It is difficult to imagine that with successful careers as stockbrokers and secure living environs in San Diego, two people would decide to drop everything and leave their comfort zone to rejoin the Peace Corps (PC). But this is exactly what Eloise and Chuck Hanner did. Eloise shares in this wonderfully engaging memoir about the adventures she and her husband, Chuck, experienced during their time in Paraguay—a country that's "too costly, too far away, and way below the tourist radar."
Eloise and Chuck were in their twenties at the time of their first experience with the PC, which had left them with warm and fuzzy memories of Afghanistan. Now, it was 1998 and they were in their late forties and early fifties, respectively. Nonetheless, with a mix of trepidation and excitement, they filled out their applications to rejoin, expecting to hear back from the PC several months down the line. Instead, they got a call three weeks later from a PC recruiter. She assured them that they "could be quite useful in the small business programs, helping develop cooperatives for local farmers and small businesses." She told them:
"Cooperatives are basically group ownership enterprises. Sometimes they act as savings and loans or sometimes they are simply markets for members. Your understanding of businesses, budgets, your organizational skills, all of these would be very useful."
By June of 1999, Eloise and Chuck were on their merry way to Paraguay. Little did they know that there would be a dichotomy between the program description and what actually took place. The training was a bit disheartening since they didn't see how many of the assignments connected with business cooperatives. Then, during one of the training sessions, Eloise and Chuck learned that the PC's goal and purpose in Paraguay was to help the poorest of poor. Eloise writes:
"The more I heard the more I felt like a college student who had wandered into the wrong classroom. I kept listening for mention of large cities and cooperatives and finally did hear the words 'the small business programs'...My spirits were steadily sinking as the director went on to explain that growing a good garden was a high priority and one of our first tasks was to learn how to make a good compost..."
After training, Eloise and Chuck were assigned to Artigas and settling into a small rental home. Their next assignment was to figure out what projects they should be involved in. Their projects amounted to everything that wasn't directly connected with business cooperatives. While Chuck gave guitar lessons to a handful of youths in the area and made attempts to help out at the local radio station, Eloise jumped from helping kindergarteners learn English to trying to get youth involved in drama. Yet among the odd jobs both participated in, Eloise was alerted to the crochet work the local women created, which could be sold in the U.S. She learned of this just before they returned to the U.S. in 2000. Fortunately with the help of a grant, Eloise was able to offer aid to the ladies of Artigas by selling their handiwork for nearly a decade.
Eloise's writing style is straightforward and relaxed. She is a magnificent storyteller as she relays their trials and tribulations that are often interspersed with incredibly comedic moments, and wonderful encounters with many of the locals and their immense hospitality.
Charming yet disheartening, uproariously funny yet poignant, Posted in Paraguay is a remarkably unforgettable story, one that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend.
Eloise Hanner was raised in the small town of Coeur d' Alene, Idaho and graduated from the University of Idaho. Prior to a career as a stock-broker in San Diego, she worked both in Afghanistan and Kuwait. Eloise and her husband Chuck, left their stock-brokerage careers in their late forties and rode their bicycles across the United States. That became Eloise's first book, The First Big Ride: A Woman's Journey. Her second book, Letters from Afghanistan, was a look backwards in time, to their life as Peace Corps volunteers in Afghanistan in 1971, before the Taliban and the Russians. Her most recent book, Posted in Paraguay, is the humorous account of their middle-aged return to the Peace Corps. She and her husband Chuck now live in Sarasota, Florida where Eloise enjoys writing, cycling, tennis and travel. Visit her website.
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