Peace Corps Writers
For Two Years Who Cares?
by Kathie and Al Wiebe (Colombia 1972–74)
Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing, $12.95
255 pages

Reviewed by Paul Shovlin (Moldova 1996–98)

KATIE AND AL WIEBE UNDERTOOK an arduous task when they decided to put together a book chronicling their Peace Corps experiences in Colombia for their future generations. A slight twist, though, makes the Wiebe’s tale more interesting for readers outside the family — they were able to bring their family of three children with them to Colombia. There Kathie worked to develop social programs, and Al served as a business Volunteer,
     Both had written their own memoirs, and had told stories of their experience to their families and their community for years, but since their recent retirement, Katie and Al have finally found time to weave their memoirs together and form a single, self-published volume. Yet a lack of professional editing is a major problem with For Two Years Who Cares?: A Peace Corps Odyssey. In trying to contend with their different observations, the Wiebes utilize Al’s point of view as a master narrator for most of the book. Occasionally, though, they shift to first person accounts from both Kathie and Al. It sounds confusing, but even though it is easy for a reader to figure out who is talking about what, this cumbersome organization does get in the way of comfortable reading. At times it can get frustrating as turns of phrase are repeated, there is not enough detail, and information is provided that jumps ahead of the chronologically unfolding story.
     The first two chapters are extremely difficult in this regard. They tell of the events and decisions that led up to the Wiebe’s acceptance of a Peace Corps invitation. Unfortunately, much of the detail of the anxiety that such of a decision must have provoked for a couple with three children is left out. Such detail would have provided a fuller picture to those who served without families.
     Structural problems aside, this book has redeeming qualities. If a reader perseveres, one will find details of Colombian life that are of typical interest to RPCVs — living conditions, commodities available at local markets, food, travel accommodations, public transportation, physical ailments, and, of course, in-service vacations. After almost thirty years the Wiebes do an admirable job with these descriptions.
      For Two Years Who Cares? sheds light on the Peace Corps experience of the ’70s for those who have served in later years. Since the Wiebe’s service, much has changed — most notably in this story, Volunteers are no longer permitted to serve with legal dependents. Also, many of the problems with in-country staff and in-country programs, that the Wiebe’s have noted, have either changed or been alleviated. To understand the Peace Corps of today, it is important to understand how it has developed since its inception. Thus, the Wiebes provide a snapshot of the ’70s Peace Corps.
     The book also adds a family element to the Peace Corps experience. The Peace Corps may be “the toughest job you’ll ever love” for an adult, but imagine what it must have been like for children in Peace Corps families. The Wiebe’s also devote a chapter to describe their adoption of Linda Rubiela, a Colombian child. Elements like these set apart the Wiebe’s experience from those of the average PCV.
     Composing a joint memoir of their Peace Corps experience was a daunting task and not without problems, yet the Wiebes have succeeded at what they set out to do — create a document of their time overseas for their children, and their childrens’ children. They have also added a new dimension of the PCV experience to Peace Corps literature.
Paul Shovlin served as a TEFL Volunteer in Moldova. Upon return, he taught vocational English as a second language to refugees and immigrants for a non-profit in Brooklyn, NY. He currently teaches English at Ohio University.
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