Short Works about the Peace Corps Experience

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

1
A Writer Writes: “¡Sigue no más!“ by Folwell Dunbar
2
What is a Peace Corps Volunteer?
3
“Toothpaste” by E.T. Stafne (Senegal)
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3 Flash Stories inspired by the Peace Corps experience
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“Make Love, Not War,” a poem by Ada Jo Mann (Chad)
6
“Peace Corps Crown” — A poem by Ada Jo Mann (Chad)
7
“Escaping Vietnam” — a poem by John Holley (Colombia)
8
“Peace Corps Accomplishment” by James Wolter (Malaysia)
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A Writer Writes: “Peace Corps Reflections” by Bob Criso (Nigeria)
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A Writer Writes: Beautiful Stranger — a poem by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala)

A Writer Writes: “¡Sigue no más!“ by Folwell Dunbar

Through the Quagmire of Despair By Folwell Dunbar (Ecuador 1989–92)   Author’s Note: “¡Sigue no más!” in Spanish means, “Continue no more!” or “Stop!” In Ecuador though, it had become a popular expression meaning, “Carry on,” or in my case, “Soldier on!” • When Mike Wooly stepped off the bus, he was carrying a vintage canvas Boy Scout backpack, an entire wheel of farmer’s cheese and a case of Pilsner, Ecuador’s version of Milwaukee’s Best. “¡Listo!” he exclaimed. “I’m ready!” I had two bags of homemade granola, a box of iodine tablets and a small tarp. I figured I was “listo” as well. Wooly and I had planned to spend our Peace Corps “Spring Break” in the Amazon. We would climb over the Andes and drop down into the jungle. There we would fish for piranha, learn the secrets of “la selva” from a wise shaman, and spot scarlet macaws, . . .

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What is a Peace Corps Volunteer?

  Terry Campbell (Tanzania 1985–87, Dominican Republic 1989–92; Crisis Corps: El Salvador 2001–02, Hurricane Rita 2005) • Peace Corps Volunteers get into various activities during their two years, which brings to mind something several of us were involved with in 1990 while serving in the Dominican Republic. Word had come down at the office that they were going to be filming a major motion picture in Santo Domingo, and they needed Americans to appear as extras. And they would even be paying a small amount of money for each day of work. The Country Director put out a letter saying that any Volunteer who wished to could participate, as long as he or she used this extra money for his or her individual project. The movie, called Havana, was about a chance encounter between a middle-aged, self-absorbed gambler played by Robert Redford and a young, passionate revolutionary played by Lena Olin, basically a . . .

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“Toothpaste” by E.T. Stafne (Senegal)

  E.T. Stafne (Senegal 1994–96) • I never knew such goddamn pain in all my life. My fingers searched out the offending patch of skin and found it just above my mouth. In my groggy, half-awake half-asleep state it felt like a fist-sized plug of tobacco shoved between my teeth and upper lip. That explained the bulging I felt, but not the intense pain. Slowly, I rose up from the hot and uncomfortable foam mattress, threw aside the frayed Peace Corps-issued mosquito net, and dragged myself over to the lone mirror in my possession, the one on the inside cover of a Silva compass. Not meant for self-inspection of deformities, its size did not allow for the full effect of horror that I would have realized with a regular-sized mirror. This small one gave me the illusion that it wasn’t all that bad, just a small bump. But as I . . .

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3 Flash Stories inspired by the Peace Corps experience

by Jon Anderson (Gabon/Mali 1974–77) •  A Trip to Okandja Uneven plywood table. Sticky plastic tablecloth. Big bottles of Meuse. We get the cold ones. Since there is no electricity, “cold” means bottles that have been put into a bucket of water. They are maybe one degree cooler than the ones coming from the crate. We try hard to believe it makes a difference. The storm lamp on the table seems to throw more shadows than light. For a while there is no one else but me and Steve. Congolese music playing on the radio. The one armed, blue eyed bartender dozes. Our truck is parked in the darkness outside. Julienne comes in and asks about her bra. Then she asks for us to buy her a beer. But from where the truck is parked there is a sharp, bright, loud scream. Followed by “What the fuck? What the goddamn fuck? . . .

