Archive - May 2016

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FIVE AGAINST THE SEA by Ron Arias (Peru)
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Talking with Rob Schmitz (China), author of STREET OF ETERNAL HAPPINESS
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Do you want to earn your MFA ONLINE?
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Read This and Weep; PC/HQ and the Murder of Kate Puzey and other HQ Crimes
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Acceptance
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Lost Letter From Maria Thomas (Ethiopia)
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Is Peace Corps entering the Red Zone?
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Tony D’Souza: Summer in Sarasota (Cote d’Ivoire)
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KINGDOMS IN THE AIR by Bob Shacochis (Eastern Caribbean)
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“The View from Birauta” by Don Messerschmidt (Nepal)

FIVE AGAINST THE SEA by Ron Arias (Peru)

  In 1988 Ron Arias (Peru 1963-65), Senior Writer for People Magazine, interviewed five Costa Rican fishermen as they were rescued by a Japanese fishing boat in the Pacific after five months lost at sea and wrote a cover story for People.  They had drifted closer to Japan than Costa Rica in Central America. This was a weekend fishing event for these friends, which turned into five months of near death on a day by day basis. Their small day boat, the Cairo, was not equipped for five months at sea, no water, and only the basic food for a weekend. But they had each other and believed their families would be waiting; they had to survive! The men collected rain water to drink, caught fish and birds for food. Ron’s cover story became a book about their ordeal, Five Against the Sea and was translated into Spanish as Cinco contra el Mar. Costa . . .

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Talking with Rob Schmitz (China), author of STREET OF ETERNAL HAPPINESS

ROB SCHMITZ (China 1996-98) is the China correspondent for American Public Media’s Marketplace, the largest business news program in the U.S. with more than 12 million listeners a week. He has reported on a range of topics illustrating China’s role in the global economy, including trade, politics, the environment, education, and labor. In 2012, Schmitz exposed fabrications in Mike Daisey’s account of Apple’s Chinese supply chain on “This American Life,” and his report headlined that show’s much-discussed “Retraction” episode. The work was a finalist for the 2012 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award. He has won two national Edward R. Murrow Awards and an award from the Education Writers Association for his reporting on China. Click to hear His Rob’s “Marketplace” stories. We emailed each other over the course of a few weeks for this interview, and I was helped with questions from a press releases from Crown Publishing about Rob’s new book . . .

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Do you want to earn your MFA ONLINE?

I am currently talking to several colleges and universities about developing an online Creative Writing MFA for Peace Corps PCVs and RPCV Writers. This degree could be obtainable within a year of your service–or while you are still overseas–you would have a MFA degree, and, I hope, a book, either a memoir or a novel before you finish your tour.  The time frame would be one or two years depending on your schedule. Are you interested? I am working with several non-profit accredited colleges that have MFA online programs so that you could obtain the degree while you are a PCV, or after your tour, wherever you are living in the world….if you have a computer handy. I would teach one of the writing courses, and other RPCV faculty would be involved, including several book editors I know. It would be friendly, ‘hands on,’ and approachable courses that focus on your . . .

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Read This and Weep; PC/HQ and the Murder of Kate Puzey and other HQ Crimes

Last January I wrote about Alan Toth (South Africa 2010-12) and his video project, Posh Corps. He wrote me, “Three years ago, I started working on the Posh Corps project. The idea was simple: to discuss the modern Peace Corps experience honestly. I wanted to cut through the mythology and the marketing, and capture the experience of volunteering in a rapidly changing world.” He has been doing that but recently he started to produce a series of Peace Corps reform podcasts. He recorded the interview with Kellie Greene in Washington D.C. at the end of February 2016. As Alan wrote me, “I spent the last few months tracking down documents and editing the podcasts. I’ve wanted to do stories about internal agency problems for some time. I do support Peace Corps, but I don’t support institutional incompetence. It seems clear that the agency has not focused on improving management for . . .

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Acceptance

In my memoir “Marrying Santiago” (2015) I wonder where my two sons would choose to put down roots. I ask: “Would I lose them someday to the place I left behind?” My parents’ only child, I left my California home forty-five years ago to marry and live in Chile. The great distance that separated us was the source of tremendous sorrow for them. While my oldest son married and settled in Chile, the younger one has been living and working in New York for four years. I miss him terribly. Living in this hyper-connected era does ease the pain somewhat – we chat online, talk by Whatsapp and Skype and send photos taken instants before. Today a Chilean friend who passed through New York brings me a present from my son. An enchanting little book entitled Owls: Our Most Charming Bird by Matt Sewell. A rich text accompanies the delightful drawings. . . .

