This version of the September 2001 issue of PeaceCorpsWriters.org 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. Nor does it include listings from “40 Years of Peace Corps Writers: The Tour, ”archived copies of RPCV Writers & Readers, any bibliographic listings or "Links of Interest."



Peace Corps Writers – September 2001

Contents — click on title to jump down to read. Or just print the whole thing.


Peace Corps Writers — September 2001

    A Day to Remember,
    A Nomination to Dismiss

    9/11/01
    The tragedies of September 11, 2001 touched us all and changed forever the lives we live. Our sense of security, our innocence, even our dreams and hopes have been shattered in much the same way as the twisted metal and broken glass of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon showered such massive destruction and death on our fellow Americans and our nation.
         Witnessing, as we did, the attack on our sovereignty, the tragic violence pierced not only symbols of our country, but, in the death of thousands of innocent Americans, pierced our hearts. We turn now and seek to comprehend the chaos.
         Our parents’ generation woke on the morning of December 7, 1941 to their Day of Infamy, followed by the long and bloody and costly World War II. We met our generation’s Day of Infamy on September 11.
         The work and word of Peace Corps Volunteers and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers can do much to share an understanding of other cultures with our own citizens. Clearly, the work of Volunteers is needed now more than even, and the lack of understanding of the Islamic world points out the necessity of much more emphasis on the Third Goal of the Peace Corps — a goal to which the agency unfortunately gives only scant resources and attention.
         At the RPCV Peace Vigil in Washington, D.C. on September 22nd Sargent Shriver said about RPCVs : “They come home to the USA realizing that there are billions — yes billions — of human beings, not enraptured by our pretensions, or our practices, or even our standards of conduct. Billions with whom we must live in peace.” Sarge’s full statement made at the service is in this issue of Peace Corps Writers. How we can — and must — live in peace is demonstrated in a series of lovely “letters” written by Kitty Thuerner (Mali 1977–79) which she read at the Vigil. They, too, appear in this issue.

    A Lemon for Peace Corps Director
    In 1961, Sargent Shriver took one of JFK’s campaign ideas and turned it into what The New York Times, in a recently editorial, calls “a unique diplomatic and humanitarian asset” — the Peace Corps. Kennedy later remarked to Shriver, “I gave you a lemon and you turned it into lemonade.” By nominating Gaddi H. Vasquez of Orange County, California, to be the agency’s 15th director, President Bush has gone back in time and picked a lemon.
         What WE must do now is save the agency from the inappropriate political appointment of Gaddi H. Vasquez. In its editorial of Friday, August 24, the Times wrote, “In selecting Mr. Vasquez, someone with a questionable record of accomplishment and a great deal less stature than the agency deserves, Mr. Bush shows a lack of appreciation for the mission and symbolic importance of the Peace Corps.”
         In this issue of Peace Corps Writers there are several paragraphs of a letter that you might use in writing your senators to object to the appointment of this former member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors who resigned in disgrace in 1995 when his county went bankrupt as a result of the improper investment of public funds. A former policeman in Orange County, Vasquez has no international experience, no domestic volunteer experience, and no successful experience of running a large agency. He is politician from California who gave $100,000 of leftover campaign funds to the Republican Party, and now is being given a “pay-back” job because the Republican Party needs to court Hispanic votes in California.
         But lets not allow them to do it on our reputation of international service. Write to the Senate and Congress today. Or email them immediately as we do not have much time left to stop this nomination. A list of email addresses of senators who sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that will review the nomination is in this issue. For arguments why Gaddi Vasquez shouldn’t be the director, read Richard Lipez’s (Ethiopia 1962-64) letter in this issue.

    Peace Corps Writers Awards
    Due to the postponement of the National Peace Corps Association 40th Anniversary Conference, we were unable to announce the winners of the 2001 annual writing awards presented by Peace Corps Writers. We are pleased to announce the winners here, and we look forward to presenting them with their awards at the Conference that is tentatively rescheduled for the spring, 2002.

      Paul Cowan Non-Fiction Award
      George Packer (Togo 1982–83) for Blood of the Liberals published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

      Maria Thomas Fiction Award
      Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 1990–1993) for Steal My Heart published by Van Este Books.

      Award for Best Travel Writing
      Jeffrey Tayler (Morocco 1988–90) for Facing The Congo published by Ruminator Books.

      Award for Best Poetry
      Susan Rich (Niger 1984–86) for The Cartographer’s Tongue: Poems of the World published by White Pine Press.

      Award for Best Children’s Writing
      Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen (Tanzania 1989–90) for Mama Elizabeti, published by Lee & Low Books.

      The Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience Award
      Katherine Jamieson (Guyana 1996–98) for “Telling Time” which was published in the March, 2001 issue of Peace Corps Writers.

    Congratulations to all of these fine writers.

    Reprinting the writing of Peace Corps writers
    Two states are now using essays published by Peace Corps Writers in their statewide school examinations. “Water” by Rachel Schneller (Mali 1996–98) has been selected by the Maryland State Department of Education for use in its testing. This essay was published in the July, 1998 issue of RPCV Writers & Readers and was the winner of the Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience Award that year.
         “Shakespeare in Calabar” by Tom Hebert (Nigeria 1962–64) has been incorporated in its state-wide testing by the Ohio Department of Education. Tom Hebert charts the course of his essay in this issue.

    And there's more in this issue . . .
    Please read on.

    John Coyne
    Editor


    On September 22, 2001 Sargent Shriver, the founding Director of the Peace Corps, spoke at the Peace Vigil held with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and admonished RPCVs “to serve!” as their contribution during the present crisis. His complete remarks follow.

    I’M GLAD MOST OF ALL to see all of you. You, after all, are the heart, the soul, and the brains of the Peace Corps. So — much as I love you and admire you — I think now we have reached a point where every one of us, me included, have great responsibilities facing them in the immediate future. First of all however, I would like to thank everyone who is here. I would also like to thank all those persons who would like to be here. I pray also that my few remarks may be helpful to us all.
         I begin with a few sentences I spoke long ago but I think they are still accurate and important, I believe, for our thinking today. These are the sentences:

      I recommend that we remember the beginning of the Peace Corps. We risked everything at our beginning in a leap of faith. that the Peace Corps would succeed. We started in 1961 — 40 years ago We risked everything in a leap of faith that the volunteers would respond favorably to our call for peace. We opposed the idea that war is inevitable. We believed that with God’s help we can rid of war.

