Michiko Clark wrote me recently. She works for Pantheon, the book publisher, and she helped to promote a Peace Corps book awhile back, but she was writing now about her family, especially about her uncle Andrew Clark, who recently passed away. In her email, she wrote: “I come from a family of Peace Corps Volunteers. My father was in Nigeria and Uganda, 1966-68. Then his two brothers, Andrew (Senegal, 1978-80) and Peter (Paraguay, 1988-90) joined. The next wave includes a cousin in Mauritania (2000-02) and my sister in the Dominican Republic (2003-2005).
“But it was my uncle Andrew who never really ended his Peace Corps experience. After his service in Senegal, he went on to get his doctorate in African History and became a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, spreading his knowledge and stories of Senegal and West Africa with his students, and encouraging many of them to join the Peace Corps. He worked extensively with Amnesty International, becoming an expert in African immigrant asylum cases in the US, and wrote several books on Senegalese history.
“A natural storyteller, Andrew could often be found sitting cross-legged on the ground with a cup of tea, at the dinner table with a glass of wine, or behind a podium, telling stories. Given that Senegal became the topic of his life’s work, he had a lot of West African stories.
“Ashley Skinner, a former student, has called him a griot, a West African storyteller. Andrew often talked about griots and their vital role in West African society, and explained when a griot died, it was like a great library burning. And so a library has burned down with Andrew’s death at the beginning of this year. We found his unfinished memoir, Lost and Found in West Africa, about his time as a Peace Corps volunteer, the time when he fell in love with a country, its people and culture.”
Michiko was kind enough to send www.peacecorpsworldwide.org her uncle’s unfinished memoir, Lost and Found in West Africa, and from it I have culled three short sections that I want to post on the site over the next few days. These pieces, I think, show how well Andrew understood Senegal, and it gives us all a feeling of how much he loved his host country. In the old days we would have called him a Super Vol.
And now it is our opportunity to keep this “Peace Corps library” from burning, and is our small attempt to help his niece paying tribute to this scholar of Africa.
Thank you, Michiko, for thinking of us.
Excerpt #1 is : Arrival
Excerpt #2 is: Assimilation, Acclimation, and Accommodation
Excerpt #3 is: A Birth