November 29, 2003 - Trafford: Last Lorry to Mbordo: Misadventures in Nation Building by Ghana RPCV John C. Kennedy

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ghana: Peace Corps Ghana : The Peace Corps in Ghana: November 29, 2003 - Trafford: Last Lorry to Mbordo: Misadventures in Nation Building by Ghana RPCV John C. Kennedy

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Last Lorry to Mbordo: Misadventures in Nation Building by Ghana RPCV John C. Kennedy

Last Lorry to Mbordo: Misadventures in Nation Building by Ghana RPCV John C. Kennedy

Last Lorry to Mbordo: Misadventures in Nation Building

by John C. Kennedy

274 pages; perfect bound; catalogue #03-0411; ISBN 1-4120-0048-3; US$19.95, C$28.95, EUR18.90, £13.10

When we talk of making the world a better, more peaceful place for all of its peoples, no nation can match the United States in rhetoric. But, in a practical sense, we are just starting on this process of learning how to make peace. In war outcomes are seldom predictable and true consequences are known only years afterwards. The outcomes of our tentative efforts to make peace seem even less predictable. The results of our efforts, all too often, seem to be the opposite of what we intended. Last Lorry to Mbordo is the story of a few of those who choose to try to make a difference on a personal level. Their experiences provide both reason for caution and reason for hope.
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About the Book

Is it possible that a nation's ability to make peace is more important than its ability to make war? Will we reach a point in the history of humanity when survival depends on the skills of peace making and not war? Is it possible in some far future time we will come to understand that what really mattered in the history of a nation's life was not its ability to make war but its ability to make peace?

We are just starting on this process of learning how to make peace. In war outcomes are seldom predictable and true consequences are known, if ever, only years afterwards. The outcomes of our tentative efforts to make peace seem even less predictable. No nation can match the United States in good intentions. But results are all too often the opposite of what we intended.

This novel is about living and working in West Africa. It is set in the country of Sakra. It is not a sociological tract, nor is it fantasy. The protagonists are fictional but the situations in which they find themselves are similar to those that might be encountered by volunteer teachers in any one of the new nations of West Africa.

The story line revolves about three dominant themes that correspond roughly to the early, middle and latter chapters of the book. The first of these themes is the manner in which outsiders adjust to and develop a sense of their role in a foreign culture.

Alice, a lady of 62, Peace Corps volunteer, and retired from the Washington D.C. public schools; is the focus of the first part of the novel. She is assigned to teach Mathematics at the University-College of Mbordo. Her struggle to adjust, survive, and learn to enjoy living in West Africa is a study in strength and perseverance. Other protagonists are introduced, at first only as incidental to Alice's often traumatic journey from alienation to a level of mutual human acceptance.

In the middle chapters the story line shifts away from Alice's problems to the second major theme of interaction not only between foreigners and Sakraians but also among the ethnic groups of the nation of Sakra itself. The problems of life in Sakra for Africans stand out in stark contrast to the problems that Alice and other expatriates have in adjusting to life in West Africa. Civil strife in Sakra intensifies this contrast. Questions of adjustment become a good deal less significant when survival itself is in question.

The dominant theme of the final chapters is the manner in which events beyond the control of the protagonists lead to personal and public crisis that place them in situations that become tests of character and belief.

Readers Comments

"A gripping must read book for anyone contemplating life in a different culture. A true eye-opener which helps us to examine our own ideas. 'The Last Lorry' takes us for a non-stop ride through another world." -- Joanne Marti, Information Technology Manager

"Engrossing. An engaging adventure and examination of culture, history, and the complexity of personal motivation as seen through the eyes of a fellow Mathematics teacher. A surprising look at where our best intentions can lead us." -- Marjorie M. Barreto, Mathematics Instructor

"In Last Lorry to Mbordo John Kennedy takes us to West Africa in a meeting of two cultures and two worlds. In an intense and entertaining novel the author portrays the work done by dedicated volunteers who try to bridge the gap between different cultures. Full of details, this novel shows the best (and worst) of our people across cultural, ethnic and political worlds. The reader feels transported to the town of Mbordo in the West African nation of Sakra." -- Dr. Norman Maldonado

About the Author

John C. Kennedy was born in Lumberton, Robeson County, North Carolina. He attended Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio where he completed his BA in 1965. After graduating, he joined the Peace Corps.

The author's specialty was the influence of education on economic development in the English speaking countries of West Africa.

He has devoted a lot of his career to education in both developing countries, and in his own nation. The author taught mathematics in Peki, Ghana from 1965-68, at the secondary school level, at Bell Vocational High School, Washington DC, from 1968-70, and at Northwest Junior High School, Charlotte NC, from 1970-71.

He furthered his own education by completing a Masters degree in mathematics at the University of Illinois, 1971-72. Kennedy began, but did not complete a Ph.D. in Comparative Education at the U of I, 1972-75.

Kennedy continued his passion for teaching when he worked for the Antilles Consolidated School System in Puerto Rico as a mathematics teacher and computer coordinator, 1975-2000.

John C. Kennedy retired December 2, 2000, to become a paperback writer.

You can reach John C. Kennedy at or

Sample Excerpts or Table of Contents


No nation can match the United States in good intentions. In the glory times of the Kennedys and even for a while after the assassinations, we believed everything was possible. We knew the world could be a better place. We were certain life could be better for people in developing countries and we could be a part of making that happen. Volunteers from the United States, England, Canada and many other nations acted on that belief by working as teachers, agricultural specialists, community developers, and just about anything else Third World countries would allow them to attempt. They went to live in places most of us did not know existed.

This is the story of a few of those who volunteered and were assigned to the West African nation of Sakra. They came to the town of Mbordo in Sakra looking for experiences they did not think they could find in their own countries and looking for an opportunity to somehow become a part of the effort to turn Sakra into a modern nation. What they found and what they did were both less and more than any one of them could have anticipated.

CHAPTER 1 Frogs, Drums and Powdered Milk

"Damn, alone again," Alice mumbled, "some place in the middle of West Africa. Four months, twenty three days. Done! Eighteen months, five days left. Hmm, haven't gotten it down to hours yet. What ever happened to joy, excitement, hope? Must be somewhere, back in the kitchen with the powdered milk, dried soup, corned beef. Can't find anything good any more. How the hell can you get excited about powdered milk?

"Christ it's quiet. Noise is quiet. Damn drums on and on and on. No more real than the rain on my tin roof or the crickets and frogs. God, I wish for just a moment I could hear real sounds - - people, traffic, airplanes, even garbage trucks.

"It's Thursday. Oh my God. The weekend is coming. I don't know how many more Saturdays and Sundays I can bear.

"Goddamn it Alice, stop it! Weekends are bad enough without thinking about them. Sit, read, sleep, eat, drink, sit, read, eat, drink, sit, nothing more.

Nothing more but my own thoughts.

"The alternatives, think of the alternatives. Start again. What am I doing here? How did I get to this place?

"Did I actually want to do this?

"Start again! Start again! Start again!

"You will feel better. You will feel better.

"Think of all the other wonderful things that you could be doing now. Right now. Doing right now. Go back, go back. Let's go lady. Go back. Go back.

"Sixty-two and nothing to do. Husband long dead. No children to worry about. Nothing to do. I remember. Join the Peace Corps. Do something useful. Don't rot. Too young to retire, but another year in DC? No. Couldn't take another week. Better to walk out than be carried out.

"Come to Atlanta, they said, and learn about Africa. Come to Atlanta and get ready to teach in the marvelous new nation of Sakra."