    We were a corps — a band of brothers and sisters — united in the conviction that if we worked hard enough to eradicate our fears and increase the outreach of our love — we truly could avoid war — and achieve peace within our own selves, within our nation, and around the world. How and why could we hope and dream for such results? We could do so, I believe, because the Peace Corps seeks peace through service, not through economic strength or military power.
         Service is at the heart and soul and substance of the Peace Corps. Service, however, is a discredited word these days. Who wants to be a servant? No one. Service implies servitude — failure to achieve equality — let alone domination. Yet the Peace Corps exists to serve — to care for our fellow human beings regardless of race, color, education or power.
         The Peace Corps works it’s magic from below not from above. It concentrates on basics — food, health, education, and community. Peace Corps Volunteers rarely see in capital cities what’s going on with the potentates. They are almost un-American in their willingness to serve in the boondocks as Peace Corps Volunteers. They come home to the USA realizing that there are billions, yes billions of human beings, not enraptured by our pretensions, or our practices, or even our standards of conduct. Billions with whom we must live in peace. Peace Corps Volunteers learn that there is more to life than money — more to life than the latest styles and clothes, cars or cosmetics.

    SUDDENLY I REALIZE I do have a response to the original title given me to talk about — the title was “the challenge of the Peace Corps”. The challenge I believe is simple — simple to express, but difficult to fulfill. That challenge is expressed in these words: PCV’s — stay as you are. Be servants of peace. Work at home as you have worked abroad. Humbly, persistently, intelligently. Weep with those who are sorrowful, Care those who are sick. Serve your wives, serve your husbands, serve your families, serve your neighbors, serve your cities, serve the poor, join others who also serve. Serve, Serve, Serve. That’s the answer, that’s the objective, that’s the challenge.
         The reason that service is vital is because it will be the servants who end up by serving us all — and I mean everybody on earth serves in all the nations, serving even in the nations that are at war almost with us. Service. Service is the only thing that is going to keep the new world as we grow closer and closer together — the only thing that will keep us together and not add more is service — service of us all - and that’s the Peace Corps.


The Gaddi Vasquez nomination

    Lipez on Vasquez

    Suddenly the Peace Corps is more important than ever. Wrenched horribly out of its long, isolationist reverie, the United States is now attempting to engage the larger, messy, complex, often violent rest-of-the-world in ways the Peace Corps has been learning about and eagerly grappling with for more than 40 years.
         Far more than just military — which ought to be the least of it — this multi-faceted re-engagement with the rest of the planet needs a Peace Corps that is as brave, committed and vital as ever. That means it also requires a Peace Corps leader with judgment, imagination and vision. Sadly, President Bush’s nominee to lead the agency, Gaddi Vasquez, is not that person. We urge you and others who care about the way the United States conducts itself in the community of nations in the next several years to join the campaign to persuade Mr. Bush to appoint a well-qualified leader for the Peace Corps at this critical moment.
         Mr. Vasquez is, by some accounts, an amiable fellow. But his serious shortcomings are numerous and his pluses nonexistent.

      Item: Mr. Vasquez has no international experience. Just when Peace Corps planners will need understanding of other cultures that is especially broad-ranging and subtle, Mr. Vasquez would show up knowing essentially nothing. Unlike Volunteers, who often take a year to figure out how to do their jobs well, the head of the institution must “get it” right away, and be prepared to make hard, good decisions. If this well-motivated neophyte wants to help, perhaps Mr. Vasquez should apply to become a Volunteer.

      Item: It’s hard to imagine a worse choice to manage an agency with a budget of $275 million. In his only public office, as an Orange County, California supervisor, Mr. Vasquez barely escaped prosecution after the county was bankrupted in a scandal involving fraudulently invested securities. Not quite a crook, according to the SEC, Mr. Vasquez was merely incompetent and clueless. He resigned his office in disgrace just ahead of a 1995 recall campaign, and since then has involved himself in power-company PR work and Republican politics.

      Item: In Orange County, Mr. Vasquez twice voted to deny housing rights and job protection to people with HIV/AIDS. Orange County was the only urban county in the state to reject such protections. A sizeable part of the work now performed by the Peace Corps involves AIDS education and prevention, especially in Africa. Mr. Vasquez is obviously not the man for that job, either.

      Item: Mr. Vasquez has no experience leading an aid or humanitarian agency. He has served on a few local boards, such as the Salvation Army and the Boy Scouts, but that’s all. He has never articulated a philosophy or vision that would even begin to suggest that he could lead the Peace Corps. The closest he has come to a major expression of moral principle may have been his $100,000 contribution last year to the Bush campaign.

    Since Gaddi Vasquez lacks the experience, skills, vision, and — there is no avoiding this — the character to head the Peace Corps, whom then should President Bush choose? The list of qualified candidates, both Republicans and Democrats, is long. It includes RPCVs such as Ron Tschetter, Ginny Kirkwood, Mike McCaskey, and Jody Olson, whose names were submitted to the White House by the NPCA. The administration should return to this list and nominate a man or woman who will not require a protracted Senate confirmation struggle and who can quickly move into the job as the Peace Corps mobilizes to meet its most urgent challenges ever.
         To help save the Peace Corps from this disastrous appointment, please do any or all of the following:

      1. Write a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (http://foreign.senate.gov/committee/index.html) pointing out that Gaddi Vasquez will endanger the best impulses of U.S. foreign policy as well as the safety of the Volunteers and the agency itself. Mention that the editorial pages of The New York Times (August 24), the Los Angeles Times (August 20) and the Boston Globe (August 6) have all pronounced Mr. Vasquez unfit for the Peace Corps job. Please write specifically to Senators Joseph Biden (DL), the chairman; Christopher Dodd (CT), an RPCV; Barbara Boxer (CA); Jay Rockefeller (WV), an early Peace Corps staff volunteer; Paul Wellstone (MN); Paul Sarbanes (MD), who likes to examine nominees’ qualifications for federal appointments; Jessie Helms (NC); and Richard Lugar (IN).
      NOTE: Congress plans to adjourn in late October, so take action ASAP. If you know RPCVs in any of these senators’ states, get them calling and writing. Letters are most effective, then phone calls, then e-mails. Or do all three.

      2. Write President Bush and outline all the reasons the Vasquez nomination should be withdrawn.

      3. Pass this letter on to all the RPCVs you know and to all the other people and organizations that share Peace Corps values and beliefs.

      4. Sign the petition on www.PeaceCorpsOnline.org opposing the Vasquez nomination

      5. Write an op-ed piece or letter to the editor of your local newspaper.

    Richard Lipez (Ethiopia 1962–64)


    Reject the nomination of Gaddi H. Vasquez to serve as the next Peace Corps Director.

    Gaddi H. Vasquez, the nominee to be the next Director of the Peace Corps, has no professional or personal experience in international development, volunteerism, or public service that would qualify him to hold this important position. In addition, serious questions have been raised about his ethics and management skills during his only tenure as a public official in Orange County, California.
         In the 40 years since the Peace Corps was established, no person has been nominated to serve as Peace Corps Director with such significant and unresolved concerns stemming from his or her professional background. To find answers to these questions and address these concerns will require the Senate to conduct a long and thorough investigation into Mr. Vasquez’s background. This will further delay the confirmation of new leadership for the Peace Corps at a critical time in its history and distract the agency from its mission.
         The Peace Corps is a national treasure that has enjoyed wide-spread support here at home and earned enormous admiration for our people and our country internationally. The 7,500 Peace Corps Volunteers serving overseas today deserve a leader who will bring distinction to the job of Director. Therefore, we urge the Senate to reject the nomination of Mr.Vasquez. We encourage President Bush to nominate an individual of demonstrated competence, experience, and integrity to serve as the next Director of the Peace Corps.


    Contact members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the Vasquez nominationz

    Please pick up the phone and call your Senator now.
        In a recent conversation, Senator Chris Dodd said that as long as he doesn’t hear any opposition from his constituents on the nomination of Gaddi Vasquez, he is not going to oppose it. He said that as long as Barbara Boxer, Jay Rockefeller, Paul Sarbanes and Jessie Helms don’t hear any opposition from their constituents, they will not oppose the Vasquez nomination either. This is really a tragic situation — the Peace Corps will be headed by an individual who has no international development experience or foreign policy experience, and just missed a grand jury investigation because his county went bankrupt under his watch, but he resigned before he got called in!
         We need to mobilize the forces in key states fast and furious to have them make phone calls to all these folks on the Foreign Relations Committee as his nomination may go up within weeks. If the Senators don’t hear from the voters in their states – they certainly will not heed our cries from Washington. People in the states of California, Maryland, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Carolina and West Virginia need to call all the state offices of the Senators immediately to express your opposition to the Vasquez nomination. Please get the word out urgently as they should flood the phones and send emails.
         Here are their names and numbers. Please share the list with your networks and ask all your friends to get on board —our nation does not need another person with no qualifications making serious decisions about people’s lives around the world.

      Senator Barbara Boxer
      202-224-3553 - DC
      415-403-0100 - SF
      213-894-5000 - LA
      619-239-3884 - SD
      559-497-5109 - Fresno
      909-888-8525 - San Bernadino
      916-448-2787 - Sacramento
      senator@boxer.senate.gov

      Senator Diane Feinstein
      202-224-3841- DC
      415-393-0707 - SF
      310-914-7300 - LA
      619-231-9712 - SD
      559-485-7430 - Fresno
      senator@feinstein.senate.gov

      Senator Chris Dodd
      202-224-2823 - DC
      860-258-6940 - Westfield
      senator@dodd.senate.gov

      Senate Jay Rockefeller
      202-224-6472 - DC
      304-347-5372 - Charleston
      304-262-9285 - Martinsburg
      senator@rockefeller.senate.gov

      Senator Jessie Helms
      202-224-6342 - DC
      919-856-4245 - Raleigh
      828-322-5170 - Hickory
      senator@helms.senate.gov

      Senator George Allen
      202-224-4024 - DC
      804-771-2221 - Richmond
      senator@allen.senate.gov

      Senator Paul Sarbanes
      202-224-4524 - DC
      410-962-4436 - Baltimore
      301-589-0797 - Silver Spring
      senator@sarbanes.senate.gov

      Senator Paul Wellstone
      202-224-5641 - DC
      651-645-0323 - St. Paul
      218-741-1074 - Virginia
      senator@wellstone.senate.gov


A Writer Writes

    In a follow-up on “Thirty Years Later” by Barbara Carey (India 1966–68) that appeared in the July edition of Peace Corps Writers — Barbara has sent two photos from her reunion with her dear friend, Uma.


A Writer Writes

The Best Little Drag Show in Outer Mongolia

by Richard Smith (Mongolia 1995–96)

    WHEN TWO OF MY MONGOLIAN LANGUAGE TRAINERS play-acted a Buddhist wedding in drag, I realized that in Peace Corps you’d never know what to expect. Tsetsgee, a woman, played a Buddhist monk — like her real life brother, and Monkherdene, a man, played the bride. As an out gay male in the United States who had been told that gender bending didn’t happen in Mongolia, watching and learning about some Mongolian camp made me feel at home.
         Monkherdene had been inspired by a real life transgendered person living in his hometown near the Gobi desert who lives his life as a woman. He wears make up, a Mongolian woman’s silk gown, and dances with men at parties — all without any negative repercussions. In the Mongolian Buddhist world view, a transgendered person is simply one who had been another gender in a previous life and has had trouble adjusting to the new gender in his current incarnation. The Mongolian word for such a person is maning, which can also be used to describe the intersex, transgendered, gay or lesbian.

    Not just for city folks
    Peace Corps assigned me to an education college in Choibalsan in the eastern steppe. The area is a flat grassland and the last refuge of the Asian gazelle. At first I had thought that my pre-service training drag show was going to be an isolated incident. Something instigated by city Mongolians used to American culture and its wacky ideas about gender. I was wrong. At my site I met another cross dresser, but he only did it for money.
          Buyan was a multi-talented young man who played all the traditional Mongolian instruments: the horse violin, dulcimer and casino keyboard. He played music at parties and also dressed up as a clown or a woman, whichever the crowd thought funnier. I never saw him play dress up, but he did show me the pictures. He wore lots of make-up and looked like a cross between a Geisha girl and Bozo the Clown.
         His hero was Elton John, not only for hits like “ Sacrifice,” but also for the elaborate costumes he made famous in the 70s. Buyan was shocked when I told him that Elton John was gay. It took him awhile to understand what I was talking about, but he knew the Russian word. I asked if he knew anyone like that in Choibalsan. At first he said no, but he thought about it for a few days and told me that his high school foreign language teacher had been gay. The police found out, took him out in the middle of the night and shot him.

    School Dances
    My college, like all schools, put on many dances. Every week, girls would wear white lacy dresses and black pumps and the guys wore their polyester Soviet era suits. During fast pops songs, each class danced in a circle. During slow dances, they performed the traditional Mongolian waltz. I tried explaining to my students that the Waltz was European and received looks of horror.
         Towards the end of my service, my college co-sponsored a dance with some of the other schools in the city. I expected to see some unfamiliar faces, but some of the young women I saw looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place them. For some reason they all had short hair and lots of make-up. One had a mustache. When the tallest one started blowing kisses at me, I recognized him as Ganzorig, one of the male first-year students. In fact, all the first-year men were wearing dresses. They were getting ready for my college’s first drag show.
         It made sense in a twisted sort of way. My college had 350 students and only about 20 were young men. The young women — who were used to dancing with each other — apparently found some way to blackmail all the freshman men into being women for the evening. The men were so excited they wanted me to take their picture, except a few shy ones. One, however, chickened out and changed back into his manly clothing. Buyan took the others backstage and taught them how to walk in heels and sashay.
         I stood in the audience waiting for the show to begin. For a warm up, students from the agricultural school sat on each others laps and made mock marriage proposals. As the best dressed young women in Eastern Mongolia got ready for their debut, the Stalin-era power plant cut off the electricity and cancelled the show. The females quickly changed back into males. They didn’t even wait for a photograph.

    New professional opportunities in Mongolia
    Today, Ganbush, a gay choreographer, has become rich by doing professional “Super Erotic Shows” at the capital city’s nightclubs. In addition to choreographing strip tease and erotic dance, he does an occasional female impersonation. When I saw him, he danced to Madonna’s “Erotic.,” He is regularly featured in the tabloids as a curiosity, but laughing as he pockets a month’s salary each night he performs.
         Mongolia is the only country in the world where boys drop out of school to work on the herds while the girls stay in school to prepare for professional careers. Women are still expected to defer to their men in the ger (a felt tent or home), but increasingly they are making inroads as leaders in government and industry. Given the stress of an economic, political and social transition, perhaps drag is a fun way for men to kick off their boots and rewrite gender in an ancient land.


Talking with . . .

Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen

An interview by John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962–64)

    STEPHANIE STUVE-BODEEN (Tanzania 1989–90) met a young girl who proved to be the inspiration for her first picture book Elizabeti’s Doll, which has received many national honors. Stephanie lives with her husband, Tim Bodeen (Tanzania 1989–90), and their two daughters in Indiana, where she is beginning work on an MFA, as well as awaiting the release of her third Elizabeti book, Elizabeti’s School, in the fall of 2002. We interviewed Stephanie by email to see how she became an author of children’s books.

    Where were you a Volunteer, when, and what was your assignment area?

      I was a PCV in Tanzania in 1989 and 1990. The ministry didn’t want our group there, so our work permits were repeatedly shelved until our visas ran out and 35 of us were illegal aliens for 5 months! We planned to have t-shirts made: Peace Corps — the toughest job you’ll never have. I was married, so my husband had aquaculture training and I was supposed to look for a job on my own. We lived on the grounds of a secondary school, and every day I asked the headmaster about a teaching job. Every day he would say he was waiting for the paperwork from the capital city. After six months, my Peace Corps boss found out no paperwork was ever sent! Meanwhile, I organized a library and helped with teacher training at a junior college.

    Describe how you decided you wanted to be a writer. Have you only written children’s books?

      I always wanted to be a writer. The issue of trying to get published entered my mind during my fifth year of being a stay-at-home mom, when I realized I could probably write better stories than some of those we were bringing home from the library. I have written an adult novel, but so far only my children’s books have been published.

    How did you get the idea for this series?

      I got the idea for Elizabeti’s Doll from the week I stayed with a village family. I was in a mud hut with rats under my bed at night — the real village experience. I spent my days with the family’s six kids and their entourage, who were extremely imaginative when it came to creating toys. Years later, we were at dinner with RPCVs and one mentioned a girl in her village with a rock for a doll. I remembered the same, and wrote the story at 3a.m. the next day.

    Tell the steps you took, from the writing Elizabeti’s Doll, to sending it to an agent, to getting it to a publisher, etc.

      When I wrote Elizabeti’s Doll, I sent it to one HUGE publisher. Within a few weeks, I received a personal letter from the editor-in-chief, saying she was intrigued by the idea, but would like to see the story developed more. I revised the story and sent it back. I waited an entire year (still have never heard back!) before sending it to another publisher, who acquired the story two months later.

    What suggestions would you give to someone who wants to write children’s books?

      If someone wants to write children’s books, I would recommend reading all the children’s books you can. Then, find your own voice and write about things that are meaningful to you. Children are not dumb, and can be more discerning readers (and listeners) than adults. Picture books are not easy to write, because in a 500-word story, every word must the perfect word.
           Develop a thick skin. Criticism is essential, whether it be from a friend, colleague, or even a rejection letter. My special needs book, We’ll Paint the Octopus Red, was actually acquired by the same editor who initially rejected it, simply because I revised based on her advice and resubmitted it. Above all, don’t give up! It can be an extremely frustrating business, but if the story is good enough, someone will like it.

    Do you have an agent?

      No, although that is primarily where I plan to send my middle grade novel, rather than to publishers.

    Who arranges for the illustrator? Do you have any say in the design of the book itself?

      The publisher finds the illustrator. Usually, there is little or no contact between the author and illustrator. I have been very fortunate with my Elizabeti books — the illustrator, Christy Hale (a fabulous person!!) has used my Tanzanian photos for reference, and has called to ask about different things. For the new book, she is using a video that fellow PCV’s shot when I was in Tanzania. I feel as though I have had a lot of input in keeping the books authentic, although I have absolutely no say in the design of the books.

    Is it possible to make living writing books for children?

      In theory, I suppose, but I’m not at that point. It is possible to make as much as you would on a part-time job, but without having to leave home. One can make a good living off school visits and other appearances, but I’m just getting started there as well.

    Have you written and published anything for adults?

      Not yet.

    What are your current writing projects?

      I have just finished a middle grade novel, am at work on another, and I always have a picture book or two (or ten!) in the works.


Letters to friends

    These “letters” were read by Kitty Thuermer (Mali 1977–79) at the National Peace Corps Association’s Peace Vigil held at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on September 22.

  • Dear Amy Bhaba,
          Forty-six years ago you were a young and beautiful Parsi doctor working in a Bombay hospital that had never conducted an RH transfusion. When I was born, you knew I would die within hours, and that the Hindu nurses could not give blood. Yet you rolled up your sleeves, rallied the other docs, and — for the next 24 hours — dared to save my life. I guess there’s no language in the world in which to thank you, Dr. Amy Bhaba.

    P.S. We know that RH stands for the rhesus monkey that pioneered this operation. Forty-six years later, will you please tell my brother that I do not — repeat not — have monkey blood in me.

  • Dear Paul Boateng,
    God, you were an obnoxious kid. Loud, rude, and with a mop of tangled hair, you used to delight in opening your milk carton with a gillotine slice of the paper cutter, sending your third grade classmates at the Ghana International School shrieking for cover. But few knew that your Ghanaian father was in prison and that soon your British mother would spirit you back to England.
         And thirty-nine years later, as Tim Carroll squired you around the Justice Department, you laughed about the milk incident even as I marveled at your contribution as Great Britain’s first black Member of Parliament.

  • Dear Tony Movasaggi,
         Tony, Tony, Tony — I don’t know what a gorgeous Iranian hunk like you — a Junior, no less — was doing slumming in my seventh grade German class at Munich American High, but thank God — Gott Sei Dank — you needed remedial help. And overlooked my geeky gawkiness as I drilled you in the dreaded verb declentions: ich bin gewesen, du bist gewesen, wir sind gewesen, und so weiter. And imagine my thrill when Mom invited you and your family for Thanksgiving, and you told her that her Persian rice and stuffed grape leaves were as good as your mothers.
         Many Iranian revolutions later, Tony, I don’t know what’s happened to you and I hope you are safe, but I gotta thank you because to this day, whenever I hear a German verb, I get a frisson — with your name on it — shooting up and down my spine.

  • Dear Anita Khilnani,
         Fast Times at Hindi High: New Delhi in the late 60’s.
         You could tell the Indian students by their Western clothes, and us Amrikans by our kurtas, Nehru jackets, bangles, and genuine water buffalo chappals. Why not? You and I were thick as thieves, plotting to save a parched Rajasthan from drought. We tried to overthrow the Junior Prom and abscond with the money for a much needed desert tube-well. Net result? Zero rupees and no date for the prom.

  • Dear Lukwezi Kingolo,
         You were my first Angolan friend — a refugee who fled the war and landed in my sister’s English class in Peace Corps/Zaire. You wanted an American pen pal and my sister knew I’d earned a Girl Scout badge — not in life saving, but in letter writing. I’ll never forget your first letter, in which you told me about your life, then instructed me to remove the colorful Zairian stamp, which you’d carefully soaped so that the postal mark wasn’t fixed. I ran it under water, patted it dry and sent it back to you, because you could not afford to write me again unless I did so. The price of our international friendship, therefore, teetered over a 25 cent square inch piece of paper.

  • Dear Kgati Sateghe,
         You taught me the difference between frontline anti-apartheid freedom fighting and the safe campaigns conducted from the campuses of America. That difference landed both of us on the fourth floor mental ward of an East Lansing hospital — you as patient, me as visitor.
         You, from the Soweto class of ’76, who returned automatic gunfire with rocks. You who lost your friends, your youth, your education and your country as you fled, barefoot and bleeding, overland to Mozambique. You never dreamed it could happen in your lifetime, but your fight for freedom was not in vain. I hope to visit you someday in Jo-burg, Kgati, as you build your new family along with your new country.

  • Dr. Amy Bhaba, Paul Boateng, Tony Movasaggi, Anita Khilnani, Lukwezi Kingolo, Kgati Sateghe —these are my friends. So if you smoke them out of their caves — dead or alive — you’re smoking me out, too. Because they have made me who I am.


    Literary Type — September 2001

        A new one-hour documentary film “John Gardner: Uncommon American” is making the rounds of PBS stations. Look for this fine film produced by Tom Simon, Working Dog Productions, for the 21st Century Initiative. The film is narrated by Richard Dreyfuss and details the life of this quintessential American hero, a man who has transformed this nation through ideas and action that has improved the lives of millions of Americans and shaken up American politics. At 89, John Gardner may be the most important and influential public figure never to write his memoirs or have his biography told, until now.

      • Sandra Meek’s (Botswana 1989–91) book-length collection of poetry, Nomadic Foundations, which is based primarily upon her Peace Corps experience, has been accepted for publication by Elixir Press and will be published in the summer of 2002.
             Also, a poem from Sandra’s chapbook The Circumference of Arrival, entitled “Evolution,” was featured on the website Poetry Daily (poems.com) on September 1, 2001, and it will remain in the archives for one year.

      • Charlotte D’Aigle Berney (Uganda 1966–68) published “Peace Corpse” in the November, 2001 issue of Alfred Hitchcocks’ Mystery Magazine. Charlotte taught school in the Peace Corps and the story is based on a real incident that occurred during a student riot. Today Charlotte is an editor for Cowboys and Indians magazine.

      • PeaceCorpsWriters.org and Peace Corps writers in general were featured in an article entitled “Peace Corps Lit” in the Sunday, September 9, 2001 issue of Book World of the Washington Post. The article, written by Linton Weeks, highlighted the writers who have attended the NPCA September Conference in Washington, D.C.
             Among the writers mentioned were Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 1991–93), Marnie Mueller (Ecuador 1963–65), Norman Rush, Botswana (CD 1978–83), Bob Shacochis (Eastern Caribbean 1975–76), Melanie Sumner (Senegal 1988–90), Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963–65), and Richard Wiley (Korea 1967–69).

      • Two of Cristina Kessler’s (Honduras 1973-75, Kenya 1975-76, Seychelles 1976-78) books have won awards recently. Jubela was given a Gold Seal Award by the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio 2001List, which chooses the best books, videos and educational toys for kids. This list will be launched on the Today Show in the fall.
           Another book, My Great-Grandmother’s Gourd has been named an Honor Book for the African Studies Association's 2001 Children's Africana Book Awards. This honor and the awards for winning titles in the Older Reader and Young Children categories are presented annually to the authors and illustrators of the most outstanding children's books on Africa.

      • “Color” photos by Bill Owens (Jamaica 64-66) were show earlier this year at the Paul Morris Gallery in New York. Bill also gave a short talk at the gallery about his work.


    Recent Books by Peace Corps Writers — September 2001

        The Social Enterprise Sourcebook: Profiles of Social Purpose Businesses Operated by Nonprofit Organizations,
        by Jerr Boschee (India 1968–70)
        Minneapolis: Northland Institute, $26.95
        100 pages
        September, 2001

        A Stained Dawn: Poems About Africa
        by Christopher Conlon (Botswana 1988–90)
        Mango Biscuit Press, $5.00
             605 Thayer Avenue
             Silver Spring, Maryland 20910
        Pages not numbered
        August, 2001

        Lonely Planet Bangkok
        (5th edition)
        by Joe Cummings (Thailand 1977–78)
        Lonely Planet, $15.99
        280 pages
        August, 2001

        Lonely Planet Thailand
        (9th edition)
        by Joe Cummings (Thailand 1977–78) and Steve Martin
        Lonely Planet, $24.99
        960 pages
        July, 2001

        Taj Mahal: Autobiography of a Bluesman
        By Taj Mahal with Stephen Foehr (Ethiopia 1965–66)
        Sanctuary Publishers, Ltd., $25.00
        287 pages
        August , 2001

        The Mourning of Angels
        by Patricia Taylor Edmisten (Peru 1962–64)
        Xlibris, $19.54
        309 pages
        October, 2001

        Dancing with Fidel
        (title in U.K. — Waking Up In Cuba)
        by Stephen Foehr (Ethiopia 1965–66)
        Sanctuary Publishers, Ltd., $18.95
        271 pages
        September, 2001

        Steppin’ On A Rainbow
        by Kinky Friedman (Borneo 1967–69)
        Simon & Schuster, $23.00
        208 pages
        August, 2001

        Reaching Out
        by Rainette B. Holimon (Kenya 1974–77; Sierra Leone 1990–91)
        iUniverse.com; $19.95
        217 pages
        June, 2001

        Jubela
        (children’s book)
        by Cristina Kessler (Honduras 1973-75, Kenya 1975-76, Seychelles 1976-78), illustrated by Joellen McAllister Stammen
        Simon & Schuster,
        32 pages
        March, 2001

        My Great Grandmothers Gourd
        (children’s book)
        by Cristina Kessler (Honduras 1973-75, Kenya 1975-76, Seychelles 1976-78), illustrated by Walter Lyon Krudop
        Orchard Books, $16.95
        32 pages
        2000

        The Kennedy Men 1901–1963
        The Laws of the Father
        by Laurence Leamer (Nepal 1965–67)
        William Morrow & Co, $35.00
        912 pages
        October 2001

        Children of the West: Family Life on the Frontier
        by Cathy Luchetti (Colombia 1968–70)
        W.W. Norton & Co., $39.95
        256 pages
        May, 2001

        Women of the West
        (2nd edition)
        by Cathy Luchetti (Colombia 1968–70) and Carol Olwell
        W.W. Norton & Co., $22.50
        240pages
        May, 2001

