Reviewed by Tom Hebert (Nigeria 1962-64)
Like military veterans, Peace Corps Volunteers never put their stories and accomplishments behind them. As we say, “Once a Peace Corps Volunteer, always a Peace Corps Volunteer.”
But very few of us have been as totally immersed in a new culture as the author of this intense but bright and sunny book. Having taught cross cultural communication at the State Department, I knew this author wrote truthfully when I read these words on page 16: “Breaking Kola is my attempt to explain African, especially Igbo customs that that build this deep sense of community.”
I mention that because for over 58 years more than 235,000 Americans have served in 141 countries. And, when they return to this country, their devotion to community service continues. Indeed, the Third Goal of Peace Corps service is, “To contribute to the education of America and to more intelligent participation in the world.”
Catherine Onyemelukwe served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nigeria from 1962 to 1964. She met and married a good man from the Igbo tribe whose homeland is in Eastern Nigeria, and lived with him and his extended family over two decades.
As she explains in Chapter 11 of her enlightening and exciting book, Two-Year Assignment, Lifetime Commitment: “I did become a part of Clem’s family and worked hard to fit in, speak the language, and accept the customs.” Her reflections are fun to read and revealing of her interactions with the culture.
She now lives with her husband in Westport, Connecticut. But this reader suspects that she left her heart in Igbo-land.
Tom Hebert (Nigeria 1962-64) lives on the Umatilla Indian reservation outside Pendleton, Oregon. He is the co-author of three books on higher education and a columnist for the Confederated Umatilla Journal.