Last month Eve Brown-Waite published her memoir: First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won my Heart and a Third World Adventure Changed my Life. The book sold for a six figure advance and caught the attention of all of us who write for a living or write to make sense of our Peace Corps years, or who just write. Here is Ellen’s interview. It is long so I’ll post it over the next few days in chunks of prose.
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An interview by Ellen Urbani
Let me be clear about something right up front: I begged John Coyne to let me interview Eve Brown-Waite. I’d heard about her success marketing her book (who didn’t?) and danced a happy jig on her behalf, marred only briefly by my efforts to subdue the fast flush of envy (who wouldn’t?). She and I had much in common — having served in similar countries, married our Peace Corps-sweethearts, pursued similar professions, written about our experiences. By God, Eve and I were destined to be friends! and I wasn’t above pandering for a reason to introduce myself and let her start liking me.
Then I read Eve’s book, emailed her my interview questions, and had a sure and sinking feeling my plan was about to go to hell in that proverbial hand-basket.
To wit, a bit of background: First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won my Heart and a Third World Adventure Changed my Life is Eve’s debut novel, and documents her year (1988) as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador (cut short by a medevac), and her three years (1993–96) living in Uganda where her husband worked in a micro-banking program for CARE. The back cover of the bound galley reads:
College diploma in hand — with some ambivalence [Eve] looked into joining the Peace Corps. When she fell for her dashing and altruistic Peace Corps recruiter, John, all the ambivalence disappeared. She absolutely had to join the Peace Corps, if for no other reason than to win John’s heart. Off to Ecuador she went-and, after a year in the jungle, back to the States she ran, vowing to stay within easy reach of a decaf cappuccino for the rest of her life. But John — now her husband — had other ideas . . . With wit and candor, First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria chronicles Eve’s misadventures as an aspiring do-gooder. From intestinal parasites to being held hostage . . .”
And there we have my problem. That “held hostage” thing trips me up. I can’t read past it, let alone quote past it. Somehow that term epitomizes the reason I couldn’t settle for just asking Eve the simple questions like which Peace Corps authors she most admires (Paul Theroux), what she’s doing now (book promotion & volunteer work), and what’s next for her (a book on her three years in Uzbekistan where John was a Peace Corps APCD).
Said hostage situation occurred one evening when a Stateside friend and an Italian expatriate neighbor stopped by Eve’s Ugandan home for dinner and a movie. The night-guard’s substitute, a local police officer, showed up drunk and belligerent (and armed, per his job specifications) and subsequently refused to let her friends depart the premises for a few hours until the police chief — summoned by a house servant — came and relieved him of his post. It reads as a really funny story (the women try to sedate him, “but not kill him,” by drugging his tea); most amusing is Eve’s escalating panic over a situation that any RPCV will recognize as not all that uncommon in impoverished countries beset by civil unrest.
But “being held hostage”?
(End of Part 1)
Ellen Urbani is the author of the memoir When I Was Elena, a Book Sense Notable Selection in ’06. It is the story of the women she befriended during her Peace Corps service in Guatemala. Ellen lives in Portland, OR, with her two toddlers. Her website is www.ellenurbani.com