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Michael Wald
Why Didn't You Call? A Peace Corps Panama Exposé
Michael Wald, author

Adult; Memoir; (Market)

Synopsis: After practicing business law for over 35 years, the author joined the Peace Corps. This is the incredible story of that experience. Reading this book will give you a new perspective on the world and your place in it. If you or anyone you know is considering living, working, or volunteering abroad, the author sheds sunshine on what it’s truly like with a full chapter on culture burnout. For adventure travel lovers, the book unearths hidden gems that will whet your desire to explore further. For policymakers, significant ideas are proposed for improving the efficacy of aid workers and the experience of volunteers. Easily implemented recommendations for constructive change are suggested. Although it reads like fiction, it’s not! You won’t want to skip this real-life journey!
Plot/Idea: 7 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 7 out of 10
Character/Execution: 8 out of 10
Overall: 7.50 out of 10


Plot: Wald offers valuable information in an entertaining way, illuminating the highs and lows of his service in the Peace Corps—and driving home the need for community and advocacy. His storytelling melds cultural differences while subtly teaching lessons for future Peace Corps volunteers. 

Prose: Wald’s writing style brings the environment to vibrant life with rich descriptors and crisp prose.

Originality: Offering a distinctive take on the role of a Peace Corps volunteer, Wald highlights the ideals alongside the realities of his time serving in Panama. The book’s style is ultimately an interesting mix of travelogue and education.

Character/Execution: Wald delivers a sound exploration of Peace Corps efforts against the backdrop of Panama, but he goes a step further with recommendations for sustainability and systemic change. Readers will appreciate the practical guidance and insightful pointers.

Date Submitted: December 09, 2022

“Prepare to open minds /...Especially your own,” Wald writes in an introductory poem to this account of his experiences as a late-in-life Peace Corps volunteer in Panama. That interest in improvement, self- and otherwise, powers this “expose” as Wald lays out both the value of the Peace Corps’ mission and the issues he sees as hindering it. From a long, poorly organized application process to a confusing assignment to a lack of institutional support, Wald tells a story of dysfunction married to a deep idealism. Wald and his wife were stationed in Santiago de Veraguas, a smaller city, and assigned to help with English instruction, but found it difficult to make sustainable change because of institutional barriers and elements of Panamanian culture. He clearly values the experience but wishes that the vision of the Peace Corps was better realized

Wald’s story is a fascinating look into a particular Peace Corps experience: that of a later-in-life volunteer. He still has the admirable flexibility required to succeed in a cross-cultural volunteer exchange (summarized in his motto: “It’s Amazing What You Can Get Used To” or IAWYGUT) and yet brings more real-world expertise to the challenges of volunteer life. Why Didn’t You Call includes lovely photos and maps, which help embed the reader in the story, and Wald closes the book with clear, specific, actionable advice for people considering the Peace Corps, particularly those considering it later in life, as well as for the institution itself to improve its processes and outcomes.

While some of Wald’s complaints about Panamanian culture—such as a disinclination toward American-style punctuality— may strike readers as something the Peace Corps could anticipate and adjust for, they reflect the difficulty of working across different cultural expectations. Wald’s recommendations, and the memoir overall, will be worthwhile, illuminating reading for anyone interested in opening their minds to work, live, or volunteer across cultures.

Takeaway: This Peace Corps memoir will fascinate readers interested in cross-cultural living and working.

Great for fans of: Mike Tidwel’s The Ponds of Kalambyi George Packer’s The Village of Waiting.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: B+
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A