Going To Mexico: Stories of My Peace Corps Service
by David H. Greegor (Mexico 2007-11)
$14.99 (paperback), $6.99 (Kindle)
Reviewed by Bob Criso (Nigeria 1966-67, Somalia 1967-68)
DAVID H. GREEGOR’S Going To Mexico is a short, light and breezy collection of anecdotes and vignettes that illustrate various aspects of rural Mexican culture during the author’s Peace Corps service. Mr. Greegor and his wife Sonya, both older PCVs, lived in Queretaro, Mexico from 2007 to 2010 and worked as environmental advisors in nearby pueblos. David worked on deforestation and erosion while Sonya promoted environmental education. Having lived in Tuscon, Arizona, they had been to Mexico many times, but it was their adventures in the small pueblos that revealed a different, more indigenous, Mexico to them and became their most memorable experiences.
More like a diary or a journal than a memoir, Going To Mexico recalls a number of personal observations and experiences, many of them humorous, as a way of remembering his Peace Corps experience. Some examples: the quirky — but efficient — intercity bus drivers contrasted to their madcap intracity colleagues (“Speedy Gonzalez,” “Top Gun,” “Don Juan”); the struggle to get more than three squares of toilet paper from a female rest room attendant during a serious bout of Montezumas revenge; the varied, but always welcoming, responses from the poverty-stricken women in the bleak community centers; and the constant language struggles (referring to eggs as if they were testicles). Greegor’s most personal and poignant recollection is of his host-family during training in Queretaro. He and his wife remained friends with their hosts until the unfortunate death of Ricardo, whom the author fondly refers to as “Papa Ricardo” even though they were close in age.
This book essentially charts the happy experience of two people who had the time of their lives during their Peace Corps years. It’s strength is in the author’s personal voice that is infused with optimism and positivism, never losing his sense of humor. (I wondered if the book had an endorsement from the Mexican Bureau of Tourism.)
Queretaro however, is not a typical Peace Corps experience. It’s one of the safest, cleanest, most dynamic cities in Latin America, a World Heritage Site with a large middle class, and a thriving economy. It’s a bus ride away from some of the most glamorous resorts on the west coast of Mexico. Mr. Greegor tends to romanticize the people he meets in the pueblos during the day and overestimates their happiness with the simple life, contrasting it with the complex frenzy of America. He makes little reference as to what may be behind those personable smiles who greet him — the lack of basic medical and dental care, the scarcity of educational opportunity, lack of basic local infrastructure, high crime, corruption, chronic alcoholism, deadly land-ownership battles, broken families because of emigration to America and so on.
Going To Mexico could be a quick, fun read for those who want a chuckle here and there about one man’s enjoyable Peace Corps experience. It might have worked better as a magazine article rather than a book.
Reviewer Bob Criso had a half-time private psychotherapy practice in Princeton, NJ and a half-time position at Princeton University Counseling and Psychological Services. Now retired, he is a writer, theater critic, photographer and inveterate traveler. (firstname.lastname@example.org)