Talking with Nicholas Duncan (Uganda 2010–12) about Tales from A Muzungu

In December Nick Duncan (Uganda 2010–12) published his Peace Corps memoir Tales from A Muzungu with Peace Corps Writers. Here Nick talks about his Peace Corps service and his Peace Corps memoir.

Where did you live and work in-country?

duncan-nI lived and worked in Iganga, Uganda, which is in eastern Uganda. It is a transport hub for travelers and truck drivers coming and going from northeastern Uganda and Kenya to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, in the south-central part of the country. To be more specific, I lived and worked in Nabirye, Iganga, which is about a 5-minute ride from Iganga Town.


What was your Peace Corp project assignment?

I was an economic development Volunteer tasked with helping The Hunger Project in a variety of ways. The Hunger Project is a non-profit organization head-quartered in New York that is  committed to the sustainable end of world hunger.


What kind of work did you do?

I wore many hats. The Hunger Project had a hospital, a micro-loan bank, a nursery, a demonstration farm, a bakery, and sensitization/outreach programs. I would help the staff in any capacity, which meant I would have to research topics that I didn’t have a background in: solar energy, chimneys (the bakery didn’t have one), forestry knowledge, or anything that my organization or someone in the community was interested in.


What was your educational background? Did it help you as a PCV?

I was a business major from the University of Denver.

.My education helped me with bartering, research, and my approach to Peace Corps. I believed every project had to be sustainable, which is why I focused on more infrastructure related projects: solar panels, tree planting, bakery reconstruction, etc.


What have you done since the Peace Corps?

After Peace Corps, I traveled through Europe with some of my fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in Uganda.

I am currently working as a project analyst at a consulting firm.


tales-muzungu1How would you describe your new book Tales from A Muzungu in one sentence?

It is a generalized perspective of what it is like to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda.


What prompted you to write the book?

After living at home for several months after completion-of-service I discovered that most of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers with whom I spoke felt that their stories — like mine — weren’t being heard or understood by our friends and family. I wanted to write a book that captured what it is like to be a Peace Corps Volunteer: the fun, the frustrations, the work, the people, the constant bartering, the copious amount of free time, and how you have to adapt to your surroundings.


How long did it take for you to write your book?

It took me about a year to write it and a year to edit it.


Tell about your writing process. When, how long each day, what time, hand-written vs computer, in your pj’s, etc.?

My scheduled writing process varied. When I was unemployed I only wrote — in my PJs — ate, and ran for the first six months of this endeavor. When I snagged a job, I wrote in the evening.

In terms of my creative process, I would read as much as I could about various writer’ (like James Baldwin, George Plimpton, etc) routines or styles. I would try to follow these established writers advice to new writers and work on my book every day, while self-editing.


During the process did you belong to a writers group and share reading and  critiquing, or have any other way of bouncing off you writing and thinking?

I started sharing my work after I finished the first draft. I was very nervous because it can be pretty daunting to have your creative work judged. I worked with an editor, Philip Turner, who was fantastic to work with. I loved the fact that he has an acute knowledge of African history, novels and non-fiction like Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (a must read and one of my favorites) and Beryl Markham’s West with the Night. Philip’s critiques/advice helped me tremendously.


What are you doing to promote your book?

I am going to promote this book via Peace Corps Writers, Facebook and other social media sites, mass emails, and word of mouth. Hopefully the content of my work will resonate with many people who are curious about Africa/Uganda/Peace Corps or anyone who loves a good story.

Tales from A Muzungu
by Nicholas Duncan (Uganda 2010–12)
A Peace Corps Writers Book
December 2014
156 pages
$14.95 (paperback)

Click to read more about Nick and his book.

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