara, or up the tropical, vertical ridge trails of Oahu. This is the ultra running nature, in its ultra-habitat, which is why anything beyond a marathon is an “ultra.” Ultra-marathoners scoff at the clean shoes, paved surfaces and urban charms of “designer” marathons. They’re a breed apart, and if in 1928 there hadn’t been the most amazing event in footrace history, the ultra-running nature would inarguably set the standard for endurance.
But as challenging as I can only imagine it to be, a one hundred and fifty mile overland run in a single continuous effort itself pales toward the puny beside the suffering inflicted upon the 199 men from 26 countries who entered C.C. Pyle’s First Annual International Transcontinental Foot Race, from Los Angeles to New York. (I debated internally over the adjective to use here in describing the men, and settled for their number after deciding that no word I knew of would do them justice “legendary” if enough people had heard of their legend, “awesome” if it wasn’t such a tired cliché.) Alas, only a few know what they heroically did though this was far from the case at the time, both nationally and around the world. In newspapers everywhere and on radio they were the poster boys for endurance in the decade of the do-it-’til-you-drop contest. Marathon dancing, swimming, kissing, remaining awake or sitting on flagpoles all held their hazards, but to run 3,400 miles across the U. S. in eighty-four days? Hopefully the publication of Charles Kastner’s Bunion Derby betokens a new and admiring awareness of these men’s accomplishments, whether or not they were even among the fifty-five who eventually made it to New York.
Yet predating this incredible feat (of running feet) there had to be Charley Pyle’s vision of what a footrace like it could possibly be and to be the kind of promoter who could stage it. Pyle had the prescience to tie in with the uneven opening of U.S. Highway 66, from LA to Chicago, a route full of young towns looking for a galvanizing event to pass through with a traveling carnival attached. Pyle was charismatically fronted by and partnered with none other than the country’s earliest football hero, Red Grange, the “Galloping Ghost.” Grange was Pyle’s client as a player in the pro league Pyle also owned, the original AFL. The plan was that Grange would be signing autographs and entertaining the people along the way with stories about football. Actually, the parallel story of Pyle’s caravan epic, the one apart from the physical running and focused on all of the accompanying political, financial and cultural drama, is enough to make this book a fascinating read.
But it’s the physical running that makes it more than a fascinating read. Bunyon Derby’s narrative arc transcends the academic approach one would expect from a university press, as it ranges beyond the 2001 article on the race Kastner originally published in the journal Marathon and Beyond. His germinal article featured a single runner, Eddie “The Sheik of Seattle” Gardner, one of the Derby’s four black entrants, who suffered racial attacks in Oklahoma and Texas and shin splints in Indiana and Ohio to become a black national hero. Six years after the publication of that article, it is to Kastner’s well-earned credit that he has expanded his portrait of Gardner along with many others, including the infamous Cash and Carry Pyle and the story’s many non-running characters. Exemplifying this is how often in this engaging narrative of the race, a previously unknown runner emerges into the foreground of the story. Among the unnamed many who endured hundreds more hours of suffering in accumulated time, who toiled without hope of an award at the back of the pack. Arguably, these men performed more heroically than the fifteen or twenty who at various points over the 84 days were challengers to finish in the money, which ranged from $25,000 to awards of $1,000 for finishers five through ten.
(Coincidentally, that issue of Marathon and Beyond contains an article about a 1992 race intended to replicate Pyle’s cross-country footrace, without the media fanfare and financial payout. While six hundred miles shorter, it also went from California to New York, and was the first and only attempt of its kind in sixty-four years or in the fifteen years since. Twenty-eight men answered this challenge, from seven countries and thirteen states, and the article nicely summarizes the various strategies and the brutality and exhilaration of the 63-day effort all within the constraints of fifteen pages. It’s unfortunate, however that it is never clear how many of them finished.)
I have to say that this book really got to me by the end, which is always a great feeling, and not just because I’m a runner. I might have an advantage in appreciating the off the chart implications of this incredible feat. Maybe I can commiserate more readily with the 144 runners who shut it down along the way, 17 within 30 days of the finish. I might have a better idea what it means to run an average of 40.4762 miles every day for 84 days, across the Mojave Desert, across frozen mountains, across mud and dust. But if I told you I knew what any of that was like I’d be lying. I run 2,000 miles a year and I run in weather, but what I run in fifty weeks these guys ran the first fifty days. Toward the end of the Derby, with Pyle hurting for money (how he got there is part of the parallel story), he shortened the race by a number of days and stretched each leg into the fifties and sixties, topping out on Day 79 to Deposit, New York, “under a blistering sun and on a winding mountain road.” The 75-mile stage was won by John Salo, a New Jersey policeman, in a time of twelve hours and thirteen minutes, cutting Okie Andy Payne’s cumulative lead to sixteen hours. I can only wonder how long it took the stragglers.
