May 16, 2015 Leave a comment
April 26, 2015 Leave a comment
– Mike Learned, RPCV, Malawi
Dick Lipez is a RPCV, Ethiopia, former DC Peace Corps staff, longtime journalist and editorial writer, and keen observer of the political, social, and human rights issues that affect LGBT people around the world. He has just published the fourteenth mystery in his Donald Strachey series, Why Stop at Vengeance. His first, On the Other Hand, Death, was published 34 years ago. His protagonist/hero Strachey is an Albany, NY private eye in a longtime relationship with Timothy Callahan, who had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in India prior to their relationship. Peace Corps values, experiences, insights crop up in almost all the books in the series. Timothy offers good advice and asks incisive often challenging questions. He’s that voice in the back of Strachey’s head keeping him on the proper path.
Lipez, writing as Richard Stevenson, actually Dick’s first and middle names has had his finger on the wide range of critical issues facing his LGBT brothers and sisters for the last three decades. Dick reflects these in his own life with his husband Joe, and Strachey and Tim have taken it all on,
This latest volume tackles the rabid homophobia that many Peace Corps Volunteers, straight and gay, face in many, many countries throughout Africa. In this case the setting is in Uganda, a country where 154 PCVs currently serve; 1405 volunteers since 1964. Strachey is contacted by a gay Ugandan refugee in Albany who wants vengeance against a conservative American minister who has preached the demonization of LGBT people in Uganda, and is involved in questionable transactions with corrupt Ugandan politicians who support the vile homophobic laws and agendas. The corrupt politicians, the manipulative American ministers, DC lobbyists; all have their hands in the till.
One of Lipez’s (Stevenson’s) strengths as a writer is his wide read understanding of what is behind so many of the human rights struggles in much of developing world, much of it the developing world where PCVs serve. Although Lipez (Stevenson) in an Author’s Note says that although fiction, but the involvement of American missionaries and other clergy in anti-gay crusades in Africa and Eastern Europe is all too real.
Much of the books description of the raw, violent homophobic rhetoric of Ugandan politicians can be difficult to read, but it’s exactly what has been promulgated in that beautiful East African country in recent years. Lipez (Stevenson) rightly ties this rhetoric to the corrupt, long lasting political and social elites who want to keep hold of political and economic power in some of the world’s poorest countries. They sell homophobia as an answer to the problems of the people they should be serving rather than exploiting. PCVs who have served in Africa and other developing countries often despair of what has happened in countries in which we worked and truly loved. Why Stop at Vengeance tells us this story again.
During the course of the novel Don and Tim suffer some similar fates of LGBT people in Uganda including arson and intimidation. But true to form Don and Tim come through another adventure in Albany. May they continue to live the challenges and celebrations of our times.
Lipez (Stevenson) recommends the ironically titled 2014 documentary film, God Loves Uganda
Might I also add the documentary Call Me Kuchu, which highlights the life and death of Ugandan LGBT activist, David Kato.
Print and Kindle editions of Why Stop at Vengeance, MLR Press, are available on Amazon
The author, Dick Lipez, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
April 18, 2015 Leave a comment
– Michael Varga, RPCV, Chad
This is an excerpt from Under Chad’s Spell, a novel by Michael Varga, based on his experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Chad. 726 PCVs served in Chad over several years in four different segments. Peace Corps is no longer active in Chad because of security issues. PCVs now serve in other African countries in west and central Africa and no doubt could have experiences like the ones described here. Madison the character mentioned here is a Peace Corps Volunteer.
About a month earlier, Madison made one of his rare visits to Medina’s hut. She lived with another woman who had similarly muddled her standing among Chadians in crossing the color line with a French soldier. Medina invited Madison to come and have dinner with her and this other woman and their numerous children, brothers, cousins and other hangers-on who lived in the nearby huts. It was a big event for them to entertain the nasara, and just about anybody who even had a passing acquaintance with Medina or the other woman had shown up to eat, but more importantly, to watch and perhaps talk to the nasara.
Madison was startled to see how many people had gathered to eat with him. The two chickens that had been killed for the meal would barely allow a sliver for each person, but Medina pulled some large pieces of the chickens from their bones and put them in front of Madison. After all, he was the guest of honor. As was the Chadian custom, all the men sat together while the women served. If there was anything left from the men, the women and children would share that afterwards, removed from the men.
The men kept asking Madison about the unrest in the capital. Rumors continued to fly that a coup was imminent, that Muammar Khadafi, Libya’s leader, was intent on making all of Chad part of Libya. They were vehement in denouncing Libyans, although not one admitted that he had ever met one. Madison jokingly asked how they would recognize a Libyan, and the men sat in silence, evidently not finding any humor in such a challenge.
