This version of the November, 2000 issue of is designed to be quickly and easily printed from any printer. It includes all articles in the issue as well as new items listed in such departments as Opportunities for Writers and Friendly Agents and Publishers. It does not include any information that appears in the yellow sidebars, information on the Current Issue page which provides links to each of the articles, or links, book covers, photos or graphics that appear on any of the pages.

Peace CorpsWriters – November 2000 receives 25K grant
    WE ARE PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE that The Florence and John Schumann Foundation has given our on-line newsletter: and its founding organization, RPCV Writers & Readers, a grant of $25,000 to organize a series of readings by Peace Corps writers during the Peace Corps 40th anniversary year of 2001. Working with the eleven regional recruiting offices of the Peace Corps and the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), readings by RPCVs will be held throughout the year in bookstores, high schools, and colleges across the United States. It is our belief that through these readings we will educate Americans about the developing world, and help encourage people to volunteer, not only for the Peace Corps, but within their communities. Grant money will be used for the following expenses:

    • Honoraria for Peace Corps writers.
    • Travel & hotel expenses for writers.
    • Placement of ads in school and local papers.
    • Part-time salary for coordinator working out of the NPCA.

    We are establishing a special page (The 40th — Celebrating a Peace Corps Anniversary through the Written Word) on our website that will have the most current information to update everyone as to where readings will take place and who will be reading. To get to it easily, click on “The 40th” logo in the upper left-hand column of our home page.
         If you would like to help host a reading and/or would like to read, please email me at:
        For many years, we have hosted readings and writers’ panels at each of the RPCV conferences, and we are extremely grateful to the Schumann Foundation for their support of this new expanded venture by our small organization as we continue to support and promote writers who served as Peace Corps Volunteers.

    Another generous gift
    We are also happy to announce having received a gift of $500 from Ted Stanley, a long time supporter of the activities of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

    Everyone has a postcard tale to tell
    Following up on the To Preserve and to Learn article “The Infamous Peace Corps Postcard” we published in January of 2000, Karl Luntta (Botswana 1978-80) writes:

      I, too, was involved in a postcard incident. It was so boneheaded and obviously insensitive on my part that I later used the incident in cross-cultural training exercises while on Peace Corps staff — keeping the postcard writer anonymous of course.
           I’d found a postcard of a Cape buffalo drinking at a veld pond, flies on his eyes and water dripping from his bovine lips, and wrote on the back of the card, something like, “Here’s my headmaster at the local watering hole after a long staff meeting.” Yeah, yeah, go ahead. It was unkind, racially loaded (what was I thinking?), and I was stupid and young, and even more stupid when I incomprehensibly sent it through the school post bag.
           Of course the secretaries read it, and passed it along to the HM, who then sent it to the Ministry of Education. It was the first and only time during my Volunteer career that I actually met a government minister, so that was interesting at any rate. The upshot was that some disparaging comments were entered into my teacher file, and my relationship with the HM degenerated into a vortex of suspicion and cynicism.
           Of course, the Peace Corps/Botswana Directors, Norman and Elsa Rush, were informed about the whole thing as well. They called me what I was — which was very dumb, and then the whole thing passed into history. Except when I used it in training exercises.

    In our November 2000 issue

      Talking with . . .
      This issue we interviewed Jeffrey Tayler, who served in Morocco as a Peace Corps Volunteer and later was on the Peace Corps staff in Eastern Europe. He lives now in Russia and is a frequent contributor to the Atlantic Monthly, as well as many other national magazines. We interviewed Jeff about his new book, Facing the Congo about traveling down that river by piroque.

      The Spy Who Was a PCV
      Lee Howard (Colombia 1972–1974) was a CIA agent who betrayed his country’s secrets and escaped to Moscow in 1985. He was also the first CIA defector to the Soviet Union. Before that, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic and then in Colombia. Read about him in “A Closer Look.”

      We have in this issue another wonderful piece by Mike Tidwell (Zaire 1985–87) from his new collection of travel essays In the Mountains of Heaven: Tales of Adventure on Six Continents published by Lyons Press. This travel piece fits nicely into the Holiday Season — it’s his tale of a “Christmas Miracle in the Andes.”

      Letter Home
      Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965–67) has written movingly in fiction and non-fiction of her life in Ethiopia and Kenya where she was a Volunteer and a Peace Corps staff wife. But perhaps she never wrote with as much need and urgency and love as she did in 1966 when she wrote home to her mother and described one of the most horrific accidents to befall a group of Peace Corps Volunteers. Her letter is reprinted here in full.

      A Writer Writes
      In this issue we have a poem by Sheila Crofut who served in the Czech Republic from 1994 to 1996 and taught English and edited environmental documents for the Ministry of Environment’s International Relations Section. Today she lives on Bainbridge Island, Washington and teaches writing and literary analysis at the college and university levels.

      And much, much more . . .
      Check out two new items in Resources — on the Links page we have a new listing of where to look on the web for writer sites, and on the Opportunities for Writers page how to get published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Our Peace Corps History takes us all back to the very early days of the agency when Volunteers prepared for their overseas assignments by undergoing Outward Bound Training. Besides all that there are new books reviews, new books, and simply news in Literary Type. See Current Issue to read it all.

    See you next year on the Peace Corps Writers’ Tour.

    — John Coyne, editor

    Recent books by Peace Corps writers – November 2000

    The Seed of Joy
    William Amos (Korea 1979-80)
    London and Bordeaux: Online Originals, £6.00

    Steal My Heart
    Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 1991–93)
    Van Neste Books, $25.00
    275 pages
    October, 2000

    Junkanoo: A Christmas Pageant
    by Keith Cartwright (Senegal 1983–85)
    Fayetteville, N.C.: Longleaf Press, $6.00
    October, 2000

    The Autobiography of Maria Elena Moyano:
         The Life and Death of a Peruvian Activist
    Prologue, Afterword and translation by Patricia S. Taylor Edmisten (Peru 1962–64), edited by Diana Miloslavich Tupac
    Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, $34.95
    128 pages
    October 2000

    Postales Salvadorenas del Ayer/Early Salvadoran Postcards
    Stephen Grant (Cote d'Ivoire 1964–66)
    San Salvador, El Salvador:Fundacion Maria Escalon de Nunez, $62.50
         Avenida Olimpica 3727
         San Salvador, El Salvador, Central America
         tel/fax 503 223 7019, 298 1603/1677
    328 pages

    The Impenetrable Forest
    by Thor Hanson (Uganda 1993–95)
    Writer’s Showcase/, $18.95
    284 pages
    September, 2000

    Tom Kelley (Niger 1986–88) contributor
    edited by the Editors of Esquire
    Hyperion, $26.95
    144 pages
    October, 1999

    Passion for Golf: In Persuit of the Innermost Game
    By Roland Merullo (Micronesia 1979–80)
    Lyons Books, $20
    144 pages
    November, 2000

    Along the Inca Road:
         A Woman’s Journey into an Ancient Empire
    By Karin Muller (Philippines 1987–89)
    National Geographic Society, $ 26.00
    304 pages
    September, 2000

    The Atheist's Handbook To Modern Materialism
    Phillip Stahl (Barbados 1971–75)edited by Dr. Richard L. Stahl
    Chapel Hill NC: Professional Press, $18.95
    266 pages
    September, 2000
    (To buy this book write The Atheist's Handbook, P.O. Box 1634, Columbia MD, 21044)

    Facing the Congo
    By Jeffrey Tayler (Morocco 1988–90; PC Staff/ Poland, Uzbekistan 1992–93)
    Ruminator Books, $27.00
    300 pages
    October, 2000

    The Best American Travel Writing 2000
    by Bill Bryson and Jason Wilson. Editors; Jeffrey Tayler (Morocco 1988–90; PC Staff/ Hungary1990–92, Uzbekistan 1992-93) contributor
    Houghton Mifflin Co,, $27.50,
    320 pages
    October 2000

    Transplantation Ethics
    By Robert M. Veatch (Nigeria 1962–64)
    Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, $65.00
    448 pages
    October 2000

    Repression, Resistance, and Democratic Transition in Latin America
    edited by Ariel Armony and Thomas W. Walker (Colombia 1963–65)
    Wilmington DE: Scholarly Resources, $60.00, $22.95 paperback
    360 pages
    September 2000

    For Two Years Who Cares: A Peace Corps Odyssey
    By Kathie & Al Wiebe (Colombia 1971–73)
    Wiebe & Associates, $12.95
         8 Suffolk Court
         Fairfield, Ohio 45014
    255 pages
    Summer, 2000

The 40th — Celebration a Peace Corps anniversary through the written word

    40 Years of Peace Corps Writers: The Tour

      Who: Peace Corps writers

      What: National reading tour

      When: Every month through September, 2001

      Where: In cities across the country, winding up in Washington D.C. for the RPCV celebration in September.

      Why: To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Peace Corps by promoting the agency’s Third Goal — “to bring the world back home.”

    To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Peace Corps in 2001, RPCV Writers & Readers/Peace Corps Writers will stage a series of readings by published Peace Corps writers in cities across America. John Coyne, Editor, and Marian Haley Beil, Publisher, will organize these readings. In addition, the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), and the Peace Corps will partner with them in this endeavor.
         We hope to schedule these readings in book stories, colleges, high schools, local libraries and community centers – locations where they can educate, delight, and impress a wide variety of audiences.
         At each event, anywhere from one to three published authors will read from their own works — writings that reflect on, or were informed by, their Peace Corps experience. We hope to have other PC-related readers, as well, especially RPCVs who will read from their own letters home.


    January: The first official reading of the Tour will be held in New York City at HousingWorks on January 15, 2001 at 6:30.
       Among the readers will be Peter Hessler (China 1996–98) and George Packer (Togo 1982–83). Hessler is the author of the forecoming River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze and Packer is the author of a number of books including The Village of Waiting which draws on his Peace Corps experience, and ,most recently, of Blood of the Liberals, published in August of this year.

    February: Sharon Dirlam in Santa Barbara is working with the local RPCV group there to host a reading in February. Contact Sharon at: if you would like to read, or help with arrangements.

    March: Iowa Peace Corps Association President, Kristina Venzke, emailed us that their group is planning a reading in March in Iowa City. Those in Iowa who are interested in reading should contact Kristian at:

    Spring: In spring, 2001, Mark Gearan – President of Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York will host a reading. Gearan, a former director of the Peace Corps, will host the event and hold a reception for RPCVs at the president’s home.

    September: At the 40th Anniversary Conference of the Peace Corps, September 20 to 23, Peace Corps Writers will host a variety of readings, panels and opportunities to visit with Peace Corps writers.

Other writers interested in reading include: Kinney Thiele, essayist, Mountain View, California; Susan Rich, poet, Seattle; Keith Cartwright, poet, Roanoke or Charlottesville, Virginia.
     We hope that you will participate in this “40 Years of Peace Corps Writers” Tour. Please contact John Coyne at: to explore the possibilities of co-hosting a very special celebration in your community or on your campus. Write John also if you would like to participate in a reading, or to lend support.

It’s your turn!

A Closer Look

    The Spy Who Was a PCV

    LEE HOWARD WAS A CIA AGENT who revealed his country’s secrets and fled to Moscow in 1985. He is the first CIA defector to the Soviet Union. Before that, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic and then in Colombia (1972–74).
         Lee Howard’s life is told by David Wise, author of the 1988 book, The Spy Who Got Away: Edward Lee Howard, the CIA Agent Who Betrayed His Country’s Secrets and Escaped to Moscow. He interviewed Howard in Budapest on Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube in 1987.
         It was at these meetings that Howard told Wise about his Peace Corps connection. “I had talked to a CIA recruiter while at the University of Texas at Austin. Just looking for a job. I was told I was too young. Some Peace Corps recruiter grabbed me between classes, just like the agency, and I applied. They sent a telegram asking, ‘Do you accept?’” He said he joined the Peace Cops more for adventure than out of a sense of idealism. “Sure, I wanted to help people, but it was more that I wanted to see the world.” While assigned to Cali, in the south of Colombia, Howard admitted that he used cocaine, marijuana, and other drugs.
         There is no reason to believe that Howard was already working for the Central Intelligence Agency when he served in the Peace Corps, according to Wise. After his tour in Colombia he worked for several months as a Peace Corps recruiter out of Dallas. Later he worked for the Peace Corps in the same capacity in St. Paul and in November, 1974, he married Mary Cedarleaf, another PCV from Colombia.
         His next job with the Agency for International Development in Lima, Peru. Again there is no evidence that Howard had any intelligence role while he was with AID. After that overseas tour, he left AID, went to work in the Midwest, and in 1980 had his first screening interview with the CIA.
         While it is well publicized that the Peace Corps will not knowingly hire-ex-CIA officers, it is not generally understood that the agreement is two-way: The CIA can hire former Peace Corps Volunteers only after a five-year waiting period. Even then the pertinent CIA regulation requires that the employment of any former member of the Peace Corps “must have the specific prior approval of the deputy director concerned.”
         From there, Howard was trained by the CIA to be a spy in Moscow, then fired him when he failed a lie detector test. Howard next sold the agency’s most sensitive information, the secrets of the CIA’s Moscow operation, to the KGB and slipped through the net drawn around him by the FBI. He vanished into the New Mexico desert in 1984 and surfaced a year later in the Soviet Union.
         To the best of our knowledge he has never returned home from Moscow, where he was granted asylum by the Russians. Also, we are quite sure he never came home for a reunion of Colombia RPCVs. But who really knows.