As a veteran of numerous injuries, I might better relate than most to the range of them incurred by the “Bunioneers” if, that is, I was accustomed to running the next day after a bad injury, and then day after day for weeks or months, until I recovered painfully on the run, as Eddie Gardner was forced to do with his shin splints, dropping out of the leaders during that couple of weeks. A day off with an injury meant the end of the race. If Pyle had made good on his plan to pay an award for each day’s winner, Gardner would have benefited from having the highest number of stage victories, most of which came early in the Derby. Andy Payne, on the other hand, held back his pace throughout the race and outlasted many flashier entries, including international favorites who held early leads but were also early casualties. Few runners easily gave up the quest. Throughout the race it was common for a man to be sufficiently hobbled to be unable to make a midnight deadline, thus required to run those miles in the morning, after a short night’s sleep, before starting the next day’s leg.
It is not entirely true to say the ’92 version of the Derby was the only other transcontinental footrace. Pyle had imagined a yearly event, and a better businessman might have pulled it off and the world’s idea of distance running might have a totally different look. In 1929 he held a second race, this time east to west, and extended the awards from ten to fifteen runners. Only eighty men entered, many of them back for another try. The field included Gardner and Salo but not Payne, who “joined as part of the race patrol and as an entertainer in the evening tent show, where he told jokes and performed rope tricks while the ladies of the vaudeville company changed costumes.” Fifty thousand New Yorkers cheered them off, but within a week it was clear that no money was forthcoming from Pyle, pretty much shutting the book on the International Transcontinental Footrace.
Finally, I should point out that Bunyon Derby isn’t the only book to be published this year about Pyle’s mind-bender of a race furthering the hope that the story will gradually acquire a wider audience. C.C. Pyle’s Amazing Foot Race, by Geoff Williams, can be read as a valuable companion piece to this one. It features very different material and historical and cultural reference points, not to mention a host of different runners, which only goes to show what a hugely diverse topic the ’28 race actually became. If I had to say which of these new books I’d consider to be the definitive text, it would have to be Kastner’s, which I read first myself. The style is sparer and sharper in time and on the cast of runners. It is also rich in notes and bibliography, photos, and four appendices, which include the names and homes of the starters and the names and times of the finishers. These are names which I now feel blessed and honored to know.
Philip Damon is retired from the University of Hawaii and now writes and runs in the Pacific Northwest. He has finished almost as many marathon as he has published short stories, and at seventy, he still runs five or six marathons a year. He is putting the finishing touches on a collection of stories called The Karma Sutras: Cautionary Tales of Spiritual Yearning.
The Elephanta Suite
by Paul Theroux (Malawi 196365)
Reviewed by John Woods (Ethiopia 196568)
IN THE THIRD the third of the three novellas that make up Paul Theroux’s The Elephanta Suite, the author tells of an important discovery made by Alice Durand, the protagonist of this tale:
You went away from home and moved among strangers. No one knew your history or who you were: you started afresh, a kind of rebirth. Being whoever you wished to be, whoever you claimed to be, was a liberation. She wrote the thought in her diary and ended. So now I know why people go away.
This is a sentiment that I’m sure sounds familiar to many Peace Corps Volunteers and is an important reason so many people find their time in the Peace Corps such a rewarding and memorable experience. It is a chance to get immersed in a new culture, almost taking on a new identity without giving up who you were before.
This observation also serves as the theme of these three novellas, held tenuously together by the idea that in each the Elephanta Suite at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai plays at least a passing role. Each story deals with Americans allowing themselves to be captured by the culture of India not always with happy results.
This book brings two virtues I want to see in any story it has a literary intelligence, and it is a page-turner. One of the reasons for this is that Theroux, as in the only other book of his I have read, My Secret History, combines human foibles with sexual desire, an irresistible pairing that makes you want to know what’s going to happen next.
In “Monkey Hill,” the first of the novellas, we meet an affluent American couple, Audie and Beth Blunden who, after a night at the Elephanta Suite, make their way to a luxury health spa in the foothills of the Himalayas. Down the hill from the spa is a town called Hunaman Nagar. The most important thing to know about this town is that there is a long conflict between Hindus and Muslims over a temple that was formerly a mosque, and the Muslims are none too happy about it.
The spa is not typically Indian, but the village is, and it is from this village that the employees come who work at the spa. Audie, who loves Beth but has a history of infidelity, allows himself nearly to be seduced by one of the female masseuses at the spa, but at the last minute walks away. Beth, who has never been unfaithful to Audie, finds herself tempted by a male masseuse and visits him in his room in the village. Suffice it to say that these two episodes lead to no good for the Blundens, who suddenly become personae non grata at the spa and who, through no fault of their own, become tragically embroiled in the clash between the Muslims and the Hindus.
The second of the novellas, “The Gateway of India,” is the one I like best. It is the story of an American lawyer, Dwight Huntsinger, who is slowly taken in by a culture that he at first wants nothing to do with. Dwight is in India to negotiate outsourcing contracts and initially spends his time either in the Elephanta Suite or making deals with Indian suppliers. He is assisted by an Indian lawyer, J.J. Shah.
One day Dwight emerges from the hotel, and strolls by the Gate of India, a huge monument built by the British at the ocean’s edge. There he is tricked by an old woman, who is really a pimp, into a compromising himself with a young Indian girl. One thing leads to another, and soon Dwight has a young Indian mistress whom he regularly visits in her room far from the luxury of the Taj Hotel. It’s his secret life, and it lures Dwight into a strange new cultural milieu.
Rather than return to the U.S. to give a seminar on setting up outsourcing deals, Dwight sends Shah, who, though a dedicated Jain, falls for the affluence, not to mention the superficiality of upper crust Boston and Harvard. In the meantime, Dwight finds the sex, though good, unfulfilling.
After Shah returns to India, he helps Dwight learn about Jain spirituality, and as we leave him at the story’s end, Dwight is settling into a small room in a kind of Jain monastery, brought there by Shah to have yet another new experience. Shah then returns to Mumbai, thinking he has tricked Dwight into allowing him to take the lead in the outsourcing deals.
The third of Theroux’s stories, “The Elephant God,” is the story of a bright, young, not-so-attractive American woman, Alice, who travels to India with an attractive friend, Stella. Stella quickly leaves Alice behind for the son of a rich American. Alone, Alice takes a train to Bangalore to stay at the ashram of a guru called Sai Baba. On the train she meets an obnoxious Indian man, Amitabh, who intends to get a job at a call center in Bangalore.
After some time at the ashram, Alice takes a job at the call center, where she trains phone workers on using American idioms and acquiring American accents. Amitabh turns out to be one of her students, and his training only enhances his obnoxious behavior. Amitabh eventually stalks Alice and rapes her, an act he asks her to simply forget about saying it’s part of life in India.
Alice then visits Sai Baba to get his opinion, and finds that his advice is not satisfactory. In the end, Amitabh pays a price for his actions, and Alice abandons Bangalore.
So we have from Theroux three stories of Americans getting caught up in the lives of Indians in ways that show the complexity of cultural differences keenly and unsentimentally observed.
Of course, Theroux is a master observer of such differences and of human frailties, and his powers are on full display here.
John Woods lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where he has his own book packaging and production company, CWL Publishing Enterprises. He has developed more than 100 books for companies like McGraw-Hill, Adams Media, Alpha Books, Entrepreneur Press, and other publishers. He is also the father of Christopher Woods, who served in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan from 1996 to 1998.
Life’s A Campaign
What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation, and Success
by Chris Matthews (Swaziland 196870)
Reviewed by Ken Hill (Turkey 196567)
CHRIS MATTHEWS ENJOYS an advantage over most of his peers; he was a practitioner before he was a pundit. When he returned from Peace Corps service, Matthews worked on Capital Hill for several years and actually ran for Congress on a unique platform no contributions please . . . idealism didn’t carry the day.
His experience is apparent as he weaves his tales and makes the points in his new book, Life’s A Campaign. Matthew’s sense of humor, insights and experience in the political arena serve him well as a pundit. They inform and enrich this book as well as his television programs “Hardball” and “The Chris Matthews Show.”
His fans will find Life’s A Campaign a fun read. Political junkies, especially “inside the beltway” types, are likely to keep it on their shelves. (In the spirit of disclosure, I am a fan.) This book is pure Chris Matthews gobs of anecdotes, tons of personal memories (including Peace Corps), homilies aplenty (“Lie with dogs and you’ll pick up fleas”), and ample generalizations (“The folks who win elections are big listeners.”) * Oh, really?!
Matthews delves into the “how to” realm of much of his life, career and mentors, using anecdotes grouped around themes to draw life lessons. Sometimes they’re spot on, sometimes quite a stretch. The twenty-five of them constitute Matthews’ vision of politics as life. It may seem he’s feeling his age a bit (still young by my standards).