        The Associate
        by Phillip Margolin (Liberia 1965–67)
        HarperCollins, $26.00
        292 pages
        August, 2001

        Circle of Compassion:
        Meditations for Caring — For the Self and for the World
        by Gail Straub (Ivory Coast 1971–73)
        Journey Editions: Charles E Tuttle Co; , $14.95
        165 pages
        2001

        I Want This World
        (poetry)
        By Margaret Szumowski (Zaire 1973–74, Ethiopia 1974–75)
        Tupelo Press, $13.95
        88 pages
        September, 2001


    REVIEW

    The Mourning of Angels

    by Patricia S. Taylor Edmisten (Peru 1962–64)
    Xlibris, $19.54
    309 pages
    October, 2001

    Reviewed by Marnie Mueller (Ecuador 1963-65)

      I READ PATRICIA EDMISTEN’S DRAMATIC and sensuous debut novel, The Mourning of Angels, in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Her marvelous evocation of the first days of the Peace Corps provided an escape from the sadness of New York City, where I live, as well as a much-needed perspective on the savagery of that act.
           The Mourning of Angels captures the innocence of 1962 and 1963, before the Kennedy assassination, when many of us, swept up in the idealism of such a venture, joined the Peace Corps and journeyed to countries we’d never heard of, and when young women seized the opportunity for a kind of adventure that until then had almost solely been the purview of men. Lydia Schaefer, Edmisten’s 23-year-old protagonist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, could well have been a travel companion to the five Peace Corps women who, in Geraldine Kennedy’s Harmattan, crossed the Sahara Desert in the early 60s. Instead Lydia’s assignment is Peru. She is a tough, principled, sometimes provocative, but always emotionally receptive young woman, determined to do her job as a health care worker, first in Arequipa, and later in the coastal town of Ica.

           In straight forward, beautifully descriptive prose, subtly impregnated with the political and cultural history of Peru, Edmisten charts Lydia Schaefer’s journey from innocence — she is a Catholic girl, still a virgin, the product of a protective, loving home — to a stark, tragic maturity. Lydia describes her view beyond her barriada in Arequipa.

      Gray and white dominate the landscape. No road is paved. There are no trees. Nothing green. No spring flowers interfere with the dreariness. Looking up, however, there is visual relief. Misti, a 19,150 foot volcano, said to be dormant by experts, but alive to those who know her tremors, rises proudly over The City of my Hope. Snow lavishly bleeds down her sides, like the white mantle of the Madonna.

         As this image of the Virgin’s cloak implies, Lydia struggles with her strong Catholic beliefs in the face of rampant infant mortality, the yearly pregnancies of poor women, local priests who sire children and the church’s refusal to allow birth control. Interestingly, she never gives up her Catholicism, but rather gradually adapts the religion to her new knowledge and beliefs, much as Indians force the Catholic Church to incorporate native rituals into the liturgy. And, she breaks her own rule to remain a virgin until marriage. With a sensuality that is both innocent and literally rapturous, Edmisten writes of Lydia making love with her in-country co-worker, Rafael, a mestizo with a Spanish father and Indian mother. They are journeying back to his village beyond Machu Picchu, when they stop to swim in a mountain pool and then make love.

      Rafael’s kiss is moist and sweet, and as he eases on top of me, it becomes more familiar, more urgent. The air is fresh and fragrant, a light breeze glances off our warm bodies. I look up at blinding white clouds and reach my arms out to them. We remain immobile for a few minutes and then slowly rock. A condor soars overhead. I have read of eagles mating in mid-air, free falling, unaware of the doom below. It was like that.

    The doom she senses in her moment of sexual abandon foretells of political clashes and violence that will irrevocably change her life and radicalize her world view.

    Masterful portrayal
    Edmisten is masterful in portraying the customs, politics, food, suffering, playful activities and collective nature of life for the Indians of that region. She elegantly weaves in strands of history and political theory. Though generous of spirit throughout, by the end of her painful story, Edmisten has shown how the Church, the United States in its fight against communism during that period, the cultural innocence of Americans, and the abusive powers within the country are all at least morally complicit in the continuance of devastating poverty, the subjugation of women, and the oppression of Indians.
         My only caveat in my otherwise enthusiastic response to Edmisten’s novel, is that once Lydia and Rafael arrive at his isolated village of Pachabuena, the narrative shifts to an almost allegorical tone.
         Reading The Mourning of Angels in a time of national mourning viscerally reminded me that other cultures and nations have suffered atrocities for centuries, that if we’re to be honest with ourselves, we as a country and a people must admit to some responsibility in the global ratcheting up of violence.
         Edmisten also shows the wonderful gutsiness and tenacity of those early Peace Corps Volunteers who plunged gamely into uncharted waters. Some swam, some sank, but all learned of other worlds and experienced hardships they never would have had a glimmer of if they had not served. This is what Edmisten and her appealing Lydia Schaefer remind us of. Edmisten has written an admirable book and one that superbly fulfills the third goal of the Peace Corps, “to bring the world home.”

    Marnie Mueller is the author of Green Fires, The Climate of the Country and forthcoming, My Mother’s Island. She lives in New York City.


    REVIEW

    State of Decay

    by Robert Gribbin (Kenya 1968–70)
    InfinityPublishing.com, $13.95
    156 pages
    January 2001

    Reviewed by Charles Wood Jewett (Ethiopia 1966–69)

      THIS SMALL BOOK, not quite 160 pages, doubly subtitled “An Oubangui Chronicle; A Novel of African Adventure,” is a quick and good read. The author Robert Gribbin was a PCV in Kenya in the late 60s, and later (according to his State Department web bio) a career diplomat in different spots on the continent, including service in Rwanda as US Ambassador after the 1994 massacres and terror. Gribbin speaks French and Swahili, and knows East and Central Africa well.
           Gribbin is adept at weaving fast-moving story lines, filled with assassination attempts, despotic leaders, diamond mining, ivory poaching, and repeated depictions of the rhythm of African people working and living. There are several sweaty sex scenes, but alas, while beautiful, they end too soon.
           There is terrific adventure in State of Decay, but the book’s brevity and weaknesses detract. Gribbin provides evocative portraits of the African countryside: the hospitality of villagers, the smell of cooking fires, the sight of clean-swept compounds, and the muted “thump,” “thump” of women working the fields. The book’s protagonist is Jean, an airline pilot, unfairly jailed, who in just a few pages becomes a superhero — a master of diplomacy and guerrilla tactics. We like him and applaud his exploits, but we don’t understand the source of his strength.
           The book’s most serious challenge is the author’s treatment of the numerous second-tier characters. There is no attempt to flesh out most of those who people these pages. Without flesh, the characters sink back into boring stereotyped images. We see all the classic “African images” – aged White Hunter unsure of his gifts, lustful Scotch-drinking national ruler relying on magic, evil Boer who secretly deals in guns, and wise earthy farmer. Unfortunately, too many of these portraits are almost as brazen and shallow as those from a 1930s Hollywood movie of Africa.
           Gribbin provides several blatant clues that the book is a portrait of the Central African Republic (CAR): the book’s first subtitle is “An Oubangui Chronicle” using the country’s name prior to independence in 1958. Consider also Bassia, the fictional country’s President, the “Lion of Central Africa.” He embodies the worst traits of the continent’s many swaggering presidents-for-life, and probably has been modeled after the CAR’s despotic ruler Bokassa (even the same three-syllable name helps connect them.). Gribbin’s president clearly is corrupt as well as insane — sadly, two of Bokassa’s traits (he gained special notoriety in 1977 for crowning himself Emperor). and finally, Gribbin was US ambassador to the CAR in the first Bush administration, more than a decade after Bokassa’s erratic rule came to an end thanks to local and French troops.
           Despite liking the book, there were a few minor irritations for this reader who earns his living as an English teacher: sloppiness in the final product (misspelling of the protagonist’s name on the book jacket, poor capitalization in the text), and a literal falling apart of the book (one day my copy of Decay simply shed chapters 2 through 6). I can hope this was an isolated event.
           I read this book in a very Peace Corps mood: on quiet afternoons, preparing to teach in a new school, while listening to “Missa Luba” (the Kenyan version). If only I had had some Ethiopian injera and wot at hand to make complete my nostalgic journey back to the Africa I remember of the 1960s.

