While the Peace Corps writers from Africa have produced many memoirs from their experiences overseas, RPCV writers from Latin America are sadly far behind.
Nevertheless, some great memoirs were written by Latin American Vols. While I have to eliminate Green Fires: Assault on Eden, A Novel of the Ecuadorian Rain-Forest, written by Marnie Mueller (Ecuador 1963-65), I would have to say there is a lot of memories of her tour are in this novel. Another very fine book, and a memoir, and one of the very first books on the Peace Corps by PCVs, was The Barrios of Manta: A Personal Account of the Peace Corps in Ecuador published in 1965 and written by Rhoda & Earle Brooke (Ecuador 1962-64). Early PCV, Paul Cowen (Ecuador 1966-67), did write his memoir The Making Of An Un-American: A Dialogue with Experience. It was published in 1970. There is some claim to being a Peace Corps Memoir in Craig Carozzi (Colombia 1978-80) Wedding of the Waters, published in ’88. It is his story of traveling overland from Bogota to Manaus during his Peace Corps years.
Tom Scanlon (Chile 1961-63) wrote Waiting for the Snow: The Peace Corps Papers of a Charter Volunteer that he self-published in 1997. There is a famous story about Scanlon (and I’ll tell it again) that President Kennedy told summer interns in June of 1962 when he welcomed these college kids to Washington, D.C..
Kennedy told the Interns, “Recently I heard a story of a young Peace Corpsman named Tom Scanlon, who is working in Chile. He works in a village about forty miles from an Indian village which prides itself on being Communist. The village is up a long, winding road which Scanlon had taken on many occasions to see the chief. Each time the chief avoided seeing him. Finally he saw him and said, “You are not going to talk us out of being Communists.” Scanlon said, “I am not trying to do that, only to talk to you about how I can help.” The chief looked at him and replied, “In a fe weeks the snow will come. Then you will have to park your jeep twenty miles from her and come through five feet of snow on foot. the Communists are willing to do that. Are you?” When a friend [Father Theodore Hesburgh] saw Scanlon recently and asked him what he was doing, he said, “I am waiting for snow.”
More recently we have Barbara Joe (Honduras 2000-03) book Triumph & Hope: Golden Years With the Peace Corps in Honduras that won our first Peace Corps Writers Memoir Award. Also published recently is another self-published account of life in the Peace Corps by Paul Arfin (Colombia 1963-65) Portrait of a Peace Corps Gringo. This story of Paul’s life covers many years before and after his two brief years in Colombia, so the title is a bit misleading.
Finally, we return, as we always do when talking of Peace Corps writers in Latin America, to Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador 1965-67) and his Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle, that was published in 1969 and is still available from the University of Washington Press. This was the first of three books that Thomsen wrote that focused on Latin America. The Farm on the River of Emeralds published by Random House came out in 1978, and The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers was published in ’91.
Thomsen went into the Peace Corps at the age of 44. He had been working as a farmer in California at the time. He came from a wealthy Seattle, Washington family. His father was a multi-millionaire, a man who Thomsen did not like. During WW II, Thomsen was a bombardier on a B-17 Flying Fortress. He writes about his relationship with his father, and World War II, in My Two Wars published posthumously in 1998 by Steerforth Press. (There is still, I’m told, another book waiting to be published entitled, Bad News From the Black Coast.)
Tom Miller, a writer himself, who got to know Thomsen through his own writings, said Moritz “was one of the great American expatriate writers of the twentieth century.” Indeed he was, and he left us, and the world, the best memoir of Peace Corps life in Latin America, Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle.
Thomsen died in Ecuador in 1991 of cholera, but his books live on for every new generaton of Peace Corps Volunteers to Latin America.