Peace Corps Writers

To alert you to fine books and fine writing from RPCVs and about the Peace Corps, I will recommend books that I’ve come across that perhaps you have not read.
— John
An African Season
by Leonard Levitt (Tanzania 1963–65)
Simon and Schuster
223 pages

An African Season
at starting at $4.36

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SARGENT SHRIVER WOULD WRITE about An African Season, “The first book which truly conveys the flavor of Peace Corps work, the realities of it, the challenges, the frustrations . . . An extraordinarily fine book.” Levitt’s book is about his one year in rural Tanganyika, as the nation was called at the time. Levitt was a secondary school teacher in Ndumulu School in Mbeya and his book is a wonderful look at Tanganyika in its last days of British colonial rule. The nation would become Tanzania in 1964 when Tanganyika joined with the island of Zanzibar.
     It is also worth reading for Levitt’s clear eye for details and telling incidents. Here are his first impressions on arriving in up-country Tanganyika. Levitt arrives late at night in Mbeya with another PCV and their Associate Peace Corps Director, Kim Buck. They briefly visit the secondary school and meet the African headmaster of Ndumulu School, who tells them that the school community had been waiting for these Volunteers since morning, and had prepared a welcoming dinner, and that all the teachers and their wives would be there. But APCD Buck has other plans. He is in a rush to take the new PCVs to a party at the home of Martin Martinson, an English tea planter.
     Levitt writes:

It was nearly nine o’clock when we arrived at Martin Martinson’s, and there were people swarming all over his lawn, white people, with a charcoal fire in the middle where steaks were roasting, the coals glowing a soft red in the darkness.
     Martin Martinson ran over to us as we climbed out of the Land Rover. He was very short and very fat, with blond hair that fell over his eyes. He was very drunk.

uhuru = freedom (Swahili)

Then Levitt meets up with the wife of the head manager of the tea plantation. After getting her a drink, the woman tells him that she is going home because of uhuru.

     Levitt continues:

Then she said quite suddenly, Is it true that you have come here to help the Africans and to live among them, and I nodded. Yes, it was, and she said, “Whatever for, and before I could think of anything to say, she had flipped away, leaving me by myself . . ..”

Levitt’s book is only about his first year of service, a vacation trip to South Africa, and then back to Ndumulu for his second year. He hitchhikes back, grabbing a ride on top of a truck, hanging on tight to keep from falling as it begins to rain “with a wind that smashes the rain into my face, but we are moving, the world flying beneath me, and I am heading home to Ndumulu.”.
     The book came out in 1966 and is one of the very first books on the Peace Corps. Also, it is one of the best. Look for it online. It’s worth the search.

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