Living Poor: a Peace Corps Chronicle

Thomsen, Moritz. Living Poor: a Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1969.

Reason read: Ecuador’s war of independence ended in November. Moritz travels to Ecuador for his stint in the Peace Corps.

Split into four sections chronicling the years 1965, 1966, 1967 & 1968 Living Poor starts at the most logical place, Thomsen’s application. His expertise as a pig farmer made him the perfect match for helping Ecuadorian farmers raise chickens and pigs and grow vegetable gardens. His first assignment,  La Union was short lived due to a lung infection that sent him back to the States. His second “tour” landed him in Rio Verde. I have to wonder what the natives of La Union thought of his departure after he took so long to fit in with them. It was no different in Rio Verde. The community, poverty stricken and on the brink of starvation, is suspicious of Thomsen. Every effort he makes to better their environment is met with stonewalling and infighting. When he does create relationships with key members of the community everyone else is jealous and tries to sabotage their efforts. While Thomsen is humorous in parts, for the most part his retelling of his experience is bleak and seemingly hopeless.

As an aside, even though I write in my own books all the time I cannot stand getting a library book that has been underlined, drawn or written in.

Quotes worth quoting, “The village that lived in my mind was at the end of the world, but by God, you didn’t have to walk twenty-five miles to get there” (p 25), “…the truth is that nothing looks romantic from a banana truck” (p 28), and “Well, it wasn’t funny to me, although the madness and chaos of the meeting had me on the verge of hysterical laughter(or else so frustrated that I simply wanted to bite someone.)” (p 195). I have been there myself.

Author fact: Thomsen applied to volunteer for the Peace Corps when he was 48 years old. Personally, this took me by surprise because my father advised my 17 year old self to join because I appeared lost and without direction. In truth, I just didn’t want to admit my passion was to become a librarian.

Book trivia: this book had an interesting beginning: Thomsen went to the San Francisco Chronicle and offered to write essays about the Peace Corps. The paper declined, but Thomsen sent them his writings anyway…which they published.

Book trivia two: the illustrations are fabulous. No credit is given in my copy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Peace Corps Memories” (p 175).


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