Short Works about the Peace Corps Experience

Including essays, letters home, poetry, a song and Journals of Peace.

1
KARIN MCQUILLAN (Senegal) — “What I Learned in the Peace Corps in Africa: Trump Is Right”
2
A Writer Writes — Reflections from a Simpler Time (Philippines)
3
A Writer Writes — “A Season of Survivor Was Filmed on an Island Nicer Than Mine“ by Harry Seitz (Tonga)
4
“Leaving Guatemala, Part 4: ‘A year in the land of eternal spring’ ”
5
To the friends and family of recently evacuated Peace Corps volunteers — Katie Hamlin (Madagascar)
6
A Writer Writes — “Margarita Sonrise” a short short story by Chris Honore’ (Colombia)
7
“The Road Taken” — Hank Fincken (Peru): Fulfilling the Third Goal of the Peace Corps
8
“Our Wonderful Cook, Aragash Haile” by Richard Lyman (Ethiopia)
9
“Remembering Zewale Zegeye” by Richard Lyman (Ethiopia)
10
“Learning to Make Lasagna in Kyrgyzstan” by Jia Tolentino (Kyrgyzstan)

KARIN MCQUILLAN (Senegal) — “What I Learned in the Peace Corps in Africa: Trump Is Right”

Note from the editor: Karin McQuillan is a novelist (one novel) who was a PCV in Senegal. (She ETed after a year. ) We published a few blog items about her back in January and February of 2018. This article has just been republished on-line by the American Conservatives. (They loved it.) Karin is a nice woman and a true believer in Trump and the Conservative element of our society. She is like our current (for two more weeks) Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen (Tunisia 1966-68) who, I’m told, is a great believer of President Trump and will follow him anywhere, do whatever he asks, so Jody may be back in the government if Trump rallies his base. Maybe as Secretary of State!  (I’m told she even has a crush on him, but I don’t believe it.) Meanwhile, Right Wing RPCV Karin McQuillan is making her case that Trump is . . .

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A Writer Writes — Reflections from a Simpler Time (Philippines)

Reflections from a Simpler Time By Ted Dieffenbacher (Philippines 1967-69) The covid-19 pandemic has forced people all over the world to change — to simplify daily living, to isolate themselves from friends, favorite places, and gatherings that had always enriched their lives. What follows is an odd COVID comparison, about a time when I had to make a dramatic lifestyle change during my time in the Philippines as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) from 1967 to 1969. Single and 22 when I arrived in Santiago, Isabela, I was suddenly challenged to change not only my daily routine but also my way of thinking (and what language to think it in). Peace Corps gave each PCV a cardboard book locker — a few shelves in a sturdy cardboard box.  Each had about 60 books in it, and because no two lockers had an identical selection, I was able every so often . . .

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A Writer Writes — “A Season of Survivor Was Filmed on an Island Nicer Than Mine“ by Harry Seitz (Tonga)

• I served in the Peace Corps in Tonga from 2014–2016. Some of the volunteers got sent to sites in the capital. They had electricity, running water, supermarkets, the works. A few of the others were sent to ’Eua, a large island close to the capital. Life was a little more difficult there, but they still had all of the basic amenities. The remainder and I were sent to Vava’u, the main island of which is relatively developed, but also much further away from the capital. I alone was sent to Ofu. While technically a part of Vava’u, it is an outer island. No roads, no restaurants, and very limited electricity. Ferries didn’t even run there. I had to hitch boat rides with my neighbors every other weekend to buy food on the main island of Vava’u. Lifuka (Survivor Island) Lifuka is a part of the Ha’apai group of islands. . . .

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“Leaving Guatemala, Part 4: ‘A year in the land of eternal spring’ ”

Thanks for the ‘heads up’ from Dan Campbell (El Salvador 1974-77) Nathaniel Smith (Guatemala 2019-2020) The Times-Independent Utah, June 18, 2020 A group of Peace Corps Volunteers watch the sunrise from the summit of the volcano Acatenango. Photos courtesy of Nathaniel Smith The van carried me away on the first leg of what would be a multi-stage journey from rural Guatemala to southern Utah. I gazed forlornly out the window as we wove through pine forest and out of the valley. My mind cycled through the list of things I had hoped to do in Guatemala over the next year. Though I planned to return someday, whether as a Peace Corps volunteer or not, this experience proved that even the best-laid plans go awry. That morning, when I still believed I would have the entire day, I made what I thought would be my final trip to the town’s thermal . . .

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To the friends and family of recently evacuated Peace Corps volunteers — Katie Hamlin (Madagascar)

As seen on the Ethiopia and Eritrea RPCVs Facebook page —      To the friends and family of recently evacuated Peace Corps volunteers by Katie Hamlin (Madagascar) Midwest to Madagascar.blogspot • As most people know, this week Peace Corps worldwide made the difficult decision to evacuate and early COS (close of service) all volunteers around the world. Many of us only had a couple days to say our goodbyes while some didn’t even get the chance at all. The evacuation process isn’t easy and the processing of returning to America so abruptly is even harder. So many feelings and emotions are happening all at once along with the upcoming reverse culture shock. In general reverse culture shock is often the hardest part of people’s services and that is even when they have had time to prepare. This new group of volunteers were abruptly sent home and now we don’t . . .

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A Writer Writes — “Margarita Sonrise” a short short story by Chris Honore’ (Colombia)

      Margarita Sonrisa By Chris Honore’ (Colombia 1967-69) • My mouth going dry, my heart side stroking toward my throat, I turned slowly, squinting into shadows. Suddenly, Margarita Sonrisa was standing there, wearing a long silk nightgown, wispy spaghetti straps, the outline of her lovely shape lushly revealed. She was something, Margarita Sonrisa. A come hither voice that could chase a note to the deepest corners. Her latte skin smooth, lovely, darkened by the shimmering white of her gown, the front marred only by a delicate spatter of blood. Margarita Sonrisa. You tell me. She sang at a local nightspot, Las Palmas, a dusty place off the strip, all white stucco and neon outside, dim and stale inside. Most nights she stood alone at a microphone singing desperate songs that snapped your heart and dropped it at your feet and made me, like all the other mooks in . . .

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“The Road Taken” — Hank Fincken (Peru): Fulfilling the Third Goal of the Peace Corps

      The Road Taken by Hank Fincken (Peru 1970-72) • In June of 1970, I arrived on the coast of Peru a week after the worst earthquake in the country’s modern history.  What a beginning! I saw PCVs at their finest; delivering aid, and I saw the military government at its worst, confiscating supplies — although it took me almost two years to know enough to talk about it. My Peace Corps work was with el Programa National del Arroz. Our goal was to make Peru self-sufficient in rice, no imports necessary. Because rice is a twice-a-day staple, self-sufficiency would provide huge national budget relief.  We succeeded and then we didn’t. To tell that story I would need to know that my readers suffer insomnia. I enjoyed the outdoor work, the people and the irregular adventures. For example, in early December, my Peruvian co-worker and I were sent . . .

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“Our Wonderful Cook, Aragash Haile” by Richard Lyman (Ethiopia)

    Our Wonderful Cook, Aragash Haile by Richard Lyman (Ethiopia 1962-64)   Marty Benjamin, John Stockton, Dallas Smith and I who shared a house in Gondar had the naïve notion that we were going to be self-sufficient and live without servants. Little did we realize that in Gondar servants had servants. It took us several months to put aside the quaint notion of complete independence and hire much-needed help. The fact that of the four of us only Dallas liked to cook should have been a red flag from the start. Within a week we opened a charge account at Ato Ghile Berhane’s “Ghile’s Store.” It was a wide glass-fronted store just around the corner on the Asmara road from the post office. Behind a tall counter were two engaging young men who would retrieve what we wanted from the floor to ceiling shelves. Our bulk purchases like rice . . .

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“Remembering Zewale Zegeye” by Richard Lyman (Ethiopia)

    Remembering Zewale Zegeye by Richard Lyman (Ethiopia 1962-64)   It was better than any college or high school reunion to see old friends and colleagues with whom 49 years ago I shared an adventure and life-changing experience. On September 13th, The Embassy of Ethiopia, in honor of the fiftieth year anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps, hosted a reception and delicious Ethiopian buffet for Peace Corps volunteers who served in Ethiopia from 1962 through the start of the turmoil in the ’70s. It was my honor to be a member of “Ethiopia I,” among the first 280+ Peace Corps teachers invited to Ethiopia by Emperor Haile Selassie in 1962. At the time the secondary schools of Ethiopia were a bottleneck through which too few students were able to graduate and pass on for additional training and/or attendance at the University. Twelve of us were assigned to . . .

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“Learning to Make Lasagna in Kyrgyzstan” by Jia Tolentino (Kyrgyzstan)

Thanks for the ‘heads up’ from Bea Hogan (Uzbekistan 1992-94)  • Learning to Make Lasagna in Kyrgyzstan In the Peace Corps, cooking gave me a sense of purpose. Or did it just distract me from the purpose that had brought me halfway across the world? by Jia Tolentino (Kyrgyzstan 2010)   I have never been less enamored of “seasonal and local” than I was the winter of 2010. I was living in a small village in the western mountains of Kyrgyzstan, teaching English in the Peace Corps. I had moved to the Central Asian state the previous March, and my arrival had coincided with the beginning of a period of instability there: a coup, a rash of nationalist violence, two militarized evacuations for my earnest cohort. (I had also, due to reasons admittedly within my control, almost gotten kicked out of the program on multiple occasions.) I had lost some . . .

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