2006.04.14: April 14, 2006: Headlines: COS - Guatemala: Writing - Guatemala: Seattle Times: The Peace Corps volunteers I've met are a singularly humble bunch. They never brag of bravery, rarely name-drop diseases and usually refrain from dazzling language when describing their remarkable and remarkably challenging two years

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Guatemala: Peace Corps Guatemala: The Peace Corps in Guatemala: 2006.04.14: April 14, 2006: Headlines: COS - Guatemala: Writing - Guatemala: Seattle Times: The Peace Corps volunteers I've met are a singularly humble bunch. They never brag of bravery, rarely name-drop diseases and usually refrain from dazzling language when describing their remarkable and remarkably challenging two years

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-234-53.balt.east.verizon.net - 151.196.234.53) on Monday, April 24, 2006 - 10:31 pm: Edit Post

The Peace Corps volunteers I've met are a singularly humble bunch. They never brag of bravery, rarely name-drop diseases and usually refrain from dazzling language when describing their remarkable and remarkably challenging two years

The Peace Corps volunteers I've met are a singularly humble bunch. They never brag of bravery, rarely name-drop diseases and usually refrain from dazzling language when describing their remarkable  and remarkably challenging  two years

Ellen Urbani Hiltebrand breaks that mold in "When I Was Elena: A Memoir," her proud memoir of Peace Corps service in Guatemala between 1991 and 1993. Please note: She lasted the FULL two years and then some. Nobody thought she would. Hiltebrand reminds us of this several times. Known in-country as "Elena," she survives countless robberies, a serious attack, debilitating dysentery, worms, threats, stalkings, an attempted rape, three coups and a rumbling revolution. More than half of the 70 or so volunteers who started with Hiltebrand went home before the end of their tours. (Four were raped, a few beaten, one kidnapped, one died.)

The Peace Corps volunteers I've met are a singularly humble bunch. They never brag of bravery, rarely name-drop diseases and usually refrain from dazzling language when describing their remarkable and remarkably challenging two years

A sorority girl's coming-of-age chronicle of two years in the Peace Corps

By Paula Bock

Special to The Seattle Times

The Peace Corps volunteers I've met are a singularly humble bunch. They never brag of bravery, rarely name-drop diseases and usually refrain from dazzling language when describing their remarkable and remarkably challenging two years.

Ellen Urbani Hiltebrand breaks that mold in "When I Was Elena: A Memoir" (Permanent Press, 304 pp., $28), her proud memoir of Peace Corps service in Guatemala between 1991 and 1993. Please note: She lasted the FULL two years and then some. Nobody thought she would. Hiltebrand reminds us of this several times.

Known in-country as "Elena," she survives countless robberies, a serious attack, debilitating dysentery, worms, threats, stalkings, an attempted rape, three coups and a rumbling revolution. More than half of the 70 or so volunteers who started with Hiltebrand went home before the end of their tours. (Four were raped, a few beaten, one kidnapped, one died.)

"Laughable, in light of the statistics, that on that long-ago day someone bet money on the fact that a little dirt in my hair would be enough to scare me away," Hiltebrand writes. "Even more ironic: The bettors beat me home."

From the start, Elena was different from the other volunteers. A Southern sorority girl (straight-As, cheerleader) with a spanking-new blueberry backpack and matching Laura Ashley dress, she was not an idealist and feared chickens.

An article in Cosmo first sparked her interest in the Peace Corps. Signing up seemed a good way to gain distance from her college boyfriend and, most of all, to have a "defining" moment, "when something happened ... or we did or said a certain thing or responded to a challenge in such a way that defines who we most truly are."

"When I Was Elena" has an abundance of defining moments. The time Elena used a machete to hack a pit viper that was about to strike a girl (and admits later ignoring symptoms of sexual abuse of same girl). The time she flirted with a police captain to fill out paperwork so she could leave town with a fellow volunteer who had been recently raped. The time diarrhea struck during an arduous hike up to a highland village and she had to decide whether to wipe with her sock or her underwear. (The latter.)

Hiltebrand alternates her own lushly written memoir with tales of six local women and another Peace Corps volunteer. We see Guatemala and Elena, the heroine of practically every chapter through the eyes of a pre-teen incest victim; a wife who married for security rather than love; the widow of a disappeared political martyr; a Mayan woman confined to home by her Guatemalan husband and mother-in-law.

All the stories are told in first-person, a strange technique that melds fiction with reality. At its best, Hiltebrand's adoption of other women's personas is riveting, drawing readers deep into smoky kitchens and dark secrets; at its worst, it violates their emotional turf and detracts from the book's credibility. Hiltebrand is no doubt well-meaning, but it feels wrong for her to wear others' emotions for literary purposes, to pretend to know the grief of a real mother who watches a runaway truck kill three daughters.

