An uplifting two year odyssey of a young man to Brazil and back home again.
I was present at the creation when the bright flame of conviction took hold in the imagination of the country and the Peace Corps became a promise fulfilled.—Bill Moyers
Into the Backlands, a Peace Corps Memoir, by Kenneth E. Dugan Fliés, reminded me of reading Eric Sevareid’s classic coming-of-age book, Canoeing with the Creed. While Sevareid paddled a canoe 2,250 miles from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay in 1930, Fliés followed President Kennedy’s challenge and joined the Peace Corps in 1962. His anecdote-ladened account of a dairy farm kid’s journey to Brazil resonates as a wide-eyed adventure during climatic times.
From training in the Deep South as racial tensions began to explode, to venturing to South America just as the Cuban Missile Crisis ratcheted up, there’s a Forrest Gump-esque feeling of witnessing history first hand. I can’t help shrugging when I think of today’s youth, glued to their screens, Twitter and text messages. Writers like Sevareid and Fliés rekindle the spirit of adventure I hope still percolates in our youth.
“Lived to its fullest, the hero’s journey results in the ascent or flight of an individual from unconsciousness to illumination and to a newfound freedom of understanding,” Fliés writes. “The flying white dove on the Peace Corps emblem fittingly symbolizes this ascent. In this way, my work and adventures in Brazil as a Volunteer expanded both my world-consciousness and self-consciousness, leading to a deeper understanding of life. Brazil became my portal of transformation. I crossed a great divide and came back with a new perspective on life.” Ken’s account will widen and broaden the reader’s perspective as well.—Curt Brown
Bill says: Great well written book. The story line flowed very nicely and the book is well written. Background information was provided throughout to bring a sense of the moment and give it context. I truly enjoyed the adventures that the Author endured. I Highly recommend this book.
Bob Flaco: “Peace Corps brings an idealist down to earth!” Sargent Shriver. Want to know what Peace Corps was like then and now? Into The Backlands, a Peace Corps Memoir takes you by the hand into the early years of JFK’s Peace Corps and the spirit and challenges of the times…1962-1964. Ken Flies was 19 years old when he reported to Training at the University of Oklahoma as part of Brazil II, one of the first. I doubt if Ken knew what he was getting himself into, and Brazil…where’s that?
Ken’s Memoir shares the beauty and innocence of Kennedy’s “kiddie corps” as the press portrayed the first Volunteers. The isolated community of Correntina would be his home, and his adopted Brazilian family…something he never considered prior to his arrival to Brazil, and speaking Portuguese! Ken paints his new home with words and emotions that are new to this 19 year old. And Ken will never be the same, and Brazil will always be his second home! He found himself, faced the challenges of being a Volunteer, and added new friends and adventures beyond his expectations…and the two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer would be the foundation of who Kenneth Flies is.The beauty and charm of the early years of Peace Corps, with Giants such as Shriver, Jack Vaughn, Warren Wiggins and Frank Mankiewicz laid the ground work for what we have now, some 50 plus years later. The fears, frustrations, happy moments, love of our neighbors, and meeting people that will be our “families” is what Peace Corps is all about. Ken and Dave, a fellow Volunteer…made a path that we followed…and still do. Meeting new Volunteers in 2018, is like talking to the newbies of 1962…the current Volunteers seem a bit smarter than us…but they have that flame of pride and warmth of friendship they want to share. That flame is still within us, I can feel the warmth and strength. Be proud of what you and Brazil II brought with you Ken. Padre Andre saw that in you, and so did Millie.
As you read Ken’s awesome Memoir, remember what Mankiewicz believed in…”Volunteer’s first job is to get to know the people and the setting of their lives; the Volunteer starts building a community.” It isn’t the monuments you leave behind, but the communities that are now a part of you. I recommend Into the Backlands to RPCV’s, Trainees, PCV’s, and Peace Corps staff. Jody Olsen, I am sending you a copy! Ken gave us a message…The Peace Corps community is as strong now as it was in 1961! Don’t let anyone tell you differently. I encourage you to read and learn from this Memoir, share your thoughts!
As Ken would say, bate papo, chew the fat. Thank you Ken for sharing your life in Brazil and the person you became. I read your Memoir twice, had to relive my memories. My family is very Peace Corps, my brother Ron went to Peru 1963-1965 and I went to Colombia 1964-1966…I believe we were one of the first brothers to serve at the same time. Changed my life