Dusty Land: Stories of Two Teachers in the Kalahari
John Ashford (Botswana 1990–92)
Peace Corps Writers
Reviewed by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76; Costa Rica 1976–77)
MANY RETURNED PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEERS (RPCVs) feel a need to share our stories of life in another country, and our often transformative experiences. Because most of our family, friends and coworkers just are not very interested, we find our audience in local RPCV groups and at RPCV conferences. John Ashford took the next step and filled his need by publishing two collections of stories. Dusty Land is the second of those story collections.
The author and his wife Gen were midcareer and middle-aged professionals when they joined the Peace Corps and headed to the African nation of Botswana. This book of stories and his previous one, titled Meeting the Mantis – Searching for a Man in the Desert and Finding the Kalahari Bushmen, published in 2015, are both largely drawn from the couple’s Peace Corps experiences.
John Ashford writes in an engaging, conversational style. His essential humanity and his sensitivity to people and their cultures shine through in his stories. As he said himself, he was able to relive and once again enjoy his unique experiences a second time by putting them in writing. I can close my eyes and visualize the author telling these stories in a group of RPCVs, or others with an interest in Africa, Botswana, and the Kalahari.
The author and his wife served in the Peace Corps from 1990 to 1992. It wasn’t until 2015 that he published his first collection of stories, fully 20 years after he joined Peace Corps. We should all be grateful that he managed to publish this second book of stories before his death in December of 2017. Enjoy John Ashford’s memoir. Read his stories and compare them to your own. Each Volunteer’s Peace Corps service is unique, but also there is so much commonality in our stories that we nod our heads as we read or listen to those of a fellow RPCV.
D.W. Jefferson was a Peace Corps agriculture Volunteer in El Salvador (1974–76) and Costa Rica (1976–77). Peace Corps Journal (El Salvador & Costa Rica) is his blog about his Peace Corps years. He is currently retired from a career in computer software engineering.