Review: JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE CONDOR by Emily Creigh (Paraguay)

journey-heart-condor-150Journey to the Heart of the Condor: Love, Loss, and Survival in a South American Dictatorship
Emily C. Creigh (Paraguay 1975–77) and Dr. Martín Almada
Peace Corps Writers
February 2016
470 pages
$17.50 (paperback), (Kindle)


Reviewed by Kay Gillies Dixon (Colombia 1962-64)

Two stories, two people co-existing, contrasting but not connected yet together in Paraguay.

In Journey to the Heart of the Condor, author Emily Creigh chronicles her coming of age experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay in the 1970s while Dr. Martin Almada narrates his ordeal as a political prisoner in Paraguay during the same time period.

The heart of the book is Dr. Almada’s gripping narrative. Imprisoned for 1,000 days during the dictatorship of President Alfredo Stroessner, Dr. Almada describes the atrocities of his and others prison existence. His doctoral dissertation Paraguay: Education and Dependency, inspired by the Panamanian model of educational reform, as well as the works of progressive Brazilian educator and author Paulo Freire, challenged Paraguay’s education system, which caused his arrest.

“To teach is not to transfer knowledge but to create the possibility for the production of knowledge…
The teacher is no longer merely “the one who teaches,” but one who is himself taught in the dialogue with students.”
— Paulo Friere

At that time, many people viewed Paulo Freire’s attitudes as communist.

Coincidentally, Creigh followed the pedagogy of Paulo Friere, passionate about teaching critical thinking in her teaching role at Pima College.

As Peace Corps Volunteers, we serve at the invitation of the host country’s government and do not involve ourselves in the political affairs of the country. Creigh’s group served under the dictator Alfredo Stroessner, a key figure in Operation Condor i.e. she was working for the dictator and his policies.

Operation Condor’s campaign of political repression and state terror involved intelligence operations and assassination of opponents by right wing dictatorships of the southern cone of South America. The countries of Operation Condor involved were Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil and Chile. The program intended to eradicate communist or Soviet influence and ideas and to suppress active or potential oppositions movements against the participating governments.

Peace Corps Volunteers, we embrace our roles as change agents, to make a difference — we can be naïve. While Creigh struggles with her Peace Corps responsibilities, the Paraguayan dictator is imprisoning and torturing Paraguayans who are working to educate their compatriots. Dr. Martin Almada is one of the early victims of Operation Condor. Creigh does not learn this until 2011 as she begins research for her memoir. From the Internet, she discovered Dr. Almada’s book Paraguay: La Carcel Olvidada. El Pais Exiliado (Paraguay: The Forgotten Prison. The Exiled Countryand determined his story needs to be told along with her story.

Journey to the Heart of the Condor is a composite of their two experiences. The authors direct us that we can read their interwoven narrative in one of three ways: (1) Emily’s narrative, (2) Martin’s story of the socio-political evolution or (3) the two together, as they appear, for maximum impact.

Author Creigh holds a conversation with her readers. Sharing her thoughts as a twenty-something newly graduated from college, figuring out her next steps, often she uses contemporary music lyrics to assist her. She opines about all aspects of her Peace Corps experience from training, her peers, her work, her Paraguayan counterparts, life in her Peace Corps village, her social life or the lack thereof.

Dr. Almada’s story, originally published in Spanish, is now published for the first time in English. The text is easy to read and to understand. Dr. Almada’s insights into the political climate of the times reveal the subversive attitude of Stroessner’s government and Operation Condor. This content is not easy to absorb and I welcomed the return to the light heartedness of Emily’s chapters.

Emily complains of annoying ant bites, bed bugs, mosquitos and cockroaches. Dr. Almada watches the activities of the ants and cockroaches sharing his cell as one way to alleviate boredom.

Not only was this a compelling story, but educational for me. I did not know about the Condor Operation and through Dr. Almada’s writings learned about this movement.

As a footnote, when Dr. Almada was freed, initially he was granted asylum in Panama.

Reviewer Kay Gillies Dixon has published two books. Wanderlust Satisfied, which tells of her early years from her Peace Corps experience, and during her formative years with yet another twist. When she marries fellow Colombia PCV Kevin, who shares her wanderlust, together, they move their family of four daughters to Saudi Arabia and live there for five years. Tales of Family Travels: Bathrooms of the World relates stories of Kay, her husband, Kevin, and their four young daughters as they globe trot through Rome, Kenya, Nepal and parts beyond.

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