One of the few Peace Corps pamphlets I ever read came to my home in Arizona about three weeks before my departure to Uzbekistan. I don’t think I read all the way through, but it told me that I should only bring what I could carry, so I arrived in Philadelphia for a three-day staging event before I would leave the country for two years with relatively few belongings. “What You Should Know About Uzbekistan” said that Uzbekistan got very cold in the winter, it being one of two doubly landlocked countries, the other being Liechtenstein, causing the seasons to be very extreme, with winters often below freezing and summers exceeding 100 degrees. But the hot Arizona summer of 2003 made me regard the prospect of cold weather as a down-right lie: I… More…

 

Aly Ongoiba tapped a pen on his desk, studying me. I wasn’t too worried, though he’d just accused me of spying in the national archives of Mali — a half desert West African country shaped like an hourglass broken at the ends. I did not fear deportation or worse, not in Mali, one of Africa’s new democracies. But I wasn’t sure if I was free to go or if I’d have to negotiate.

Earlier that afternoon, I walked into the new archives building: a gleaming white three-story monument the size of a city block, finished thanks to the “benevolent generosity” of Moammar Gaddafi, Africa’s self-ordained “Guide.” I carried a government research authorization marked by my photo and signature, a paragraph in French describing my project, and an orange stamp fixed to the top right hand corner to prove… More…