      Charles Wood Jewett (Ethiopia 1966-69) is an elementary school teacher in Clark County (Las Vegas) Nevada. He served three stints on Peace Corps/Washington staff, most recently as Country Desk Officer for Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.


    Travel Right

    Stuck in Vac

    or

    Attila does not offer the same remedies as Montezuma

    by Don Beil (Somalia 1964–66)

      FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE, I was seriously constipated.
           I was in Hungary w, on my fourth trip there in the past few years, and I was spending two nights in Vac, a small town northeast of Budapest about an hour by car. A walk around the square takes you past several shops including a pharmacy and a large school for the deaf — which was my purpose in being there.
           Although I travel with plenty of over-the-counter cures for the opposite problem, I had nothing with me for my current dilemma. I was becoming so desperate that I considered drinking the tap water straight — but then I realized that I’d been drinking the water straight ever since my first visit to Hungary with no effect. What a time for a trouble-free water supply.
           So I headed for the pharmacy.
           As with most of my encounters in stores in Hungary, the clerks did not speak English — and why should they? And I don’t speak Hungarian. I’m a teacher of the deaf, and often find that my sign language skills can be helpful when traveling. But think about it — not very helpful in the current situation. So I resorted to facial expressions to try to convey my malady — no good. Suddenly with a knowing burst of mental self-satisfaction, I blurted one spoken word, “ExLax,” hoping that it was part of a universal pharmaceutical Esperanto — again no luck.
           I turned to the other customers for help. None spoke English.
           Another idea to address the communications block — I recalled a bookstore I’d shopped in earlier that was a short distance off the square, so I departed the pharmacy and made my way there. I knew the clerk spoke a bit of English, because I’d tried unsuccessfully to buy a Hungarian-language version of Alice in Wonderland for friends, but out of embarrassment, I was hesitant to ask her for help. I know it shouldn’t matter that she was female and I’m a male, but it did. So instead of asking directly, I asked to borrow a pen and paper, and with both in hand, headed for the English-Hungarian dictionaries. Trying to look as inconspicuous as possible I copied the Hungarian word in question.
           I walked back to the pharmacy and showed the clerk my word. There was a knowing look on her face. I had the satisfied feeling that I’d gotten the correct translation. She handed me a generic white box of pills on which she wrote “1–2–3–4.” I knew another trip to the dictionary was not going to help on this one.
           This might be the time for some sign language. I gave her my best puzzled look and pointed to the numbers. And I made a mental note to thank all my sign language teachers for constantly chiding me to use more animated expressions. Fortunately the clerk realized my problem, looked at my size, and crossed out all the numbers except the 2. At 6 feet 2 inches and 190 pounds, I wondered what you have to look like to be a 4. So I’d gotten the medication and the quantity to take, but how often was I to take the two white pills?
           Where to go next. I could head back to the school for the deaf that I was visiting, but the situation was a bit problematic. The Hungarian teacher who had acted as a translator for me during past visits was not available this time, and I had been communicating mostly in sign language, hoping that American Sign Language would translate into Hungarian Sign Language. My one English-speaking contact at the school was a teenage girl, the daughter of the principal’s secretary. There was something about the situation — I didn’t want to ask her about the correct dosage. No go.
           So, I headed back to my hotel — still not knowing how often to take the pills. Having heard graphic stories of others in the similar situation, I knew that I’d have to plan carefully for where I’d be during the hours after taking them. Later that afternoon, I made a leap of faith and took two pills. Nothing by the morning. So in a greater act of faith, I took two more while my mind wondered — were these pills for the opposite ailment? But, fortunately, later that afternoon they did their job.

    Incidentally, if you’re off to Hungary, you may find yourself in a similar bind. If so, you may want to make a note now that the Hungarian word I found in the dictionary was székrekedéses..

    For the past 25 years, Don Beil (dhbndp@rit.edu and www.rit.edu/~dhbndp) has been teaching computing to deaf and hard of hearing students at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester NY. NTID is a partner with the Hungarian association of schools for the deaf in a grant from the Soros Open Society Institute to improve information technology education in the schools for the deaf in Hungary.


    A Closer Look

    Shakespeare and the Ins and Outs of Education Reform

    by Tom Hebert (Nigeria 1962–64)

      BACK IN 1992, I wrote a now much-traveled piece for RPCV Writers & Readers (the newsletter that was the precursor to this website) entitled, “Shakespeare in Calabar.” The essay — which was published under the title “A West African Postcard” in November, 1992 — told of my experience in the early 1960s shepherding a full-blown secondary-school Shakespearean production 3,000 miles around Nigeria on an 18-wheeler playing to palaces and soccer stadiums, to the Sahel and back.

      The story picks up forty years later in America’s unruly efforts at educational reform. The Department of Education of a certain eastern state is currently developing a new edition of the state’s High School Graduation Qualifying Examination. This exam will be given to all of the state’s 10th grade students. If they pass — good show. If they don’t, they take it again the next year. Fail again, no graduation, no diploma. The state will also be able to grade its schools, one against the other. At last, accountability in education.
           So I was thrilled a few weeks ago when I learned that “Shakespeare in Calabar” is a shoe-in for the Reading Comprehension section of the state’s upcoming Qualifying Exam. Gee, my muscled-up, in-your-face prose is to some purpose after all: gatekeeper to some kid’s future. If my high school English teachers could see me now.
           Then it dawned on me that perhaps it wasn’t my classy writing they wanted. My little story will probably be chosen because it carries one of the few readable references anywhere supporting such qualifying exams. Oh well, so it goes, take the check and run. Here is the paragraph that qualified my piece for the state exam:

        Astonishingly, in the West Africa of this period lay the most Shakespeare-literate society the world has known since 16th century London. Secondary schools in Nigeria, Ghana, the Gambia, Sierra Leone and Cameroon still competed under the Cambridge University West African School Certificate Council’s Examination program. The “School Cert” mandated, among other standards, that students study five years of Shakespeare to prepare for the final examination’s “set play.” As a result, for several generations, millions of West African kids quite literally memorized two or three of William Shakespeare’s plays. (Such heroic learning was much inspired by every Nigerian’s lovely use of language and the daily reality of a national life then singularly Elizabethan in the epic grandeur of its debates and tribal intrigues of power and vivid character.) At our performances thousands would mouth the lines in an audible susurrus that confounds me now as I worry over what went wrong with American schools.