John Coyne

    A Letter from Ethiopia
    by Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965–67)

    April 24, 1966
    Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

    Dear Mother:
    I was very surprised to learn that the PC called you about the accident. I had no idea they would do that —I don’t think it was necessary because, as far as I know, none of our names have been released officially, and there was no danger of your knowing I was on the trip through the press.
         In my last letter I didn’t give you many details because I didn’t want to unduly alarm you, but it seems the PC has already done that so I’ll tell you just how it happened. But, before I do, and I don’t want to preach, I just want to say don’t worry about me. Also, I, too, keep thinking about Bill’s parents. I know this must be unbearable for them, but he loved the Peace Corps and he was doing something he felt was good and worthwhile. His death was tragic but he didn’t die without accomplishing something.
         It bothered me that you said life wouldn’t be worth living if something happened to me. Nothing is going to happen to me, but, of course, you can’t always be sure, but I could also be run over by a car in Atlanta, Georgia. Here I am happy. I feel I am doing some good, and even if anything did happen to me at least I’ve done something for somebody before I die. I’m not being morbid, just realistic. So don’t worry about me and I won’t worry about you. I would hate to think that I am making your nervous for two years.
         As I told you before, B and I took the bus from Addis to Jimma on the Monday after Easter. On Wednesday we caught the plane from Jimma to Gambella. Ralph B, whom we know quite well, his roommate Jim B, Lyle C, a boy stationed in Debre Sina and Bill Olson were already on the plane. They had boarded in Jimma. The first three boys had come together, Bill was traveling alone. I had met Bill at Christmas, but I didn’t know him well. We were the only PCV’s on the plane, and we naturally became a group of six. B and I were glad to have somebody to go with.
         At the airstrip in Gambella, we met 9 other PCV’s who were leaving Gambella on our plane. They told us it was a great place, etc., etc. Also at the airstrip we met a Dutch Catholic priest, Father Jack. His mission is near Dembidolla, a six-hour walk away and he was staying in Gambella for a vacation. He told us that some of us could stay at the house he was staying in and the rest could stay at the hotel (which had only 6 beds, 4 of which were already occupied).
         We walked into town, which was about a kilometer away. We met Jane W, a PCV from Gore, in town. It was terribly hot and she said she had just been in the river and it felt great. We left our stuff at Father Jack’s and went to the hotel. We had a cold beer (the only available beverage) and B and I had brought food so the six of us had a picnic lunch. Then we decided to go swimming immediately. B and I had brought shorts, so we went to change. The boys went to the market to buy shorts, they changed, and we all went swimming in the Baro River.
         The water was cool and nice. The river was pretty wide but so shallow that you could walk almost all the way across. We waded out to a huge rock about two thirds of the way across. We could stand up, the water was about chest high, but the current was very swift, and we had trouble keeping our balance. We splashed around, floated on our backs to another rock about 200 yards downstream.
         The current was so swift that it required no effort and we could touch bottom whenever we felt like it. The bottom was very rocky, no mud, but the water was not clear and you could only see about six inches down. B and I got tired and we waded out and sat on the shore for a while.
         We watched the boys swim and splash each other in the water. About twenty yards past the rock where we had been was a long sandbar and Jim swam over there and walked around on it. The sandbar was about another twenty yards from the far shore. After awhile, Ralph, Jim and Bill floated down to the other rock.
         I was ready to go back in so I swam out to the first rock and sat and talked with Lyle for a while. Lyle and I decided to join the other three on the other rock but just then they all left the water and went to where B was sitting on the shore. Then Jim, and two minutes later, Bill, swam out to the rock Lyle and I were sitting on. The four of us talked about swimming across to the sandbar and then floating down to the second rock. We decided to do it and we planned to go one by one.
         In order to get to the sandbar you had to get in the water, swim as hard as you could towards it and the current would bring you down to the end of it where you stood up and walked up on the bar. Bill went first.
         He got in the water, we watched him swim for the sandbar, the current carried him to the end as we had expected, he stood up, and then he disappeared. We saw the tip of the nose of the crocodile, it looked like Bill said something, and then he was gone. There was no struggle; he never knew what hit him.
         The three of us stood on the rock, stunned; it took us about ten seconds before we realized that something had happened to him, that it was a crocodile, and that there was nothing we could do.
         We shouted to Ralph and Barbara who were wading near the shore to get a boat and we explained what had happened. There were a lot of local people around and after 10 or 12 agonizing minutes Ralph finally got two canoes sent out. About 5 minutes after it happened we saw an arm above the water. It stayed there for maybe 30 seconds and then disappeared. That was the last we saw of Bill.
         The local people looked for the crocodile until it got dark (it happened about 3:45 in the afternoon). We went to telecommunications to call Addis but they were closed. We went to the police radio and they were able to get a message to Gore, but Gore couldn’t transmit it to Addis until the next morning. Back at the river, the crocodile was sighted a couple of times and the natives shot at it, but I don’t think they hit it. We stayed at the river until it was too dark to see, had some injera and wat, and went to bed.
         The next morning we went back to telecommunications and set a wire to the PC office in Addis. We went down to the river and they killed the crocodile about 9:00. In order to get to the place where the crocodile finally ended up we had to wade through waist deep water for about twenty feet in two different places. Of course we were fully dressed, but boys had on jeans and they were pretty uncomfortable. The crocodile was big and ugly, about four meters the natives said, which is about 13 feet long. Barbara and I looked at it and left, she went back to the house and I went to telecommunications to wait for an answer to our cable. The rest is pretty gruesome.
         The crocodile had eaten the body, the natives were afraid to cut it open, so Ralph took a knife from one of them, cut the body of the crocodile open and put the remains of the body in a box. There wasn’t much left. B and I didn’t know all of this until the five of us had to tell the story to the Peace Corps back in Addis.
         About 12 o’clock the boys appeared at telecommunications. We had still had no answer to our first wire; we didn’t know if anyone had received it, so Ralph sent another one to PC saying we had recovered the body and a third one to the American Embassy in case the PC wasn’t getting our cables. The whole thing was pretty grim — we didn’t know if anybody was getting our wires and we just didn’t know what to do. The natives made us tea, brought us water, gave us bananas and mangoes, and we still had some tuna left so we bought bread and had lunch. We sat around until three o’clock — there was nothing else to do — until someone told us there was a plane at the airstrip.
         Planes only come into Gambella on Wednesday and Saturday so we figured it must be the Peace Corps Cessna. We hopped in a Landrover and went out to the strip. There was a plane there. It was an EAL [Ethiopian Airlines] plane from Dembidolla that the Peace Corps had rerouted to Gambella to pick us up. We raced back to town, got our things, and boarded the plane with the box containing the body.
         The plane was a C-47, unpressurized and unbearably hot. Even my skirt was sopping wet from the heat. But it cooled off after we were in the air for a while. The trip back to Addis was long and rough. We got there about 6:00. There were several staff members waiting for us at the airport, and we were all rushed to the PC office where we had to go through the whole story from the time we landed in Gambella to the time we left Gambella. The whole thing was like a dream, we were all pretty dazed, I guess, and having to tell the story at the PC office was like relating a dream. Jane C offered B and I dinner, but we just wanted to go home. Someone brought us home. Jane came over later, and we talked for a while. Later on Mrs. Narin, the assistant director’s wife, called to make sure we were all right. We were. The PC had also sent a Cessna with two staff members to Gambella and on Sat. morning those two staff members came over and asked B and I lots of questions again. Saturday afternoon there was a very nice memorial service for Bill at the Lutheran church. All in all, it was a pretty terrible experience, but B and I came out of it all right. Ralph made us come over to his house Friday for lunch, B stayed there for supper, and Denny took me out to one of the more luxurious restaurants. Vernon was waiting at our house when I got back from Ralph’s on Friday — he had been there all afternoon — he came as soon as he heard. He and three other boys picked us up Saturday for the service and took us out to dinner afterwards. Sunday, Denny had B, Ralph and I over for cards in the afternoon and dinner at night. So we were well taken care of, we didn’t have to eat alone or be alone and it was all right.
        I think I told you we wrote to Bill’s parents. We heard later that they requested that all of his clothes and books be given away to students. If you tell anybody about it, it isn’t necessary to tell all the horrible details. A tragic thing happened, and a boy was killed. People tend to sensationalize something like that, and talk about the crocodile instead of Bill. The Ethiopian Herald’s headlines were “Peace Corps Volunteer Eaten by Crocodile”— true, but very poor taste and completely unnecessary. I thought Time’s thing was good.
         Well, there’s not much else I can say. I hope the PC man didn’t scare you too much. Don’t tell Kay and Dad — I don’t think they’ll ever hear about it. It was a horrible thing, but it was just an accident like any accident anywhere else, and Africa is not to be blamed for it. This experience certainly has made me more cautious. There were local people there bathing and washing clothes in the river and we assumed that it was safe. We found out later that the crocodile had gotten a woman washing clothes two weeks earlier. It’s not wise to make assumptions anywhere about anything that you are not informed on. I am sadder but wiser and I will be careful. Don’t worry.


Literary Type – November 2000

Peter Hessler (China 1996–98) has a book about his life as a Peace Corps teacher in Fuling, a small city on the Yangtze River in southwestern China’s Sichuan province coming out from HarperCollins in February. It is entitled River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze and is a terrific Peace Corps book. Peter is from Missouri and went to Princeton and then Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar before joining the Peace Corps. He is back in China now, writing for such publications as the Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and the Atlantic Monthly.


    Tom Kelley (Niger 1986–88 ) has an essay entitled “The Road to Niamey” that appears in Brothers, published by Hyperion in October, 1999. The book is a collection of essays and photographs about brothers and brotherhood. Kelley’s essay chronicles a trip he took with his brother in Niger several years after he had served there as a Volunteer. At the time, his brother was in medical school and he had recently graduated from law school. When they were out in the bush, they came across a woman who was dying. The essay describes their very different reactions to her suffering. Kelley uses the essay now in a course that he teaches in Legal Ethics.


    Kirkus Reviews and Publisher’s Weekly are weighing in with positive reviews for Steal My Heart, the first novel from Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 1991–93). “Delightful debut novel about American innocents abroad and the Guatemalans whose lives they inevitably change,” writes Kirkus. And PW sums up, “The intense finale showcases Brazaitis’s keen prose style and ends this Guatemalan love adventure on a luminous, dramatic note.” (Mark’s book is reviewed in this issue.)


    Entertainment Weekly’s October 6th issue has a special report on Gay Hollywood and included in a round up of “top novelists in the cultishly popular gay mystery genre” is Richard Stevenson (aka Richard Lipez (Ethiopia 1962–64).


    Louisa by Simone Zelitch (Hungary 1991–93) had a front page review in the book section of the Boston Globe on October 1st. “In a time when most fiction seems small and pinches, Zelitch has written a grand, brave, open-hearted novel.” Simone was also featured in the October 5th issue of Philadelphia’s City Paper. On Sunday, October 8th, Louisa received a glowing review in the book section of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Maralyn Lois Polak called Simone’s novel, “magnificent . . . a haunting, harrowing tale of Holocaust loss, survival, forgiveness and redemption.” In October, featured an essay by Simone on her novel and her writing career.


    The long awaited collection of travel essays by Mike Tidwell (Zaire 1985–87) is now out and is entitled, In the Mountains of Heaven: Tales of Adventure on Six Continents. Library Journal on September 15th wrote that the collection was “salted with moments of electrifying insight, bizarre humor, and delightful discovery.” has two excerpts from In the Mountains of Heaven: “Hanoi Haircut” in the July 2000 issue and “Christmas Miracle in the Andes” in this issue.


    Charlie Peters (PC/W Staff 1961–68), founder of The Washington Monthly ( and neoliberal godfather to legions of journalists, is retiring from his position as editor-in-chief. Peters, who founded the magazine in 1969 and has edited it since, is stepping down in January. The new editor will be Paul D. Glastris, a speechwriter in the Clinton White House and a former correspondent and editor for U.S. News & World Report.
    When he founded the magazine, Peters, who had just finished seven years with the Peace Corps, instituted a program that called for young writers to work for low wages. Their reward was a chance to write for a political magazine with a small circulation (now about 21,000) but with considerable influence. The annual salary is still $12,000. “We started out with regular salaries but quickly realized that The Monthly would never be able to survive,” said Charlie in an interview with The New York Times on Monday, October 16, 2000. “So I decided to apply the Peace Corps principle. We basically invited them in (young writers) and then killed them for two years for absolutely no money.”
         Alumni include Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer Prize-winner; James Fallows; Michael Kinsley; Gregg Easterbrook of The New Republic; Suzannah Lessard and Nicholas Lemann of The New Yorker, and reporters for The New York Times and The Washington Post, among other major newspapers.

  •  Jeffrey Tayler (Morocco 1988–90), who is interviewed in this issue, has a “Letter from Marseilles” in the November issue of Harper’s Magazine. He writes about North Africans in Europe, drawing on his knowledge and friendship with Arab and French friends he made while serving as a Volunteer in Morocco.

  • Novelist Kent Haruf (Turkey 1965–67) was featured November 20th in the “Arts Section” of the New York Times. In this on-going column entitled “Writers On Writing,” Kent wrote about the habits and methods of writers. Among other oddities, Kent writes, “As for me, I prefer a coal room in the basement of our house in southern Illinois, and I write my first drafts blind on an old manual typewriter.”