Hiltebrand's writing is strongest and most original when describing her German shepherd, Calixta. Her devotion to the pup is initially amusing, almost embarrassing, very American. She feeds the pooch orange popsicles from the tienda, and when Cali steps on a scorpion, enlists the help of the mayor to drive her to a veterinarian, who instructs: "To prevent her brain from boiling, keep her cold in the desert. To combat paralysis, give her vitamins that are not sold in our pharmacies. And to build her strength, feed her protein in this country that does not have enough for its own children."

A friend sacrifices 17 chickens, Hiltebrand rounds up ice and vitamins, Cali lives. The dog later repels numerous unsavory men and probably saves Hiltebrand's life. Cali, who came home to America with Hiltebrand, died in 1999. Hiltebrand lives with her husband and two children in Portland, where she counsels cancer patients.

Paula Bock is a writer for Pacific Northwest Magazine.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company





When this story was posted in April 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:


Contact PCOLBulletin BoardRegisterSearch PCOLWhat's New?

Peace Corps Online The Independent News Forum serving Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
Rumor Mill: Vasquez to accept new  appointment Date: April 18 2006 No: 877 Rumor Mill: Vasquez to accept new appointment
We have heard persistent rumors that Director Vasquez will soon be receiving a new position in the administration, perhaps a major ambassadorship. This is unsubstantiated although it comes from a credible source. The Peace Corps Press Office has had no comment.

Initiatives and Accomplishments: Vasquez's major initiatives and accomplishments since becoming Peace Corps Director include: an agreement with Mexico in 2003 to host volunteers, sending RPCVs to work domestically in Hurricane relief after Katrina, emphasis on recruitment of minorities and of community college graduates, upgrading Peace Corps' infrastructure especially IT upgrades in the online application tracking process and the Volunteer Delivery System, an emphasis on safety and security of volunteers including the creation of a Situation Room at Peace Corps Headquarters, modifying Peace Corps' "Five Year Rule" for employment, and the expansion of the Peace Corps to its highest level in 30 years. He is the third longest serving Peace Corps Director after Ruppe Miller and Shriver.

PCOL Comment: Although we have had our differences with the Director over the years and opposed his nomination in 2001, we think he is leaving a solid legacy of accomplishment. Director Vasquez, if these rumors turn out to be true, let us be the first to thank you for your service to the Peace Corps, congratulate you on your new appointment, and wish you good luck in your future endeavors.

Top Stories and Breaking News PCOL Magazine Peace Corps Library RPCV Directory Sign Up

The Peace Corps Library Date: February 24 2006 No: 798 The Peace Corps Library
The Peace Corps Library is now available online with over 40,000 index entries in 500 categories. Looking for a Returned Volunteer? Check our RPCV Directory. New: Sign up to receive PCOL Magazine, our free Monthly Magazine by email. Like to keep up with Peace Corps news as it happens? Sign up to recieve a daily summary of Peace Corps stories from around the world.

PC Program in Chad temporarily suspended Date: April 14 2006 No: 872 PC Program in Chad temporarily suspended
Director Vasquez announced the temporary suspension of the Peace Corps program in Chad on April 14 and that all 29 Peace Corps volunteers have left the country. With a program dating back forty years (See Page 4 of the April 1966 "Peace Corps Volunteer"), RPCVs hope that volunteers can return to Chad as soon as the situation has stabilized. Congratulations to the Peace Corps for handling the suspension quickly and professionally.

Peace Corps stonewalls on FOIA request Date: April 12 2006 No: 869 Peace Corps stonewalls on FOIA request
The Ashland Daily Tidings reports that Peace Corps has blocked their request for information on the Volkart case. "After the Tidings requested information pertaining to why Volkart was denied the position on March 2 the newspaper received a letter from the Peace Corps FOIA officer stating the requested information was protected under an exemption of the act." The Dayton Daily News had similar problems with FOIA requests for their award winning series on Volunteer Safety and Security.

PCOL readership increases 100% Date: April 3 2006 No: 853 PCOL readership increases 100%
Monthly readership on "Peace Corps Online" has increased in the past twelve months to 350,000 visitors - over eleven thousand every day - a 100% increase since this time last year. Thanks again, RPCVs and Friends of the Peace Corps, for making PCOL your source of information for the Peace Corps community. And thanks for supporting the Peace Corps Library and History of the Peace Corps. Stay tuned, the best is yet to come.

History of the Peace Corps Date: March 18 2006 No: 834 History of the Peace Corps
PCOL is proud to announce that Phase One of the "History of the Peace Corps" is now available online. This installment includes over 5,000 pages of primary source documents from the archives of the Peace Corps including every issue of "Peace Corps News," "Peace Corps Times," "Peace Corps Volunteer," "Action Update," and every annual report of the Peace Corps to Congress since 1961. "Ask Not" is an ongoing project. Read how you can help.

