Five years ago, I flirted with writing a musical based on ‘the generic Peace Corps experience.’ I tabled the idea quickly.
The unique nature of volunteer service set abundant hurdles. Peace Corps Africa and Peace Corps Latin America are different beasts. The organization’s six decades presented another problem. We’d moved from the era of ‘Drop them off in the bush and return two years later for a volunteer, or a body,’ to the era of ‘so and so’s parent’s just called because they heard about an earthquake in Mexico.’
We’d gone from the era of the aerogram to the era of SMS, and my musical couldn’t sing off a single sheet.
But the idea returned recently, and I tossed out my prior hesitation. I’d shoot for the middle. I’d set it in Africa, before the Internet, and let the tropes do the work.
It’s easy enough to imagine the featured parts: the earnest do-gooder giving back to the community until he’s got nothing left to give; the stalwart volunteer, always at her site succeeding at different projects to improve health care or provide water access or introduce new farming techniques; the romantic couple, perhaps one more satisfied with the romance than the other, perhaps one relying on the other just to survive; and the adventurer, traveling constantly and somehow evading detection by Peace Corps HQ.
Add to these the cast of thousands who make Peace Corps so interesting, so deranged, so special:
- Mr. Kwasa-kwasa, whose got all the local dance moves;
- The ‘Bwana,’ drunk on the expat experience;
- The Jesus;
- The dope fiend or booze hound headed for earl separation;
- The office lackey and the health unit rat.
And, of course, there are the majority, those going about their experience as they should, rolling up their sleeves and working with their counterparts, teaching or building or helping prevent Malaria. They get together irregularly at official Peace Corps functions, at the Ambassador’s Fourth of July reception, a trip backpacking through neighboring countries…
Peace Corps, it turns out, is also full of normal people.
So evolved, the project is on hold again for now. A bigger story caught my fancy. Peace Corps features prominently, as does Africa, but I’ve tossed aside my satirical swagger for a non-fiction look at the political landscape of the 60’s, the role of foreign intelligence collection mid-Cold War, and a plot to overthrow one of Africa’s youngest democracies.
Anyone who’s heard me sing should be grateful I’ve swapped the song-and-dance for intrigue and espionage.
But fair warning, Peace Corps, the Musical made a comeback after five years of neglect. It might come back to haunt us all again:
There’s a light inside of me
Some other place I’d rather be