  • Writer Bob Shacohis (Eastern Caribbean 1975–76) weighted in on Tuesday, December 5th with a New York Times Op-Ed commentary on the Bush-Gore battle in Florida. Bob, who has lived in Tallahassee for the last 13 years and teaches at Florida State University, is the author most recently of The Immaculate Invasion, a non-fiction account of the U.S. and Haiti. For the Times, Bob surveys the circus in his hometown which, he says, is “pretty but not very interesting capital city of an indisputably screwball state” that has become the center of the universe. “We do like the attention,” Bob writes. “Our city employees have been cheerily handing out box lunches to the reporters; the university has talking heads stacked up like planes over LaGuardia, and my academic colleagues have shown a ready genius for being well-versed songbirds of the spectacle.” But soon, he sums up, “When all the Yankees pack up their briefcases and satellite dishes, we will remain as we were when you found us, happy as mullet in spawning season, enthralled by the surreal, cutthroat drama of ourselves.”

  • In the cover story of the Life section of USAToday, November 14, novelist Richard Wiley (Korea 1967–69) was recognized as having “hatched” the ideal of Las Vegas becoming the only U.S. “city of asylum” for oppressed writers as part of an international program overseen by the Paris-based International Parliament of Writers. Las Vegas is now hosting Sierra Leonian poet Syl Cheney-Coker as part of its efforts to change its long-time image of gambling and graft. Wiley — head of the literature program at UNLV — said of the city: “Underneath all the glitz is the desire to be a fully realized city like New York. For that, we need a literary community and other arts staples.”

  • Director Taylor Hackford (Bolivia 1968–69) has a new movie out — Proof of Life — that features wonderful sweeping shots of Ecuador where it was filmed.

  • It’s a trifecta!
    The New York Times on Sunday, December 3rd, ran its annual list of “Best Holiday Books” and leading the travel books roundup was Jeff Tayler’s (Morocco 1988–90) Facing The Congo. Number two on the list was The Best American Travel Writing 2000 in which Jeff has two pieces — one on Russia, the other on China. The third recommended travel book was Mike Tidwell’s (Zaire 1985–87) In the Mountains of Heaven: Tales of Adventure on Six Continents. And who said the Peace Corps wasn’t a great adventure?

    To preserve and to learn: Occasional essays about the history of the Peace Corps

      Outward Bound

      by Steve Wells (Philippines 1961–64; Philippines Staff 1964–69)

      It all started in December, 1961. We were part of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier, pioneers in this new idea called the Peace Corps and we had been invited to serve in the Philippines. But few of us knew what to expect when we stumbled off a Pan Am flight from New York to San Juan, Puerto Rico and were trucked off to a rustic jungle wilderness camp near Arecibo.

      I WATCHED AS ONE BY ONE the members of my Peace Corps training group attempted to swim 50 meters underwater without surfacing or taking a breath.
           It was a personal challenge we had known about for 24 hours preceding this moment.
           The idea was to jump off the edge of the pool and rotate in the air so we were facing backward when we hit the water. Then we were to turn around in the water, swim the length of the pool and back, keeping our head under water at all times. One slip, that’s it, you failed this test
           My job was to pull my fellow trainees out of the water once they had lost consciousness, a job I was given because I had been a competitive swimmer in college.
           I was assigned this job by Freddie LaNue, our bombastic “drownproofing” instructor, and a former swimming coach at Georgia Tech. One leg deformed and withered due to childhood polio, Freddie referred to himself as “The Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech.”
      He took the words right out of our mouths.
           It was Freddie’s idea in this the final week of our Outward Bound Peace Corps training in Puerto Rico, to escalate the challenges placed before us, the better to achieve character-building objectives.
          Freddie was completely in character in the Outward Bound camp. He had invented something called drownproofing – a simple method of staying afloat in the water without the usual thrashing of arms and legs, conserving energy and avoiding panic while awaiting rescue.
           Drownproofing was easy enough for me to master after a lifetime of swimming and four years of intercollegiate swimming competition. But for those with a lifelong fear of water, learning drownproofing was the kind of self-achievement that Outward Bound was designed to impart. Along with rock-climbing, camping, trekking and the infamous obstacle course, the idea was to leave each of us with a heightened sense of self-confidence, prepared to take on any challenge that lay before us, just as the British U-boat crews felt in 1941 when they went through the very first Outward Bound training.
           To prepare you for unknown challenges. That was the idea.
           Water was one of these. By the end of our drownproofing session, Freddie the tied legs and arms of each trainee, then pushed them into the water to see if they could stay afloat using the techniques he taught us.
           They did.
           So he simply escalated the challenge several notches.

      Taking it up a few notches
      Freddie talked to all of us the day before about this fearsome challenge. He taught the group something he called the keyhole stroke for effective underwater swimming. Then he said we could practice, but were not to swim the length of the pool, just across the width and back.
           You made it when you touched the end you started on. He reinforced the simple rule, come up for a breath for any reason and that’s it. The big thing was . . . no second chance. If any of us failed this test, there will not be another chance, period.
           The challenge was clear — make your first shot your best.
           Freddie then did some serious confidence building. He explained to us exactly what to do as we swam — look for the lane lines on the bottom of the pool, come in low at the other end so we would not mistakenly push our heads out of the water, graze the bottom of the pool as we pushed off the other end.
           Moreover, he told us how we would feel at critical points: “Your stomach would start to throb,” and so on. He said he had a lot of experience with watching people in this situation and when we got close to fainting he could tell and people would be right there to pull us out. So, not to worry about drowning.
           Then he told us about hyperventilating and how to use it, pointing out that when your fingers start to tingle you are ready.
           One of my friends was skeptical. He recalls, “I knew this was going to be near impossible. I was sure there was no way I could possibly make the length. I couldn’t even do the width. Others were of the same mind. Freddie had us snookered.”
           And we were still reeling from the drownproofing lesson conducted in heavy surf on an isolated beach several days earlier. As waves broke, we had been thrust violently into underwater currents that left us with sand burns and bruises and frightened from the disorienting effect of tumbling over and over underwater.
           This morning we sat on the edge of the pool, our legs dangling in the water, as we listened disbelievingly at what Freddie wanted us to do.
           My friend recalls, “I remember us all being quiet, up tight and concerned, but determined too.”
           Throughout our training, there was always individual pressure to go further, do more, push the envelope. Each of us was acutely aware that the Damocles sword of “deselection” constantly hung over us. If any one of us was judged to be somehow unfit, inept, unworthy of Peace Corps’ high standards, the staff could simply wash us out and send us home on the next plane. It was that simple. No reasons, just here one day and gone the next. And along with it, one’s dreams of serving overseas as Peace Corps Volunteers.
           So we were all under tremendous self-imposed pressure to excel in anything we did, proving our worthiness, digging deep within ourselves to exhibit impressive levels of motivation attesting to our commitment to be part of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier.
           It was a test. None of us wanted to fail.
           And now it was a test of endurance, swimming without breathing until — what? Until you drowned? Passed out? Came up and got a breath and then ended up hustled out on the next flight to the mainland?
           It had finally come down to this one test of individual resolve and commitment. The group couldn’t help you anymore. It was self-conflict in its purest form, battling instinct for survival against the will to go beyond endurance, to venture into the unknown.
           It was symbolic of all we’d volunteered for.

      The advantage of experience
      To me, it was déjà vu. I’d done this often before, swimming as far as I could without taking a breath. During my freshman year at Iowa State I’d managed to earn my way onto the swimming team as a “walk-on” and the coach assigned me to specialize in breaststroke. It was 1956, and the rules for breaststroke were still in transition. At that time, competitive swimmers were not limited to a single underwater stroke at the start and on each turn as they are now. Back then you could swim underwater for as far as you wished before surfacing for breath.
           I recall being appalled when I learned this. Swimming breaststroke underwater is faster than swimming breaststroke on the surface, so competitive swimmers pushed themselves to incredible lengths to get as many underwater strokes in before finally surfacing. When they did finally surface, they were gasping and red-faced. The oxygen deprivation was dangerous and foolhardy, competitors were passing out in the lanes and by the next season the rules were modified to allow only a single underwater stroke at each turn.
           But Freddie liked the old rules and thought it would be a perfectly suitable and appropriate culminating test in this Outward Bound setting for aspirant Peace Corps Volunteers like us.
           To build the self-confidence of the group, Freddie planned it so the stronger swimmers, those most likely to succeed, went first.
           My friend recalls, “Finally, the last big boost — he picked you as the starting swimmer.”
           I dove in without the slightest feeling of anxiety. And when my group saw me go the required two lengths of the pool underwater before I surfaced, it did serve as a confidence-builder for the others: Look how easy it seems!
           My friend recalls, “I remember you underwater. Grace itself. I believe you completed the down and back in 37 seconds! Unbelievable, and you were not even breathing hard!”

      The rest of the group
      Four more took the test. All of us completed the course in under a minute.
           Then it was my skeptical friend’s turn.
           “I found Freddie’s predictions exactly on and very comforting, so those disconcerting stomach throbs were OK. I made it! I was delighted!”
           Then others went, with us all cheering each other on. The trouble with the underwater swim was, the people needing encouragement and strength from the others couldn’t hear underwater. It was silent down there.
           Finally it came to some people who might have a much harder time. Freddie recruited me to be ready to jump in and help anyone who appeared to be in distress.
           “Watch their head and the back of their neck very carefully,” he instructed me in a whisper, so the others wouldn’t overhear, as I walked up and down the deck ready to spring to their aid. “Just before they pass out, you’ll see this involuntary twitch. For a moment you’ll see them raise their head slightly in a jerky way. That’s the moment when they lose consciousness. That’s your sign to jump in and get them.”
           I watched. Sure enough, for those who didn’t decide to finally surface on their own, there was a slight involuntary twitch just as Freddie said there would be. Then they would go limp, arms floating by their sides, head down in the water.
           When I saw the twitch, I jumped in and grabbed their jaw and led their face to the surface. They emerged sputtering, blinking and choking, but conscious. And breathing.
           And still alive.
           What went through the minds of each of the underwater swimmers that morning as they fought instinct to surface and gasp to inhale air? I watched as their arm movements got slower and slower, as they meandered off-course while making their way underwater, becoming disoriented, slowing to impossible speeds, strokes becoming feeble and uncoordinated, then recumbent and finally that little twitch of the head indicating they’d passed out.
           My friend recalls, “Charlie Terry was especially interesting. He was determined, but the last 10 feet were agony to watch. He was flailing, just barely moving forward. Freddie told you to watch and be ready but do nothing. Charlie finally luckily grazed the end with his hand. Freddie told you to grab him. You pulled him out. Charlie was not pleased. Why did you do that? He was just about ready to turn around and go back. He had no idea how much trouble he was in! Very interesting. Don went off on some unknown tangent and you had to grab him. A couple of others ended up flailing the water and going nowhere. You had to grab them as well. M.L. Corwin took 90 seconds, bobbing up and down on the surface. But she, too, made it!
           “As a group, as I remember it, we almost all made it,” he recalls. “We did well as a group, and no one disgraced themselves. Everyone tried hard.”
           And that, after all, was the whole idea — to muster the courage and wherewithal to try, to reach deep within and haul up heroic levels of performance.
           It was a moment of accomplishment, a new sense of pride and capability, the very thing Outward Bound attempted to impart in each of us.
           Still, for each of those who passed out underwater, it must have felt like experiencing a little death that day. Later there was grumbling that Freddie had gone too far, taken the challenge thing over the top. Some who had passed out, inhaling water into their lungs, developed, congestion, pulmonary infections and in one case pneumonia. That Volunteer was deselected.
           It’s a good thing more Volunteers like me didn’t chronicle these tests and send accounts off to our Congressmen or the media. One older female trainee did several months later and the camp was permanently closed.

      Other challenges we’d faced
      I felt sorry for them. I was having fun.
      I craved stuff like this. This was a lot like adventures and physical challenges I’d already managed to surmount in recent years: wilderness canoe camping, Colorado mountain climbing, pathfinding, water sports.
           But it was still challenging stuff, more for some than for others in those 28 days in Puerto Rico.
           For some, it was the shaky instability of the Burma Bridge, a three-rope arrangement on the obstacle course that bridged two trees forty feet above the ground. The Burma Bridge never delivered on the promised stability it seemed to visually offer, one large rope for your feet and two smaller ropes on either side as hand-holds. The smaller ropes, positioned hip-high, were lashed at intervals to the larger base rope. But somehow as you stepped aboard and moved forward, the whole arrangement began to swing and steadily became looser with each advancing move. By the time you advanced to its midpoint, it transformed into a sort of ugly death swing, assuming lateral looping motions exacerbated by your legs that were now shaking uncontrollably. This in turn froze you in your tracks, certain you’d plunge to your death below, once again fighting instinct: I can stay here motionless and not fall, but not make it to safety. Or I can risk everything on the slim hope I can make it to the other end. Which will it be? Confident steps became timid mincing, pathetic motions toward the other end where the lines were anchored high on another tree.
           The Burma Bridge did to each of us exactly what the underwater swim was now doing: it challenged us to move beyond self-preservation instinct and comfort, to seek something of unknown dimensions even more challenging.
           And if the Burma Bridge failed to impart this, it was the rock climb on rocky ridges bordering Rio Abajo. We climbed straight up sheer vertical surfaces, a safety belay rope secured around us. Scrambling for handholds and footholds, we individually clawed our way up. Two footholds and one handhold was security, the remaining hand groping for the next fissure or surface. Then it was a choice: leave this known level of security and advance further, higher, leaving safety and security behind for something surely more perilous. And what then? Slowly we made our way up, sweating profusely, occasionally looking down to see how far we’d advanced, how little the people had become, then a darting glance upward to see how much further we had to go
           Before long we forgot the belay rope. The whole ascent was a trial beyond the point of no return. By remaining focused and treating it as a challenge, one could scale the rock with a minimum of terror and psychic damage. But others froze midway, paralyzed with conflict and fear, unable to make the death-defying choice of leaving what was tenuous security for the unknown. Then we’d sense it, just as I was looking for involuntary head twitches through the clear water of the pool, and we’d shout encouragement from below.
           We knew that once we got to our assignments, Peace Corps was an individual thing, not a matter of squadrons or platoons. But for now we were together, caught up as a group, each of us wanting desperately to Make A Difference, do something meaningful with our lives. And now it had become possible. This was our shot, thanks to a new, enlightened national policy.

      Personal challenges
      We were all humbled, not so much by malevolent do-or-die boot-camp schemes and challenges to test us, conjured up by demented Outward Bound staff members like Freddie LaNue, Davey Borden or Al Ferraro. We were humbled instead by coming face-to-face with self-imposed limitations we had unwittingly placed upon ourselves — the result of years of comfortable living and predictable lives. Now, faced with adversity in what seemed to be authentic life-or-death situations, we suddenly became acquainted with our flabby self-resolve and unflattering timidity.
           We didn’t like what we saw.
           And sometimes when we looked around, we didn’t like what we saw in others. Their inability to cope embarrassed and shamed the rest of us.
           Like the initial day of a four-day trek we took in small, six-person teams. This was our culminating event, the penultimate challenge. Do this successfully and you could move on the stage two of the training.
      The idea was simple:

      • Carry everything you need on your back.
      • Use the geological contour map provided.
      • Stay off roadways and stick to trails, following the route marked on the map.
      • Sleep wherever you can.
      • Eat sparingly, as only half-rations are provided.
      • On the fourth and final day, be at the finish line.

           We were on our own to read and interpret the maps, follow the trails, stop and sleep when we needed to, and make our final destination on time. We were warned not to solicit nor accept local hospitality of Puerto Rican farmers and others we might come across, though we were to seek their permission if for instance we wanted to sleep in their tobacco barn or use water from their well. As one last touch the staff provided us enough food (Army rations) for normal meals for two and a half days, even though we were to be gone four or more days. The idea, they explained, is that since most of the world goes hungry most of the time, we should know from firsthand experience what it’s like to really be hungry.
           Nobody said anything about drinking water, although we each carried a canteen we’d filled at camp strapped to our canvas utility belt.
           The tropical heat and humidity was terrible that first day, and our course was strenuous: up one hill, down another. Soon we were all tired and sweaty, drinking greedily from our canteens.
           One of our group members seemed more frightened and panicky than the others. Slightly overweight and woefully out of shape, he complained loudly, expressing doubts about this whole journey. These quickly turned to self-doubts about his own ability to survive four days of this.
           Soon he began panicking about having enough water.
           Sweat-soaked with manic, darting eyes, he begged water from each of us, greedily drinking from our canteens until he’d emptied them all. We shook our heads in despair as he sank deeper and deeper into a panicky funk. Clearly, he wanted out — right now.
           Before our eyes he began to lose rationality. He was weeping and babbling uncontrollably. Now we were concerned for him. He was incoherent, quickly going out of control
          There was no way to communicate with the camp staff. The only checkpoints were certain unnamed intercept points, one each day along our route at which members of the staff would secrete themselves and, unobserved, wait for us to pass. We wouldn’t see them, but they’d see us.
           It was at the first of these points that we stopped and shouted to our hidden observers that we had a problem on our hands. In no time at all our panicky and terminally thirsty group member was quietly plucked from our group by a concerned staff member. One moment he was with us, the next moment he wasn’t.
           The rest of us continued on, conserving our rations, quickly learning how to track elevations indicated on the map and relate them to the hilly terrain we trekked. Always looking for navigational confirmation and aware that other teams were stumbling through the Puerto Rican backwoods like us, we quickly learned a few Spanish phrases to try out on farmers we’d come across:
           “¿Donde es los otros Americanos?” Where are the other Americans? Occasionally they would point and chatter in rapid Spanish, and instantly we knew we were on the right track.
           We managed to survive. The only “cheating” occurred when, sleeping on a meadow near a farmhouse one night, the local farmer sent his small daughter out to us with a Thermos of hot Puerto Rican coffee, which is really a mostly-milk mix. He urged us to at least move into his barn under shelter. We refused, but we thought we’d create an international incident by refusing the simple act of kindness and hospitality represented by the coffee, so we accepted the coffee and shared it among ourselves, savoring it ceremoniously almost like taking the sacrament at communion service in church.
           The farmer is still probably still shaking his head, wondering why these five strange Americans ended up sleeping on the meadow on his farm.
           At the end of the fourth day we crossed the finish line, joyous and proud, dirty and sweaty, hungry and thirsty. The staff was there to cheer and greet us.
           But not our terminally thirsty teammate.
           He was gone, back to the mainland, his dream of Peace Corps dashed forever.

      Some leadership
      he director of our camp was a person named Bill Delano. He arrived at the same time we did. He was Counsel General of the Peace Corps, a direct descendent of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an elite member of the charmed, gifted and wealthy enclave of lifelong Democrats chosen by the Kennedys and Shriver to lead us to the New Frontier.
           A big-city lawyer and Washington policymaker, Bill was hopelessly out of place in this rustic paramilitary setting where emphasis was on physical achievements. He was obviously ill at ease in an environment clearly alien to the boardrooms and courtrooms he had come from. Just how or why he ended up as director of this remote outpost was beyond any of us.
           Yet somehow we clicked. Bill’s ineptness became our ineptness. We identified with him. Bill was game to try anything thrown at him. He was with us on rock climbing and rappelling. He struggled with basic Spanish as we did. He learned alongside us. He laughed at himself, finding humor in his own predicament, unafraid to lose all pretense and artificial dignity to come down to our level and identify with us.
           We were in this together. It was at that moment a quiet bonding occurred between Bill and us and through Bill, with the entire Kennedy government.
           This is what it was all about!
           It was all about self-challenging moments of truth, about being self-effacing enough to admit fear and overcome it, about digging deeper into yourself to come up with the solution in a way that provided growth for you and everyone else around you.
           And it was being unafraid of personal challenges, willingness to leave the comfort of the known for the challenge of the unknown. We were all restless people unhappy with the status quo, seeking something better, striving to achieve our manifest destiny. Outward Bound was the perfect metaphor for what was surely to follow when we left for our assignments in the Philippines. Who knew what lay in store for us there?
           Bill embodied the very spirit of adventure, self-discovery and humility that the Peace Corps was all about. Bill proved to all of us that nobody among us was too gifted, too proud, too privileged to be immune. It was a fresh start for everyone. Even Bill.
           In our minds, Bill began as a misplaced, privileged despot and before our very eyes transformed into the sort of soldier for peace that we saw ourselves becoming.
           He became one of us!
           And he knew it and enjoyed every minute of his gloriously transforming journey.
           Before long Bill found himself transferred back to Washington to do what he was supposed to be doing in the first place.
           Clearly, his Outward Bound experience had the same transforming effect on him as it did on us.
           Months later, when we visited Washington as a group one weekend, Bill insisted that two buddies and I be his houseguests at his fashionable Georgetown townhouse. It was only a few doors down from Jack and Jackie Kennedy’s Georgetown townhouse they still maintained after moving to the White House months before.
           Bill had a special bond with our group. For our departure to the Philippines, he flew to Seattle to see us off, gathering us in a special lounge at SeaTac airport for some final words.
           He wished he were going with us.
           He was genuinely regretful that somehow he missed the opportunity now being provided us to make a difference in the world as Peace Corps Volunteers, that he would be chained to matters of legality and policy and litigation while we were in the barrios building schools, teaching kids, doing what really counted.
           It was an expression of envy, sadness and longing. He made us feel special and gifted. Not bad, coming from a guy who was special and gifted.

      The test completed
      Saying good-bye was difficult when our 28 days of Outward Bound training came to an end and it was time to board a flight back to New York, off to Penn State for seven weeks of intensive classroom training.
           Suddenly the camp staff — Davey, Freddie, Big Al, Bill and the others — turned into a bunch of sentimental softies. Something special and rare had happened, and we were all a part of it. All too soon it had ended.
           We had the very clear sense that they envied us. We, after all, were going on to something bigger and infinitely more significant. All that had happened so far was mere prelude to the main act. They would stay behind while we forged a New Frontier in the Philippines.

      Steve Wells served as a Volunteer for 15 months in public elementary education in Dulag, Leyte. He served another year as a Volunteer Leader, then returned to the Philippines as Associate Peace Corps Director, a total of eight years with the Peace Corps. He later married another Philippines Volunteer, Kathryn Kerze Wells. They have resided for the last 25 years in Detroit, where they raised their two now-grown children. Steve is Vice President of a large automotive consulting-training-communicating firm.    


      The Autobiography of Maria Elena Moyano
           The Life and Death of a Peruvian Activist
      Edited and annotated by Diana Milosavich Tupac
      Translated (with a prologue and afterword)
      by Patricia S. Taylor Edmisten (Peru 1962–64)
      Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida
      128 pages
      October 2000

      Reviewed by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 1991–93)

      THERE’S A TRAGIC MORAL TO THE LIFE of María Elena Moyano: all acts in a war-torn country are political. The moral is illustrated in Moyano’s autobiography, which details her efforts on behalf of Peruvian women and her death at the hands of Shining Path guerrillas.
           If Moyano had been born in the United States, her life would have followed the script of the American Dream: Grow up in a shack, graduate from high school, marry, become a leading advocate of women’s rights, appear on the Oprah Winfrey show.
           But Moyano was born in Peru, and her story had a different ending — and no appearance on “Oprah.” After rising from an impoverished background, Moyano was twice elected president of the Popular Women’s Federation of Villa El Salvador, and she was one of the main organizers of Vaso de Leche, a program that aimed to ensure that every child drank at least one glass of milk a day. In addition, Moyano was instrumental in setting up communal kitchens around the town of Villa El Salvador.
           Her acts of selflessness ran afoul of the Shining Path, which, because it was attempting to turn Peru Communist, didn’t want the lower classes to be fed lest they lose their revolutionary ferment. In doing good for the people Shining Path was supposed to represent, Moyano was putting her life in danger.
           Moyano believed in working within Peru’s existing political system, empowering people through democracy. “They have always said that the [communal] kitchens and the Vaso de Leche committees weaken the people and rob them of initiative,” Moyano writes in her autobiography. “We say that this isn’t so, because what we support is self-government. That is, we believe that people have to learn to govern themselves.”
           A number of women’s rights advocates in Peru proceeded Moyano as victims of left-wing terrorism, and Moyano knew she was a target. Nevertheless, she persisted in her work, and her story is both tragic and uplifting.
           Although it’s called The Autobiography of María Elena Moyano, the book’s first 34 (out of 94) pages are devoted to a prologue written by the translator, Patricia S. Taylor Edmisten. The prologue is effective both as an introduction to Moyano’s story and as a concise history of Peruvian women. Indeed, it makes Moyano’s particular story all the more interesting.
           Moyano’s words constitute the rest of the book, which Diana Milosavich Tupac, the editor, divides into two sections. In the first section, Milosavich gathers quotes from interviews Moyano did to present her thoughts on such topics as women’s rights and the Shining Path. The brief final section fits the conventional definition of autobiography, with Moyano telling her life’s story chronologically. “My name is María Elena Moyano Delgado” is the opening sentence, and the rest of her autobiography maintains this direct, simple style.
           Some of the most interesting aspects of Moyano’s autobiography don’t involve her political life, but her personal relationships. When she became pregnant by her boyfriend, Gustavo Pineki, she didn’t want to pressure him to marry her. “Gustavo had his own economic problems,” she writes. “He was the oldest of seven orphaned brothers and sisters, and his father was in prison. He also had a pregnant sister . . . I would have been too much.”
           It was Moyano’s mother who asked Gustavo to marry her daughter.
           Moyano writes with admirable honesty about her relationship with Gustavo, which overall she characterizes as good. She does, however, find occasional fault with his machismo: “There were occasional fights because I wanted him to assume some of the household chores.”
           Moyano concludes her autobiography with a poem summarizing her life. It was written in the same month in which she was assassinated, and includes this poignant, telling line: “I’ve already lived the most beautiful years of my life.”
           Although a short book, The Autobiography of María Elena Moyano is an excellent introduction to women’s struggles in Peru and stands as a testament to the courage of Moyano, who was only 33 years old when she died.

      Mark Brazaitis is the author of The River of Lost Voices: Stories
      From Guatemala,
      winner of the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award, and Steal My Heart, a novel. His stories, poems and essays have appeared in The Sun, Beloit Fiction Journal, Notre Dame Review, Atlanta Review, Shenandoah, and other literary journals. He is an assistant professor of English at West Virginia University.

