During World War II, 12,000 Allied prisoners of war died while constructing a bridge over the river Kwai in western Thailand, and then a railway through the thick jungles of the Kwai Valley all the way to Burma.
Decades later, during the Vietnam War, Jonathan R.C. Green enlisted as a medic in the U.S. Army, expecting to take care of wounded Americans and Asians, but was kept in a Stateside assignment instead, much to his frustration. So, shortly before his enlistment expired, he applied for the Peace Corps and asked to serve in Southeast Asia.
Six weeks after leaving the Army, he arrived in Thailand as a Peace Corps Volunteer. His job assignment was to fight malaria by controlling the mosquito populations in remote jungle villages in the valley of the infamous River Kwai.
Besides the hazards posed by snakes, scorpions and centipedes in the jungle, he ran the risk of contracting malaria, dengue fever and other mosquito-borne diseases, while suffering severe bouts of dysentery. He often had to live on a monotonous diet of rice, bamboo shoots and hot sauce three times a day, with the only reasonably safe drinking water coming from rain barrels teeming with mosquito larvae.
While becoming accustomed to a rugged lifestyle in the jungle, he had to quickly learn a complex language and exotic culture. An inadvertent misstep in manners could have damaged his credibility, and hence the outcome of his undertaking, as badly as catching the disease he was supposed to be fighting.
Fighting Malaria on the River Kwai
A Peace Corps Memoir
By Jonathan R.C. Green (Thailand 1974–75, South Africa 2015–17, Liberia 2017–18)
$ 53.95 (paperback); $3.99 (Kindle)