Page by page, Matthews makes assertions and draws conclusions, often quoting his mentors and heroes. His frequent and almost reverential referrals are to Tip O’Neill, such as “Loyalty is everything in this business whatever the business.” One might well question the assertion; loyalty can hardly be revered as a singular virtue, witness its disastrous impact via the current Administration.
Nothing if not courageous, Matthews relates a story about Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Senate to make a point about “listening.” In it, he mentions the Senator, Evita and Machiavelli together in sequential paragraphs, then groups them again on the next page. (He’ll be lucky if she doesn’t read it.)
Matthews asserts “The biographies of leaders who lack a ‘rite of passage,’ whose public lives begin and end in politics, lack punch. There’s a career there, but no story. When the heroic arc you see in the saga of Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, of Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy, is absent, you get only the flat line of ambition.” ** One of Matthew’s rites of passage is clearly his Peace Corps experience referring to it frequently. It’s clear this experience had a profound effect on him, shaping his values and his vision for life.
Life’s A Campaign is written like Matthews speaks; bits of bravado, clever mischief and much fun. At various junctures it transcends, becoming more serious. But, taking this too far would detract from the fun and, I think, miss the real value of the book. I recommend it as a good read, with some interesting observations about life.
I plan to buy some copies and send them to my “political” friends, especially in Utah, my home state. They shouldn’t miss Life’s A Campaign!
* page 45
** page 145
After his Peace Corps service Ken Hill was a staff member who left the Peace Corps in 1975 to pursue personal business interests. In the mid-90s he and his wife Winnie (Nepal 1966-68) returned to Peace Corps where Ken was Country Director first for the Russian Far East, then Bulgaria and Macedonia. In 1999 he became Chief of Operations for Peace Corps programs in Europe and Asia and was appointed Chief of Staff of Peace Corps during 2001. Ken is now retired and engaged in numerous volunteer and political activities. He is active in Virginia politics, on the Board of the Bulgarian-American Society as well as the Friends of Turkey and chairs a Sister Cities Committee between Alexandria, Virginia and Gyumri, Armenia. He is a former Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Peace Corps Association.
by John Bishop, Steve Clapp, Lowell Fewster, Harvey Flad and Roger Leed (all Nigeria 196365)
Reviewed by Kenneth C. Wylie (Sierra Leone 196163)
WOULD IT BE TOO MUCH to say forty-five years after the first Peace Corps Volunteers ventured into the lesser known worlds of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, that the time is past due especially for those of us who were “there” to make records for posterity? I have diaries and photos from my Peace Corps years in Sierra Leone, from a country-wide trek around Nigeria in 1962, with Sierra Leone Volunteers Jim Sheahan and Gary Schulze, and from later extended studies in West Africa, and in East Africa and the Horn, but have not found time to share them.
Unlike the British who appear to do a better job at publishing (thus honoring) such records (after all, they had their vast Empire to celebrate even in its final phase) we Americans had only our idiosyncratic tracks upon uncharted paths, or perhaps following the well-trod trails of missionaries who had gone before on a distinctly different mission.
For this reason I recommend this small book of travel and photos from long ago, framing a trek into northeastern Nigeria, exploring on foot and on horseback the remote Mambila plateau for 16 days late in 1963 and early in 1964. On its surface the book appeals within the well-trod travelogue canvas of exotic places, of the kind extending from Sir Walter Raleigh to the RPCV Paul Theroux (Malawi 196365). On the other hand, though the contributors do not challenge the symbolic conventions that frame travel writing, they never set themselves up as intrepid explorers among the “other” (those classic wild and intractable “natives” who become objects of wonder). Rather they allow their letters and diaries (backed by vivid color photos) to speak from the past. The collection has an immediacy of experience conveyed across decades. It succeeds because the reality of their shared adventure (which has no cliff hangers, but challenges aplenty) speaks for itself.
Inevitably some readers might wish for more. The tantalizing fact that the Mambila people had not been the subject of serious anthropological scrutiny (though under study even as these six young men arrived on the plateau) is the sort of thing that prompts questions. What was published about them, and when? The lack of a bibliography is an obvious shortcoming. But this book is about a trek, not an expedition. It is the record of an almost whimsical jaunt during “holidays” from their normal Peace Corps duties, not a planned twelve month field study carried out in pursuance of a Ph.D. Nor was the fact that they hired bearers evidence that they were exploring new ground or entering the unknown, like James Bruce in Abyssinia or Denham at Bornu. The booklet’s lack of pretension is a large part of its charm.
The freshness of perspective, uncensored by even more powerful conventions (which require a post-’80s-something correctness that our rather naive first impressions could never have imagined) stays with the reader. This booklet is the sort that returned Volunteers and their families, indeed anyone who has lived or served for a few years in remote places far from home, will enjoy.
A writer living in Leelanau County, Michigan, Kenneth C. Wylie has published articles in Africana and other specialized journals, and was founder and editor of the African Studies Association “Review of Books,” 1974-77. In addition to essays on kayaking and other outdoor activitiesm, Wylie has written widely on natural history, pseudo-science, popular culture, and birds. He writes fiction and poetry; particularly Haiku and the lesser-known Kanshi and Tanka styles. He has written a novel set in East Africa during the First World War based in part on diaries and documents of that place and time. A volume of poetry set mostly in Leelanau County is expected in late 2007.
The New York Postcard Sonnets
A Midwesterner Moves to Manhattan
by Philip Dacey (Nigeria 196365)
Rain Mountain Press
Reviewed by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 199193)
PHILIP DACEY’S POEMS about New York City contain a kid-in-a-candy-shop glee.
In Dacey’s poems there is no cynicism; there is no poetry that only poets can understand (or pretend to understand); and there is no deadly somberness or dull seriousness or self-satisfied sarcasm.
There is crisp language, loose but imaginative adherence to an old form (the sonnet), and, above all, celebration. Every poem is a celebration of the crazy and glorious, the messy and beautiful metropolis of New York.
Each poem is as brief as a postcard, written from the eyes-wide-open perspective of a newcomer. Dacey appears to find just about everything interesting. And we see why. Through his eyes (and, thus, ours) it’s all fascinating and fresh.
There’s Dacey meeting a Walt Whitman impersonator and watching a Shakespeare play in Central Park.
There’s Dacey visiting the Irish Hunger Memorial and attending a performance at Julliard.
There’s Dacey walking into a mirrored room at the West Side Y and seeing a tap dancer who once performed with Gregory Hines. The dancer invites Dacey to watch his rehearsal. “And now he cranks it up. A private show/Broadway for one. Center aisle. Front row.”
Some of Dacey’s sonnets are composed chiefly of quotations overheard on the street or in other casual circumstances. These tend to be his funniest. The first stanza of Sonnet 7:
Remarks overheard in passing on the street:
“I told you not to sleep with him.” “My goal
was ten thousand.” “Let’s get a taxi, goddamnit.”
“If it makes you feel good, be nasty.” “What’s your schedule?”
And where else but in New York can one find a dermatologist who quotes T.S. Eliot and leaves his patient thusly: “But I really have to go/enough talk of moles and Michelangelo”?
There are only indirect references to September 11th in Dacey’s book. This doesn’t feel like an omission. The poet is in a celebratory state of mine, one that carries across the several years the poems chronicle. And, anyway, who would report bad news in a postcard?
In his Author’s Note, Dacey writes that one of his earliest memories was of watching the Rockettes execute “their drill of high kicks” onstage at Radio City Music Hall. He returned to New York in 1963, having just been married, and lived with his wife in a dorm in Barnard College, which the Peace Corps was using to house Volunteers on their way to Nigeria. Retiring after thirty-five years from the faculty of Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, he headed again to Manhattan.
A good move for Dacey. A good move for poetry.
Mark Brazaitis is the author of The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala, winner of the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award, and Steal My Heart, a novel published in 2000 by Van Neste Books. His most recent collection of stories is An American Affair, winner of the 2004 George Garrett Fiction Prize from Texas Review Press. Brazaitis is an associate professor of English at West Virginia University.
A Writer Writes
by Jason Spears (Moldova 200304)
As a part of the Soviet Union, the future Moldova, a small land-locked country between Romania and the Ukraine, had economic ties between itself and other areas in the Union and the Eastern bloc. The dissolving of the Soviet Union had the effect of ending these relations. With no orders to fill, factories closed and agricultural collectives fell apart. No one had experience with capitalism, but they now had to live in a free-market economy. Few new businesses started and little new employment was created. Moldovans watched their standard of living decline, to the point where they became the poorest people as measured by per-capita income in Europe.
About a fourth of the Moldova’s population, roughly a million people, have chosen to work abroad, often illegally, and send money to their families as a solution to the economic crisis. Traditionally, Moldovan families were close, and this new development is tearing apart the social fabric.
“YOU KNOW LIFE WAS BETTER in the Soviet Union,” Tamara said from across the wooden dinner table.
