Eve Brown always planned to join the Peace Corps someday, but it wasn’t until 1988, when she was in her mid-twenties, that she decided it was time for a little less conversation and a little more action. Time was ticking, and though she wasn’t certain that she was ready, she thought it was about time to find out, to stop talking about someday.
I knew that eventually I’d have to poop or get out of the latrine. The I’ll-be-joining-the-Peace-Corps-someday line was just going to seem pathetic if I was still muttering it while pregnant with my third child and toting the other two around in my Chevy Suburban.
First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and a Third World Adventure Changed My Life is her memoir of what happened when someday became every day. And it all begins when she goes for her Peace Corps interview and becomes immediately smitten with her recruiter, John Waite. (Don’t act surprised—-you knew from the title that this was going to happen!) The budding relationship is complicated for more than a few reasons. Eve is falling for John and doesn’t want to leave him, but she believes that part of the reason he is falling for her is her willingness to serve others and dedicate two years to the Peace Corps, and, having recently broken up with a long-term boyfriend, she has already told the Corps that she will not be distracted by romantic entanglements at home while she is away. Plus, there’s the whole it’s-not-really-appropriate-to-date-your-recruiter thing. Minor details.
Complications aside, Eve completes the application process and heads off to Ecuador for Peace Corps training. She’s still not certain that she wants to be there or that she is capable of doing what she has set out to do, and she misses John terribly, but she forges ahead and establishes a life for herself in a foreign place. And boy, is it ever an eye-opening experience.
It struck me then, for the first time, that life in America was the aberration. The life that played out below me—barefoot and soily, among animals, in a forced intimacy with the earth—this was how most of the people on this planet lived.
First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria recalls Eve’s stint in the Peace Corps and, later, her marriage to John and a move to Uganda to work with CARE. She tells her story with humor, grace, and insight, giving us an honest look at what it is really like to pick up, move halfway around the world, and live and work in a developing country. Eve (I’ll call her that because it feels like we’re on a first-name basis now) writes about the challenges of adapting to a life she could never have imagined and of finding her place and maintaining her identity. She doesn’t glamorize her experiences or come off as holier than thou, and she keeps the complaining—all of which is, in my opinion, totally justified—to a minimum.
In the process, she sheds light on important social causes and dangerous situations and introduces us to a few of the people who are working to make the world a better place. First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria is a memoir about love, perseverance, sacrifice, hard work, and the fact that a few dedicated people really can make a difference. Eve’s devotion to service is quietly inspiring, and her willingness to put her money where her mouth is adds credibility to this warts-and-all tale.
From the very first page, I felt like I was hanging out with a girlfriend—albeit, one who is a much better person than I am—chatting over coffee. And that’s what I really loved about this book: Eve’s experiences are hardly ordinary, but she tells her story with such humility and honesty that you immediately feel like you know her and like you too could embark on this kind of adventure. First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria is at turns laugh-out-loud funny, touching, and inspiring, and it is a story that needed to be told and deserves to be widely read. I couldn’t put it down, and I know you won’t want to, either.
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