Last week I had the pleasure of attending a book club hosted by the Columbia River Peace Corps Association (CRPCA). The month's book was Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle by Moritz Thomsen. While Moritz's grasp of prose is undeniable I think any review of his first book is incomplete without the added perspective of other returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCV's).
As I discussed the book's (and indeed Mortiz's) strengths and weaknesses with about eight returned volunteers the consensus seemed to be that Moritz's service, while profound and largely unprecedented, by today's standards was deeply flawed. In particular everyone disapproved of the author's mingling of finances with his host community, and his blind devotion to his projects.
However, we also agreed that it was very accomplished in expressing certain undeniable realities of class interaction in the third world and, in general conditions endemic to being on outsider in a foreign culture. Passages like the following one prompted lively discussion that helped to bring to life for me the shared vision of these veteran volunteers.
I had always been aware of the jealousies in the town, but now I began to see that I had underestimated the power to order the live of the people. It began to get through to me. Ramon Arcos, drunk, buttonholed me on the street. He wanted ten sucres to get drunker and when I said "No," he said I was a bad man who helped only the rich like Ramon Prado and Alexandro. "Rich?" I cried. "They're the poorest people in town." But, of course, it wasn't true anymore. Ramon was about to get his hundredth chicken, and Alexandro was up to seventy. A year ago they had been among the poorest people; now they were about to be the richest. There was real dissatisfaction in Rio Verde about the job I was doing, and every day I heard reports of my favoritism. Rumors reached me that a couple of old wise guys who knew all about the Peace Corps were telling everyone that I was making money off the people, that the chickens I sold should be gifts, and that the loans I was making did not have to be repaid. It was part of my job to give people money, they said.
For more excerpts, check out this link: