Reviewed by Bob Arias (Colombia 1964-66)
The Peace Corps is guilty of enthusiasm and a crusading spirit,
but we are not apologetic about it!
— Sargent Shriver
Want to know what Peace Corps was like then and now? Into The Backlands, a Peace Corps Memoir takes you by the hand into the early years of JFK’s Peace Corps and the spirit and challenges of the times, 1961-1963. Ken Flies was 19 years old when he reported to training at the University of Oklahoma as part of Brazil II, one of the first. I doubt if Ken knew what he was getting himself into, and Brazil . . . where’s that?
Ken’s memoir shares the beauty and innocence of Kennedy’s “kiddie corps” as the press portrayed the first Volunteers. The isolated community of Correntina would be his home, and his adopted Brazilian family . . . something he never considered prior to his arrival to Brazil, and speaking Portuguese! Ken paints his new home with words and emotions that are new to this 19-year-old. And Ken will never be the same, and Brazil will always be his second home! He found himself, faced the challenges of being a Volunteer, and added new friends and adventures beyond his expectations . . . and the two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer would be the foundation of who Kenneth Flies is.
The beauty and charm of the early years of Peace Corps, with giants such as Shriver, Jack Vaughn, Warren Wiggins and Frank Mankiewicz laid the ground work for what we have now, some 50-plus years later. The fears, frustrations, happy moments, love of our neighbors, and meeting people who will be our “families” is what Peace Corps is all about. Ken and fellow Volunteer Dave . . . made a path that we followed . . . and still do. Meeting new Volunteers in 2018, is like talking to the newbies of 1962. The current Volunteers seem a bit smarter than us . . . but they have that flame of pride and warmth of friendship they want to share. That flame is still within us, I can feel the warmth and strength. Be proud of what you and Brazil II brought with you Ken. Padre Andre saw that in you, and so did Millie.
As you read Ken’s awesome memoir, remember what Mankiewicz believed in, “A Volunteer’s first job is to get to know the people and the setting of their lives; then the Volunteer starts building a community.” It isn’t the monuments you leave behind, but the communities that are now a part of you. I recommend Into the Backlands to RPCV’s, Trainees, PCVs, and Peace Corps staff. Jody Olsen, I am sending you a copy! Ken gave us a message . . . the Peace Corps community is as strong now as it was in 1961! Don’t let anyone tell you differently. I encourage you to read and learn from this memoir, share your thoughts!
As Ken would say, bate papo [chew the fat]. Thank you Ken for sharing your life in Brazil and the person you became. I read your memoir twice, had to relive my memories. My family is very Peace Corps, my brother Ron went to Peru 1963–1965 and I went to Colombia 1964–1966 . . . I believe we were one of the first brothers to serve at the same time. Changed my life.
Bob Arias, a CARE Rural Community Development PCV in Colombia 1964-66, and Peace Corps Language Director at Camp Radley in Puerto Rico 1966-1968. He later served as Associate Peace Corps Director in Colombia from 1968 to 1973, and Peace Corps Country Director in Uruguay and Argentina from 1993 to 1995. Bob was in the Antarctic doing a site survey on the possibility of assigning Volunteers to Peace Corps Uruguay in the South Pole. He returned to work at the Peace Corps from 2001 to 2003 assisting in establishing the agency’s Safety and Security Office after 9/11. Now retired from Los Angeles County where he served as the County’s Compliance Officer. Bob was a “marketing specialist” as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer (formerly known as Crisis Corps) since 2009, in Paraguay, Colombia, and now for a second time, in Panamá.