I lived with Tamara and her family for the summer of 2003 while I trained in their village, Fundul Galbenei, to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Moldova. Part of my instruction was on the Romanian language, but my skills were still feeble at this point. To satisfy our mutual curiosity of each other we talked in Russian. Like all the Moldovans educated in the Soviet era, she and her husband, Nicolae, had to learn it.
We were sitting in her kitchen along with Nicolae after a dinner of bell peppers stuffed with rice and meat, bread, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. Behind her was a stove that was hooked up to a gas cylinder. To her left was an open window that allowed in a cool evening breeze.
“I could have sent all my children to the university without a problem,” Tamara said referring to the free university education available during Soviet times.
“My oldest son doesn’t want to go to university and I am fine with that. But Mircea, who is in his late teens, wants to study, and we want our daughter to as well, but we don’t have the money for both,” she said propping up her head in the palm of her right hand. She looked down at the table and let strands of her graying brown hair flop into her face.
Tamara was a part-time Russian teacher at the village school for $40 a month, while Nicolae worked in construction six days a week in a neighboring town. He had not always done this type of work. In the past, he played guitar and sang in a band, but he could no longer make money doing that.
I would never have guessed that he was a musician. I had never seen him play his guitar. Usually on his day off he did household chores and then lay down on the coach on the porch and dozed. His compact muscular body was too tired to do much else.
As hard as they both worked, they were still confronted with having to choose whether their son or their daughter would attend university. A critical factor in their final decision was that the daughter was just twelve years old, which meant the family could start saving for her university education and build up a sum of money over the next six years.
“Mircea agreed to go to work so his little sister will have the money to go to university when she is old enough,” Tamara said.
Tamara sighed and looked outside. It had been a hot summer day. Just beyond the kitchen window was a porch that an arbor ran along covered with grape vines from which my hosts made red and white wines. Past the arbor was the vegetable garden. The sun had baked the black soil into a dry crust and wilted the leaves of the cucumber, tomato and bell peppers plants.
“Understand. He is a good boy. He is smart, but he works in a furniture factory in Chisinau the capital. He lives with my brother there and my oldest son. He always gives me a part of his pay and doesn’t ask if he can keep more for himself. We wouldn’t have to do this in the past. Now everything is money, money,” she said.
TAMARA’S FAMILY’s water supply was a well about a dozen feet from the house. It was a cylindrical hole in the ground whose walls were made of concrete that stood a couple feet into the air. On its top was a steel cover, which had to be pushed back to reveal the well’s ten-foot shaft. At the bottom was about a foot of clear water.
In the past, they had a small pump that brought the water to the kitchen sink. It had since broken and they could not afford to repair it, which Tamara related to me with a sneer. Now, to get water out, a steel bucket was dropped down into the well while someone clutched the rope tied to its handle. The bucket was drawn up and then carried to a water container in the kitchen.
The summer had been very dry so far. Their house was built on the top of a hill and, like the other homes in the same area, they had problems with their well running low. Water trucks had to come to refill them. Later in the summer, the storms finally did come, which turned out to be a mixed blessing. We lost electricity during every heavy rainfall.
MIRCEA DID NOT COME HOME every weekend even though Chisinau was less than an hour away by bus. The few times he did, he was kept busy helping with the gardening, the feeding of the animals and maintaining the house.
We did hang out together once. On a Saturday evening, we meet up with some other Peace Corps Volunteers-in-training at the village disco, which a couple young locals organized on the weekends in the town hall of the village. On the first floor people hung around talking and drinking. A small folding table had been set up to sell bottles of beer, cigarettes and snacks. We walked past them and went up a tired looking staircase to the dance floor.
Every time we danced the Moldovans would stop and stare at us. Having only one CD player, pauses came in between each song of European techno or American hip-hop, as a new disc was put on. During one of these breaks in the music, I walked off the dance floor and over to a wall. I leaned against it and observed the room, which had a dirty tile floor and a couple of colored lights that cast everything in gloomy shadows. Tamara had told me that Nicole’s band used to play here and she loved to come listen to him. I wondered if the room had looked old and worn out back then or fresh and new.
Mircea came and stood next to me. His white pants and long sleeve shirt made his tall lanky frame stand out in the dim light. He shouted into my ear above the music things like, “Don’t dance with that girl. She’s crazy!”
Eventually, everyone gathered in the center of the room in a circle. I moved closer and saw two young guys break dancing in the middle. They spun themselves around with only their palms touching the floor and backs perfectly horizontal before fluidly popping into a handstand. Brian, another Peace Corps trainee, lived with them and their mother, who worked in a bank in a nearby town. He told me that their father had moved to Italy to work in a coffee factory and sent money home. Neither of the brothers had a steady job, even though one had training in refrigeration repair, so they spent hours learning to imitate moves from break dancing videos.
After the break dancing finished, Mircea and I headed home. We walked up the hill carefully as the only sources of illumination were stars and the weak, hazy beams of light leaking from people’s windows. He asked me what I thought of Moldova and I told him that it was a beautiful country. During that summer, the small hills were covered with green and the plots of flowers in front of people’s homes were in full bloom.
I regret not knowing that this exchange would be our last. All I said to him after we reached home was “good night” as I went to my room. I would have liked to have told him that I admired his sacrifice for his sister.
A couple of weeks before I left Fundul Galbenei, I came home to find Tamara looking frazzled in the kitchen. She was crying. She explained that Mircea had gotten some work lined up for himself in Moscow for a few months. He thought the pay would be enough to live on and save some so he could start attending university part-time in Chisinau after he got back. He had to leave shortly and take the long bus ride from Chisinau to Moscow. Her son had never been further away from her than the capital and had always lived with family, but now he would be hundreds of miles away in a city where he knew no one. Tamara used the back of her right hand to wipe sweat and tears from her face. She went back to working over the hot stove and said she wanted to prepare Mircea some tastes of home to take on his journey.
I stood in the doorway of the kitchen watching Tamara. I tried to think of something sympathetic to respond with, but even in English I did not know what to say.
AT THE END OF THE SUMMER, after completing my training and being sworn is as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was assigned to the village of Rauel.
In the middle of that October, one of my teaching partners, Maria, and I watched chickens pick through a small grassy slope covered in household trash on a cold and overcast afternoon. At the bottom of the slope, ducks and geese swam in a stream of black water. The birds belonged to families whose homes stood at the edge of the dumping ground on the outskirts of Rauel. Maria and I were developing and teaching a health curriculum for the seventh graders of the village school. We had brought our class to this spot to observe different types of pollution as a part of a unit on environmental health.
She asked the children to write down descriptions of the trash that was scattered throughout the area. Using a stack of nearby concrete slabs as a table, they began scribbling in their notebooks.
A girl with long wavy brown hair and wearing an old hooded jacket stepped away from the other students and stared at a clump of garbage. Her face was earnest as if she was dissecting it in her mind.
“See that girl?” said Maria.
“Her father used to teach physical education at our school. He went to Italy to work and never came back. He left his family behind and stayed there,” she said. She paused for a moment.
“We used to have a different school director. She went to Italy to work too and left her parents behind in the village. She started a new life there,” Maria said. Her jaw tightened and her eyes narrowed.
“When her father died, she didn’t come home for the funeral and left her mother here all alone. Her mother was so distraught. These people are sick in the head!” snarled Maria.
Maria’s son, a doctor, and his family had been living in Romania on his teacher’s salary at a medical institute. Recently, he had accepted a job in Germany and was home that week for a few days before going there. If his new position worked out, he would move his wife and children there as well.
Getting to Romania for a visit had been relatively easy for her. From Chisinau a person could take an overnight bus or van to Bucharest. The simple travel arrangements made Maria think that her son didn’t live so far from her. Germany, though, three countries away, made the possibility of regular visits remote.
MARIA HAD NOT SPOKEN about how her son’s move strained her, but it was visible. Several days later we had agreed to meet in the early evening to write a lesson plan together. Waiting for her in the teacher’s room, I sat at the wooden rectangular table that took up most of the space. On the wall in front of me was an empty coat rack. The other teachers had already bundled themselves up and gone home. The light outside was fading. Few street lights still worked. The village would soon be almost pitch-black, making walking on the frozen mud roads tricky. It was twenty minutes past the time we had appointed to meet.
Maria burst into the schoolroom, took off her scarf and sat down while apologizing for being late. We began to talk about the topic of the next class and started to write out a lesson plan in a notebook, but Maria couldn’t stay focused. Her fingers, with dirt under their nails from working in her garden, tapped on the table, while her eyes darted from my face to the notebook to the clock on the wall.
Suddenly, Maria leaned forward and asked to stop.
“My son is leaving soon. I want to spend more time with him. Can we do this some other time?” she asked as her eyes teared up.
“Okay. What about the parents’ meeting tonight?” I asked.
We had planned on discussing with our students’ parents the topics we would be covering in health education. We agreed to postpone it. Then, she fled the room.
