Emailing today with an RPCV from Ethiopia, I started to recall the ‘famous’ first staff at the agency and the long-time tradition in the Peace Corps of official boondoggle trips overseas to ‘see’ PCVs, but really were just so the Washington Staff could get out of D.C. and on the government’s dime see something of the Third World.
Theroux wrote about those Visiting Washington Officials in some of his early writings from Malawi. This sort of junket was also captured wonderfully by short-term Peace Corps Evaluator Fletcher Knebel in his 1966 novel on the Peace Corps, The Zinzin Road.
Knebel’s PC/W character was Maureen Sutherland, “…a slim, willowy young woman, stylishly dressed…She wore elongated dark glasses, and a sheaf of black hair fell loosely over one eye. Her skin, as creamy as enameled china, hinted of regular facials and a variety of expensive oils and ointments.”
Sutherland’s character was based on a legendary African Region Desk Officer of the early Sixties who would frequently fly into a West African country for a brief, whirlwind fact-finding trip, which she breezily referred to as a “look/see” when confronting PCVs on the ground.
Knebel described his PC/W official on a visit to Africa–“Miss Sutherland lilted on for half an hour, festively dropping names from Lagos to Washington…she gave a glittering panorama of the world of great affairs, its intrigues, its grand policies and even its illicit loves…She concluded on a pitch of finishing-school breathlessness and looked about brightly as though waiting for applause.”
Ah, those were the days…