I graduated from State University of New York at Binghamton, N.Y., in June 1971, armed only with a B.A. degree in English and an earnest idealism that formed the zeitgeist of younger generations in those days. Continuing my education by enrolling in graduate school was the obvious next choice (I had been offered a spot by my African literature professor!) but not the real choice — it would be the safe middle-class “establishment” choice, not one with relevance beyond my privileged little life, so I did what my character Laurel did — I bolted.
I joined the U.S. Peace Corps that summer and traveled to Uganda, East Africa, where I taught English Language and Literature at an all-boys secondary school. Mutolere Secondary School was (and still is) near the town of Kisoro in the breathtakingly beautiful, volcanic Kigezi district. In this near-idyllic setting, I tried to teach the English language and the stories it conveys to my eager students, who taught me more than I could ever teach them about the aspirations that gather like a vital force from even the most humble of beginnings.
In fall of 1972, I and all Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated from Uganda after the shooting death of a volunteer trainee and the general breakdown of law and order under the violent regime of Ugandan President Idi Amin Dada. The kindness and generosity of the people of Uganda, however, will live in my memory forever.
Decades later, Elephant Mountain (and the imagined events that shape Laurel’s experience) was born of that memory. Laurel inhabits the fictional “what if” based on the real foundation of time and place. So come along with her to this beautiful African country, back to a time when there were no personal computers, cell phones or internet — I hope you enjoy the journey!
Thanks for reading,
Linda Johnston Muhlhausen