Short Works about the Peace Corps Experience

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

1
A Writer Writes — “Margarita Sonrise” a short short story by Chris Honore’ (Colombia)
2
“The Road Taken” — Hank Fincken (Peru): Fulfilling the Third Goal of the Peace Corps
3
“Our Wonderful Cook, Aragash Haile” by Richard Lyman (Ethiopia)
4
“Remembering Zewale Zegeye” by Richard Lyman (Ethiopia)
5
“Learning to Make Lasagna in Kyrgyzstan” by Jia Tolentino (Kyrgyzstan)
6
A Writer Writes – “The Potato Caper” by Evelyn Kohl LaTorre (Peru)
7
A Writer Writes “Hurricane Mitch, Honduras, A Baseball Memory”
8
A Writer Writes — “Development Is Down This Road” by Abigail Calkins Aguirre (Cameroon)
9
A Writer Writes — “The Roads Are Closing” by Patricia McArdle (Paraguay)
10
A Writer Writes — “The Art of Medicine” by Jack Allison (Malawi)
11
A Writer Writes — “Stop the Killing” by Robert Wanager (Cameroon)
12
“East Meets West: An Account of a Trip to West Africa”
13
“The Other Kristen” by Kristen Roupenian (Kenya)
14
10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Joined The Peace Corps (Morocco)
15
4 reasons you should not hire a returned Peace Corps Volunteer

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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A Writer Writes – “The Potato Caper” by Evelyn Kohl LaTorre (Peru)

 The Potato Caper by Evelyn LaTorre (Peru 1964-66)) The morning of March 25, 1965, dawned dry and warm in the town of Abancay, altitude, 7,000 feet, where I lived as a Peace Corps volunteer. The moisture that fell during the night had been unexpected because the rainy season in the Andean mountain area of Peru had usually ended by February. The cloudless day meant my clothes would dry if I washed them. So I snatched the galvanized steel bucket from the porch and headed to fill it from the nearby faucet in the big water basin. “After laundry duty,” my roommate Marie shouted from inside our 12×15-foot cinderblock home, “let’s hike up the side of one of the mountains.” “Good idea,” I said, turning on the faucet. “We can pack some cheese sandwiches, apples and cookies and have a picnic.” I filled the bucket with water, still frigid from its . . .

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A Writer Writes “Hurricane Mitch, Honduras, A Baseball Memory”

  Hurricane Mitch, Honduras, A Baseball Memory By Donald Dirnberger (Antigua 1977-79)   The year was 1998. Hurricane Mitch was the second-deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record, causing over 11,000 fatalities in Central America, with over 7,000 occurring in Honduras alone. Due to the slow motion of the storm and catastrophic flooding. It was the deadliest hurricane in Central America, surpassing Hurricane Fifi-Orlene, which killed slightly fewer people there in 1974. The thirteenth named storm, ninth hurricane, and third major hurricane of the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season. Mitch formed in the western Caribbean Sea on October 22, and after drifting through extremely favorable conditions, it rapidly strengthened to peak at Category 5 status, the highest possible rating on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. After drifting southwestward and weakening, the hurricane hit Honduras as a minimal hurricane. Mitch drifted through Central America, regenerated in the Bay of Campeche, and ultimately struck Florida as . . .

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A Writer Writes — “Development Is Down This Road” by Abigail Calkins Aguirre (Cameroon)

    Development Is Down This Road by Abigail Calkins Aguirre (Cameroon 1987–90) FEW RECOGNIZE ME without my trademark Suzuki. Now I have this red Yamaha DT they gave me to replace it. I’m still white, though, or so they keep insisting as I pass by the shouting voices trying to get me to stop to do a favor, chat, or taste the latest in palm wine. I know I have a bike, but how do you say “I’m not a taxi” in the local language? I’m late, I’m in a hurry, I’ve got to help a women’s group plant rows of plantains and pineapple in their community farm. This road could jostle my insides right out of me. My thighs are sore from being abused as non-stop shock absorbers. Yet, nothing beats a forestial commute: a time to take in the bushmeat hanging for sale along the way. Someone . . .

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A Writer Writes — “The Roads Are Closing” by Patricia McArdle (Paraguay)

A Writer Writes   THE ROADS ARE CLOSING By Patricia McArdle (Paraguay 1972-74) Winner of the Foreign Service Journal Summer Fiction Contest in 2009 • How did I let her burrow so far into me that twenty years later she still lingers just beyond the daylight, curling around my mind like tendrils of sweet cigar smoke, distracting me with the soft clink of ice cubes in her sweating glass of gin and tonic. The thing is, I never should have spoken to her the first time.  She was not my type, not part of my plan. Oh yes, my plan.  Finish my masters in International Relations, pass the Foreign Service exam, hustle my way to the top — marry the right girl, which I did, but it didn’t last. I married even better the second time — the daughter of a former ambassador, but that didn’t last either. I even . . .

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A Writer Writes — “The Art of Medicine” by Jack Allison (Malawi)

    THE ART OF MEDICINE by Jack Allison (Malawi 1966-69) • “I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” — Billy Joel   I was immersed in seeing countless patients in my baby clinic when I was politely interrupted by Mr. Chitowe who requested an emergent consultation: “Jack, I have a most interesting patient to share with you.” “A woman has refused to be seen by me, demanding to be evaluated by the white doctor,” he explained calmly. “She claims that there’s a snake in her vagina, Jack.” “So what am I supposed to do, Mr. Chitowe? I may be white, but I’m no doctor, as you well know, sir,” I pleaded. “Please perform a basic pelvic exam on her, if you will. Otherwise, I won’t be able to . . .

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A Writer Writes — “Stop the Killing” by Robert Wanager (Cameroon)

  Stop the Killing by Robert Wanager (West Cameroon 1969-71) • I and my fellow Volunteers arrived in the grasslands of West Cameroon late in 1969. But, much too soon, I was back on the plane and leaving the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Now, in stories such as “Cameroon on Brink of Civil War” (Ashley Gilbertson, New York Times, Oct. 6, 2018), I learn that the grasslands have been assailed by horrors straight out of Southeast Asia. And that friends are dying, charred in cruel “Zippo missions,” wasted and left to die on dusty village roads…. And so, for the sake of the people I love I must speak out…. The West and the East joined to become states of the Federal Republic of Cameroon in 1961. But, the parts didn’t fit and the union really didn’t work. For example, the West, once part of Nigeria, was of . . .

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“East Meets West: An Account of a Trip to West Africa”

    East Meets West An Account of a Trip to West Africa – Summer, 1966 by Phillip LeBell (Ethiopia 1965-67) This is an account of a summer 1965 trip to West Africa of four Peace Corps Group IV volunteer teachers who flew from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where we had begun our service tours in January of that year. We were:  Sudy Harris and Judy Hagens (stationed in Kombolchia), Letitia (Tish) Coolidge (stationed in Addis Ababa), and me (stationed in Emdeber, Shoa province). We had known each other during our training at UCLA, California in the fall of 1964, but this was the first time we were reunited in this somewhat spontaneous adventure. Attached is a general map of our West Africa trip, along with a map of the itinerary.  Our first stop was in Khartoum, where we were well received by local residents who were both amused and surprised . . .

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“The Other Kristen” by Kristen Roupenian (Kenya)

Thanks for a ‘heads up’ from Bea Hogan (Uzbekistan 1992-94)     The Other Kristen Kristen Roupenian joined the Peace Corps to serve her fellow man, but she found herself trying to best the ultimate woman instead. • When I arrived in Kenya as a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) in 2003, I was the youngest in my group. Life in an unfamiliar culture can be infantilizing: You’re dependent on others to teach you basic skills (this is how you dress, wash, use the toilet), your new language reduces you to baby talk (“Please where bus please?”), and you end the day exhausted by the glut of information your puny brain has taken in. Still, at 21, I was adept at dependence and incompetence, and in this case my expertise served me well. I was assigned to a site in rural western Kenya that was affiliated with an orphans center named . . .

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10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Joined The Peace Corps (Morocco)

  Jesse Altman is finishing his tour in Morocco this December and has maintained a blog during  his Peace Corps years.  This is a recent item on Jesse’s blog, reposted with his permission. — JCoyne • 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Joined Peace Corps Close of Service Conference and my Last 4 Months in Morocco by Jesse Altman (Morocco 2016-18)     After closing out my summer work and the month of July, I headed off to Rabat for our Close-of-Service Conference! It is crazy and unbelievable that 23 months have gone by and less than 4 remain for my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. The conference was a lot of fun, but bittersweet as well. This was the last time that our entire staj (cohort) will be together since we all have different departure dates starting in a few months’ time. Having said . . .

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4 reasons you should not hire a returned Peace Corps Volunteer

  Thanks to the ‘heads up’ from Dan Campbell (El Salvador 1974-77) First published on the peacecorps.gov website.     4 reasons you should not hire a returned Peace Corps Volunteer By Caitlin Bauer (Ghana 2011-13)   Yes, you read that right: should not. The Peace Corps used to have a saying: “At Peace Corps we are practical idealists.” Those kind of crazy ideas make returned Peace Corps Volunteers terrible employees. Here are a few reasons why hiring a returned Peace Corps Volunteer will ruin your business. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) question the status quo. Business as usual is exactly what a PCV is trained to rebel against. We are indoctrinated to look for the status quo and squash it. Cashew farmers in Ghana were just given cashew trees when the great drought of the 1980s destroyed all the cocoa. They’ve continued farming the same way, because it works. But we taught . . .

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