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The Ponds of Kalambayi: A Peace Corps Memoir

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  214 ratings  ·  39 reviews
The hilarious and heart-wrenching memoir from a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaire—with a new introduction
Paperback, 304 pages
Published October 18th 2011 by Lyons Press (first published 1990)
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Anna
this was the one of MANY peace corps memoirs i suffered through (reading material choices were limited to our paltry communal bookshelves in the volunteer lounge of the swaziland peace corps office).
anyway, i used to write a monthly literature review box or our volunteer newsletter, and one month i ranted about this genre. below are my thoughts:

Dissecting the Peace Corps Memoir
One of my least favorite genres of nonfiction is hands-down the “peace corps memoir.” I attribute it to both the fa
...more
AJ
This is the fourth book of my Kenya trip.

I really loved this one. I wasn't sure what to expect. I enjoy Peace Corps memoirs, but many of them are not great. Jun loves Peace Corps memoirs, so I usually end up reading them after her. She happens to own this one.

This happens to be the best Peace Corps memoir I have read yet. I loved the insights, the stories, the characters, and everything about it. I found myself wishing the author would write an update, because I really want to know what has hap
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Mitch
This is my second-favorite book on the Peace Corps. Disclaimer: I actively avoid PC books that seem too good to be true. I want books that show the author making mistakes and losing sometimes, along with the victories no matter how small.

Mike does a good job revealing his less-than perfect self and experience. The only place that jarred a bit was in his assessment of his trainer. She seemed unnecessarily sadistic and he didn't state this.

Hmm. Now that I think of it, this review is less than perf
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Mark Maxam
A wonderfully written, and brutally honest account of a Peace Corps experience. In many ways similar to my own experience, and I appreciate how MT deals with the frustrations we all felt in rural Africa.
Dee
Around the World in 80 Books - Country #3 Democratic Republic of the Congo (then called Zaire)

With my goal this year of reading another 80 books set in 80 different countries (contining from last year) - I am at the stage where I am getting into the harder countries to find and read. So finding various peace corps memoirs set in these countries is an easy and interesting way to hit some of them. Tidwell's Ponds of Kalambayi is no exception. Recalling his experinences as a peace corps volunteer i
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Jesse
I love travelling, but I generally dislike travelogues.

But, this was a great travel/living abroad book. I read this while in the application process for Peace Corps. And it was the second Peace Corps travelogue I read. The problem I generally find with travel books is that the author sensationalizes how weird/wrong other cultures are and just generally plays up the whole stranger in a strange land thing that I find to be generally tiring. However, I really didn't find that to be an overbearing f
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Chana
I've read Mike Tidwell before and like what I read. This book, probably his first, is no exception. Although written in a simple way the story he tells of his time in the Peace Corp posted in Kalambayi, Zaire is extremely moving. He is easy to relate to as he tells of his hopes, struggles, friendships, successes, failures and sorrows. I have seen this in Peace Corp stories before, the terrible struggle it is to be in a land of extreme poverty and corruption and suffering, to connect deeply with ...more
Anna
The Ponds of Kalambayi was the required reading book for the class of 2011 when I entered American University. It's a fairly straightforward account of one man's Peace Corps service in what used to be Zaire. The book can get a little pedantic, but I appreciate his honesty. Rather than glossing over the challenges of his 2-year experience, Tidwell confesses his struggles with depression and alcoholism during his tenture. Fun fact: Tidwell has since founded the Chesapeake Climate Action Network an ...more
Genevieve
It's been many years since I read this, but I was thinking about it today. Culture has a way of locking us into one way of thinking. Getting out of our own culture and into another's allows us to realize there are other perspectives. Always, when I venture out in that way, I find my emotions deepen, my understanding increases, and I feel I possess a greater richness of the world, though I may not have the words to describe the change inside me. I think I need to reread this. :)
Kirsten Allen
Jul 10, 2007 Kirsten Allen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jessica
The story of Michel Tidwell's time with the Peace Corps in Zaire as a fish culture extension agent. Tidwell recounts the ups and downs of living in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and working with people. A good read to better understand what is required of Peace Corps volunteers. The most interesting part are Tidwell's reflections upon life and beliefs in Zaire and the reason he decided to come home instead of extending for another year.
Dan Rivas
Aug 10, 2007 Dan Rivas added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: AU Freshmen (because if they haven't read it yet they're in big trouble)
The notion that going to Africa and digging fish ponds will greatly improve life for the average person seems naive to me in 2007, but in the mid-eighties, when Mike Tidwell went to Kalambayi in what was then called Zaire, Boomer optimism had not yet given way to X-er cynicism. Tidwell's account of the ponds he dug and the people he taught to raise fish marks that transition between generations.
Sylvia Tedesco
This book was recommended by friends we have known from Peace Corps experience in Ghana since 1962. It is far and away the best of the lot, even beating Peter Hessler's River Town as good writing and evocative of the country. It is full of humor and despair. The writer was in Zaire as a fish development worker in 1963. I'll add more to this later.
Amari
It's been a terribly long time, but I remember that I was extremely affected by this tale of a Peace Corps volunteer who helps villagers dig ponds and raise tilapia. As I recall, it contains a stirring description of the author's incipient alcoholism as well as what seemed to be a devastatingly honest recollection of his struggles in general.
Mario
Absolutely beautiful. "Clearly this resistance was bound to fail me. I had no desire to 'go native,' to become like a typical villager in every way. But to have any meaningful experience here, to leave with true friends and true insights, I had to let go of some strong habits. I had to rip something out in order to add something new."
Antoinette Maria
One of the few Peace Corps books worth reading. He can actually translate his experience into something that other people find interesting. I wanted more of his non-work experiences, but at the same time I think for a non-Peace Corps volunteer, those parts wouldn't be that interesting or add that much to the story.
Jennifer
Great memoir about a Peace Corps experience in the Dem. Republic of the Congo...before it became too dangerous for PC volunteers to go there. This guy was sent to instruct the Congolese on the art of tilapia farming. The number of waterborn internal parasites he contracted will blow your mind.
Tuck
good book about rural zaire circa 1985. peace corps volunteer doing fish farming. fairly good scope looking at US relations, diamond mining, 3rd world health, farming, daily life, drinking (to excess), local politics. on of best peace corps books. Kalambayi is area and tribe there.
Julie
Well-written account of a Peace Corps volunteer's experience in Africa. PC was definitely more difficult in Africa than in Central Asia! I learned alot about Zaire and was shocked by the common diamond trade practices that were described.
Jillian
I liked this travel memoir because it wasn't overwrought like so many others I have been trying to read lately. He gave a clean, crisp narrative with what I felt was the right amount of reflection.
Steph Davis
Still reading... a great comparison of African/Western culture, little details of cultural complexity that make this memoir fascinating. And Tilapia, too! What more could you want? (well... chips, of course).
Erin
This is one of the books the first-year students at my college will read next year. Excellent choice (I wish I thought that about all the books that were chosen.... but 2/3 ain't bad?).
Ami
One of the most insighful books about a Peace Corps Volunteer's experience in Africa. I especially liked that it was agenda-less and written in a humble manner, unlike the other ones.
Maria Andersen
Honest memoir and enjoyed the frustrations the author shared re: working in developing countries. HOWEVER, wish he had taken it one step further and explained why the Peace Corps is bogus.
Laura Lartigue
A good Peace Corps volunteer story, pretty balanced and realistic perspective ofthe author's two years in a remote corner of what was then Zaire.
Hillary
I would recommend this book to people interested in joining the Peace Corps, Africa, or non profit work. Overall a really good book!
Erica
I really liked this book. It made me realize how different things are in Africa and made me grateful for all that I have.
Louise
I loved this book. Beautifully written memoir of a Peace Corp volunteer in Zaire in the late 80's.
Colleen Gardner
I wish I had had access to books like this before I went into the Peace Corps. Very well written
Katie Westrich
An eye opening experience about a life very different than ours. Excellent!
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Mike Tidwell is founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a grassroots nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in Maryland, Virginia, and DC. He is also an author and filmmaker who predicted in vivid detail the Katrina hurricane disaster in his 2003 book Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’ ...more
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