Archive - August 2009

1
Talking With Thomas Hollowell About Allah's Garden
2
Theroux's Love/Hate Relationship With The Peace Corps, Part 5
3
RPCV Mike Meyer Writes About Beijing One Year After the Summer Games
4
Theroux: In, Up, And Out Of The Peace Corps, Part 4
5
Paul Theroux, Persona Non Grata, Part 3
6
A Crack In The Earth, Paul Theroux, Part 2
7
Peace Corps Writer: Paul Theroux, Part 1
8
A Writer Writes: A Poem For Hemingway
9
Review: Peace Corps Memoir of Romania
10
RPCVs And The FBI!

Talking With Thomas Hollowell About Allah's Garden

By John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962-64) From a Google Alert I first read about Thomas Hollowell of Indiana and his new book  Allah’s Garden. It mentioned that Tom had been in Morocco as a PCV and his book was set in the Sahara Desert. Also it was published by a small-and new to me-Illinois press. Being from the farmlands myself, I was curious about Tom and I tracked down the press, and they helped me find, Thomas Hollowell, who is a hard man to find, busy as he is, and as you’ll see from this interview, trekking through the Sahara when he is not back in the U.S. However, by the magic of emails, I was able to interview Tom about his misadventures in the Peace Corps, and his adventures in the desert. First off, Tom, where are you from in the States? I’m from Gessie, Indiana, a quiet town of . . .

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Theroux's Love/Hate Relationship With The Peace Corps, Part 5

Like most RPCVs, Paul Theroux has a love/hate relationship with the Peace Corps. In the essay, “Reminiscence: Malawi,” which appeared in Making A Difference: The Peace Corps at Twenty-Fiveedited by Milton Viorst [NY: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1986], Theroux recalls, “I remembered all the official freeloaders who came out from Washington on so-called inspection tours, and how they tried to ingratiate themselves. ‘You’re doing wonderful work here. . . . It’s a great little country,’ they said; but for most of them it was merely an African safari. They hadn’t the slightest idea of what we were doing, and our revenge was to take them on long, bumpy rides through the bush.” A lot of his reaction to the agency goes back to being kicked out of the Peace Corps and left nearly penniless on the streets of Washington, as well as to those early staffers in Africa. Bob Poole was the . . .

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RPCV Mike Meyer Writes About Beijing One Year After the Summer Games

Michael Meyer (China 1995-97) author of The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed which won the Paul Cowan Non-Fiction Award for 2009 given by PeaceCorpsWriters returned to Beijing recently and has written an article about his visit to the site of the 2008 Olympics for Sports Illustrated. “One World, One Dream One year Later” is in the August 3, 2009, issue of the magazine, but you can read it here: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1158404/index.htm By many measures, writes Meyer, “the 2008 Olympics were a smashing success, but for the people of Beijing, the Games have left a mixed legacy.” Meyer’s book on Beijing, published by Walker & Company in 2008, detailed the life in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and the dislocation and overturning of its storied culture as the city prepared to host the ’08 Summer Games.

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Theroux: In, Up, And Out Of The Peace Corps, Part 4

Sent home from Africa by CD McCone (who was also terminated from Malawi for ‘poor judgment,’) Theroux stayed at the Claridge Hotel in Washington, D.C., around the corner from the original Peace Corps Headquarters, then at 806 Connecticut Avenue in the old Maiatico Building. The quaint and small Claridge Hotel was the “Peace Corps” hotel and a steady stream of staff, would-be staff, and PCVs back from overseas stayed in its tiny rooms off of Farragut Squire. Next door to the hotel was the Chez Francois, the agency’s hang-out restaurant, with its outside tables and view of Lafayette Park, and the White House itself just beyond the leafy trees. Meals at Chez Francois cost more than what PCVs could afford and Theroux ate at the Hot Shoppe next to the Maiatico Building and the Peace Corps office. Theroux was in and out of the Claridge Hotel in less than a . . .

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Paul Theroux, Persona Non Grata, Part 3

Paul Theroux lived, not only on the edge of the Rift, but also on the edge of the Peace Corps. He was the Volunteer who lived in the African village without servants. He drank in the shanty bars instead of with the Brits at their gymkhanas. He went home with African women and did not date the pale daughters of British settlers when they came home on holidays from their all-white Rhodesian boarding schools. He hated the PCVs who ran with the ex-pats, the “wog bashers,” as they called themselves. But though he held himself apart from his fellow PCVs, Theroux was, according to his country director, Michael McCone, “an outstanding teacher who lived up to the Peace Corps standard of involvement in his school.” And it was this very involvement with his fellow teachers and African friends that finally got him into big trouble. “Two months before I was . . .

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A Crack In The Earth, Paul Theroux, Part 2

In 1964 Paul Theroux was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nyasaland (as Malawi was called before independence), living on the edge of “a crack in the earth,” as he wrote in a letter home to The Christian Science Monitor. That same year I was a PCV farther north, up in the highlands of Ethiopia, a few hours east of the Great Rift. Though our years in Africa overlapped, I didn’t know Theroux then. But I heard of him. By the time he was 23, his outspokenness had already made him notorious within the Peace Corps. In the fall of 1965, I returned to Ethiopia as an Associate Peace Corps Director (APCD), and Theroux appeared as a central character in a story that swept through Peace Corps/Africa. The Peace Corps CD in Malawi had been sent home by the U.S. Ambassador, Sam P. Gilstrap. It seems that the Malawi PCVs had . . .

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Peace Corps Writer: Paul Theroux, Part 1

He went – in the way the Peace Corps rolls the dice of our lives – to Africa as a teacher. “My schoolroom is on the Great Rift, and in this schoolroom there is a line of children, heads shaved liked prisoners, muscles showing through their rags,” he wrote home in 1964. “These children appear in the morning out of the slowly drifting hoops of fog-wisp. It is chilly, almost cold. There is no visibility at six in the morning; only a fierce white-out where earth is the patch of dirt under their bare feet, a platform, and the sky is everything else.” How many of us stood in front of similar classrooms and saw those young faces arriving with the dawn? How many of us could have written the same sentiments – though not the same sentences – home? And how many of us wanted to be the writer . . .

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A Writer Writes: A Poem For Hemingway

Sunday Morning July 2, 1961 The road home was flat. Miss Mary drove. The old hunter, watching The distant hills, Small breasts against the plains, Thought of Kenya, the rugged Mountains, where death was Close as brush, Gentler than the Slow defacing of flesh.   Fragile as the light birds he Picked from the sky Decades and miles away, He no longer heard the call. He wrote of sin as no small town Methodist ever had, Carving his prose with a new King of tool; Honed in the woods of Michigan, Sharpened by a fascist war, And tempered for an old man of Cuba. Pencils now were hollow in his hands, The juice that flowed so ready Had yellowed in his veins. He was what Gertrude had proclaimed.   Sunday he woke to our tragedy, Sought in the library of his exile His own Kilimanjaro. Feeling in sick hands the . . .

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Review: Peace Corps Memoir of Romania

Bread, Salt, & Plum Brandy: A True Story of Love and Adventure in a Foreign Land by Lisa Fisher Cazacu (Romania 2002–04) San Diego, CA: Aventine Books April 2009 224 pages $14.95 Reviewed by Don Messerschmidt (Nepal 1963-65). There’s something unsettling about one RPCV reading another Peace Corps Volunteer’s memoirs. It inevitably conjures up comparisons and, as often, both sharply similar and contrasting emotions. Never mind that our stories are two continents, four decades, and a gender apart (Romania vs. Nepal, the 2000s vs. the 1960s, and she vs. me), Lisa Fisher Cazacu’s memoir of her PC experience is both remarkably alike and uniquely different from my own. Our mutual experiences range from initial doubts about joining the Peace Corps, to serious culture shock upon arrival in country (and ‘reverse’ culture shock on return home to the states), to difficulties learning the language and various social do’s-&-don’ts, to a host . . .

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RPCVs And The FBI!

The Committee of Returned Volunteers (CRV), the first national organization of RPCVs in 1965 actively opposed the Vietnam war. Their copious writings–newsletters, information kits, analytical papers–portrayed the goals of U.S. foreign policy as exploitative. The true function of the Peace Corps, they believed, was to mask this imperialism by putting a warm and friendly face on America’s presence overseas. CRV members were among the marches showered with tear gas at the 1968 Democratic convention, and in 1970 they occupied the Peace Corps building in Washington for 36 hours to protests the student killings by National Guardsmen at Kent State and Jackson State Universities, as well as the invasion of Cambodia. All of this is detailed by Karen Schwartz who found out this information by filing a Freedom of Information Act request back in 1988 when she was research her book on the agency, What You Can Do For Your Country: An . . .

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