Talking with . . .

Marcy Spaulding

an interview by John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962–64)

    DANCING TREES and Crocodile Dreams: My Life in a West African Village, has the subtitle: “Journals from Two Years As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali.” The book was published in 2004 by the small California Press Poppy Lane Publishing. It was written by Marcy L. Spaulding (Mali 2000–02).
         We have had Marcy’s book listed on our site since it was published, but I did not have it reviewed. I remember it coming to me, and seeing that is was “just” journal entries, decided to let it pass. Then a few months back, Bonnie Black (Gabon 1996–98) emailed me that she had read the book and found it to be extraordinarily good. Bonnie’s opinion was enough for me. I got in touch with her, asked her to review the book — and it is reviewed in this issue — and then got in touch with Marcy for this interview. Marcy today lives in San Francisco and I emailed her a few questions.

    Marcy, tell us something about yourself.
    I was born and raised in Fresno, California, where I lived until I left for Vassar College when I was 17. I am the youngest of 4 children. I have 2 brothers, 1 sister, 2 nephews, and 2 nieces. My parents are both in California, but the rest of my family is all over the world, from Canada to Sweden.

    What have you been doing since you left the Peace Corps?
    I have lived in San Francisco for the past 5 years, almost since I returned from Peace Corps. I have been a registered nurse since 2006, and I work part time as an obstetric nurse. My primary occupation at the moment is as a master’s student at the University of California, San Francisco where I am studying Advanced Community Health and International Nursing.

    Let’s go back to Vassar. When you finished college, why did you head off to the Peace Corps?
    When I went back east to Vassar, I knew for sure that I wanted to study abroad for a semester, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go to Cameroon. I fell in love with that part of the world. I was interested in people and cultures and new experiences. I was also interested in health, particularly the influence of culture on health. I had thought about the Peace Corps since I was in high school, and there was nothing I wanted to do more after graduating. So, I applied and became a health Volunteer in Mali.
    Editors note: When I was the manager of the PC/NY office, we would recruit at Vassar, a lovely campus near the Hudson River. Vassar women are famous for being bright, articulate and political. When we did an Information Session on campus, a question that was always asked was: is the Peace Corps part of the CIA? The recruiters made bets on how fast that question would be asked in the Q & A.

    You studied Anthropology and Sociology at Vassar. How did that academic background influence your Peace Corps experience?
    Well, my choice of major was of course influenced by my interest in people and cultures, and that interest also led me to the Peace Corps. But I do think my studies helped me to gain a deeper appreciation for what I saw and experienced when I was in Mali, and led me to much of the reflection that you see in the book. I studied cultural influences on health, and in Mali I had the chance to experience that first hand. People joke that you can’t do much with a degree in anthropology, but I felt (and still feel in my present career) that it was just the right background to have!

    You say in your book that you used your journal to write the roller coaster of your Peace Corps experience. What do you think about the therapeutic uses of journaling?
    For me, journaling was very therapeutic. I was lucky to have fellow Peace Corps friends not too far away — they were my best therapy, but I only saw them every couple weeks or so. I had great friends in my village as well, but there was a language and cultural divide between us. As much as I loved life in the village to an extent I found it very difficult to go for days on end without being able to communicate with anyone in my own language (actual or cultural). So, my journal became my outlet. It was a place where I could express my frustrations and my joys, and try to make sense of everything that was going on, around me and within me. I tended to write more often when I was sad or angry or confused — which was often, but certainly not all the time. So the book does not reflect my entire experience, it actually leaves out a lot of the good aspects of my time in Mali.

    Would you recommend that all PCVs keep a journal?
    I would definitely suggest giving it a try, though I don’t think it’s necessarily for everyone. Each person has to find his or her own way to process the experience. But I do think it is crucial to find a way to process it.

    Did you think that while you were keeping your Peace Corps journal that you would actually share it (publish it) one day?
    Yes and no. I’ll admit that the thought was in the back of my mind at times, but I didn’t think it would actually happen. For the writing to be truly useful, though, I had to be able to write anything and everything on the understanding that it would never be seen by anyone but me. My actual journal is still private — not everything is in the book. Also, I kept two separate journals: one for just writing, and one for more creative expressions — poems, drawings, quotes from things I had read, etc. The book is made up of pieces from both.

    Do you think of yourself as a writer?
    To be honest, not really. I’m glad I had the opportunity to do this project, but it was unexpected and, other than writing papers for school, I’ve never really written anything else.

    Are you planning to write another book?
    No plans yet, but if I am truly inspired by something I might consider it. The Peace Corps was a very inspirational time in my life, which made the writing easy.

    Your publisher did a really fine job of producing your book; it is well edited and designed. How did you come across this company?
    I have Bette Peterson of Poppy Lane Publishing to thank for that. She is a long-time family friend who was on my email list while I was in Mali. She liked what I had written in my emails, so when she approached me about the possibility of publishing my journals through her company, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

    Marcy, thank you for your time.
    in Mali.