Review of Michael L. Buckler's From Microsoft to Malawi

from-microsoft-malawi-180From Microsoft to Malawi: Learning on the Front Lines as a Peace Corps Volunteer
by Michael L. Buckler (Malawi, 2006–08)
Hamilton Books
228 pages
November 2010

Reviewed by Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras, 1975-77)

FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN CURRENT AFRICAN AFFAIRS, this is the book for you. Another valuable addition to Peace Corps Experience literature, it was written and published only two years after the author hugged his African family and returned. Not a timid soul, Michael L. Buckler describes his home in Malawi, and explores several controversial topics such as the overlap of services offered by the Peace Corps and non-governmental agencies, the U.S. foreign aid package, American subsidies and their effect upon other nations, Volunteer use of anti-depressants and Volunteer sexual debauchery. He does something else that reminded me of the infamous postcard incident so long ago. He published a book with an unflattering portrait of a current member of the Malawi Parliament, accusing her of abuse of power. This could have interesting repercussions.

Ironically, Buckler joined the Peace Corps after practicing law for a few years. At the age of 32, he was a bit older than the average Volunteer. He describes his difficulty learning a foreign language (Chichewi), adjusting to a new life cooking over an open flame, using an outhouse and riding a bicycle not for leisure but necessity. There were, of course, other nuisances like a black mambo snake and those pesky bats. A teacher assigned to a remote Khawala village (45 miles from Blantyre) usually reserved to punish undisciplined government teachers, he was befriended by the school headmaster who guided him with praise and sage advice (“None of this is your fault . . . You are full of blessings.”). Aside from teaching, Buckler coordinated a school campus reforestry program, planting fruit trees, and also began the construction of a girl’s dormitory on campus. The latter proved difficult.

Mr. Zimbota, the school headmaster, not only mentored the young Peace Corps Volunteer but literally welcomed him into his family (“If you need anything, I live next door.”). His own children called Buckler “uncle.”  A government employee banished to the hinterland years before, he had personally supervised the expansion of a one-room school house to a campus. His wisdom not only guided the author but stimulated him to complete his service. At each stumble, Zimbota was there to lean over and whisper, “Are you ready to begin?” It was a bittersweet relationship. As a consequence to Buckler’s success, Zimbota was first demoted, then transferred to another post where he died.

Buckler was fortunate enough to create another African family when he invited three male commuter students to share his teacher’s house where they not only lived together but he also tutored them. Prior to Buckler’s service, no graduate of the Khawala school had ever passed university entrance exams. All three passed. One has aspirations to be a businessman, another yearns to be a nurse and the third a teacher. All they lack are the funds to continue their education. So, Buckler wrote and published this book. All royalties and reader donations will be used for that purpose. Don’t hesitate — buy this book! 

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click on the book cover or the bold book title
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Lawrence F. Lihosit is an urban planner and author of eight books and seven pamphlets. His latest book titled Peace Corps Chronology: 1961–2010 will be released for Christmas, 2010.


Leave a comment
  • Until the last paragraph I would have suggested that letting a little more time between service and memoir might have been a good idea. We all do well to consider “interesting repercussions” in lands where infant mortality is high and life expectancy is low, particularly from the safety of our shores. Still, I do understand the urgency for getting those students into university. Life there really is short. Dealing with conundrums (usually plural) is one of Peace Corps’ occupational hazards.

  • One of the interesting outcomes of computerized printing is how fast and easy it is to produce a book. Had Mr. Buckler wished to print this same book in 1962, the production stage would have been a minimum of 8 months and probably longer (depending upon how busy the printer was). Writing itself was more time-consuming, with typewriters and chalk. Even liquid paper did not exist in 1962.

  • Go buy the book.

    It is a fantastic read for anyone. Smartly written. The book not only takes you on a fantastic cross-cultural journey across Malawi through Michael’s eyes, but it also helps us all remember how we can use our hard earned educations to make dramatic impacts on those around us at both local and international levels.

    Without giving it all away, the book casts light on the whole spectrum of human emotions brought on by challenges that are both universal to all of humanity and others that are unique to a few special acres of land in Malawi that Michael called home for two years.

    Live. Love. And read the book. Get inspired and then get your friends excited about it!

  • Matt- I appreciate your passion. Have you posted these remarks on the site as your book review? Sounds like it could help Mike.

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