Alice shifted a little in order to rest a different part of her back against one of the posts that held up the porch roof of her bungalow. (She knew that it was impolite to sit on the floor of one's porch. But she liked to sit there and she knew that any Sakraians who might happen to pass that way would excuse her odd behavior.) The yellow cotton dress she wore was comfortable in the dry air. And it was just thick enough that no half slip was needed. Alice had eliminated the use of other than the most basic undergarments soon after arriving in Sakra. After all, who would care about seeing someone's bra in West Africa?

"It's dry, very dry. No rain for more than a month now. Miss the sound of it on my roof. The sun's red from the sand blown south from the Sahara. My skin is so damn dry and brittle. My lips feel terrible.

"Mrs. Manati! Whatever are you doing in this place? Look at yourself. What a fine condition you're in. Your skin may not last as long as the rest of your body. God, it would be unfortunate if my skin gives out. Imagine what that would look like!"

The thought was so morbid that it brought a series of chuckles from deep in her throat.

"Still a good question, Alice Manati. How in hell's name did you end up in this place?

"Sixty-two and nothing to do so I wrote a nice letter to the Peace Corps informing them that the services of a skilled and dedicated mathematics teacher were available."

Alice's thoughts returned to Atlanta.

"Training was good, or at least accurate; everything late, schedules messed up, unannounced changes, unanswered questions. Just like here. I bet they didn't know they got it right.

"All that stuff doesn't bother me anymore. Not much anyway. There was that six-hour wait for a visa to the Ivory Coast. I would still be sitting in their embassy if Gil had not bribed the official. No, bribed is the wrong way to think of it. Gilbert Adwin, our esteemed art teacher, would never bribe anyone. He only gave the gentleman a 'dash' in recognition of his lofty official position and in order to show friendship. Certainly not a bribe. At least in Washington they would try to keep it a secret. They're so damned obvious here.

"This ungodly dryness is depressing. It's cooler but it doesn't seem right. Sand in your lungs must be bad for your health. Ah, yes, yellow lung. That should mix well with white lung from chalk dust. I can see headlines in the Post, 'Teacher Found Dead in African Jungle with Lungs Full of Mathematical Symbols Written in Chalk Dust and Sand.'

"God, getting morbid again. Better find someone to talk to. It's four o'clock. Most people will be up and about.

"It's odd," she mused, "there are not many people I feel comfortable talking to about anything more than the weather. Maybe there is nothing to talk about. Or maybe I just don't fit in. The Americans worry about their health and bugs in their houses. The British talk about standards. The Indians and Pakistanis are always after you to buy something for them out of mail order catalogues. As for the Sakraians, it's just so easy to get into trouble. You talk about your room not being clean or nightsoil not being removed and you insult some tribal group or another.

"My goodness," Alice said out loud. "Nightsoil! What a wonderful name for shit. The English did themselves proud with that one.

"Of course, you can always talk about what it is like to live in America. But, if I have to listen to one more conversation about what Americans eat, I am going to throw up.

First Two Pages of Chapter Three


Friday at eleven Jason was ready, Alice was ready, the school truck was ready. But the driver of the school truck was not ready. Something about saying good-by to a girlfriend. By eleven fifteen, the driver was ready.

Alice and Jason placed their small traveling bags in the back of the truck and climbed into the front seat by the driver. The driver backed the truck out of its wooden shelter and drove toward Mbordo at just a little above the maximum possible speed given the condition of the road and the truck. He slowed ever so slightly as he passed through the town. The street was narrow. Shops and houses sat back only a few feet from its edges. The road served as front yard and sidewalk. Children played on the street. Jason wondered how they avoided being hit by lorries and cars. Perhaps the small ones developed a sixth sense that warned them when to jump out of the way.

Alice sat quietly, content with her own thoughts: "The view from the front seat of this lorry is certainly different than from a car. I can see more of the town. Never realized how rectangular it was. But it's not quite regular. Something, a house, a tree, a clump of bamboo, a path out of place always seems to upset the symmetry. It almost seems deliberate, as if something or someone doesn't like the pattern and is determined to sabotage it one way or another. No separate neighborhoods here, instead two-story concrete block houses big enough for an army surrounded by small homes made of wood and mud."

Jason's concerned voice interrupted her thoughts.

"Uh oh, the driver is slowing down."

"What's wrong?" Alice inquired.

"I'm afraid to ask," Jason said. "Oh, he is offering someone a ride. Oh no, they have a load of firewood. This may take a while."

"My goodness, this is interesting!" Alice exclaimed. "Do they always stop like this for someone who wants a ride?"

Jason seemed near tears.

"Real interesting," he mumbled. "We could be here an hour."

The driver turned to the window on the passenger side of the truck and asked Jason in an apologetic tone, "Sir, it OK if I give my brother some help? He good friend but cannot get wood to his home."

"Where is his home?" Jason asked.

"Alum," replied the driver.

"Only four miles out of our way," Jason said quietly to Alice before he turned toward the driver and said, "OK, but got to be done quick, quick." Then he whispered words that were for the driver alone, "But got to be done really quick. Old lady here might get tired and die. Vice-Chancellor would be very unhappy."

The driver and his 'brother' began working hurriedly to load the wood. When they finished, the driver started the truck and was soon driving very rapidly on the laterite road. Dust billowed around the lorry in huge, angry, red clouds. Alice tried to fasten a scarf around her head to protect her white hair from the small red particles of laterite, but quickly decided it was not worth the effort.

The truck swayed back and forth as the driver tried to dodge potholes. Several times she was sure that the truck would end up against a tree or in one of the deep ditches along the sides of the road. She could hear her teeth grinding but couldn't stop the motion of her mouth. Jason glanced sideways at Alice. Then he knew the true meaning of white. White as a ghost his mother used to say. He leaned over and shouted to the driver, "It's OK, OK, slow down. We want to see more of the land."

He muttered to himself, "Dead either way I guess. The first rule of travel in Sakra, never tell a lorry driver you are in a hurry." The house of the lorry driver's 'brother' was two miles beyond Alum on a bad, bad road. However, they did eventually get there, unload the wood and start again in the direction of the junction. According to the driver's watch, it was one o'clock when they got down from the school truck.

"Oh well," Jason thought, "so much for the great start. Thirteen miles in two hours, about average."

He turned to Alice, and said, "Last chance to turn back." As an afterthought he added, "I wonder if the Vice-Chancellor arranged our little side trip to be sure that you knew what you were getting into."

"I am not going back until Sunday," she replied.

Jason quickly added, "I wasn't serious about the Vice-Chancellor. He wouldn't do something like that. This business with the lorry drivers happens all the time."

"Really?" Alice asked with raised eyebrows. "You mean the whole damn trip is going to be like this? When will we get to Pandu? Sometime tomorrow morning?"

"No, no," Jason said with a small laugh. "Now that we are on the main road the drivers will not vary their routes for just one or two people. Look, the school driver is ready to return to Mbordo. Last chance to go back."

"Jason," Alice said sharply, "tell me the truth. What do you really think about me making this trip?"

"I think," Jason replied, "that we had better get ourselves over to the other side of the road and stop a lorry or it will be midnight before we see Pandu."

Alice was smiling as she followed Jason.

As they stood by the road she asked, "Would it help if I held up my thumb?"

Jason burst into laughter.

"What is the matter, Jason?" Alice asked in an annoyed tone. "If I've done something stupid please tell me what it is."

"No, no," Jason replied, "you haven't done anything wrong yet, but please, please don't try to thumb a ride. In Sakra 'the thumb' is equivalent to a sign made with one of the fingers in the United States."

"Oh," Alice said quietly, "I think I know which one."

"Wave your hand up and down like this," Jason instructed, "and don't worry, you will be a big help. We might even be able to stop a car and get to Towa in reasonable comfort."

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Story Source: Trafford

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