Short Works about the Peace Corps Experience

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

1
Water by Rachel Schneller (Mali)
2
“Notes on the Common Practice of Rape” by Bob Schacochis (Eastern Caribbean)
3
Journals of Peace — Gary P. Russell (Ecuador)
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Journals of Peace — Karin Schumacher (Philippines)
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Julie Ellen Fryman (Philippines 2015-17) Tells The Incredible Story of Lola Ko Sa Pilipinas
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Return to Piojo by Dana Dahl Seton (Colombia 1963–65)
7
A letter from Kristi Davis (Ethiopia 1969–72)
8
A Writer Writes: “Addicted to Chad” by Michael Varga (Chad)
9
A Writer Writes: Three short essays by George Branson (Chad)
10
Development Is Down This Road

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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Journals of Peace — Karin Schumacher (Philippines)

Journals of Peace Karin Schumacher (Philippines 1968–70) Monday, November 21 3:30 pm • There was never a doubt in my mind. From the moment I heard him speak of the Peace Corps, as a high school freshman, I knew it was for me. Then, it was a simple dream of far-away places, colorful people and a chance to “help”. The assassination of President Kennedy plummeted me into a shocking realization of the real world – its irrationality and the terrible consequences of self-interested power. His death strengthened my resolve, and I entered Peace Corps training upon college graduation at age 21. I hadn’t yet formed any plans for after the Peace Corps. It was well that I hadn’t, for it was for the experience itself that I shaped my long-term goals. I spent two years in Cebu City, Philippines at the height of the Vietnam War, 1968-1970. I could never . . .

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Julie Ellen Fryman (Philippines 2015-17) Tells The Incredible Story of Lola Ko Sa Pilipinas

Marching On: The Incredible Story of Lola Ko Sa Pilipinas (My Grandmother in the Philippines) by Julie Ellen Fryman (Philippines 2015-17) This story was originally written down on July 30, 2015, the night that it was told to me, so that I wouldn’t forget how my host grandmother looked when she told me these things or how it was that she came to share it with me. It pains me to think that if just a few decisions had been different – if the family hadn’t volunteered to host a Peace Corps trainee at the last minute or if I had been placed in the next barangay (community) over, I would not have had the privilege to sit with my host mother and grandmother that night and listen to how the family I fell in love with was all made possible through the extreme courage and resiliency of the tiny . . .

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Return to Piojo by Dana Dahl Seton (Colombia 1963–65)

Dana was one of the first RPCVs to donate her Peace Corps papers to the Friends of Colombia Peace Corps Archive at American University.  When she returned to Piojo in 2008, she wrote the following essay about her experience.  It, too was donated to FOC Archives at AU.  We print it here through the courtesy of American University. Dana sadly lost her courageous battle with cancer last week. • Return to Piojo by Dana Dahl Seton (Colombia 1963–65) Two events in 2007 conspired to help me realize a 43-year old dream of returning to my beloved Peace Corps site of Piojo, Colombia, in the department of Atlantico on the northwest coast. The first was finding an envelope on my hallway floor postmarked 1973 and bearing the return address of a Colombian family with whom I had lost contact later in the decade. The second was receiving news from the organization . . .

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A letter from Kristi Davis (Ethiopia 1969–72)

Kristi Davis was a TESL teacher in Debra Tabor, Ethiopia from 1969–70, and then a game warden at Lakes Shalla and  Abiata from 1970 to 1972. Here is a letter she wrote to her parents from Debra Tabor  Oct. 10, 1969 shortly after she arrived. • It’s more amazing here every day . . . the atmosphere, that is. I look out the window while I’m steaming plum pudding and see men riding by with capes flying back and scarves tied in back that look like white wigs, and I think I’m living in an early American time . . . or I can walk into the living room and it will be the old West with a large fireplace, skin rug, and kerosene lamp . . . or I can pull seeds out of cotton and become a pilgrim beginning to spin, or 1600 Salem and the witch scare when the wizard next door starts . . .

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A Writer Writes: “Addicted to Chad” by Michael Varga (Chad)

A Writer Writes Michael Varga (Chad 1977–79) is a retired American diplomat, who spent much of his career in the Middle East. The BBC broadcast his short story “There Are No Kangaroos In Egypt,” and four of his plays have been produced and one published (Payable Upon Return; Juniper Press, 1983). One of his essays was used by the Peace Corps as the introduction to a book, Uncommon Journeys: Peace Corps Adventures Across Cultures, published in 2004. Other stories, essays and poems of his have appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The South Bend Tribune, The Foreign Service Journal, Commonweal, Archer, Earthwise, The New Jersey Poetry Monthly, Notre Dame Magazine, The Scholastic, Cabin Fever, and Rider University Magazine. The Peace Corps has a slideshow on its website about his service in Chad, entitled “Africa Colors A Destiny.” This essay was first published in Literal Latte in 2011. • Addicted to Chad . . .

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A Writer Writes: Three short essays by George Branson (Chad)

A Writer Writes George Branson (Chad 1975-78) was a water well driller in country. Since then, and over the years, he has written several short pieces on his experiences in Africa. One of his African pieces won first prize at the Space Coast Writers Guild Conference in Coco Beach. His pieces are short and humorous, all non-fiction vignettes. He has also written a few fables/parables that draw on the animal characters in African folklore. Here are three of George’s essays. • CAMEROON VACATION In early ’77, when we had been drilling wells in Chad for The Peace Corps for well over a year, one of my fellow well drillers, Mark, and I decided to take our vacation in Cameroon, where it was a lot greener, a welcome change from the desert. We got a real kick out of Western Cameroon, the old English speaking part of the country. The people . . .

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Development Is Down This Road

by Abigail Calkins Aguirre (Cameroon 1987–1990) This essay won the 1992 Moritz Thomsen Award for Best Short Work about the Peace Corps Experience. • FEW RECOGNIZE ME without my trademark Suzuki. Now I have this red Yamaha DT they gave me to replace it. I’m still white, though, or so they keep insisting as I pass by the shouting voices trying to get me to stop to do a favor, chat, or taste the latest in palm wine. I know I have a bike, but how do you say “I’m not a taxi” in the local language? I’m late, I’m in a hurry, I’ve got to help a women’s group plant rows of plantains and pineapple in their community farm. This road could jostle my insides right out of me. My thighs are sore from being abused as non-stop shock absorbers. Yet, nothing beats a forestial commute: a time to . . .

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