Peace Corps Writers
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An interview by John Coyne
Elsa Watson served with her husband in Guinea-Bissau (1996–98) where she began writing herPrinter friendly version novel Maid Marian — rumor has it . . . in long hand and by lamplight. After her Peace Corps tour she worked at Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program before moving to her home state of Washington. She lives now on beautiful Bainbridge Island in a small home she and her husband built, and where we found her alone with her dog and cat looking out at the soft rain and the green hillside that might remind one — especially if one has a novelist’s eye — of Sherwood Forest.
 
Tell us a bit about your college experience.
I graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, with a degree in classical languages.
Are you from Minnesota?
Read Terez Rose's review of Maid Marian
No, I grew up in Seattle and wanted to return to this part of the world. On days like today, I sit at my desk listening to the wind howl and watching the drizzle. I like the rain, but no one else in our household (dog and cat included) feel quite the same.
Elsa, what was your assignment in the Peace Corps?
  
We were assigned to Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, just south of Senegal. We lived in Galomaro, a village in the eastern, rural part of the country, so we learned both Fula (the language spoken in the east) and Kriolu (the country’s primary language). My husband and I worked as Agriculture Volunteers the first year, focusing on community gardens and livestock health. The second year we transferred to the capital, Bissau, and became Environmental Education Volunteers. There we worked with IUCN, the World Conservation Union, documenting the country’s first national park and writing forest valuation grants.
You were married before you joined the Peace Corps?
Yes. We weren’t married when we applied to the Peace Corps, and it came as something of a shock that we would have to be married to be placed together. We got over the shock, however, took a trip to the court house, and have now been married for eight years. The other PCVs referred to us as “the married couple” since we were the only ones in our group. Silly as it sounds, that was a big help during those days when we were still getting used to saying the words “husband” and “wife” without laughing.
Why did you join the Peace Corps?
We joined for a host of reasons: to improve the world; for adventure; and to feel that genuine connection with humanity that you find around people who speak a different language and live in a different culture. In part, I was looking for what’s common to all people, and I found it in parents’ love of their children, in the universal impulse to laugh, in curiosity and kindness.
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