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“Make Love, Not War,” a poem by Ada Jo Mann (Chad)

  • Make Love, Not War by Ada Jo Mann (Chad 1967–69) We joined the Peace Corps to keep my new husband From going to War. We flew to the heart of darkest Africa And changed our lives. We learned the language of the village And wrote it down. We made love under a gauzy net And changed our lives. We drew our water from the police yard spigot And kept it cold. We took drugs against Malaria and for amusement And changed our lives. We taught about clean water and latrines To children and chiefs. We wrote letters and made tapes and changed our lives. We made good friends from around the globe And shared their joy. We packed our bags with memories that Had changed our lives. • In her retirement, RPCV Ada Jo Mann is writing poetry and participates in a Poetry Circle at Politics and Prose . . .

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“Peace Corps Crown” — A poem by Ada Jo Mann (Chad)

  In her retirement, RPCV Ada Jo Mann is writing poetry and participates in a Poetry Circle at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. Recently her writing group was studying the contemporary poet, Patricia Smith, who writes complicated “crown sonnet” poems. Ada Jo decided to write a crown sonnet poem about her Peace Corps experience. The poem is actually 15 sonnets with the 15th sonnet made up of the first lines of each of the previous 14 sonnets, and her whole poem is focused on just one topic, her Peace Corps country, Chad. • Peace Corps Crown By Ada Jo Mann (Chad 1967-69) The toughest job you’ll ever love, they say And certainly a better choice than war A two-year stint on some forgotten shore So far from friends and family, should I stay? Or say my sad goodbyes and fly away. The choice is made-go forth and join the Corps Soon . . .

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“Escaping Vietnam” — a poem by John Holley (Colombia)

  A Writer Writes • Escaping Vietnam   Prime draft bait I was: twenty-four years old and able-bodied, with my educational deferment fast expiring as the enraged war machine scrambled to find fodder to cast into the useless Vietnam whirlpool deathtrap it could never convincingly justify. To avoid the inevitable and stall the military until the magic age of twenty-six when recruits were rejected for their resistance to blind obedience, I had applied for alternative service in the Peace Corps, which while still promising a warm and distant clime, would be of more merit than killing, safe, and maybe even fun. It was an angry and turbulent time: emerging from my tiny student garret where I hungrily pursued graduation as my ticket to physical survival, I found the university surrounded by blue uniforms in response to protests against the war I was trying to avoid: classes and exams were canceled . . .

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“Peace Corps Accomplishment” by James Wolter (Malaysia)

  A Writer Writes:   Peace Corps Accomplishment by Jim Wolter (Malaysia 1962-66) • Sultan Sulaiman Secondary School had no biology or senior math teacher, no library and a floundering boy scout troop before I arrived. Within weeks my biology and math students were making significant progress, I started a library using my own books and revived the scout troop. So I couldn’t understand why I was being replaced by a new PCV and transferred to Tengku Bariah Secondary School (TBSS). I suggested that the Peace Corps assign the new PCV to TBSS, but was told the Ministry of Education’s decision was final and not open for discussion. Worse, upon reporting to TBSS, I was assigned to teach Islamic Studies to students preparing to sit for the Lower Certificate of Education (LCE). I told the Headmaster I knew nothing about Islam and couldn’t possibly teach it. He said that if . . .

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A Writer Writes: “Peace Corps Reflections” by Bob Criso (Nigeria)

In the Peace Corps Bob Criso (Nigeria 1966-67) was in southeastern Nigeria, the village of Ishiagu, and then in the Somalia 1966-67 in the village of Bulo Burte. After the Peace Corps he worked in mental health, and also at Princeton University as a psychotherapist for students and with a private office in Princeton. He retired seven years ago and currently lives in New York City where he reviews plays, take photos (four exhibits), and writes memoir articles.  • Peace Corps Reflections Bob Criso There I was, back in the sixties, teaching English at a rural school in eastern Nigeria, raising chickens in a coop behind my house and hustling to promote sales of the beautiful pottery in the village of Ishiagu. It seemed like a great gig — a house of my own, a humongous book locker filled with classic and contemporary gems, motivated students, friendly colleagues and, in . . .

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A Writer Writes: Beautiful Stranger — a poem by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala)

• “I’ve seen them from bus windows in Chimaltenango, stepping out at dusk before the men come. They aren’t pretty. Have you noticed how their waists always look like they’re supporting gun belts and their eyes always seem to be in shadow, as if curtains had been pulled over them? “Changing busses once in El Rancho, I was walking across town, if you want to call it a town — it’s all dust and cashew stands — and out of the back door of some building stepped this woman, no, only a girl. She was as tall as I was and she didn’t have the gun-belt waist and she didn’t have the shadowed eyes, although I could tell she was going to get them one day, one day soon. She smiled at me, a smile I bet she’d worn a thousand times already, and she motioned to me like someone . . .

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