Reviewed by James W. Skelton, Jr (Ethiopia 1970-72)
Krista Jolivette has penned an unusual book about her 21 months of Peace Corps service as a teacher in Ethiopia from 2018 to 2020. I expected it to be a memoir, but the Preface reveals something different altogether. There, Krista writes about unpacking her things when she got home (in March 2020, she was evacuated from Peace Corps Ethiopia due to the coronavirus pandemic), and shares her vision for the book as follows: “And that is what I’ve done here in this book — gradually unpacked my Peace Corps experience for you . . . in a way that is both honest and vulnerable . . ..” Then she discloses that she tried to write one page every day while in Ethiopia, and ended up with “450 blog posts” of “lists, highlights, joys and sorrows.” So, what we have here is a compilation of blog posts, rather than either a journal or a memoir.
The reference to blog posts piqued my curiosity, so I went online and found Krista’s blog, which she has named “Peace Out Girl Scout.
” On the blog site, there are rows and rows of dated blogs with photos, many of which include her pulling a wide variety of funny faces.
There’s a total of 17 photos in the book, 16 of which are photos of Krista in interesting poses, and I assume all of them were taken from the blog site. Having so many photos of herself seems to be consistent with the nature of blogs, however.
In the Introduction Krista states, “here are a few fun facts about me, in ramble form.” In one long, rambling paragraph she tells the reader about what she does and what she likes and dislikes. The two most interesting comments for me were, “I live for writing lists,” and “I started writing poetry this year.” This is relevant because the book contains a great many pages that are devoted to lists and poetry.
Her love for writing lists is demonstrated by her ability to create a grouping of 30 related ideas that have some connection with what she learned, experienced or observed at the time, plus they cover an abundance of varied subjects. A couple of her poems tell a story that exposes what seems like a sore spot or a complaint about what she perceives as life’s unfairness.
As one might expect, there aren’t any separate chapters and there isn’t a continuing theme, just a series of reproduced blogs, all of which have titles and are presented in the form of short vignettes, long lists and her inventive form of poetry. Most of it reflects the elation she experienced as a PCV and the love she has for the place in which she lived and the people with whom she worked and lived. Although the entries are in fairly random order, her mindset is very optimistic and upbeat.
In addition, this compilation of blogs shows the reader that Krista is a very enthusiastic and happy person who brings her joyful outlook to most everything she experiences and everyone she meets. She also has a knack for using her blogs as a means of providing helpful and encouraging advice, most of which is directed to her female audience.
While there is an element of youth in her writing, Krista definitely lives up to her intention of unpacking her Peace Corps experiences “in a way that is both honest and vulnerable.” For that, I salute Krista’s bravery and determination to tell her story in her own way.
Reviewer Jim Skelton served in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia from 1970 to 72, and worked in the Smallpox Eradication Program there. He is the lead editor and a coauthor of an anthology entitled Eradicating Smallpox in Ethiopia: Peace Corps Volunteers’ Accounts of Their Adventures, Challenges and Achievements, which was published by Peace Corps Writers in 2019.
Jim is semi-retired, having practiced law for 45 years, specializing in upstream international energy transactions in emerging markets. He served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Houston Law Center from 2008 to 2016, teaching the course in “Energy Law: Doing Business in Emerging Markets,” and is a coauthor of the second edition of the textbook Doing Business in Emerging Markets: A Transactional Course. He has published a Peace Corps memoir, 25 articles for legal periodicals and books, as well as several book reviews for PC Worldwide.