Heart of Palms: My Peace Corps Years in Tranquilla

Heart of Palms Jkt

Heart of Palms: My Peace Corps Years in Tranquilla is the first memoir in the Peace Corps’ fifty year history to take place in the Republic of Panama.  Heart of Palms offers a glimpse into the life of a subsistence farming community where dugout canoes are the transportation norm, witchcraft is a mainstay and army ants raid homes in the night.

When I first encountered Tranquilla in 1991, I swooned over the picturesque cluster of palm-thatched huts nestled on the shore of Lake Alajuela.  The village glowed green with the first showers of the rainy season.  A fringe of palm, hibiscus, and yuca surrounded the village center, the ever-encroaching scrub tamed by machete-wielding villagers. Walking door-to-door to introduce myself, I breathed in the soapy scent of wild cilantro crushed by my footsteps. For days I subsisted on the stringy sweetness of mangos.

Below the peaceful surface I soon discovered the strife of a people at odds with their government.  Five years prior, Tranquilla’s residents found themselves living within the newly-declared boundaries of Chagres National Park, a three-hundred-thousand acre expanse of tropical forest.  Governmental pressure to abandon the traditional practice of slash-and-burn agriculture intensified the farmers’ ongoing struggle to feed their families.

Heart of Palms is a tale of love, survival, and the complicated relationship between people and nature.

Purchase Heart of Palms: My Peace Corps Years in Tranquilla

By:  Meredith W. Cornett
~258 pages
University of Alabama Press


  • David Modzelewski says:

    I am most anxious to read Heart of Palms. As a former volunteer in Panama myself, I will vicariously remember my time in Panama through the words of a real writer.

    • Meredith Cornett says:

      Thank you, Dave! I am excited to share this story with everyone. And thank you also for sharing *your* wonderful stories about returning to Cana Fistulo last month. It was amazing to be among the first to “lay ears” on what that experience was like for you.

  • Meredith Cornett says:

    Looks like the University of Alabama Press is working up a new cover for Heart! This aerial view of Tranquilla, taken 20 years ago, is lovely but perhaps not book cover material? Unveiling soon, I think!

  • Amy Westbrook says:

    Looking forward to Heart of Palms next spring! Can’t wait to see the surprise cover.

    • Meredith Cornett says:

      You and me both! Spring seems a long, long way away as the snow starts piling up in Duluth. Come to think of it, spring will likely still feel far away to those of us here in Duluth when the book launches! Daffodils in Alabama = last snow storms on Lake Superior? If we are lucky….

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