“Two months before I was supposed to leave the Peace Corps,” Theroux recalled in a 1971 essay published in Esquire and reprinted in Sunrise with Seamonsters, “I was charged with conspiring against the government. All I did was to help several Africans: help one’s mother, help another with his car, maybe write a few mild anti-government [U.S.] articles. But I was linked to a plot to assassinate Hastings Banda. Well, people I knew were actually trying to shoot Banda. So it was more guilt by association.”
Writing about this in Esquire, under the title, “The Killing of Hastings Banda,” Theroux explained how he had innocently gotten mixed up with the German equivalent of the CIA. He was writing, “background” pieces for what he understood was a German magazine, but what was actually their intelligence service. This, of course, was –and still is–against Peace Corps regulations.
Theroux wasn’t kicked out of the Peace Corps for writing articles about Malawi, but toward the end of his second year as a Volunteer, he made the mistake of helping a Malawian friend, David Rubadiri, a former headmaster of Theroux’s school and later a delegate to the United Nations. Rubadiri had recently been denounced by Hastings Banda, had left the U.N. in New York, and was living in political exile in Uganda.
Paul wrote in his article how Rubadiri sent a letter to him from Uganda, “asking me if I could find it in my heart to help his mother flee the country, and also would I mind driving his car to Uganda with his set of best china, a dinner service for twelve.”
Theroux, as a favor to his friend, did transport the car, the mother and the china to Kampala. On his way back to Malawi by plane, and at Rubadiri’s request, he flew via Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to deliver an envelope to Yatuta Chisiza, a revolutionary who had organized an army that was attacking Malawi border posts in hopes of eventually overthrowing Banda.
As Theroux wrote in Esquire, “My readiness to say yes to favors may suggest a simplicity of mind, a fatal gullibility’ but I was bored.” Next, he carried a coded message from Yatuta Chisiza to a ‘Greek fellow” in Blantyre. When Theroux delivered the message–that on October 16 the Greek baker was to take his bread to Ncheu, a town thirty mile from Blantyre–the baker “trembled and went pale.”
Later, in a Chinese restaurant in Salisbury, Rhodesia, Theroux was told by Malawi APCD Wes Leach that Banda told the American ambassador that he had proof Theroux was plotting to kill him. Banda demanded the Volunteer be sent home.
Theroux guessed that the Greek baker had been caught, interrogated by the Malawi Criminal Investigation Department about the “bread van’ and, frightened for his own life, set up the American messenger. Using Theroux’s name, government agents had established correspondence with Chisiza in Dar es Salaam. Later, instead of finding ‘bread’ waiting in a van, Chisiza found Malawi soldiers, who ambushed and killed the revolutionary gunman from Tanzania. Sent home from Africa, Theroux stayed at the famous Claridge Hotel, around the corner from the first Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C., the Maiatico Building. He was in and out in less than a week. The Peace Corps then added to his misery by deducting his airfare from Africa to Washington from his readjustment allowance, leaving him with only $200–not much, even in 1965.
African friends, however, came to his rescue and found him a job at Makerere University in Uganda, where he was appointed the director of the university center for adult studies in Kampala.[What happened next to Theroux?]