Theroux: In, Up, And Out Of The Peace Corps, Part 4

Sent home from Africa by CD McCone (who was also terminated from Malawi for ‘poor judgment,’) Theroux stayed at the Claridge Hotel in Washington, D.C., around the corner from the original Peace Corps Headquarters, then at 806 Connecticut Avenue in the old Maiatico Building. The quaint and small Claridge Hotel was the “Peace Corps” hotel and a steady stream of staff, would-be staff, and PCVs back from overseas stayed in its tiny rooms off of Farragut Squire.

Next door to the hotel was the Chez Francois, the agency’s hang-out restaurant, with its outside tables and view of Lafayette Park, and the White House itself just beyond the leafy trees. Meals at Chez Francois cost more than what PCVs could afford and Theroux ate at the Hot Shoppe next to the Maiatico Building and the Peace Corps office.

Theroux was in and out of the Claridge Hotel in less than a week. Terminated early, the Peace Corps added to his misery by deducting his airfare from Africa to Washington from his readjustment allowance. He was left with $200 – not much, even in 1965.

Theroux, out of the Peace Corps, out of money, went back to Africa. African friends got him a job at Makerere University in Uganda, where he was appointed director of the university center for adult studies in Kampala. Makerere University was for many, many years the finest university in Africa, one of the finest universities in the world.

After I published in 2007 an earlier version of my account of Theroux leaving the Peace Corps in the last months of his tour, Paul emailed me to say: “The Peace Corps really tried to ruin me financially and it was only my luck in getting back to Uganda that saved me from the draft. Ambassador Gilstrap was being loyal to LBJ by throwing me out–and in many respects I had been silly (involving myself with the Malawi rebel politicians) and I was also set up by the Malawi gov’t agents, as I described in my piece.

“I always say that my Peace Corps assignment changed my life-and it’s true. The volunteers were better than the organization and much better than the people who ran it; but each of us made our own PC experience, as you know. I still believe that we changed nothing or very little in our countries. But we were vastly changed.”

But by October, 1967, Theroux back in Africa, was in trouble again, this time with the Ugandan government. He published an essay in the wonderful, and briefly published, Transition magazine, entitled, “Hating the Asians,” a report on the mounting prejudice directed at East Africa’s Indian population. The Uganda government protested and letters were written saying that there was no bigotry in Africa and that the Indians could have anything they wanted. Five years later, Idi Amin deported all of Uganda’s Asian population and confiscated their property. [Mo Tejani (Thailand 1979-81) would write about this in his book A Chameleon’s Tale, published in 2006.] But by the time of Idi Amin Paul Theroux had left Africa for the second time.

 Theroux’s four-year contract at Makerere University was important to Paul for two reasons. In Kampala, he met and became friends with V.S. Naipaul, who, Paul recalls, paid: “close attention to my writing (often he would go over something I had written word by word) [it] had a profound influence on me.”

In 1972, Theroux would publish V.S. Naipaul, an Introduction to His Work.This  portrait of Naipaul would be corrected in 1998 by Theroux in his less-than-friendly portrait of the Nobel Laureate Naipaul. That book, Sir Vidia’s Shadow, details Paul’s falling out with Naipaul.

Also at Makerere Theroux met Anne Castle, a British teacher at an upcountry girls’ secondary school in Kenya. Anne and Paul married in 1967 and had two sons, Marcel and Louis. They divorced in 1993.

In Africa in the late ’60s, however, young and single Anne Castle, her secondary school, and several Peace Corps ‘types’ are all characters in Theroux fourth novel, Girls at Play, published in 1971. In writing this novel, Theroux becomes the first Peace Corps writer to use a PCV as a character in fiction.

[Part 4]

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.