Later that evening Iurie, my teaching partner for sixth- and eighth-grade health, and I were running a meeting in a classroom for the parents of one of the classes we taught together.
Unexpectedly, the door opened halfway and Maria, hunched over and leaning heavily on the doorknob, took a small step inside the classroom. I stuttered and stopped talking. The parents’ attention focused on the partly ajar door and their eyebrows rose with curiosity. They could not see Maria on the other side.
Maria’s eyes were half open and her cheeks drooped. She nodded at me and asked to address everyone. Not wanting to offend, I told her to go ahead, despite not knowing why she wanted to address the group.
She stepped further inside and shut the door behind her. Surprised, the parents shifted back in their seats. Maria raised her left arm and, as she let it drop to her side, seemed to make a shallow bow. She rose up and began spitting out short sentences between labored breaths, with her voice straining as it increased in volume. Its force made those even in the last row hunch towards the desktops as if hunkering down against a bad wind. The parents did not have faces of shock, rather they stared at the floor or they glanced up and then down again before Maria could lock eyes with them.
Iurie, who had once been a student of Maria’s, slouched in his chair with arms crossed over his chest. He looked down at the floor with his mouth tensed into a small frown. Younger teachers typically deferred to their older colleagues out of respect. Even if he wanted to, he could not interrupt Maria without violating the social manners of the school.
“I am a single mother,” she said. Her youngest child, a daughter, still lived at home.
“My husband has left. My son will leave,” she shouted as her eyes focused on a distant spot past the classroom wall. With each phrase she swung her left arm from her chest as if trying to toss these feelings as far from her as she could.
Maria came to an abrupt stop and her chin dropped to her chest. All the parents watched her, but no one moved. She turned and raised her head. Tears glistened in her eyes.
“Excuse me,” slipped from her lips. She let herself out of the room. Nobody said anything. Everyone straightened up in their seats and looked at me.
For a moment we stared at each other. Their eyes were calm or a little sad, while mine were wide open. I could not think of anything to say. Not knowing what else to do, I resumed the meeting.
NO ONE SAID whether or not Tamara’s son’s work in Moscow would be legal. This question didn’t matter to their family. The job was his chance to achieve a goal that otherwise seemed unobtainable, but, before 1991, had been taken for granted. But even if he did earn a college degree, it would not mean much if the country’s economy did not provide him with the circumstances to use it. Like Maria’s son he would be a skilled professional forced to work abroad.
The predictions for the future of Moldova are not optimistic.
During Peace Corps training an economist spoke to us about the Moldovan economy. Someone asked him about Moldova’s chances for European Union membership, which is a good indicator of a country’s economic status, as members have to meet certain standards of economic health.
“Well, Romania hopes to be in the EU within the next five years,” the economist replied. He chuckled before saying: “Maybe Moldova will be in 25 years from now.”
On January 1, 2007, Romania and Bulgaria celebrated joining the European Union. EU leaders were willing to support the eventual membership of seven other already designated countries. Moldova was not one of them.
Response: November 2007
I googled Paul Theroux whose name stimulated a memory of my youth when I encountered it in the newspaper this evening. Is that the same writer who translated A Life Full of Holes? My mother taught English as a Second Language in the Oakland Public Schools. I might have been ten- or twelve-years old when she brought that book home, a gift from a student who said it told the story of his life. Well, it was Paul Bowles, not Theroux who had translated Driss ben Hamed Charhadi’s story.
How facinating, then to read in David Espey’s article [at www.PeaceCorpsWriters.org] that a connection between Theroux and Bowles exists not just as an artifact of my imprecise memory and modern search wizzardry, but in fact, and that the Peace Corps and it’s product, the common experience of Morrocco, entwine the three.
I, too, remember first-hand John Kennedy’s inspiring rhetoric, but never thought of myself as one who might participate in such adventures. The Peace Corps entered Paul Theroux’s life, shaped it, and never left. This chance encounter with David Espey’s account of Bowles and Theroux makes me conscious, once again, of that irresistable fascination for the exotic, that which is far away, not just in distance but culturally, observable, but beyond understanding, which, for some, once acquired remains just beyond awareness, emerging into full view at the slightest suggestion.
Discoveries of Peace Corps writers have been rare, joyfull surprises. Through the wit of Geraldine Kennedy, Mike Tidwell, and others my parents and son have glimpsed, albeit from a distance, some of that experience which has set us on a different path and made us who we are. Your website may reduce the surprise element, but the more frequent joy will certainly compensate the loss yes, please send me notices of new issues.
Brian Baxley (El Salvador 197678)