After the men ate, someone put a radio on and they started pressing Madison to dance. As the women and children nibbled on the leftovers, Madison called Medina over, and as they started to move rhythmically to the static-filled sounds from the radio, other men grabbed other women and soon the hut was surrounded by bodies swaying to the beat. There were many more men than women so a number of the men danced together or danced alone.
As the night wore on and the beer ran out, Madison grew a bit uncomfortable with sitting in the presence of all of these Chadians, staring at him. They had covered the topics they could discuss, so no more words were being exchanged. They had danced to more than a dozen songs. The food had long ago run out (long before the beer), and Madison felt he could graciously take his leave. He shook the hand of every person present. Medina said she would accompany him. Madison told her he was sure she was tired from all the cooking and preparations and it was better if he went home alone.
Medina’s hut was only a couple of kilometers from Madison’s house and Madison had walked the paths several times in daylight, including earlier this evening. But this was the first time Madison tried to find his way home at night and, unfortunately, there was no moon. The night was a black sheet, broken only by the dim beam of his flashlight. Strange whining animal calls and falling branches seemed to be always just behind Madison as he stepped forward. He gripped the flashlight, pointing it in a wide arc as the path twisted and turned. He tripped on a branch that had fallen across the path and grew more unsure whether he was heading in the right direction. Where was his Virgil to lead him into the clear?
He circled the pathways for a half hour, passing clusters of huts that he thought looked familiar, but when he spied a person smoking some tobacco before one hut, then a woman cleaning pots next to a fire, he realized he’d been mistaken and these were not the huts he thought they were. He was lost.
He considered retracing his steps to find Medina’s hut, but he wasn’t sure he could even do that. He heard a boy’s voice calling out “Petrol! Petrol!” He waited for the boy to come closer, thinking he might know Medina and be able to lead him to her hut. He turned the flashlight beam on his own face so that the boy would see him. But when the boy saw him, evidently shocked at seeing his white face lit up in the black night, he cried “Kaii! Nasara! Kaii!” In fear, he ran in the other direction, spilling the kerosene as he fled.
Madison decided he had to be methodical in finding his way back to Medina’s hut. He turned around and started heading back in the direction from which he had just come. He wasn’t certain he was making the right move, but as he walked, he thought things looked a bit more familiar.
He shined the flashlight toward the sound and saw the face of a young man he didn’t recognize. For a second, he thought it might be one of his students, but despite the size of his classes, he knew every student’s face and he did not recognize this one. Yet there was something familiar about it.
“Who are you?” Madison asked in French.
“Medina’s brother, Bousang. Are you lost?”
Madison was loath to admit that he was, but he knew there was no point in pretending he could find his way home on his own.
“I am. Do you know how to get to my house?”
“Walk this way.”
Bousang turned and led Madison back up the narrow path. The thick ropy vegetation limited the path to the width of just one person. After about fifteen minutes of walking in silence through the darkness, the path widened as they neared the center of Baibokoum. Madison walked next to Bousang. He took his hand. Madison had grown at ease over these months with the Chadian custom of men walking together, their hands loosely touching in a slight grasp of each other’s fingers. There was nothing more than friendliness implied in two men walking with their hands touching. A man and a woman would never touch each other in public, whether they were married or not, but two men or two women would always have some physical link to the other person if they were friends. It was the Chadian way.
Bousang’s hands were rough from working in the cotton fields around Baibokoum. Madison asked him how he spent his time. He told him he worked the fields, but he had been to school and had hopes of returning. His French was good and that impressed Madison. Bousang couldn’t have been more than twenty years old, and Madison realized now that he had talked briefly with Bousang earlier in the evening at Medina’s. He was the one who had asked about African-Americans, how they managed in America and whether they ever thought about coming back to live in Africa. Madison answered that slavery had been a crime and that the younger generations of African-Americans he knew were too far removed from life in Africa to want to return.
When they got to Madison’s house, he turned off the flashlight. As they stood side by side in the darkness, Madison thanked Bousang for helping him, asked him if he wanted a drink of water or a Fanta before he headed back home. Without answering Madison, Bousang let go of his hand. In the darkness, Madison could sense Bousang was moving closer to him.
Under Chad’s Spell is available at Amazon.com in Kindle and paperback editions. Michael Varga can be contacted through his website www.michaelvarga.com
April 12, 2015 Leave a comment
The Steering Committee for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Returned Peace Association has appointed a new National Coordinator, Manuel Colón. He served as an Environmental Education Volunteer in Areguá, Paraguay, from 2010-2012. During his service, Manuel led efforts to establish a national curriculum called “Paraguay Verde” with
Volunteers from the entire Environment sector. Paraguay Verde promotes environmental youth groups centered around civic and community engagement. The national conference component to Paraguay Verde successfully concluded its fifth iteration February of this year. Manuel was also a leader in Jopara, the Volunteer-led diversity committee, which helped to facilitate the first-ever LGBT ally training with Volunteers and Staff. Upon completion of service, Manuel returned to his alma mater to work as an undergraduate recruiter for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also a part-time Master’s student in the Human Resources Development program.
Manuel joined LGBT RPCV’s steering committee in 2013 as the New Volunteer Coordinator. In this capacity he is the liaison between the prospective Volunteer, currently serving Volunteer, and recently returned Volunteer populations and the group at large. Manuel is a major content generator on our group’s social media accounts and listserv. He works to highlight, promote, and celebrate the LGBT Volunteer experience.
Other members of the Steering Committee have agreed to continue their roles to help support our new leadership. Mike Learned, former Group Leader, will remain on the Steering Committee as enewsletter editor.
April 12, 2015 Leave a comment
– Sarah Bender, RPCV
I tend to enjoy watching people’s eyes grow wide when I share with them I served in the Peace Corps in Jordan (not every lesbian’s top choice for a stint abroad). Their surprise always grows when I then express my extreme gratitude for my placement, as I met my now fiancé during Pre-Service Training.
The “temporary closing” of Jordan’s program was devastating to Steph and me. Peace Corps has had a profound effect on both of our lives (in addition to introducing us). In the four years since our COS (Completion of Service0, not a day passes in which I do not remember some aspect of my service, or use a skill I was able to develop while living in Jordan. I am the definition of a “proud RPCV:” my fiancé and I have marched with Peace Corps in local PRIDE celebrations, attended recruiting events, and I even have a 24×36 Peace Corps poster hanging in my office. In reflecting on the program, my experience there, and the temporary suspension, I think of the Peace Corps Jordan staff members who are left in the lurch, of my Jordanian friends and family whose lives do not get a “temporary suspension” from the uncertainty of daily life, and of my increasing desire to book a trip home to Jordan.
Stephanie and I have wanted to return to Jordan since about the moment we set foot back on American soil. We both developed extremely close relationships with families in our communities, and had close friends who live in the capital. We had not yet set up our life together in the U.S., but had done so in Jordan – why would we not want to return? Over the years that followed our COS, however, we struggled with reconciling our desire to visit with our growing discomfort around potentially having to re-closet ourselves. Steph and my relationship continued to progress unbeknownst to our Jordanian families, as we found ourselves ducking and deflecting questions from our counterparts – sometimes forsaking calls altogether so as to avoid the white lies and non-truths we felt (with panic) threatened the authenticity of connections to our friends and family abroad. To our conflicted disappointment, four years have passed without our promised visit.
In the months since our engagement, however, we have begun to discover that perhaps our fears had been misplaced. Since we first began our service, both of our social media sites have been on “privacy lockdown,” so that any photos showing our same-sex love, or other potentially “culturally inappropriate” behavior would not impede our ability to integrate into our communities. After COS, as we settled into our new life together in the States, we were ever so cautious about photos, news articles, or anything posted on to social media that would “out” us. Several years later, however, as we were celebrating our engagement, we boldly decided to share our news with everyone – privacy settings aside.
Several days after our announcement, Steph and I received a message from her community counterpart and good friend in Jordan. Looking at the inbox, without opening the message, we were immediately engulfed in anxiety and regret for sharing our news so publicly. As we read the message with trepidation an intentional day or two later, though, our worries eased with every line. The message was congratulatory, loving, and supportive of our relationship. For all our anguish, we realized that the human-to-human connections we made in Jordan surpassed even the most striking of cultural differences, a testament to the power and integrity of what the Peace Corps eschews.
I am confident that my fiancé and I will return to Jordan (perhaps for a second wedding celebration?) and just as confident that Peace Corps will return as well. I had long hoped that Jordan would be one of the pioneer countries placing same-sex couples, and I still see that in the program’s future. The suspension of the program is disappointing for many reasons, one of which being that Americans serving in Jordan have the unique experience of being able to come home and share positive stories of hospitality from a region so frequently and incorrectly viewed as violent and terror-ridden in our society. For now, I can only call upon all of my fellow RPCVs from Jordan to continue to share these stories – more frequently and honestly than we had before.
Sarah Bender can be contacted at email@example.com