PC announces new program in Cambodia Date: March 29 2006 No: 849 PC announces new program in Cambodia
Director Vasquez and Cambodia's Deputy Chief of Mission Meng Eang Nay announced a historic new partnership between the Peace Corps and the Kingdom of Cambodia that will bring volunteers to this Southeast Asian country for the first time. Under King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia has welcomed new partnerships with the U.S. government and other U.S. organizations.

Top Stories: March 23, 2006 Date: March 23 2006 No: 846 Top Stories: March 23, 2006
Peace Corps celebrates 45th Anniversary 9 Mar
Celeste joins Stonebridge International 21 Mar
Spain plans Peace Corps 20 Mar
Rita Botts learns about living in layers in Ukraine 18 Mar
Melanie Boyer writes "About Last Night" 17 Mar
Pat Waak files campaign complaint 15 Mar
Tom Bissell is a 'Yooper' 15 Mar
Toledo keeps Peru's dispute with Yale in the public eye 14 Mar
Lack of teachers for 'Critical Languages' 14 Mar
Keith and Jenny Gelber met as PCVs in Zambia 10 Mar
Bush presents award to Amber Davis-Collins 9 Mar
Brian Singer founded Project Zawadi 9 Mar
Christopher R. Hill speaks on East Asia in Transition 9 Mar
Edmund Hull says patience will win war on terrorism 7 Mar
Miriam Gray reconnects with Brazil RPCV after 40 years 5 Mar
Ashley Tsongas keynotes Women's Week Breakfast 5 Mar
Sari Long says PC has much to teach us 3 Mar
Dana Priest calls for Peace Corps for the 21st Century 4 Mar
Vasquez says PC needs to be more racially diverse 4 Mar
Peace Corps Fund ready for first round of grants 2 Mar
Shriver Peaceworkers Celebrate 12 Years 1 Mar
White House plans to close Americorps NCCC Program 1 Mar

Peace Corps suspends program in Bangladesh Date: March 16 2006 No: 827 Peace Corps suspends program in Bangladesh
Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez announced the suspension of the Peace Corps program in Bangladesh on March 15. The safety and security of volunteers is the number one priority of the Peace Corps. Therefore, all Peace Corps volunteers serving in Bangladesh have safely left the country. More than 280 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Bangladesh since the program opened in November 1998. Latest: What other newspapers say.

Invitee re-assigned after inflammatory remarks Date: March 21 2006 No: 839 Invitee re-assigned after inflammatory remarks
The Peace Corps has pulled the invitation to Derek Volkart to join the Morocco Training Program and offered him a position in the Pacific instead after officials read an article in which he stated that his decision to join the Peace Corps was in "response to our current fascist government." RPCV Lew Nash says that "If Derek Volkart spoke his mind as freely in Morocco about the Moroccan monarchy it could cause major problems for himself and other Peace Corps volunteers." Latest: Volkart reverses stance, takes new assignment in Paraguay.

RPCV admits to abuse while in Peace Corps Date: February 3 2006 No: 780 RPCV admits to abuse while in Peace Corps
Timothy Ronald Obert has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a minor in Costa Rica while serving there as a Peace Corps volunteer. "The Peace Corps has a zero tolerance policy for misconduct that violates the law or standards of conduct established by the Peace Corps," said Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez. Could inadequate screening have been partly to blame? Mr. Obert's resume, which he had submitted to the Peace Corps in support of his application to become a Peace Corps Volunteer, showed that he had repeatedly sought and obtained positions working with underprivileged children. Read what RPCVs have to say about this case.

Military Option sparks concerns Date: January 3 2006 No: 773 Military Option sparks concerns
The U.S. military, struggling to fill its voluntary ranks, is allowing recruits to meet part of their reserve military obligations after active duty by serving in the Peace Corps. Read why there is opposition to the program among RPCVs. Director Vasquez says the agency has a long history of accepting qualified applicants who are in inactive military status. John Coyne says "Not only no, but hell no!" and RPCV Chris Matthews leads the debate on "Hardball." Avi Spiegel says Peace Corps is not the place for soldiers while Coleman McCarthy says to Welcome Soldiers to the Peace Corps. Read our poll results. Latest: Congress passed a bill on December 22 including language to remove Peace Corps from the National Call to Service (NCS) military recruitment program

Why blurring the lines puts PCVs in danger Date: October 22 2005 No: 738 Why blurring the lines puts PCVs in danger
When the National Call to Service legislation was amended to include Peace Corps in December of 2002, this country had not yet invaded Iraq and was not in prolonged military engagement in the Middle East, as it is now. Read the story of how one volunteer spent three years in captivity from 1976 to 1980 as the hostage of a insurrection group in Colombia in Joanne Marie Roll's op-ed on why this legislation may put soldier/PCVs in the same kind of danger. Latest: Read the ongoing dialog on the subject.


Read the stories and leave your comments.






Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Seattle Times

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

PCOL32460
30


Add a Message


This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.
Username:  
Password:
E-mail: