Front Page — 5/07

    Still time to nominate your favorite Peace Corps book
    Do you have a favorite book written by a Peace Corps writer that was published during 2006? Nominations are still being accepted for awards for the best books of the year written by PCVs, RPCVs, and Peace Corps staff. Please recommend your candidates for the following categories:

    • Paul Cowan Non-Fiction Award
    • Maria Thomas Fiction Award
    • The Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience Award (for best short description of the Peace Corps experience)
    • Award for Best Poetry Book
    • Award for Best Travel Writing
    • Award for Best Children’s Book

    Send in your nominations to:

    Then Sarge Said to Me!
    David Gurr who was in Ethiopia with Marian Haley Beil and myself recalls this story of when Sarge visited the Empire early in our tour as the first Volunteers to Ethiopia. Dave recently retired as a project officer for AmeriCorps*VISTA at the Corporation for National and Community Service, then moved to Los Angeles to be near his son and daughter. He sent us this account of Sarge in Addis.

    SARGE THOUGHT NOTHING OF simply packing up and going to meet Volunteers around the world. When he visited the Middle East, he came to visit us in Addis Ababa in October 1962. When his presence became known, he was informed by the American Ambassador that he had to meet His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia. The Emperor had requested that the Peace Corps send teachers to Ethiopia in the first place. It was rumored that he had done so over the objections of some of his ministers who thought that the Volunteers would be a bunch of hippies. When we arrived, the Emperor expressed his enthusiasm for the Peace Corps by inviting us to the palace and each of us was introduced to him.
         When it was Sarge’s turn to meet the Emperor, he had to be presented in “soap and fish” (striped trousers and grey coat) — the traditional formal attire for ambassadors, and Sarge did not have it. So he borrowed the American ambassador’s. However, Sarge was much taller than the ambassador. When he was presented to the Emperor, he was photographed full length by the for the English-language newspaper in Addis, The Ethiopian Herald. When the photo was published in the paper, it showed Sarge bowing in front of the Emperor with his pants up over his calves and with white socks showing. Some years later I tried to get a copy of the photo from the Herald, but was unable to as the old Herald was out of business.  

    In this issue
    Our history
    Writing for “To Preserve and to Learn: Occasional essays about the history of the Peace Corps,” Dick Irish (Philippines 1962–64) recalls Warren Wiggins, former deputy director of the agency, who was with Shriver from the first when the Peace Corps was hatched in several rooms of the old Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. Warren passed away this month and Dick writes about working with Warren and establishing the social action agency, TransCentury. Warren was a towering figure at the agency, who wrote [with Bill Josephson] “The Towering Task,” the paper that outlined the the blueprint we all followed overseas when we joined the Peace Corps.
         In a second “To Preserve and to Learn” piece John Krauskopf (Iran 1965–67) recalls in entertaining detail his Peace Corps training in the summer of ’65 at the University of Texas in his essay “Tequila and Temblors.”
         [This is another addition to our collection of Peace Corps stories that would be lost except RPCVs have long memories and can write. If you have a tale from your time in the Peace Corps, write it down and send it to us.]

    A folktale well told
    Michael O’Neill (Sierra Leone 1978–82) is one of those legendary PCVs — he was captured by Sierra Leone rebels and escaped from them. Michael says that the rebels just got tired of feeding him and let him walk away, but he managed to turn that experience into a career. I first met Michael when he was working at PC/Washington in the mid-nineties, making the world safe for PCVs as the agency “security person.” Now he is the Security Director for Save the Children and also the co-chair of the Security Advisory Group of InterAction, a consortium of American-based NGOs. [Why don’t we make O’Neill head of Homeland Security?] Anyway, when Michael was a community development PCV in Sierra Leone he made a habit of inquiring about the history of the places he visited. One of the questions he asked the local people was how did the village get its name. Once, while providing assistance in building a grain store, he drove into a village named Helebu. In response to his usual inquiry, the elders described the turn of events that resulted in the village’s strange name. Read O’Neill’s retelling of the tale of the naming of Helebu in “A Writer Writes.”

    In this issue we also review four new books, and note the arrival of thirteen more books to our increasing number of Peace Corps novels, non-fiction, and books of poetry. We now have over 3,100 published books by 928 Peace Corps writers listied in our Bibliography.
         Speaking of poetry, we interview poet Sandra Meek (Botswana 1989-91) about her writing.
         There’s more in the issue, of course, there is always more. Read on.

    John Coyne