      The Cartographer's Tongue
      by Susan Rich (Niger 1984–86)
      White Pine Press, $14.00
      106 pages
      April, 2000

      Reviewed by Keith Cartwright (Senegal 1983–85)

      AS ITS TITLE IMPLIES, The Cartographer’s Tongue charts something of Susan Rich’s poetic pursuit of the Peace Corps goal of bringing the world back home. But Rich’s project, like so much of Peace Corps experience, leads to radical disorientations and re-orientations of the idea of home. In the book’s opening poem, “Lost By Way of Tchin-Tabarden,” the nomadic Peace Corps speaker of the poem notes that “sometimes a system breaks down” and then comes to “feel relief at the abandonment/of my own geography.” The poem itself becomes a means of navigating a desert, a way of being “ready for something called home.” But we can be sure that the worlds and homes charted are radically different from what home might have been before the Peace Corps Niger experience, before Rich’s Fulbright in South Africa, before her service as an electoral supervisor in Bosnia, before so much of the re-orientation of truly engaged travel. Like Elizabeth Bishop’s “Questions of Travel” (alluded to most clearly in Rich’s “The Filigree of the Familiar”) Susan Rich’s poetry underscores the idea that the poet is always a traveler and that the land traveled, no matter how close or distant, extends and challenges our notions of home, asking “if home might be any dot on the map — /maybe the one which is furthest away.”
           While The Cartographer’s Tongue claims global citizenship, much of the book’s strongest poetry, the poetry that seems most at home as fresh cartography of the tongue, is the poetry set in the most familiar ground: family poems treating the deaths of both parents, truly powerful erotic poetry charting the travels of desire, and poems of “Edge Light” tracing the changes of passionately observed American landscapes. In “The Place,” erotic questions of travel carry an authority, a true-true exoticism that rises out of the simple language of lovers and the magic otherly-ness of rhyme:

        It is the search
        for the world we wanted,
        a scent of storm dust, of evening flower.
        The place far from every day
        That we bring to each other.

      Susan Rich’s mapping of desire and of the traveling-after-its-memory makes for a sweetly haunting blues, an ever-moving set of jazz-like variations on the theme of a life and globe in motion.
           Questions of travel, “stations” of roadmaps and fossil fuels, charge Rich’s “The Scent of Gasoline” with a double panegyric to her travels and to her memory of her father:

        I miss the flying horse,
        the nether worlds of Gulf and Texaco.

        I miss the road maps, key chains, Rubbermaid cups;
        The belief blossoming behind the words fill ‘er up.

        My father’s world is gone now,
        His body returning to the oil fields underground.

        And to conjure him I breathe in
        the dangerous, clock the miles to the gallon

        before the needle stops traveling backward — falls
        unencumbered, empty, lost.

      But if it is the most familiar travels that ground the poetry of The Cartographer’s Tongue, the poems that are most clearly “about” cultural displacement and global witnessing work to remind us that all poetry is a travel-log and a poetry of witness. Once again, the most powerful poetry of witness rises not from “travel” poems such as “Haiti” and “Sarajevo” but from “In Our Name," which implicates the American reader in the electrocution of a Florida prisoner. Old benchmarks of home are always in motion in Rich’s poetry. Like the surf of “Edge Light,” the world of Rich’s wide travels returns to us, “moving closer, further back/before it’s over, re-patterned,/lost and released.”
           The Cartographer’s Tongue is a fresh and accessible charting of a poet’s efforts to be at home in the world, in the body, in a testy humanity. It speaks to the kinds of desires and awakening to the world that the Peace Corps experience often fosters. And Susan Rich’s impressive first book brings it all home in such a manner as to participate in a re-mapping of home through a lyric voice of witness that would call us to global responsiveness and responsibility.

      Keith Cartwright served as a fisheries Volunteer in Senegal. He teaches English at Roanoke College in Virginia, and taught previously at College of the Bahamas, Selma University, and Coastal Georgia Community College. His long poem, Saint-Louis: A Wool Strip-Cloth for Sekou Dabo, treats his Peace Corps experience, while Junkanoo: A Christmas Pageant, emerges from historical and geographic channels between the American South and the Bahamas.

      Father Sun — Mother Moon
           Stories of Pluricultural Grassroots Development
      by Charles David Kleymeyer (Peru 1966–68)
      Quito, Ecuador: Ediciones Abya-Yala, price unknown
      130 pages

      Reviewed by Ted O. Hall (Peru 1966-68)

      SINCE HIS PEACE CORPS SERVICE, Charles David Kleymeyer has continued living and working the Peace Corps experience in various professional capacities, and this book is largely a collection of four short stories that revolve around the author’s 20 years as a representative for the Inter-American Foundation in Ecuador.
           The stories concern the hopes and desperations of the indigent poor in Ecuador. The first two consider the agrarian reform movement that spread across the continent of South America in the 1960s and 70s. Reform was hoped for relief to the economic woes of those poor campesinos who had previously worked land for wealthy hacendados. However, through the stories we find that carving up the land and passing title to the poor was mostly an attack on a symptom, not the permanent relief of the cause of economic discrimination. The third story tracks the travails of a poor fisherman whose ancestral fishing grounds had been depleted by commercial fishing and industrial pollution. This story considers his agonizing choice to venture a day’s journey out to sea in a dugout canoe in stormy weather, or to stay ashore to see his family face one more day of hunger. Those who enjoyed “The Perfect Storm” may find this story an interesting corollary. The final story in the collection gives the reader cause for hope, as it tracks the continued effort of the indigent to achieve pluricultural acceptance despite all of their previous failures.
           The stories are presented in three different languages: Spanish, Ecuadorian Quichua, and English. They are easy to read and can be consumed during the time it would take to make a cross country plane trip.
           The author, who holds a degree in Creative Writing and Literature and has long worked as a sociologist, has a writing style that reflects an interesting combination of these two fields of study. If I were to fault the the writing it would be because the author left me dangling at certain points. I would have appreciated more complete stories that would not have required so much surmise and imagination on my part. I’m sure this was the author’s intention, but it left me with an empty feeling once I put down the volume. On the other hand, maybe incomplete explanations are endemic to the Peace Corps experience.

      Ted O. Hall is a member of the Southern Nevada Peace Corps Association. He is a published author of legal and accounting texts, and is working on his first novel from his Peace Corps memoirs.

      First Silence
      by Edgar Henry Kock (Philippines 1996–98),
      illustrations by Bernardo Quizon Hermoso,
      Pacific Enterprize Institute, $15.95
      86 pages

      Reviewed by Tony Zurlo, (Nigeria, 1965–66)

      LIKE MANY OF US, Edgar Henry Koch was inspired to write about his experiences as a PCV. The vision that comes to us when contrasting cultures unfolds a world of extremes: the chasm between rich and poor, the exploited and exploiter. We also fall in love with the people who face obstacles in life that would demoralize many of us back in the U.S.
           We find this vision difficult to express — the proverbial “culture shock” — when we return to the states. So we write about “it”: the complicated range of emotions springing from the joy of being among the people and the sadness of watching helplessly as these people suffer.
           Koch has many powerful ideas, and his best poems take us into that other world. With echoes of Edgar Allan Poe, Koch’s “Rondeau” begins: “Accept this poem, sweet Annabel, / Song of songs to beauty. I tell / You that I sing with deep respect, / And, in return, do not expect / Like notes or lines from you as well.” In “The Awakening” Koch writes, “They say an apparition is reserved / For saints. No so! You come to me as light, / Seemingly a cloud which swirls suspended.” Throughout this collection, the reader finds many such inspired expressions, most of them disciplined by Shakespearean sonnet form.
           My disappointment in this collection is Koch’s overuse of poetic techniques, especially alliteration. For example, in “Ode to Love Lost” he writes “. . . Words / Written as these work well to whisk away / My pain.” Instead of elevating us into the world of lyric, the devices call attention to the reality of a self-conscious poet. Another example, in an otherwise fine poem, “Lolo,” Koch’s technique diverts our attention to the style rather than the person in the poem: “Father Filipino, sporting his frayed / New York baseball cap, boards the battered bus / Brought to his stop by a strident whistle.” By drawing attention to methods and techniques, the poet lessens the impact of Father Filipino’s dream. He does this in too many of his poems that might, otherwise, take us on that magical journey of the spirit.
           At his best Koch combines style and theme with everyday life to leave us with a rhythmic sense of Filipino daily life. In my favorite poem from this collection, “Philippine Symphony,” the day opens with the “Bold baton of dawn.” Then “The throats of a thousand roosters project / Day’s theme.” The tempo for the day’s activities are set by a “Chorus of dogs [that] bark like brass.” Children’s play is the “rhapsody / Of youth.” And in the evening the “Passion of this piece [Filipino Symphony]. Karaoke . . .” which strains “to set firm and final / Harmony.” When all is finished all sounds end without applause. “Simply silence. For / When the day is over, it is all over.” This poem explains all we need to know about living: life is the music in this world. We are the orchestra. There is no audience, thus no one to applaud.
           Many of Koch’s poems support his claim in the Prologue that he is a Romanticist. However, as we progress through the collection, we discover many revelations anchored firmly in Realism. Koch pulls no veils over the inhumanity of people. In “The Photograph” he describes “Two children, threadbare under scorching skies.” They are beggars, with sticks and stones for toys. Their malnutrition shows in their “rusting hair.” They cling to each other and to their mother and pose for a photograph. In “The Sacrifice,” an alcoholic father forces his daughter to “work streets for pay.” She is beaten nearly to death, and now her “stare is sterile.” Even when she smiles, her face seems “thoughtless like / Dumb steel which slashed your skull and brain.”
           Accompanying the poems are bright watercolor paintings by an excellent Filipino artist, Bernardo Cuizon Hermoso. They fit naturally into the flow of the poems.
           After a long career in teaching, Koch went to the Philippines to teach. I would argue that he has found his place as a poet, and I look forward to another collection.

      Tony Zurlo is a poet/writer living in Arlington, TX. He has written books about China and Japan, and his newest book, The People of West Africa, will be published by Lucent Press in 2001.

      Steal My Heart
      by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 1990–1993)
      Van Este Books, $25.00
      272 pages
      October, 2000

      Review by Joan Richter (Staff spouse: Kenya 1965-67)

      IN STEAL MY HEART, Mark Brazaitis draws on his knowledge of Guatemala to develop an intriguing set of characters from all levels of the country’s troubled society, including the expatriate community. He winningly begins his novel with Ramiro Caal, an introspective young man who proceeds to do exactly what the title pleads. An indigenous Guatemalan, Ramiro is an Indian with a university education, not easily achieved in a society dominated by the descendants of the conquistadors, but he has returned to farming for a living, to lonely nights and memories of a lost love.
           During an English lesson at the house of his Peace Corps friend, Ed Shell, Ramiro reveals that five years ago he was a detective, but when he solved a crime the authorities preferred kept under wraps, he lost his job. Now, without explanation, the police want him back. He is to go to the lakeside town of Panajachel and catch the thief who is stealing the wallets and purses of tourists and giving Guatemala a bad name. That Ed is headed for the same town for a rendezvous with his girlfriend Rachel (another PCV) happily assures us there will be a crossing of paths.
           In Panajachel, well ahead of Ramiro and his soon-to-become-sidekick Ed, we meet the thief, a balding pick-pocket from Manhattan. Now plying his trade in the shadow of volcanoes and coconut palms, Carlton James lives expat-style in a fancy house to which he returns at dawn one morning, dressed in black from head to toe, a knapsack of booty on his back. When Rosario, his Indian maid, observes him thus garbed, and is obviously curious about the contents of his pack, Carlton has a moment of alarm, but it evaporates as he sees the sunlight reflecting off the young woman’s long black hair. An oddly proper and somewhat quirky romance begins.
           The novel is part mystery, with picaresque overtones, a love story (stories), that poignantly illuminates the past and present lives of characters who follow no mold, and whose futures are held tremulously in the grip of cultural circumstance. A zigzagging course of surprises and shifting moods accompany Ramiro as he and others travel across rural and urban Guatemala. The detective still dreams of the sweetheart that is his no more, but he is diligent in his pursuit of clues that will identify the thief he has been charged to find. When Ed and his girlfriend Rachel are robbed, there is a coalescing of interest and soon they have a bead on Carlton. Getting the evidence is another matter.
           They get a fortuitous boost when Ed and Rachel are invited to be houseguests of a lonely, stylish American widow, a neighbor of Carlton’s. From her windows they watch Carlton’s house, and spy Carlton’s maid Rosario, bags in hand, leaving on a trip. The opportunity of a property-search leads Ramiro and Ed to incriminating evidence, but they are caught in the act by the darkest character in the book, a cunning and corrupt policeman, who takes the evidence and delivers a sinister threat, with potentially grave consequences.
           Meanwhile, in a distant town, unaware that he is under heightened scrutiny, Carlton sells his cache of stolen goods to his fence, a dentist interrupted in performing a root canal. It is a hilarious, but final laugh. With the police in-the-know, it is serious business from now on, well beyond the world of pick-pocket tricks. On the run, Carlton and Rosario are separated. Carlton flees to the countryside where he is captured by guerrillas. Their guns are not small, and the blood Carlton sees is real, but despite his own danger, his thoughts are of Rosario. What will happen if she is captured by the police and put in jail? Carlton sets his mind to thinking how he might save her.
           Ramiro also has begun to think about Rosario and agonizes over where fate has taken this indígena woman and what will befall her if she is put into prison. Though tormented by what the search for a petty thief has set in motion, he continues in pursuit of his quarry, but Rosario is now in his thoughts.
           Brazaitis gathers up the loose ends of his story with an inventiveness for which the groundwork has been well laid. Even so, there are some surprising jolts. To give them and some of the earlier twists away, would diminish the pleasure of discovery this book deserves. In the final pages there is the satisfaction of listening to Ramiro and Ed review their adventures, but that Ramiro, alone, in the quiet dark of his small house, has the last word, is just right. “Perhaps if he whispered her name enough times, she would come. God might lift her with a wind that would carry her over mountains . . . . It was everyone’s right to ask for a miracle once in a lifetime, and now Ramiro was asking.”

      Joan Richter is an editor and writer in Washington DC.

      by Tom Brosnahan (Turkey 1967–70) and Pat Yale
      Lonely Planet, $21.95
      816 pages
      6th edition, 1999

      Reviewed by Hayward Allen (Ethiopia 1962–64)

      TURKEY IS A COUNTRY SO VAST the place is a world unto itself. Its history and culture reflect ten millenia and all their variations on the themes of social and political evolution. Beginning with the discoveries of a 7500 B.C. Neolithic city and leading through the Hittites of the Bronze Age, today’s visitors can move through Anatolian epochs of Phrygians, Uratarians, Alexander the Great, Roman imperialism, early Christianity, the birth of Islam, the Ottoman Empire, and on to Ataturk and the Turkish Republic.
           If there could be a definitive guide to both the vastness of Turkish land and its cultures, it must be Lonely Planet’s sixth edition of Turkey, by Tom Brosnahan and Pat Yale.

      The basics
      Travelers familiar with the Lonely Planet format will recognize the easing of one into the country, first through the factual sides of history, ecology and environment, population and people, the arts, religion, language and those ever-important aspects of Turkish society and one’s conduct within. These lead to “ground rules” for traveling in Turkey today. Included are “responsible tourism,” the media, food, dangers and annoyances, lodging, health, laundry and toilets, as well as where to exchange or obtain cash (there are ATMs). There are pointers for travelers of all stripes: women, gay and lesbian tourists, seniors, and those travelling with children.
           One of the most valuable subjects covered is transportation to and from Turkey, as well as getting around a country roughly the same size as Texas and Tennessee (300,000 sq. miles). Whether arriving by ship at Istanbul or hitchhiking through Thrace, there are things to know that are uniquely Turkish, such as it is much easier to enter the country through customs and currency exchange than leaving it.

      Places to go, things to see
      The remaining 550 pages of the guide are devoted to different places and regions of Turkey, traveling from Istanbul/Constantinople through Thrace, Aegean Turkey, the Mediterranean areas, Eastern and Central Anatolia, where the national capital, Ankara, is located and the Black Sea coast. From the 4000 miles of coastlines to 16,000 feet high atop Biblical Mt. Arrat, from Hellenistic ruins in the west to highland tribes in the east, Turkey has a multitude of discoveries for the curious traveler to the nomadic adventurer.
           What gives the guide its depth and breadth are the detailed descriptions of thousands of hotels and pensions, markets and bazaars, mosques and museums, and eateries fitting any and all palates. The descriptions come in all sizes, from elaborate to Spartan. In eastern Turkey, the history of Side includes “Many of Side’s great buildings were raised with the profits of piracy and slavery, which flourished under the Greeks . . .” Or in Erzurum, where the Otel Oral is described as “inconveniently located, noisy and overpriced...and often filled by groups. If you stay here, request a room at the back . . .”
           Occasionally, the authors do become a tad esoteric in their recommendations. For example, when in Afyon, formerly Afyonkarahisar, or “The Black Fortress of Opium,” in the north Aegean area, visitors are reminded, tongue in cheek, assumably: “Don’t forget to pop into one of the local sekerleme for a taste of Afyon’s famous yokum.”

      Sidebars that season the mix
      Some of the most interesting and informational parts of Turkey are found in the sidebars that season the guidebook.
           A personal favorite is the authors’ warning against dealing with shills, titled “Commissions — A Colossal Ripoff.” Anyone traveling abroad has encountered these parasites as taxi drivers, hotel clerks, or panhandlers. “Hey, meester, wanna buy gold boobles for wife?” Brosnahan and Yale warn readers about shills throughout the book, especially when dealing with markets and bazaars. Their best advice is “Don’t go into a shop accompanied by anyone,” other than a friend.
           On the positive side, much is made of “The Hamam Experience,“ or doing the classic Turkish steambath. A thousand-year-old tradition at Turkey’s natural spas, there are elaborate and beautiful baths built “partly because Islam demands high standards of personal hygiene, and partly because bathing is such a pleasure.” Unlike the “classic” American massage parlor, the hamam is not a sexual outlet for men and women who take steam and massage, we are reminded.
           Turkey has been the battlefield for warring powers since the dawn of history. With this in mind, as well as the fact that Lonely Planet guides emanate from Australia, one of the featured sites is the Gallipoli Peninsula. Traveler Justin Flynn’s notes about April 25, Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand, is a self-portrait of someone visiting Turkey with a goal. He describes the personal connection to the place where his countrymen and kin died in 1915, the topography of the place, and the connection to the Turkish patriot hero, Ataturk. It is left to the guide’s map makers and writers to warn folks of potential pitfalls and problems celebrating Down Under’s most patriotic anniversary.
           Well-written travel guides are a trip by themselves. Armchair voyagers can savor and see places beyond their personal borders of a midwestern farm or a big city co-op. Turkey is an encylopedia and a travel book, and those who are planning a trip to this exotic region will find both aspects inspiring, useful to the nth degree, and very educational.
           One caveat: Turkey is a huge country, transportation is fundamental, people live their lives as they always have, and time takes longer to pass.
           A post-script: the authors are generous in their acknowledgement of people who have sent in their own impressions and suggestions or recommendations — there are two pages of names listed. Also: an up-to-the-moment upgrade to this is a guide can be found on-line at

      And from our reviewer —

      Hayward’s own sidebar: After my Peace Corps time in Ethiopia, I took the slow way home. Part included a train ride from Beirut to Istanbul, one of the most remarkable and longest (three days) I have taken. From lowland desert to tunnel after tunnel filtering coal smoke into the cars, and the toilets filling the air aromatically. Around midnight the second night, the train stopped and running water could be heard. I went to the steps, looked out, into and upwards in a great canyon, with only a sliver of stars showing far above. I walked toward the cascading sound and doused myself silly with the clearest, coldest water. It was as glorious and clean a stop along the way as the train ride was hideously tedious, regardless of vistas and views.

      Second sidebar: Walking the streets of Istanbul, I found my tastebuds seeking icecream after a considerable Ethiopian drought of the sweet creamy stuff. In a back alley, I saw a familiar stainless steel drum and stack of cones beside it. There was even a small curl at the end of the spigot. Frozen custard! I asked for a cone in halting Turkish. My mouth and eyes watered as the white plops were built one atop the other. I paid a few liras, took the cone, closed my eyes and licked. God! It wasn’t Dairy Queen, it was yogurt! I ate it anyway. Not half-bad, actually.

      Third sidebar: I traveled from Turkey to Greece by bus during one of many Cypriot disturbances. Most of the passengers were Greek women and children headed to safer Hellenic ground. The ride to the Turkish-Grecian border was very quiet, the fear palpable. Finally we reached the dry river bed that separated the two antagonists, and the Turkish customs and army led us off the bus and into a shed. The one or two with US passports were allowed through, fairly easily; still we stood afraid outside the shack. The rest of the passengers were searched, bags thrown open and contents tossed, insults heaped, and tears heard inside. Finally, we were all allowed to walk across the sandy bed and escorted half-way across to Greek militia and our Grecian bus. Once aboard, motor running, wheels turning, the audience changed from tragedy to comedy. Laughter and song, radios and cheers, and the women dug deep into their bosoms and pulled out reams of US dollars hidden in the folds of their clothes and bodies.

      Hayward Allen spent almost a month in Turkey after his Peace Corps experience in Ethiopia. Since returning, he’s been a teacher, an international worker for financial cooperatives (credit unions), and written two travel guides to Native American and two wildlife books, about whales and herons. He lives in Rochester, NY.

    Talking with Jeffrey Tayler
    an interview by John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962–64)

      JEFFREY TAYLER (Morocco 1988–90; PC/Staff Poland 1992, Uzbekistan 1992–93) is the author of Siberian Dawn, and, just out, Facing the Congo. He has published numerous articles in such magazines as Atlantic Monthly, Spin, Harper’s, and Conde´ Nast Traveler, and is a regular commentator on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Two of Tayler’s travel essays were selected by Bill Bryson for the 2000 inaugural edition of The Best American Travel Writing 2000. Today Tayler lives in Russia. I interviewed him by email about his new book and his writing career.

      What was your Peace Corps assignment?

        I was a Volunteer in Marrakech, Morocco, from 1988 to ’90. In mid 1992, after a stint as a sort of assistant administrative officer in Warsaw, Peace Corps sent me to Uzbekistan, with several other staff members, to open a program there. I left Tashkent in 1993.

      As a Volunteer, were you a teacher?

        At first, I was an instructor in blind mobility, but the school was not interested in having me do that (they wanted me to teach English, for which I was not trained). After a major mess and brouhaha with my supervisor in Rabat and sharp words with my school director, who was a tyrannical dolt, I was allowed to teach blind mobility. But that only lasted the first year. At the start of the second year, the director ordered me to teach English. I promptly reassigned myself elsewhere in the community: I worked as the administrative assistant for a local association of parents of handicapped children, and enjoyed it.

      Have you published much (or anything) about your Peace Corps experience?

        I’ve written a few stories for about, well, I wouldn’t say about the Peace Corps, but rather, about things that happened to me as a Volunteer and a staff member. They are “Save Me, Wild Qahba!,” “Perils of the Harem,” and “Escape from Tashkent” — all concern failed love and deceit and lust, mixed in with clashes of cultures.
             My time with the Peace Corps in Tashkent figured in the opening of my first book, Siberian Dawn. It was in Tashkent (and Moscow, which I had to visit frequently while working in Uzbekistan) that I conceived of the journey recounted in the book, after realizing that my participation in any sort of Peace Corps program in the former Soviet Union was untenable and wrong.

      What was the first article you sold to a national publication?

        To The Atlantic Monthly [September 1996], I sold “Vessel of Last Resort.” an account of part of my time on the Congo River in Zaire. That sale was the start of both a very gratifying and instructive relationship with that magazine and my professional career as a writer.

      How did your first book come about?

        Ever since I was a teenager, Russia, Russians, Russian literature, and Russian history have played a role in my life that no one else or nothing ever would equal. Most of my heroes were Russian — Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov among them; many of my favorite writers and works of literature were Russian; my favorite poets and bards were Russian. Soviet émigrés to the United States I met in the 1980s taught me what the words “risk” and “courage” really meant — these friends were not much older than I was, but what they had gone through before and after leaving the Soviet Union made them far wiser and mature than I could ever have hoped to be. They also instilled in me the belief that you must be willing to risk everything for what you believe in.
             All of that prompted me to set out across Russia on the trip described in Siberian Dawn — a book that was not a travelogue per se, but an account of a dream fulfilled, if a very traumatic and poignant one involving a long journey. When I reached Poland after some 8,000 miles of wandering across Russia and Ukraine, I turned around and came back to Moscow, rented an apartment, and started writing. I had not been an avid reader of travelogues before, so I just wrote about what I saw and felt, without much regard to genre.

      Do you see yourself as a travel writer or a political/social commentary writer?

        I write about what interests me. Depending on the subject, there may be politics or travel or social commentary involved, or themes better explored in fiction. These days, I’m working on the outlines of a novel.

      You said that the Peace Corps program in the former Soviet Union was untenable and wrong. Why that opinion? Should the Peace Corps pull out of Eastern Europe?

        I will speak only to the program in Uzbekistan, but the problems all over the former USSR (but not in Eastern Europe, which does not belong to the same historical sphere) are the same. The formerly Soviet states possess a population that is often more educated, and in certain crucial ways, more sophisticated, than the Americans, be they staff or Volunteers, who are sent to man Peace Corps programs. The system that the Soviets devised created a population for whom education was sacred and deceit a matter of survival, so Americans learn more from the formerly Soviets (especially about deceit, definitely about deceit), than the other way around — which makes a program of American aid here consisting of less than crack specialists a farce of sorts.
             The root problems here in the former USSR are those of nihilism and cynicism — everything is being stolen, people are raped with impunity by any number of actors, killed for nothing and perishing through negligence, and no one here responds, at least in a meaningful or effective way. This is poisoned earth, and we should not deny this because we don’t want to believe it. Living here, one cannot escape the notion that the formerly Soviet states are slipping into extinction, rotting away, losing people to demographic trends caused by an utter and pervasive failure of their civilization. In view of all that, the Peace Corps (and most other foreign aid) is at best irrelevant here.
             That said, I’m all for Americans getting out and seeing the world and living abroad; that is the principle benefit Peace Corps offers, and it is a vital one, given how powerful the United States has become since the end of the Cold War. Also, learning about fundamental, and at times unbridgeable, cultural and historical gaps between peoples is essential (such a gap exists between Americans and all the formerly Soviet peoples, with the exception of the Balts and western Ukrainians) — one must not delude oneself that we are all alike or destined to be members of some sort of global family, and we must not participate in or facilitate the delusion of others. I have never regretted quitting the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan.

      Lets go back to your latest book. Were you the first person to go down the Congo since Stanley?

        A team of adventurers descended the river in the mid 1980s, before Zaire came apart, on high-speed motorized rafts, and of course barges and ferries were going up and down it. But my aim was to do it by pirogue, and concerning that I could only find evidence of failure — the Zairean authorities told me no one had succeeded. I still wouldn’t exclude the possibility that someone managed it and published nothing about it, or did it without being detected by the authorities.

      Describe how you went about writing the Congo book. Did you keep a journal? Do you write on a computer, long hand?

        I kept a journal during the trip, which served me well when it came time to write, as did the copious collection of 35mm slides I shot along the way and other memorabilia I retained. I write, however, only on a computer, with some minor exceptions, so the book was written later. In any case, I think one needs some time away from an event to understand what has really happened, or at least what it means.

      Looking back, what was harder, dealing with the corruption of the country or the river?

        I would say the hardest thing of all was dealing with fear and feeling exposed. Fear is very corrosive. In one way, the most terrifying moments came out on the river in the pirogue, in confronting robbers, though my guide, a Zairean named Desi, was superb in handling them. I owe him everything. He was a born diplomat, even as afraid as he was, and he got us through. In another way, the most frightening moments came at night, when the mosquitoes kept us in our tent and we felt — and were — blind to what was going on around us. I have to add that Desi’s fear enhanced my own — when your guide gets scared it doesn’t do much for your moral. But as he got sick, his fear waned into apathy and resignation, then a sort of dread settled over my heart like a rock.

      Was there any moment when you thought you would not make it out of the Congo alive?

        After the incidents with the would-be robbers occurred, and when we hit the most threatening stretch of river, after Lisala, I thought we were all at grave risk, and that our end would be a sorry and slow one, rather than a dramatic and agonizing one.

      How long was your trip and how long did it take to write the book?

        The actual trip described in Facing the Congo — the Congo Republic and Congo/Kinshasa segments — took a little more than two months. I finished the book a year and a month after I began writing it (but I was often away on assignment and had to interrupt the process). However, the book covers time in Moscow at the beginning and the end, and altogether spans a five-year period.

      How did you find a publisher for the book, or did you have one before you started?

        The same publisher, Ruminator Books, formerly Hungry Mind, published both Siberian Dawn and Facing the Congo. My agent found them for me, and I have been very satisfied. I wrote the first book with neither agent nor publisher; the second I did on contract.

      You said you were working on a novel. What is it about?

        It has to do with Moscow in the early- and mid-nineties, but that’s about all I can say at the moment.

      Who are some of your favorite writers?

        I would prefer to cite favorite works rather than writers, since even geniuses stumble. As far as long fiction goes, my favorites are Anna Karenin, Lolita, A Bend in the River, Great Expectations, In a Free State, The Quiet American, and Moby Dick, to name more than a few. Among short stories, I never tire of Chekhov’s “A Lady and Her Dog,” or almost anything by Maupassant. I also like Ivan Bunin’s work.
             I realize these are all recognized classics, and I’m not saying anything new by citing them here. But so much journalism and fiction shows that too many writers are not reading the classics any more, when there is nothing better in print. Dickens is probably the only novelist who never disappoints, and I think he is a good one to read for aspiring writers.

      If you were to select a place for RPCVs to visit, where would it be?

        Assuming you’re referring to aspiring RPCV writers, I can only say that unless they want to follow the path typically trodden by foreign journalists, who move in clumps from one crisis point to another, or who are simply assigned to a “post” where they often speak little of the local language, they should travel to places to which they feel an enduring emotional bond.
             Don’t get me wrong: We need people to tell us in frank concise terms what this dictator has said or how many acres of rain forest were logged illegally, but we should not confuse precision and impartiality with perspective and meaningful writing, the kind of writing that speaks to people decades after it was penned. Decisions about where to travel and what to write about may, thus, be personal, emotional, and possibly even dangerous and irrational, but it has always seemed to me better to fail at a great endeavor than prosper in something banal. So I have no one answer, and would leave it to the intuition of the RPCVs themselves.

      Do you think of yourself as an expatriate?

        I think of myself as myself. Questions of nationality arise only when others bring them up, which at times happens in Moscow as a result of bumps in Russian–US relations. But I think you mean do I belong to the expatriate community here; no, I don’t. But I don’t feel I’m Russian, either.

      Are you going to keep Russia as your base, or will you be moving somewhere else?

        My wife is Russian, so I will always keep returning to Moscow, even if I leave to live somewhere else.

    Travel Right

      Christmas Miracle in the Andes

      by Mike Tidwell (Zaire 1985–87)

      “HOW MANY NIGHTS will you be staying?” the Indian innkeeper asks me, leaning over his dusty desk. He speaks in slow, accented Spanish. Behind him, an assortment of wooden Christmas ornaments festoons the inn’s aged door. The stone fireplace is a gentle tempest of logs and cracking flames. It is Dec. 23.
           “Three nights," I say, lowering my backpack to the warm stone floor. The innkeeper arches an eyebrow. "So you’ll be staying through Christmas?”
           “And you’re alone?” He glances over my shoulder.
           “I see,” he says.
           I gather my gear and follow the innkeeper, whose name is Guillermo, down a narrow hallway to my room. Through a window, a liquid flaming sun is sinking toward 9,000-foot peaks outside this rural mountain village in southern Colombia. “You’re our only guest,” Guillermo says, unlocking my room and handing me the key. “There are no other visitors here.” I can almost read the rest of his thoughts: “We never get backpackers at Christmastime. Never. And the Colombian tourists — they have all gone home to be with their families, of course, for the holidays.” I settle quickly into my room, then hurry outside to catch the last of the sunset. I pass unlit Christmas candles, thick and red and half-used, scattered throughout the inn.
           My being here is no accident. I want to be at this distant spot, far from my own country, a lone traveler, at Christmastime. The holiday in America always leaves me feeling a bit blue. While others relish the crowds, the shopping, the Yuletide specials on TV, I’m never quite able to catch the “spirit” — to get festive on cue — when so much of the package seems like a scripted marketing opportunity. The best solution, I decide: Sample the holiday elsewhere. Which is how I wind up among these Andean mountains. I follow a short path down from the inn to the edge of Lake Guamues, the largest, highest, most beautiful piece of fresh water in Colombia. The indigo surface is cradled by forested mountains turned blond by the waning light. In the cool alpine air, I pass ponchoed Indians in bowler hats. A young boy with braided hair carries a panpipe as he herds llamas along the shore. The lake is shaped like a giant teardrop.
           I take a seat and watch as a series of final, awesome sunbeams falls to earth. The myth runs that a powerful medicine man created this lake and these mountains from the bodies of a feuding husband and wife — and the result is absolute peace for all who live here. I can feel it. A stillness spreads through my road-weary body. Nearby, a peasant farmer is harvesting potatoes from the black earth and humming a familiar tune. I listen. I recognize the song. “Noche de Paz.” Silent Night.
           The last of the sun disappears. The panpipe in the distance begins to play, flutelike and joyful, getting farther and farther away. In a manner of speaking, Christmas this year, for the first time in my life, may very well be a religious experience. The best Christmas holidays I’ve ever spent were overseas in obscure corners of the world — in Africa, central Asia, South America. There was that Christmas in the Congo, for instance, sitting down to goat meat and fufu with other bearded, ponytailed Peace Corps volunteers under a rustling palm tree. There was that time, too, in faraway Kyrgyzstan, gathering juniper branches in the snow for window decorations and exchanging used books wrapped in boxer shorts.
           At such far-flung venues the holiday ritual is simpler: You call to your table whatever American expats happen to be within easy travel distance. There’s no media bombardment telling you to buy, buy, buy — so you don’t. There’s nothing to purchase anyway. You just come together for a daylong meal with a little too much wine tossed in. Just like Thanksgiving. It’s love unhindered by the distractions of listmaking and gift-wrapping, fellowship without credit card heroics.
           And so it was a few years ago I found myself alone in South America at the end of a long writing trip. Christmas was just a few days away. I could have flown home in time, but I had already missed the two-month, hyperventilating buildup to Christmas back in the States. Arriving now, with the holiday peaking, might give me the Christmas equivalent of the bends. I’d be coming up way too fast. So I drifted into the mountains of Colombia instead.
           If overseas travel is a way of forgetting your own culture while experiencing another, then Christmas, by my tastes, is a perfect time to travel. I opened a map of Colombia and picked the tiny, isolated village of El Encano on Lake Guamues (also known as Laguna de la Cocha), 300 miles southwest of Bogota. I decided that whatever Christmas was at this little place, that’s what Christmas would be for me, too. There’d be no handful of American expats around this time, either. Just me and whatever I found. Just me and . . . Christmas.
           I awake the morning before Christmas to the sound of cows being milked outside my room. From my bed, I peek outdoors through a badly cracked window at Guillermo. He’s sitting in the distance on a stool, humming, milking a cow — squish, squish — into a tin bucket. An explosion of morning sunlight shows that he’s wearing the same clothes he had on the night before — old canvas pants and a llama-wool sweater. These are the only clothes he’ll wear during my entire stay. The cracked window has been repaired with a cheap opaque tape.
           But the place has perks. I exit my room and Guillermo hands me a steaming cup of just-made Colombian coffee. He’s added cream straight from the cow and the result is sublime. “Come see all the hummingbirds,” he says brightly as I moan with every sip.
           Outside, the weather has warmed quickly to a dreamlike morning of shirtsleeve sunshine. The lake below us is a giant, blue-white mirage of reflected light. Most striking, though, are the flowers. They grow wild. They grow everywhere. Orchids, asters, daisies. They climb along the stone walls of the inn and up toward the Spanish tile roof, offering their nectar to two dozen red and green hummingbirds.
           “December is the start of our best weather,” Guillermo says. “It’s our springtime.”
           I take another sip of coffee, standing in the sunshine, and wonder what blustery winter weather is making mischief back home in Washington, D.C.
      The inn grounds double as a family farm, and just then Guillermo’s three children arrive carrying eggs and more milk from a barn out back. They are Gemri, a boy, 8; Guillermo Jr., 17; and Dorys, 22. Guillermo himself is 50, but looks younger, with a thick mane of black hair sans a single gray strand.
           Guillermo is fretting now, his face lined with perplexity. He doesn’t quite know what to make of me. I tell him I’m going for a long walk along the lake. But before I leave, he tells me again that I’m the inn’s only guest. In fact, he says, there’s never been a guest at Christmastime in the 25-year history of this out-of-the-way establishment.
           “Hmmm,” I say. “Okay. See you this afternoon.”
      For hours, I wander along grassy bluffs overlooking the lake. I see more llamas and shepherds — and cows with snow-white herons perched gently atop their backs. I see a tiny island in the distance with a shrine to the region’s adopted saint, Nuestra Señora de Lourdes. She watches over local fishermen who in turn honor her each year with a huge feast of stewed guinea pig, an Andean delicacy.
           It’s nearly dark and the air is again chilly by the time I return to the inn. Guillermo has built another fire and has lit all the candles for Christmas Eve. My boots and socks are wet from my hike, so I place them by the fire to dry. I join Guillermo on a long bench pulled up close, and thaw myself in the warmth of the flames. But seeing my socks hanging down from the mantel, I feel a stab of homesickness for the first and last time during this trip. I can’t hide the feeling as I describe for Guillermo the tradition of stockings turned magically full by Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.
           No such stocking tradition exists in Colombia, he says. Then he gives me a long, vaguely fatherly look. “Why are you not home now?” he says. “Home with people you know? Then you could have this tradition.”
           The tinge of sadness in his eyes leaves me touched. I rush to tell him my philosophical beliefs aren’t quite in harmony with the holiday back home. I’m very, very happy to be here, I say. He accepts this readily with a look of kind respect. “My family, we are Catholics,” Guillermo says, “so Christmas is very special to us. We also have this man Santa Claus in Colombia, but he does not come to our home.”
           Now I’m the one feeling a tinge of sadness. “Why not?” I ask.
           “Many years ago, when the children were very small, we stopped giving gifts in our family. We are a poor country. Even me, with the inn and the farm, I am a poor man. So the children know about Santa Claus, but they don’t believe in him because he never comes to visit their home.”
           I say nothing, trying to show him the same respect he’d shown me earlier. His voice trails off into the fireplace flames.
           It’s past dinnertime now, and I hear sounds of cooking in a back-room kitchen.
           “Could I order some dinner?” I ask. This strikes Guillermo as funny somehow. “There’s nothing to order,” he says, laughing heartily now. “There’s no menu! You’re a guest of my family tonight, not of the inn.” It has grown completely dark outside, and I slip out to view the Andean night sky. Christmas Eve has arrived in full, heralded by a billion bright stars. Only the sumptuous odor of good cooking inside finally lures me back. At 9 p.m., at a table set up by the fireplace, we sit down to eat. Guillermo’s daughter, Dorys, has been doing all the cooking. I still have not seen Guillermo’s wife, and there’s no place set for her now. I sense a sad story behind this somehow, and I decide not to ask.
           I survey the table and am incredulous. Dorys and Guillermo Jr. have covered each plate with a thick bed of yellow rice crowned by a large, roasted chicken breast. The breast is stuffed with minced liver and covered with a sticky sweet sauce. It is a fantastic feast by this family’s meager means, and I consider the thought that I’ve never been offered a more valuable gift.
           Guillermo says a short prayer, and we begin eating. The chicken is wondrous, and the accompanying red wine is quite decent. Dessert is a bowl of very sweet white-bean soup eaten only at Christmastime in Colombia. When I compliment Dorys on her cooking, she shrugs modestly. “These are recipes our mother taught me many years ago.” There’s an air of despondency in her expression that again keeps me from asking more. Guillermo, clearly, is raising these children alone.
           The children ask me various questions about America throughout dinner. At one point, 8-year-old Gemri says, “Tell us a Christmas story from your country.”
           I decide to steer clear of the Rudolph and Grinch stories, both of which end with children happily receiving mountains of gifts. In the candlelight of that table, I tell instead a simple story of a Christmas Eve when I was a child and times were hard for my family. My father was out of work, except for a low-paying job delivering newspapers. I helped him with his work on Christmas Eve morning so he could come home quickly. My mom and sister made hot chocolate for us when we returned and we spent the rest of the day arranging strings of popcorn across our Christmas tree. We all wanted very badly for it to snow that evening, even though it rarely snowed where we lived (Georgia). But that night it happened — there were snow flurries. The first time ever on Christmas Eve!
           “Un milagro,” Gemri says. “A miracle. They happen at Christmas if you really want them to. Papa says so.”
           “No,” Guillermo says quickly. “I said a miracle happened to me one time at Christmas when I wished for it.”
           I look at Guillermo quizzically. “Come,” he says, standing. “The children know this story. I will tell you outside while they clear the table.”
           We step out into the sparkling night air, and the stars are even more lustrous than before. Whole galaxies are visible, cloudlike and full of mystery. Guillermo and I walk toward the lake, happily full of food and wine, while he talks.
           “I tell you this story because, without it, you would have no place to stay tonight,” he begins. “Twenty-five years ago I had nothing. No money. No job. In these mountains, it’s hard to find work. My dream was humble: to have a little farm and a place for travelers to stay.
           “Then God helped me. It was Christmas Eve, 25 years ago — a starry night like this. We were visiting my wife’s family, who are city people. Her brother was very, very drunk that night and he asked me to help him walk home. I was upset by this, but he really needed my help. He staggered and swayed so much. One time he almost fell down on the sidewalk and I rushed to catch him and that’s when I saw it. On the ground, in the dark, was a little yellow bundle. I reached down and picked it up, not knowing what it was. Then I saw it was money. Lots of money. Ten thousand pesos [$600]! I had never held so much money in my hand in my whole life.
           “I was shocked. I looked around to see if anyone was looking for it, but I saw no one. It was so much money. For three days I watched this spot from a distance, waiting to see someone looking for it so I could give it back. But no one came.”
           Guillermo and I have turned around in our walk and are nearing the inn again. The front windows bear the faint glow of dying fireplace embers. The children have already gone to sleep.
           “With that money,” Guillermo says, “I bought my first cow. And I bought the materials to build this inn. All of it came from a sidewalk, this money. A sidewalk.”
           We step through the front door and feel the warmth inside. “That,” Guillermo says, “is my miracle.”
           The story has left me bewitched, my mind in a happy spin. But now it is time for bed inside this giant Christmas wonder of an inn.
           “Sleep well, Señor Mike,“ Guillermo says. “We will speak more tomorrow.” “Feliz Navidad, Señor Guillermo.”
           The next day I rise late, wondering if the events of the night before were a dream, a fairy tale. But Guillermo and family are still here. It’s Christmas morning, and they are soon giving me coffee and a sweet, fried corn bread called bunuelo.
      Later, Guillermo tunes his transistor radio to a Catholic Mass being broadcast out of Bogota, and the family gathers round. There is no Christmas tree here and no evidence whatsoever of gifts having been exchanged. Nor is there any palpable letdown hovering in the air, that Christmas ether of dashed expectations common in affluent countries after the inevitable dissatisfaction with things.
           The day is a leisurely one, and I spend it all with the family. Guillermo Jr. and I chop wood for the evening fire. Guillermo Sr. helps Gemri with his homework. Dorys cooks another handsome meal. The family is happy today — and very, very wealthy. Less really is more. Stripped to its core, Christmas is slower, deeper, bigger. I feel fully present for the holiday for the first time in years.
           But I can’t shake the impulse: I want to give the family a gift. My cultural background leaves me feeling incomplete unless I wrap something up and hand it over. I’ve never spent a Christmas in my entire life, I realize, without giving at least one small thing to somebody.
           But I have nothing except what’s in my wallet. I’m traveling light — and nothing’s for sale around the lake on Christmas Day. The next morning, Guillermo hands me a bill for three nights’ stay totaling all of $18. None of the food has been included. I hand him the equivalent of $30, intending that he take it all, but he promptly returns it.
           “Please, Guillermo,” I say. “It’s a Christmas gift. This is a tradition in my country.”
           “But you have come here to escape your traditions,” he says.
           Before I can protest, he continues. “You have noticed that my wife does not live with us. She had to take a distant job in another village to help earn money for the family. She could not come home for Christmas this year. You, too, are away from your home, and we have taken care of you. Maybe that means people where she is are taking care of her.”
           I nod that I understand just as the children step forward to say goodbye. It’s strange, but I feel as if I’ve known this family for many years now. They’ve taken an ancient celebration and made it new for me by, ironically, omitting everything new and modern and so making the holiday recognizable again.
           I lift my backpack to my shoulders, ready to leave.
           “We weren’t expecting you,” Guillermo says. “Don’t you see? You were our miracle this year. You came at Christmastime. You somehow found us. There’s nothing left for you to give us or us to give you. It was a nice holiday that way. Don’t you think?” I nod again — and wave goodbye.

