Theroux & Tarzan & Me, Part 6

I forgot about Theroux until late in 1967, in my last months as an APCD in Ethiopia. One day, in that wonderful crammed English and French Giannopoulos Bookstore at the top of Churchill Road, just off the piazza in Addis Ababa, I picked up a copy of Transition, the Ugandan literary magazine. In it was an essay, “Tarzan is an Expatriate,” written by Paul, who was identified as a lecturer in English at Makerere University in Kampala. There was no mention of the Peace Corps.

In the essay, Theroux confessed that he spent his pre-adolescent years reading comic books inspired by the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. [Theroux would later tell Harris Wofford (PC Staff: D.C & Ethiopia 1962-66) – early architect of the Peace Corps and former Pennsylvania senator – that when he read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness he put his finger on the title page and said, “When I grow up I shall go there.”]

But Theroux had gone far beyond Burroughs and understood what Tarzan – the “white man in Africa,” – really meant to expatriates, missionaries and PCVs. “The expatriate has all of these rewards together with a distinct conviction that no one will bother him; he will be helped by the Africans and overrated by his friends who stayed in England or the United States. He is Tarzan, the King of the Jungle.”

Reading the essay shook my beliefs about Peace Corps Volunteers in developing countries. I clipped the article and saved it. A few years later when I returned to visit Ethiopia in ’69, I found the new Peace Corps staff had mimeographed the essay and was using it for in-country training.

Now, Paul was Training new PCVs. 

[Part 6]

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