2007.12.30: December 30, 2007: Headlines: COS - Zambia: Writing - Zambia: Deafness: Disabilities: Criticism: Washington Times: Roger Kaplan writes: Josh Swiller has written an extraordinarily honest, swiftly paced, powerful book, filled with sharp observations on the realities of life in this sad corner of Zambia and the awkward, and at times bitterly hilarious, failure of East and West (or West and South) to understand each other

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Zambia: Peace Corps Zambia : Peace Corps Zamiba: Newest Stories: 2007.12.30: December 30, 2007: Headlines: COS - Zambia: Writing - Zambia: Deafness: Disabilities: Criticism: Washington Times: Roger Kaplan writes: Josh Swiller has written an extraordinarily honest, swiftly paced, powerful book, filled with sharp observations on the realities of life in this sad corner of Zambia and the awkward, and at times bitterly hilarious, failure of East and West (or West and South) to understand each other

By Admin1 (admin) (141.157.8.55) on Monday, December 29, 2008 - 8:01 am: Edit Post

Roger Kaplan writes: Josh Swiller has written an extraordinarily honest, swiftly paced, powerful book, filled with sharp observations on the realities of life in this sad corner of Zambia and the awkward, and at times bitterly hilarious, failure of East and West (or West and South) to understand each other

Roger Kaplan writes:  Josh Swiller has written an extraordinarily honest, swiftly paced, powerful book, filled with sharp observations on the realities of life in this sad corner of Zambia and the awkward, and at times bitterly hilarious, failure of East and West (or West and South) to understand each other

Mr. Swiller very nearly slept with a local girl he is a little vague, but the text says they did not go through with it which very nearly caused a major catastrophe in the village. He managed to get out of it by paying a heavy fine to her father, all the more galling when it turned out the girl was engaged (and pregnant) before she came to him, which means the father had no claims on her. Meanwhile, Mr. Swiller carried on an affair with another Peace Corps volunteer, coordinating furtive leaves from their respective posts, and that ended badly as well. This sort of intimate fraternization with colleagues, though against Peace Corps rules, may be less unusual than assumed; on the other hand, Corpsmen sometimes marry locals, as one of Mr. Swiller's fellow volunteers to Zambia did. Just what, if anything, this sliding standard says about racism inside the Peace Corps Mr. Swiller prefers to leave to his readers' moral imagination.

Roger Kaplan writes: Josh Swiller has written an extraordinarily honest, swiftly paced, powerful book, filled with sharp observations on the realities of life in this sad corner of Zambia and the awkward, and at times bitterly hilarious, failure of East and West (or West and South) to understand each other

Digging wells in Zambia

By Roger Kaplan

December 30, 2007

Josh Swiller had a reasonably happychildhood, one of several boys in a big and by all accounts prosperous New York family. He went to Yale, joined the Peace Corps and was sent to a godforsaken place in northern Zambia, near the border with eastern Congo, itself one of the most godforsaken places on Earth. After some superficial training, he was assigned to help the locals dig and manage wells.

Polluted water is a killer in Africa, claiming far more victims than HIV. Mr. Swiller reports one case, implying there were more, during his term of service (two years, of which about 18 months were in the village). Though he himself does not say so, the apparently low prevalence of the epidemic in the area may be due to its remote location.

However, Mr. Swiller tried hard, did his best and by his own admission failed. Wells did not get dug. Other projects failed as well, notably an improvement to the local health clinic he and his best friend, a Zambian paramedic sent to the village by a ministry far away, thought up and even found money for. It was sabotaged by one of the local "big men," a crook and bully who terrorized the villagers with hocus pocus and very nearly got Mr. Swiller and Jere (the Zambian paramedic) lynched. Peace Corps authorities were not helpful, though they did at least admit afterwards the idea of a Peace Corps mission in this area was ill-advised.

Moreover, Mr. Swiller very nearly slept with a local girl he is a little vague, but the text says they did not go through with it which very nearly caused a major catastrophe in the village. He managed to get out of it by paying a heavy fine to her father, all the more galling when it turned out the girl was engaged (and pregnant) before she came to him, which means the father had no claims on her. Meanwhile, Mr. Swiller carried on an affair with another Peace Corps volunteer, coordinating furtive leaves from their respective posts, and that ended badly as well.

This sort of intimate fraternization with colleagues, though against Peace Corps rules, may be less unusual than assumed; on the other hand, Corpsmen sometimes marry locals, as one of Mr. Swiller's fellow volunteers to Zambia did. Just what, if anything, this sliding standard says about racism inside the Peace Corps Mr. Swiller prefers to leave to his readers' moral imagination.

Judging from the way he describes them, the Zambian girl was more attractive than the American, but more reckless. He learned his lesson, at least insofar as he turned down his housekeeper when she offered herself to him, though he implies she was gay and was more interested in a friend she seems to have been awfully nice as a person than a husband.

In a few words: A story about rot. You can say what you want about the Peace Corps, and certainly you can say that it was a noble conception meant to win the battle of development while the Special Forces also a brainchild of John F. Kennedy won the battle for security in the Third World. Peace and security both: Send forth "the best o' your breed," as Kipling put it. But like most aid-to-development agencies, the Peace Corps has a certain built-in propensity to set up conditions for rackets of the kind Mr. Swiller observed and now describes with admirable candor.

Indeed, he has written an extraordinarily honest, swiftly paced, powerful book, filled with sharp observations on the realities of life in this sad corner of Zambia and the awkward, and at times bitterly hilarious, failure of East and West (or West and South) to understand each other. Though it is worth noting, because he sees it very clearly, that notwithstanding such cultural gulfs, the primary problem when things fell apart was not the gulfs but human dishonesty.




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Story Source: Washington Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Zambia; Writing - Zambia; Deafness; Disabilities; Criticism

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