      This essay is from Mike Tidwell’s recently published collection of travel stories, In The Mountains of Heaven: Tales of Adventure on Six Continents.

    A Writer Writes

      Where Is My Country?
      by Sheila Crofut (Czech Republic 1994 – 96)

        There is a poet sits under a willow
        and by his feet flows a river.
        And the song of the poet
        that he sings to the castle on the hill
        and to the people of his heart
        is my song. I sing it in the dark.

        The currents of the Vlatava, the Moldau,
        what have they not carried?
        Paper burial urns with the ashes of the innocent.
        Reflections of the loved and the hated.
        The fishes know better than they
        where the depths are, how the currents flow.

        When the powerless rebelled
        and sang the terrors away
        to the ringing of the keys
        in the square of the king and the saint,
        the writer came from prison to the castle
        and the poet to sit by the river.

        We came as strangers, drops of water
        in the river of change
        that flows in the heart of Europe.
        We were welcomed
        first by bread and salt,
        then by courtesies of tea.

        After the napkins were folded, the lamentations.
        The dead in the catacombs of St. Cyril and Methodius;
        Oppressor; liberator; who can one trust?
        In the library of Tomas Masaryk
        an artist has placed baked and burned bodies.
        Flour and water, honor and horror.

        I do not remember any longer
        who I was when I came,
        who I was when I left.
        I only remember when words broke open
        and light streamed in the mind,
        the river flowed and the poet sang.

    Which Peace Corps book begins . . .

        THE BEST PART of our training program was when we met Cameroonians. One afternoon, our whole group was bused just like Cub Scouts down to the U.N., where we got to meet the Cameroonian ambassador and his staff. Their robes flowed, their black faces beamed, and we loved every one of them. We were told to call the diplomats “Honorable Mr. So-and-So,” but they all had robes and we couldn’t tell who were the secretaries and who were the diplomats. This sweet little Mormon girl with freckles asked one of them, “I’m sorry, are you honorable?” These Cameroonians sure knew how to laugh. After that, they kept asking us if we were honorable, too.
             Then, they got us a place on the floor in the General Assembly and we got to listen to a debate about a harbor in Ceylon. After the session we sat in the delegates’ chairs. I got to be France and I put on my little earphones at the horseshoe table. A comedian in our group finagled his way to the Russian seat. He stuck a big blob of gum on his cheek to resemble a Russian wart, took off his shoe, and began pounding the table, shouting, “We will bury you!"
        We were all thrown out, but the two Cameroonian attaches in charge of us laughed all over themselves. They said, “Ah, you Peace Corpse! You bring the real U.S. to us. Very funny people, you U.S.”

        Send your answer to “Which Peace Corps book begins . . .?” to John Coyne at

      And the answer to the previous “Which Peace Corps book begins . . .?”
      Erin Person, a college student at Gettysbury College (where former Peace Corps Director and PCV Carol Bellamy went to college), emailed us that last issue’s book quote comes from “the introduction of Mike Tidwell’s The Ponds of Kalambayi. I just finished reading it for a Political Science class here at Gettysburg College, where I am a senior. I really enjoyed Tidwell’s book. I found great admiration for him and the work he did, as well as all Peace Corps volunteers.”

      Thank you, Erin, and what are you doing after graduation? Would you like “the toughest job you’ll ever love”?
           Well, now we have a college student showing up RPCVs and getting the correct answer. Here’s another chance for all of you.

    Links for writers
      Litline links to literary journals, small presses and literary organizaitons with online connection.
      The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has grants for creative writing fellowships.
      The National Writers Union is a union that advocates for writers.
      The Poetry Society of America is a membership organization that offers seminars, readings, awards, and a newsletter.
      Poets & Writers is a resource for free information on publishing, grants and awards.
      Shaw Guides is a comprehensive guide to writers conferences and festivals throughout the country that can be searched by location, date, financial aide information, and other useful topics.
      Web del Sol publishes poetry and fiction and provides links to magazines, publishers, and organizations internationally.
      The Zuzu’s Petals Literary Resource offers over 10,000 links to helpful resources for writers, artists, performers, and researches literary news, and a quarterly magazine.

      *Adapted from Poets & Writers Literary Horizons: Professional Development for Writers, Guide to Programs 2000–2001.

    Opportunities for writers

    • Steve Zikman is compiling an eclectic treasury of prayers, affirmations, and blessings intended especially for the traveler — a ready source of courage, strength, and inspiration for any jaunt or journey.
           If you have a short piece that you feel might be appropriate for this
      collection — either words of your own or the reassuring wisdom of another, he’d love to hear from you.
           Topics include: Departure, En Route, Land, Sea or Air, Family & Friends, The Kindness of Strangers, A Good Bed and a Fine Meal, Adversity and Challenge, Opening Our Hearts, Connecting with People and Places, Across the Miles, The Inner Journey, Homeward Bound.
           He welcomes a diverse range of selections and writings from all faiths, backgrounds, and beliefs. If you'd like, you may also include, along with your prayer or blessing, a short (300 words or less) anecdote or description elaborating on its significance.
         All submissions should be made by email to:
           Each submission must be sent in the body of the email (not as an attachment). Send a separate email message for each submission. Please put “Travel Prayers Submission” in the “'Subject” line.
           You may make as many submissions as you wish. Include your name, address and telephone number on all correspondence and indicate at the top which of the above topics is most appropriate for your submission.
           You may submit original unpublished pieces or previously published material from a newspaper, newsletter or magazine, excerpts from books, online materials, etc. Please indicate if you are the author. If you are not, be sure to provide as much information as possible about the author and the publication in which it appeared.
           All submissions BY DECEMBER 10, 2000.
           Steve Zikman is coauthor of the forthcoming Chicken Soup for the Traveler's Soul. Please note that this book is not part of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
    • Submissions for a new Chicken Soup book on volunteers has been announced. The Chicken Soup for the Soul series, which has now published close to 100 different titles, is planning to release Chicken Soup for the Volunteer’s Soul as soon as the book’s authors receive enough stories to include in the book. “I’ve culled more then 2,000 stories for the last two years,” says Arline Oberst, a long-time volunteer and the book’s organizer. “But in order to get stories that score as a nine or a 10 (by a panel of about 40 readers) we need to have about 5,000 stories.”
           “The mission of Chicken Soup For the Volunteer’s Soul is to publish 101 emotionally compelling stories that collectively will become an international touchstone to inspire, encourage, empower or humble readers into reconnecting in their communities,” said John Boal in an email to
           Submissions should be 300 to 1,200 words. All stories should focus on the human experience, not statistics. Anyone whose submission is accepted will receive a 50-word biography in the book and a $300 permission fee. Chicken Soup books tend to sell 500,000 to 1,000,000 copies.
           Submit stories by e-mail to John Boal at:

    Publishing alternatives

    • William Amos (Korea 1979–80) has used, an electronic publisher in England to produce The Seed of Joy. This company publishes in Palm, Rocket e-book, and Adobe Acrobat formats for downloading.
    • Vantage Press is a “subsidy book publisher.” In other words, authors pay to have their books published. Vantage provides a variety of services for promotion. Their philosophy is “authors have the right to express your ideas in print and present your creative efforts to the public. . . .We have published books of every type, not only of general appeal, but also of a special or controversial nature. However, we do not publish hard-core pornography, or material that is libelous or defamatory.” Adele Visel (India) published her Of Brahmins and Lesser Folk: The Tale of Another Peace Corps Grandmother in India with Vantage. Check out their website at
    • has published The Impenetrable Forest by Thor Hanson (Uganda 1993–95) and How to Be a Better Birder by Michael Ketover (Honduras 1993–95; Guyana 1995–96; Crisis Corps/ Dominican Republic 1999). iUniverse provides a wide spectrum of services for the writer, and publishes print-on-demand books as well as digital versions for Rocket eBook, Adobe PDF, and Microsoft Reader formats.

    © and RPCV Writers & Readers 2000