      Waffling back and forth
      I have been thinking about all that now. In the above paragraph notice there is no mention of the School Cert’s awful downside. We were all Volunteers in an education system whose principal by-product was millions of “school leavers,” students who failed either the 8th-grade or 12th-grade qualifying exam — the School Cert. The British colonials had sure enough left in place a cast system similar to England’s own. It still results in swarms of literate African kids wandering the streets with nothing to do, and nowhere to go. Curtain rises, enter America, stage right.
           On the other hand, since I am a graduate school washout myself, I might say that literate, Shakespeare-quoting school-leavers are preferable, probably, to many of our current high school graduates and damn near all of our dropouts. But I am glad we didn’t have such exams (and the stress of living with them) when I went to high school. Then again, our parents and their parents had various tough and/or mean-spirited bars to clear and they came out mostly OK. Maybe edge is good.
           Back when I thought so, because Al Shanker, then-president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), also believed that “national standards would be an important step toward improving the achievement of all our students,” I wrote him a letter. I enclosed “Shakespeare in Calabar.” Shanker excerpted both the letter and “Calabar” in a January 3, 1993 New York Times Op-Ed piece. My cover letter began:

        Ask any Peace Corps Volunteer who taught school in West Africa during the sixties about the power of a national curriculum and standards, and we will tell you that the West African School Certificate Examination program, maintained from Cambridge University in England, produced tens of thousands of high school graduates better educated than most of us American Volunteers . . . . Clearly it is time for a national curriculum and standards in this country. It puts all schools, teachers and students on an equal footing.

           Today? Dunno. With all the politics involved, I obviously waffle back and forth. Beyond the evident irony that I don’t comprehend my own piece of the Reading section of the State Exam, somehow this education reform kick we’re on lacks that vision thing: Isn’t there something missing in this debate?

      It’s learning, stupid!
      Then I think of a friend, Phil Lane Jr. Phil is the director of Four Worlds International Institute, an Alberta-based Native American development organization with ties to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation here in Pendleton, Washington. Always the first words out of his mouth: “No vision, no development.” Phil then moves from the lesser evils — schools, students, and teaching methods — to what it’s all about: Learning is the key to deep and lasting change. Learning leads to life rather than death. Learning enables people to see possibilities and potentials within themselves, and to envision a sustainable, desirable and attainable future. Learning generates and sustains the processes of healing and development that constitute the journey to a sustainable life. Learning transforms.
           Yes, think learning and we will all sleep better, not worrying so much about where our children are and whether they are studying for their Qualifying Exam. Simply, not how well are they doing, but are they learning? Talk to your kids at dinner and you will know. But then, are you learning? As my mother (a kindergarten teacher) used to say: “Show me a learning parent and I will show you a learning child.” Pencils down.

      Tom Hebert is a Pendleton-based writer and consultant. With co-author John Coyne, he wrote three books on post secondary education.


    To Preserve and to Learn

    The Museum of the Peace Corps Experience

    by Martin L. Kaplan (Somali Republic 1962–64)

      LAST YEAR A GROUP of returned Peace Corps Volunteers in the Portland, Oregon area formed a committee to look into the idea of developing a museum dedicated to promoting the principles of Peace Corps service keeping in mind that the Third Goal of the Peace Corps is to bring the world back home to the United States. The original members, and the others who joined them, formalized their arrangement by becoming a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, nonprofit organization. The name of the group is Committee for a Museum of the Peace Corps Experience (CMPCE).

      An exhibition of artifacts from around the world
      As the Committee took shape, its first project was to plan and execute an event tied to the 40th Anniversary celebrations of the Peace Corps. In addition to honoring the Peace Corps, the purpose of this first presentation was to promote local recognition of the museum concept. With this in mind, a one-month exhibition of art and artifacts brought back to the United States by RPCVs from their host countries was held during March, 2001. Entitled “Artifacts and Anecdotes,” it was shown at a public gallery and drew hundreds of visitors. Financial support came from the Burdock/Burn Foundation with additional assistance from the Columbia River Peace Corps Association and the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center in Portland. Items from nearly 30 countries were displayed and each was accompanied by a narrative written by the RPCV who had loaned it.

      The ultimate goal — a permanent museum
      CMPCE has the ultimate goal of establishing a permanent museum site of national significance in Portland. It is continuing to work towards that goal by planning the types of exhibits to be included, exploring appropriate venues for such an undertaking, seeking safe storage areas for contributed items and developing a funding strategy that will include public, corporate, institutional and government monies. There are presently over 160,000 RPCVs and presumably the great majority have acquired and brought home both artistic items and objects used in everyday life in their host countries. If only five or ten percent of RPCVs respond (and it is hoped that many more will) to a call for display objects, that would be enough to establish a museum of significant size.
           The initial proposal for the museum contains the following initial outline of possible exhibits:

        Institutional history
        — the Kennedy/Shriver founding
        — project successes, changes in program focus
        — evolution of training techniques

        U.S./world political and social history reflected in Peace Corps:
        — reasons people have joined Peace Corps
        — PCVs’ assumed “CIA connections”
        — new and former PC countries

        Volunteer life:
        — stories of volunteer projects and living situations
        — what it's like to be a female/minority/elderly volunteer
        — PCV marriages to host country nationals

        Peace Corps today:
        — what volunteers are currently doing
        — recruiting resources
        — RPCV profiles, famous and otherwise

      Clearly, the plans for the museum are ambitious and far-reaching. The CMPCE needs the cooperation of every RPCV and asks that those interested in providing:

        — items for display,
        — financial help
        — any other type of assistance

      write Martin L. Kaplan at martinlkaplan@home.com)
      Member of the Board, CMPCE, and Secretary
      Further information may be obtained from the website of the CMPCE:

        www.peacecorpsmuseum.org


    Opportunities for writers

      Calling all writers!
      Volunteer Tales is compiling a book about volunteer experiences abroad, aiming to produce an anthology on the reality of living and working as a volunteer in a culture other than your own. It is being produced in the UN's International Year of Volunteers. The format of the contribution can be fiction, poetry, etc (5,000 maximum), but be creative! For more information, see www.volunteertales.org. Closing date has been extended to early 2002.