An epistolary account of a retired couple’s Peace Corps experiences in Mexico.
Sally Jo Nelson Botzler and Richard George Botzler, former professors at Humboldt State University in California, spent two years in the Peace Corps, helping the residents of the town of Jalpan de Serra in the Mexican state of Querétaro, beginning in 2009. The bulk of this book is made up of emails that they sent to friends and family during their service, a format that lends immediacy to their tales. However, there’s also a fair amount of repetition, as they seem to preserve the letters in their entirety instead of editing them down. For instance, some variation of “We’d love to hear news from all of you” appears at the end of many missives. The letters maintain an informal yet educational tone, and it’s gratifying to see the Botzlers incorporate Spanish phrases more comfortably as the months pass. The book includes amusing tidbits, such as an account of Rick’s talent for dispatching large cockroaches with a metal spatula or their observation that sometimes two days were required for laundry to dry due to local humidity. They were present not only for the bicentennial celebration of Mexico’s independence from Spain, but also the centenary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. They also witnessed more common cultural experiences, such as the Day of the Dead and quinceañera traditions. An appendix includes two application essays (written by Sally), which will provide practical assistance for readers interested in applying. The book also provides a postscript section in which the Botzlers are more forthcoming about the challenges they faced. The most significant setback concerned wildlife biologist Rick’s unexpected shift in responsibilities: “Rick’s efforts to encourage the incorporation of the scientific method and field research projects were met with strong resistance. This, along with Rick’s limited Spanish skills, ultimately resulted in his being ‘reassigned’ to projects different from those he’d originally expected.” Despite such disappointments, they achieved success with their diverse projects, and it’s easy to admire them for taking on this work with dedication and enthusiasm.
A memoir that will particularly interest baby boomers considering the Peace Corps for extended volunteer service.