Short Works about the Peace Corps Experience

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

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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)
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“Peace Corps Crown” — A poem by Ada Jo Mann (Chad)
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“Escaping Vietnam” — a poem by John Holley (Colombia)
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“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)
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Water by Rachel Schneller (Mali)
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“Notes on the Common Practice of Rape” by Bob Schacochis (Eastern Caribbean)
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Journals of Peace — Gary P. Russell (Ecuador)

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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Water by Rachel Schneller (Mali)

With all this talk of toxic water in Flint, and elsewhere, I thought of one of the loveliest pieces of writing by an RPCV that we published years ago. If you didn’t read it then, here is Rachel’s short essay. • Water Rachel Schneller (Mali 1996–98) When a woman carries water on her head, you see her neck bend outward behind her like a crossbow. Ten liters of water weighs twenty-two pounds, a fifth of a woman’s body weight, and I’ve seen women carry at least twenty liters in aluminum pots large enough to hold a television set. To get the water from the cement floor surrounding the outdoor hand pump to the top of your head, you need help from the other women. You and another woman grab the pot’s edges and lift it straight up between you. When you get it to head height, you duck underneath the . . .

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“Notes on the Common Practice of Rape” by Bob Schacochis (Eastern Caribbean)

Bob Shacochis wrote this essay for Roxane Gay who is putting together a rape anthology that will be coming out next year. After reading it, I asked Bob if we might put it up on our site, as in this piece he discusses several rapes that happened to women — and almost Bob — in the Peace Corps. As we know, the issue is a serious one for PCVs women, and what is being done about it — and not being done about it — continues to be a problem for Volunteers in-country and for the Peace Corps here at home.  •  NOTES ON THE COMMON PRACTICE OF RAPE by Bob Shacochis (Eastern Caribbean 1975–76) A friend, an architect in Manhattan, has a default mantra, an unwanted but repeated thought that loops through his brain as he walks from his Soho loft to his downtown office or further south to Battery Park — There is something wrong with us. . . .

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Journals of Peace — Gary P. Russell (Ecuador)

Journals of Peace Gary P. Russell (Ecuador 1978-81) Monday, November 21 7:18 pm • To this day, my Peace Corps experience remains the most influential and rewarding time of my life. For this, I have you to thank JFK. In forming the Peace Corps, you championed a concept that captured the best in humanity. You gave me and other Americans a unique opportunity to work with other citizens of the world in the pursuit of economic and social development and world peace. Twenty-seven years after its enactment, the Peace Corps is alive and well; its work valued by political leaders at home and aboard. As a child I remember being attracted to the commercials that asked Americans to join the Corps. Even then, as an average run of the mill kid, I was fascinated by the concept, though at the time I never really gave much thought to joining as . . .

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