April 15, 2003: Headlines: COS - Malawi: Writing - Malawi: USA Today: Malawi RPCV Paul Theroux's Safari spans continent of Africa

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Malawi: Peace Corps Malawi : The Peace Corps in Malawi: April 15, 2003: Headlines: COS - Malawi: Writing - Malawi: USA Today: Malawi RPCV Paul Theroux's Safari spans continent of Africa

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Malawi RPCV Paul Theroux's Safari spans continent of Africa

Malawi RPCV Paul Theroux's Safari spans continent of Africa

'Safari' spans Africa's heart of darkness

By Stephen J. Lyons, special for USA TODAY

The destinations that veteran American traveler Paul Theroux frequents in his latest book are places most of us would be wise to avoid.

To traverse the length of eastern Africa, one must be prepared for the worst and expect the dismal. Forget smooth roads or efficiently run trains and buses. Four-star hotels, potable water and nutritious dining can be as rare as electricity. Ebola is a possibility, along with unrelenting beggary, random theft and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be shot at.

No wonder the author gets a bit testy at times.

Theroux has written 37 books, including the novel The Mosquito Coast and such classics as The Great Railroad Bazaar and The Old Patagonian Express. In Dark Star Safari, Theroux is on the verge of his 60th birthday as he travels alone, south from Cairo to Cape Town, 10 countries in all. Conveyances include steamers, vans, buses, trains and a canoe.

These destinations are not advertised on any tourism brochures. While negotiating his old haunts in Malawi the fourth-poorest country in the world the author writes a list. "You Know You're in Malawi When ..."

"The first seven shops you pass are coffin makers' shops ... an old man on the road is wearing a woman's fur-trimmed pink housecoat from the 1950s ... on the day the minister of finance announces his national austerity plan, it is revealed that thirty-eight Mercedes Benzes have just been ordered from Germany."

Theroux was a Peace Corps worker in Malawi in the '60s and taught at Makerere University in Uganda. On this return visit, filled with nostalgia and disgust, he compares Africa 40 years after many countries won their independence from colonial Europe. What he finds is hardly encouraging: corrupt despots, crowded and dangerous cities, unmarked minefields, pockmarked roads and rusty rails, and roaming gangs of ruthless bandits.

"The strong impression I had was not that the places I knew were worse off, but that they had not changed at all. Nothing was new except that there were many more people, grubbier buildings, more litter, fewer trees, more poachers, less game."

Dark Star Safari contains many memorable moments, particularly the intriguing conversations with the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz and South African writer Nadine Gordimer. Theroux spends time in such isolated locales as the Ethiopian walled village of Harar, where a local man is paid to feed meat to the hyenas at dusk to keep them from attacking residents.

Theroux saves his strongest and most uncharitable opinions for those he sarcastically labels "agents of virtue," the foreign aid workers of which there seems to be no shortage. Organizations shuttle personnel in and out, never staying long enough to see that their work accomplishes anything.

"They discussed relief projects and scholarships and agricultural schemes, refugee camps, emergency food programs, technical assistance. They were newcomers. They did not realize that for forty years people had been saying the same things, and the result after four decades was a lower standard of living, a higher rate of illiteracy, overpopulation, and much more disease."

Theroux may be correct on that, which becomes a tiresome rant along with his wicked criticism of missionaries. But the author forgets that such thankless work is a way of measuring compassion. The inefficiency and ineffectiveness of aid could be more a result of the sheer magnitude of the continent's problems than any nefarious motives.

Despite his intestines raging with parasites, Theroux returns from his rugged sojourn still clinging to Africa, not wanting the trip to end. Travel, he summarizes, is much like Africa itself: an intoxicating mix of misery and splendor. "You go away for a long time and return a different person you never come all the way back."

When this story was posted in October 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Kerry reaches out to Returned Volunteers Kerry reaches out to Returned Volunteers
The Kerry campaign wants the RPCV vote. Read our interview with Dave Magnani, Massachusetts State Senator and Founder of "RPCVs for Kerry," and his answers to our questions about Kerry's plan to triple the size of the Peace Corps, should the next PC Director be an RPCV, and Safety and Security issues. Then read the "RPCVs for Kerry" statement of support and statements by Dr. Robert Pastor, Ambassador Parker Borg, and Paul Oostburg Sanz made at the "RPCVs for Kerry" Press Conference.

RPCV Carl Pope says the key to winning this election is not swaying undecided voters, but persuading those already willing to vote for your candidate to actually go to the polls.

Take our poll and tell us what you are doing to support your candidate.

Finally read our wrap-up of the eight RPCVs in Senate and House races around the country and where the candidates are in their races.

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PCOL sits down for an extended interview with Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez. Read the entire interview from start to finish and we promise you will learn something about the Peace Corps you didn't know before.

Plus the debate continues over Safety and Security.
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Governor Schwarzenegger praised the Peace Corps at the Republican National Convention: "We're the America that sends out Peace Corps volunteers to teach village children." Schwarzenegger has previously acknowledged his debt to his father-in-law, Peace Corps Founding Director Sargent Shriver, for teaching him "the joy of public service" and Arnold is encouraging volunteerism by creating California Service Corps and tapping his wife, Maria Shriver, to lead it. Leave your comments and who can come up with the best Current Events Funny?
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Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and can you come up with a Political Funny?

Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: USA Today

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Malawi; Writing - Malawi



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