IT WAS A GREAT RELIEF for John Ashford to realize that he was going to do something new in his life. In his mid-fifties and happily married to his second wife, Gen, John wanted to feel as passionate about work and life as he had felt when he started teaching thirty years earlier — and he was going to be a Peace Corps Volunteer!
With some convincing, and a short stint volunteering with him in a refugee camp in Thailand, Gen agreed to be John’s fellow adventurer and join the Peace Corps to serve in Botswana in southern Africa.
Once in Botswana, John began taking notes about his “new” life with an inkling that he would publish a book about his experiences. He kept a journal of conversations, cultural differences, people and their idiosyncrasies, and what it was like being a middle-aged Westerner in Africa.
When the Ashford’s two years in the Peace Corps ended, John’s notes didn’t yet make a collection of stories, but after taking several classes on creative writing the notes began to sparkle in his mind. Most importantly, he realized he was able to enjoy his transformative experience a second time by putting it in writing.
DUSTY LAND: Stories of Two Teachers in the Kalahari is a collection of John’s stories that highlight what he and Gen experienced as Volunteer teachers in Botswana in the early 1990s.
Although these stories took place in the ’90s, they have a timelessness that sheds light onto our current times and the struggle to better understand our fellow human beings in spite of our varied backgrounds and beliefs.
Dusty Land: Stories of Two Teachers in the Kalahari
John Ashford (Botswana 1990–92)
Peace Corps Writers
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It is with great sadness that I must report that John Ashford died this past December 21st — the day that Dusty Land was published. He died peacefully after a brief illness surrounded by his family.
I had the pleasure of working with John on editing and designing for both Dusty Land and his first book about Botswana, Meeting the Mantis: Searching for a Man in the Desert and Finding the Kalahari Bushmen. Both of these books reveal John’s deep humanity and sensitivity.
Julie Dargis (Morocco 1984–87) wrote a wonderful review for Peace Corps Worldwide of Meeting the Mantis, which had been published in 2015 by Peace Corps Writers. In 2016 Mantis won the “Peace Corps Writers Editors’ Special Award” given by Peace Corps Worldwide.
— Marian Haley Beil