Short Works about the Peace Corps Experience

Including essays, letters home, poetry, a song and Journals of Peace.

1
10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Joined The Peace Corps (Morocco)
2
4 reasons you should not hire a returned Peace Corps Volunteer
3
“The RPCV: An Example of a Successful Person” (Ethiopia)
4
“Hyena Man of Harar”
5
Finding “Teranga” from Senegal to the streets of Paris by Carrie Knowlton (Senegal)
6
“Tequila and Temblors“ by John Krauskopf (Iran)
7
“When the Right Hand Washes the Left” by David Schickele (Nigeria)
8
“The Non-Matrixed Wife” by Susan O’Neill (Venezuela)
9
“Back at Site” by Andy Trincia (Romania)
10
Excerpt: LEARNING TO SEE by Gary Engelberg (Senegal)

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Joined The Peace Corps (Morocco)

  Jesse Altman is finishing his tour in Morocco this December and has maintained a blog during  his Peace Corps years.  This is a recent item on Jesse’s blog, reposted with his permission. — JCoyne • 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Joined Peace Corps Close of Service Conference and my Last 4 Months in Morocco by Jesse Altman (Morocco 2016-18)     After closing out my summer work and the month of July, I headed off to Rabat for our Close-of-Service Conference! It is crazy and unbelievable that 23 months have gone by and less than 4 remain for my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. The conference was a lot of fun, but bittersweet as well. This was the last time that our entire staj (cohort) will be together since we all have different departure dates starting in a few months’ time. Having said . . .

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4 reasons you should not hire a returned Peace Corps Volunteer

  Thanks to the ‘heads up’ from Dan Campbell (El Salvador 1974-77) First published on the peacecorps.gov website.     4 reasons you should not hire a returned Peace Corps Volunteer By Caitlin Bauer (Ghana 2011-13)   Yes, you read that right: should not. The Peace Corps used to have a saying: “At Peace Corps we are practical idealists.” Those kind of crazy ideas make returned Peace Corps Volunteers terrible employees. Here are a few reasons why hiring a returned Peace Corps Volunteer will ruin your business. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) question the status quo. Business as usual is exactly what a PCV is trained to rebel against. We are indoctrinated to look for the status quo and squash it. Cashew farmers in Ghana were just given cashew trees when the great drought of the 1980s destroyed all the cocoa. They’ve continued farming the same way, because it works. But we taught . . .

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“The RPCV: An Example of a Successful Person” (Ethiopia)

  The only Peace Corps official to visit my classroom at the Commercial School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was Sargent Shriver. In November, 1962, he saw my tenth graders among other Volunteer classrooms he was visiting in his swing through East Africa. In his usual manner, he came rushing through the classroom door with his hand outstretched and bursted out, “Hi, I’m Sarge Shriver.” I flippantly replied, “No kidding?” It was uttered more in surprise than rudeness. I was thrilled by Shriver’s visit. It was the first time my students had been quiet since September. To rescue myself and the class, I  asked Sarge to tell my students about the Peace Corps in Ethiopia and his trip, and he told us all about seeing the Emperor, and having told His Majesty that there would be another 200 PCVs coming to the Empire the next fall. Our first group of PCVs numbered . . .

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“Hyena Man of Harar”

    Keeper of carnivorous beasts In this walled city of Abyssiania Where once Rimbaud sought asylum From man’s industry. What do you nocturnally seek Among these deformities? Whom you call by name, And bend to touch a hideous face. Do you find more tranquillity Than by day in the market place Where Oromos and Somalis Mingle in silent hate? The African born in the bondage Of tribal aversions Builds his society On ancestral malice. A hereditary disease. Here, however, there is peace Among these rapacious dogs Who cower for carrion. While Rimbaudian companions Hide from such intercourse; Slide like jackals Into the glove of night, And make there of camel dung A tukel that is addis ababa In the brush Forgotten under a cradle moon.   John Coyne November 1963  

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Finding “Teranga” from Senegal to the streets of Paris by Carrie Knowlton (Senegal)

  Teranga by Carrie Knowlton (Senegal 1999-01) • You can fall in love with a person, but you can also fall in love with moments in time, the sounds of drums on the beach, and roosters crowing while women pound millet at dawn. You can fall in love with the way the Atlantic Ocean smells at sunset and the way all those things come together to become your memory of a place. After two and a half years living in Senegal while serving in the Peace Corps, I was smitten. Senegal is that bump that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean just below the Sahara desert on the western-most tip of Africa. There is a beach in the capital, Dakar, where you can sit and eat a plate of fish and rice, watch the sunset, and listen to drumming and the call to prayer. The country is 92% Muslim and French is . . .

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“Tequila and Temblors“ by John Krauskopf (Iran)

  Tequila and Temblors by John Krauskopf (Iran 1965–67) PEACE CORPS TRAINING was intensive and stressful. Superficially, it seemed a lot like the college culture most of us had recently left. Walking around the University of Texas campus in Austin had a familiar feel since we lived in a dorm and attended classes much like any other students. However, the regimentation of fourteen-hour days was an unwelcome novelty. Back at the University of Michigan, when I put in a fourteen-hour day or pulled an all-nighter, I had arranged that torture for myself. In the Peace Corps training program, we surrendered complete control of our waking hours. Classes started at 7:00 am, and every minute was programmed until at least 9:00 pm. In the third week, there was a mini-revolt over the lack of time to go to the store or take care of personal business. The staff seemed to be . . .

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“When the Right Hand Washes the Left” by David Schickele (Nigeria)

  David G. Schickele first presented his retrospective view of Volunteer service in a speech given at Swarthmore College in 1963 that was printed in the Swarthmore College Bulletin. At the time, there was great interest on college campuses about the Peace Corps and early RPCVs were frequently asked to write or speak on their college campuses about their experiences. A 1958 graduate of Swarthmore, Schickele worked as a freelance professional violinist before joining the Peace Corps in 1961. After his tour, he would, with Roger Landrum make a documentary film on the Peace Corps in Nigeria called “Give Me A Riddle” that was for Peace Corps recruitment but was never really used by the agency. The film was perhaps too honest a representation of Peace Corps Volunteers life overseas and the agency couldn’t handle it. However, the Peace Corps did pick up Schickele’s essay in the Swarthmore College Bulletin and reprinted it . . .

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“The Non-Matrixed Wife” by Susan O’Neill (Venezuela)

When Joseph Blatchford was appointed the director of the Peace Corps in May of 1969 he brought with him a set of “New Directions” to improve the agency. Whether these directives were new or not is endlessly argued, but what was clear was this: Blatchford wanted skilled Volunteers, i.e. “blue-collar workers, experienced teachers, businessman, and farmers.” While the Peace Corps has always found it difficult to recruit large numbers of such “skilled” Volunteers, Blatchford and his staff came up with the idea of recruiting married couples with children. One of the couples would be a Volunteer and the other (usually the wife) would be — in Peace Corps jargon — the “non-matrixed” spouse. The kids would just be kids. It would be in this way, Blatchford thought, that the Peace Corps could recruit older, more mature, experienced, and skilled PCVs. And the Peace Corps would stop being just “BA generalists” . . .

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“Back at Site” by Andy Trincia (Romania)

   Back at Site by Andy Trincia (Romania 2002-2004) In Peace Corps vernacular, it’s called “site.” That’s where you live, your base. It could be a remote village, a crossroads town, even a big city. During two years of service, Peace Corps Volunteers utter that word countless times. “Heading back to site,” we’d say. For some, site was a blip on life’s radar. For me, it became a pivotal place – and a home. Now, 15 years later, I’m once again living in Timișoara, Romania. Back at site. Some cities are great to visit while others just give you a certain feel, a sense of comfort, a vibe that you could live there. That’s how Timișoara (pronounced Tim-ee-shwoara) was for me. I remember the first time I saw Victory Square (Piaţa Victoriei) in the city’s core. Hopping off a train at the drab railway station and walking a mile down . . .

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Excerpt: LEARNING TO SEE by Gary Engelberg (Senegal)

“Test of Time”is an excerpt from Learning to See,  a collection of memoirs and short stories about the culture of Senegal and the experiences of Gary Engelbery there. — JC • TEST OF TIME by Gary  Engelberg (Senegal 1965–67)  June 2003:  A lone podium in the middle of the field faced an expanse of tents that protected about 300 guests from the African sun. The Peace Corps Director who was also a former Senegal volunteer, had invited me to speak at the swearing in ceremony of the new Peace Corps Volunteers in Senegal. It was a special day because it was also the 40th anniversary of Peace Corps in Senegal.  The first volunteers had arrived in 1963. I was in the third group that came in 1965 and had been in Senegal ever since. So the Director asked me, as the “dean” of former volunteers, to speak in the name of . . .

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