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Lost Letter From Maria Thomas (Ethiopia)

  The Peace Corps Writers’ Maria Thomas Fiction Award is named after the novelist Maria Thomas [Roberta Worrick (Ethiopia 1971–73)] who was the author of a well-reviewed novel, Antonia Saw the Oryx First,  and two collections of short stories — Come to Africa and Save Your Marriage and African Visas — all set in Africa. Roberta and Tom Worrick were married with a young son when they went to Ethiopia as a married couple with the Peace Corps. After their tour, they continued to live and work in Liberia and again to Ethiopia. This time Tom was working for US AID. In addition to her life as a wife, mother, and PCV, Roberta Worrick was a wonderful writer. Her stories appeared in Redbook, Story and The New Yorker. She was a Wallace E. Stegner Fellow and received an Overseas Press Club’s commendation for reportage in Harper’s. She was coming into her own as a literary figure when . . .

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Is Peace Corps entering the Red Zone?

  If you are a football fan and your team (Broncos!) has the ball and is in touchdown range, then the Red Zone is a good thing. Any other time and place, the Red Zone means heighten risk and danger. I think Peace Corps is entering such a Red Zone. This is why. Four of the most egregious crimes against serving Peace Corps Volunteers occurred during a time of transition or anticipated transition from one political party in power to the other. The extraordinary number of political appointees in the Peace Corps agency and the always rapid staff turnover due to the Five Year Rule may have contributed to reduced support to Volunteers during such times. http://files.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/policies/PC_Final_Evaluation_Report_on_Impacts_of_the_Five_Year_Rule_IG1205E.pdf   (Please note: That Peace Corps has adopted one recommendation and now appointments are for five years, not two 30-month appointments. But they are not staggered to provide continuity) Four crimes over more than thirty years . . .

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Tony D’Souza: Summer in Sarasota (Cote d’Ivoire)

  I’ve lived all over the world, and I’d never be able to explain to my foreign friends how important summer is to my American identity. Lots of them don’t even have summer. In West Africa where I was in the Peace Corps, the only seasons were hot and hotter. Central America was like that, too; and in far northern Japan, where I studied the Utari indigenous people, summer was a starving time when the sea ice melted and the seals and whales they hunted headed farther north, leaving them with nothing to eat. But when I was a child in Chicago, summer was a golden season. It meant release from school, from long underwear, from interminable evenings in front of the TV with the world outside dark and frozen and nothing else you dared to do. Summer was like someone had turned the lights back on and we were . . .

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KINGDOMS IN THE AIR by Bob Shacochis (Eastern Caribbean)

  From the Internet: Kingdoms in the Air: Dispatches from the Far Away brings together the very best of Bob Shacochis’s culture and travel essays in one live-wire collection that spans his global adventures and his life passions; from surfing, to his obsession with the South American dorado, to the time he went bushwhacking in Mozambique. In the titular essay “Kingdoms,” the longest work in the collection, Shacochis ventures to Nepal with his friend, the photographer Thomas Laird, who was the first foreigner to live in Nepal’s kingdom of Mustang as the forbidden Shangri-la prepared to open its borders to trekkers and trade. When the two men return a decade after Laird first lived there, Shacochis observes in brilliantly evocative prose both the current cultural and political landscape of the country, and the changes with which his friend has to reconcile. Replete with Shacochis’s signature swagger, humor, and crystalline wisdom, . . .

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“The View from Birauta” by Don Messerschmidt (Nepal)

  When Don Messerschmidt (Nepal 1963-65) graduated from the University of Alaska/Fairbanks, cass of 1963, he was only vaguely aware of the Kingdom of Nepal. With a degree in education he thought he’d become a teacher in the Alaskan bush. But, by accepting an invitation to join the Peace Corps that summer, his life changed dramatically. By September he was in Nepal doing development work in the (then) remote central hills. Since 1963, Don has lived and worked in the Himalayas as a development advisor, anthropological researcher, teacher, and writer/editor. The epicenter of Nepal’s April 2015 Gorkha Earthquake was very near Don’s Peace Corps village. After the quake, he returned twice to help with the recovery work and documentation, under auspices of the all-volunteer non-profit Gorkha Foundation. As a member of the Board of Advisors, Don helps raise funds for rebuilding schools destroyed in the quake. Don can be contacted at . . .

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