Peace Corps Writers — September 2001

    A Day to Remember,
    A Nomination to Dismiss

    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