Review | TALES OF AN IKUT SWAMI by Cristina Kessler (Honduras, Kenya, Seychelles)


Tales of an Ikut Swami
Cristina  Kessler (Honduras 1973–75, Kenya 1975–76, Seychelles 1976–78)
[Cover design Frank Welffens; Photographs by Cristina Kessler] Self-published
$12.00 (paperback)

Reviewer — Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993–96)


Cristina met her husband, Joe, in 1973 during training in Puerto Rico. As a volunteer, he was assigned to Peru and she to Honduras.

Six months later he transferred to Honduras.  Peace Corps told them they could only

Cristina Kessler

serve together if they were married, so they agreed to risk it for a year.  That was 50 years ago this August!  They served from 1973 to 1978 in Honduras, Peru, Kenya and the Seychelles. Joe was later hired by CARE and they were sent to Sierra Leone.

As an Ikut Swami — Malay for one who follows her husband — Cristina . . . and Joe spent twenty years in Africa, seven years in Latin America and two years in Asia, living in or visiting 111 countries on all seven continents.  When Joe left CARE they moved to St. John, in the Virgin Islands, where Joe became president of a small NGO called Friends of Virgin Islands National Park. Last year they moved to Sarasota, Florida.

Wherever they went, Cristina made connections with incredible women . . . the subject of this book. She has also written five picture books, four Young Adult novels and two e books for kids. In 2002 “Peace Corps Writers” gave Cristina the “Best Children’s Writing Award” for her book, Jubela. Her writing style is lyrical and gripping; she is an eloquent storyteller.

Her descriptions of the women in this book are so vivid that I actually felt that I’d met them all myself.  “The Frightened Bride,” set in Lamu, Kenya, describes a trembling young woman who meets her husband for the first time on their wedding day. Cristina meets Nuer women on a boat navigating 1,000 miles of the Nile River in her story, “A Sea of Nipples.”  Zuwena, a 45-year-old woman in Zanzibar tends a seaweed shamba and sends her kids to school with her profits.  “The Pistol in Paradise” features Veve Jacobson in the South Pacific atoll of Nuie, who was elected to the House Assembly,  “stirring up a lot by challenging old systems, old governing styles, and best of all, old men.”

Cristina is a brilliant photographer. She created the collage of women she’d known on the book’s cover.

Cristina has been a prolific writer.  You can find her on  Titles of her other books, including Trouble in Timbuktu, and The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela,  will give you a clue about her global perspectives on history, culture, and especially women and children.


Reviewer Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993–96) worked for the United Nations and UNESCO, for Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Harvard University, and she worked with Roma (Gypsies) for fifteen years, became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal at the age of 55, then went to work for the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti for five years. She retired in Florida in 2002, and wrote a memoir of Senegal, Roller Skating in the Desert, and of Haiti, In the Valley of Atibon, as well as several travel memoirs.( or She is president of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Gulf Coast FL.

 In 2017 Leita received the Peace Corps Lillian Carter Award. This award recognizes exceptional Peace Corps Volunteers who served at age 50 or over and have continued to advance the Peace Corps’ Third Goal.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Copyright © 2022. Peace Corps Worldwide.