Brooklyn, NY — The Peace Corps is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and Aaron Barlow, assistant professor of English at New York City College of Technology (City Tech), is providing the perfect gift. He has edited One Hand Does Not Catch a Buffalo: 50 Years of Amazing Peace Corps Stories, Volume One-Africa (Travelers’ Tales/Solas House, $18.95), a hand-picked collection of 76 essays by Peace Corps volunteers from 31 countries in Africa.
Although not an official publication of the Peace Corps, the book is the first of its kind to provide an overview of 50 years of Peace Corps service. The book just took the silver award for travel essays in the 2011 Independent Publisher (IP) Book Awards. The “IPPY” Awards, launched in 1996, are designed to bring increased recognition to “the deserving but often unsung titles published by independent authors and publishers,” the organization’s website proclaims.
The title of Barlow’s book, One Hand Does Not Catch a Buffalo, is based on a proverb in Ewe, one of the languages spoken in Ghana, Benin, Nigeria and Togo. The meaning is universal: “Many hands make light work,” “There is strength in unity” or “It takes a village.” In Africa, trying to hunt a water buffalo, which may be even more dangerous than a lion or elephant, takes more than one individual.
Professor Barlow, who has been teaching at City Tech since 2006, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo from 1988 through 1990. The book is a labor of love; as a senior Fulbright lecturer in American studies, he taught in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, before moving to Tambaong in rural northern Togo to help villagers learn to farm with ox-drawn ploughs.
“Wanting to know more about the wider culture, I got to know Peace Corps volunteers, allowing them to stay in my house in the city so that I could stay with them in their villages,” explains Professor Barlow. “I became more interested in what they were doing and learning, especially in relation to rural African cultures.”
The Marine Park, Brooklyn resident contributed his own essay to the book. “Elephant Morning” describes his near-fatal and puzzling encounter with an elephant bent on destroying his radio and camera equipment. Other stories in the collection range from amusing to wrenching, presenting a diverse spectrum of volunteers’ experiences, much like the stories many Americans have heard from friends and family members returning from Peace Corps service.
“Your Parents Visited You in Africa?” was written by a young woman volunteering in Ethiopia, who saw another volunteer killed by a car. Back home in the U.S., she realized she was glad that her parents had not visited her during her stay in Africa. Says Professor Barlow, “This story encapsulates so much of the Peace Corps experience — the emotional distance from families who will never understand the experience, and the sudden death that is always a disquieting potential.” In contrast, Thor Hanson’s “Bury My Shorts at Chamborro Gorge” is a humorous take on the intestinal problems that are part of life as a Peace Corps volunteer.
“Together, these stories present a picture as true to the Peace Corps experience in Africa as I could make it,” says Professor Barlow. “I did it because of what my own experience means to me.”
The three subsequent volumes in the series, which will be published over the next few months, are: Gather the Fruit One by One, Volume Two-The Americas (Ed. Barnie and Pat Alter), A Small Key Opens Big Doors, Volume Three-The Heart of Eurasia (Ed. Jay Chen), and Even the Smallest Crab Has Teeth, Volume Four-Asia and the Pacific (Ed. Jane Albritton).
Professor Barlow is also the author of The Rise of the Blogosphere, The DVD Revolution: Movies, Culture, and Technology, and last year’s Quentin Tarantino: Life at the Extremes. He already is thinking of editing another book – a collection of stories written by Africans about their experiences with Peace Corps volunteers.
New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of The City University of New York (CUNY) is the largest public college of technology in New York State. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, the College enrolls nearly 15,400 students in 62 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs.