101 Arabian Tales by Randolph W. Hobler - Author Interview and Giveaway

Thursday, June 24, 2021
“Randy Hobler has written the best memoir of a Peace Corps experience that I have ever read. His amazingly detailed book instantly grips the reader by putting Libya in its properly rich and unique historical perspective. Everyone should read this book, to enjoy its humor as well as its insights."
—Niels Marquardt 
Former Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Madagascar and the Union of the Comoros Peace Corps Volunteer—Zaire and Rwanda

101 Arabian Tales: How We All Persevered in Peace Corps Libya

101 Arabian Tales: How We All Persevered in Peace Corps Libya is substantially set apart from the over-1,000 published Peace Corps memoirs because they are individual memoirs and this is a unique collective memoir, garnered from in-depth interviews with 101 fellow Libyan Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. A herculean effort. 

The story’s spine is Hobler’s own narrative, anchored to and deftly embroidered with hundreds of other anecdotes. Rather than a narrow individual view, this collective sharing provides many rich hues and shades of experiences—hilarious, heartbreaking, insightful, poignant, as well as educational and inspiring. These volunteers were spread out over 900 miles resulting in an omniscient kaleidoscope of experiences, many of which fall under the category of “you can’t make this up!” 

It’s an amazingly detailed chronicle of anecdotes, historical perspectives, fun, adventure and hardship. Hobler’s breezy whimsical style is accessible and entertaining, capped off with 220 compelling photographs. 

Genre: Memoir
Print length: 479 pages
ISBN: 979-8698162193

101 Arabian Tales by Randolph Hobler is available for purchase as an ebook and in print at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Bookshop.org

About the Author

RANDOLPH HOBLER is, in no particular order, a perspicacious marketer, a fastidious author, a voracious reader, a tenacious researcher, a conscientious thinker, a curious observer, an industrious composer, a gregarious world traveler, a punctilious musician, and a prodigious anthemologist. 

He served in the Peace Corps in Libya from 1968—1969 in the Berber village of Al Gala, in the Nefusa Mountains 85 miles south of Tripoli. Besides his daily diary and a sometimes journal, he interviewed 101 of his fellow Libyan Peace Corps volunteers in depth for this book—creating a unique collective memoir amongst the 1,000 + books on the Peace Corps. 

A graduate of Andover and Princeton University, Hobler has spent 42 years in national and international advertising, marketing and consulting. He is fluent in French and conversational in Spanish and Arabic.

Visit his website at: www.101arabiantales.com

Connect with him on social media:

 -- Interview by Crystal Otto 

WOW: Thank you very much for asking WOW! To help you promote 101 Arabian Tales. This is a great collection of stories and I’ve truly enjoyed each one! Let’s get down to it. First, I have to ask how this entire project came about? Did you start keeping a journal and decide "these stories are worth sharing" or when did the spark become a fire? 

Randy: I’m afraid there is no short answer to this question. Over many decades there were rivulets that turned into streams that turned into rivers and hence to the ocean. I wrote a diary for 31 years and along the way I wrote a journal sporadically. I just had so many ideas in my head; I had to write them all down. I had no plan decades ago to write a book about the Peace Corps. 

First, I had to have a platform of competence to even consider writing a book. I had my first article published in 1977. To pump up my motivation, I read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The title is misleading, but the book talked about objectives. He wrote, “If you tell yourself and put it in writing what your objective is, your subconscious will deliver that objective for you.” In my case, that meant saying, “I will write an article about Beaumarchais enabling the American Revolution that will be of a level of excellence that will satisfy discriminating editors.” So, in fact, this kept propelling me to reach for that excellence all along. 

The second thing Hill said was to set a deadline. That seemed obvious, but it was a great motivator. And finally, he said, “Put a dollar amount on the objective and keep repeating it to yourself. Again, your consciousness and your subconsciousness will focus your energies on it.” He said that you will be striving for the actual value of what you are aiming for. So, I said repeatedly to myself, “I am going to sell this article for $500.” So, after a number of rejections, I got an acceptance letter from American Legion Magazine for exactly $500. 

I went on over the years (while still working full-time and with a family) to sell 15 articles on a variety of topics, write films, essays, a script, a musical, and more. And all along reading literally 100 books on writing, 100 articles on writing. Taking notes. Speaking the notes into a tape recorder and listening to them in the car while commuting. Going to seminars. Attending classes. Applying the learning to the articles. Then came the spark, the convergence of multiple coincidences into the catalyst for the book: 

The crucible of the coincidences began in late 2016. First, a colleague of mine wrote a book about his experiences in Libya. Even though he was a journalism major, I guess they left out the part about paragraphs. He had not a single paragraph in the book! It was all wall-to-wall prose! Also, he had mistakes of various kinds. Errors. Anyway, this was a spark where I said, “Hey, I can write a better book than this and I have better stories.” 

During this exact same time frame, I decided to start reading Herodotus. Why? 48 years before, my grandfather had asked me if there was anything I wanted when he passed away. I told him I would like his 40-volume Great Books collection. These handsome books sat on my bookshelves for 48 years. I passed them every day. Over the years, I felt more and more guilty that not only had I never read any of these books so essential to a well-rounded education, I also felt guilty that I had asked my grandfather for them and had never read them. 

So, in December of 2016, I picked out the first volume and started reading Herodotus. I noticed that Libya was mentioned, and the Libyans, a number of times in the book. Then, I noticed he said that Libya was surrounded on all four sides by water. I thought that impossible. Were there some ancient rivers or lakes around Libya that no longer exist? I looked up the reference on Google Images. There, lo and behold was a map of Libya, but the map revealed that what he meant by Libya was all of Africa. Being of a curious bent of mind, I looked for the origin of the word “Africa” itself. Turns out the “-ica” is a place suffix, like “Attica” or “Bellerica.” And the “Afra”? That comes from “Ifra” or “Yifra,” which is the Libyan town “Yifran,” which is literally two miles from where my village in Libya was! 

Also in December of 2016, my sister, who lives in Santa Barbara, California, read an article in the obscure Santa Barbara Sentinel, about an Air Force brat. I read it. It was by a guy named Jeff Wing. He was a teenager exactly at the same time as I was in Libya and wrote a funny self-deprecating story about himself and baseball. 

Then, also in December of 2016, after 48 years of radio silence and after 48 years of repeated assurances that the Peace Corps would provide me with the name of a school or community group to whom I could give a presentation on my Peace Corps service, they suddenly suggested I respond to a request from Fairleigh Dickinson University. So, I went out there and gave a well-received talk. Two days after this, having decided to start exploring this idea of a book, I invited a colleague from Libya whom I had not seen in 48 years, Angus Todd, to dinner to interview him about his experiences in Libya. 

We chose a restaurant owned by an Algerian who spoke Berber (the native language of my village in Libya), French (what I majored in) and Arabic (what we learned in Peace Corps Training.) At the end of the dinner, I said, “Oh, Angus, where did you go to college?” And he said, “Fairleigh Dickinson.” 

So, this is a very long-winded way of showing a convergence of many factors at once that propelled this book. 

WOW: Sometimes we just can’t leave out any of the process. I’m glad you walked us through all the important pieces of the puzzle that brought us here today! That said, what advice do you have for other writers? 

Randy: I cannot emphasize this enough and it is so hard—given human nature—to do this, but you must be open—intellectually and emotionally—to accept criticism. Criticism from any quarter. Good criticism, bad criticism. You can later sort through what was good and what was bad. But unless you put your ego aside and listen, you will never learn. And if you don’t learn, you won’t get better. 

No one is saying this is easy. It’s helpful to have a mentor. To have an educational institution that drills humility into you. To read motivational books and take them seriously. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve provided constructive criticism to people, and they dismiss it out of hand, they don’t take any of the advice, then their project fails and they don’t even understand that the reason it failed was they didn’t listen. One example of overcoming this resistance is at Princeton University, where they repeatedly drilled into us, for example, the notion that if you don’t know the answer to something, ask. Do not worry about appearing stupid. Ask. Asking questions is, in fact, a sign of intelligence, not stupidity. 

WOW: Amen to that! I love it when people ask questions. It worries me when you give someone an instruction and they have no questions, so I’ll be sharing this tidbit with my kiddos, too (wink wink). 

Not everything goes as planned and even roses have thorns. So I have to ask you, how do you deal with rejection in your writing life? 

Randy: The bigger issue is to consider and absorb and believe in and practice one of Winston Churchill’s great quotes. In Commons once, he was asked what the secret of his success was. He said, “Never, ever ever ever ever quit!” Here is this guy who wrote tons of books yet knew how powerful it would be to just condense it all down to one sentence. 

So, of course, it always stings when there’s rejection. Not just personally, but when people reject your work with no support whatsoever. Or reject it for specious reasons. So, my second coping mechanism is to invoke the alcoholic’s creed that about what you can and cannot control and for those things outside your power, just move on. 

The final way I treat rejection is to remind myself of mathematics. This is thanks to many years doing sales of various kinds. It is just mathematics that you are only going to sell 5% of original leads. Them’s just the facts. So, you armor yourself from the get-go that 95% of the time you’ll be rejected. 

WOW: That’s some solid advice. I always remember that Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected by 27 publishers; so there’s that too! Speaking of other authors (I know Dr. Seuss is a favorite at our house), who is your favorite author and why? 

Randy: There are so many wonderful writers I love, across an eclectic spectrum. But for some reason there is one book, by one author, that I’ve read multiple times. I’ve never read any book except this one more than once, much less multiple times. And I’m not even an adherent to the views of this writer. But the power and eloquence of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand has mesmerized me. 

WOW: I’ll have to check it out. The thought of a mesmerizing book is very appealing during the summer when I’m reading so much – thank you! Speaking of appealing, what appealed to you and/or drew you to the Peace Corps initially and what made you stay? 

Randy: Again, no one thing. Most notably, the inspiration and eloquence of John F. Kennedy (whom I saw in person, two feet away in Palm Beach on January 1, 1961, when he was president elect…so handsome, tanned, elegant! His “Ask not…” inaugural speech and his rallying cry about serving other nations was compelling. 

So, I wanted to serve for two years, immediately after college, knowing that if I waited longer, I would be totally tied up in work and family and would never have a chance do serve again. I love travel. I love foreign languages. Foreign culture, art, customs, food, you name it. I was totally teed up for this. 

Staying was not an issue, actually being immersed in a foreign culture totally reinforced being there.

WOW: You have such a great outlook and excellent insight. Do you have any advice for someone considering joining the Peace Corps today? How can we best support the volunteers and the organization of today? 

Randy: Yeah, first do a What Color is Your Parachute-like analysis of yourself in terms of if your temperament and outlook, etc. fit the bill. Then carefully think through all your options. Keep in mind that 90% of the time for anyone who’s been in the Peace Corps (and I’ve interviewed 101 people about their experiences, and have read 51 books on the Peace Corps, including 44 memoirs) it has changed their lives, both in a career sense and in the perspectives and wisdom gained. 

WOW: We all look at things differently (which is why the Peace Corps appeals to some and not to others I guess), but what would you like readers to gain as a "take away" after reading 101 Arabian Tales?

Randy: Since the tale is a unique immersive dive into a culture melded through the eyes of 102 Peace Corps volunteers located all over this huge country, mixed with key historical insights, the reader walks away with a deep, lasting, vicarious appreciation of a place they had hitherto known little. 

WOW: I know each reader will have their own favorite tale! Do you have a favorite story in the book? What makes this particular tale stand out for you? 

Randy: Yes. And it’s a story that doesn’t take place all at once, like in two minutes. It takes place over multiple months, and as a writer, it’s always hard in terms of structure to be patient enough and disciplined enough to fit each subset of the story in the right place at the right time, and finally complete it at the end. The criterion that makes it stand out for me, is it’s the only one of hundreds of stories where I cry about its poignancy. 

That afternoon, between classes at Um El Jersan, a grizzled old man named Ahmed approached me. He said he had fought with honor in World War II in 1943 for the Field Marshal Montgomery’s 8th Army in Libya against the Germans. (Since then I’ve learned that the British recruited five battalions of Libyan men, called “The Libyan Arab Force,” to help battle the Germans. They were instrumental in defeating the Axis powers in Libya.) Delving into his wallet, he pulled out an old, browned, folded piece of paper, worn through at the creases. As he delicately opened it up, he told me the British Army had promised him he’d be awarded three medals for his heroism in battle, and here we were 25 years later with no medals. The document, in English, was on official British Army stationery and included Ahmed’s full name and confirmed the award of the medals.

“Can you help me?” he asked.

The challenge was immediately obvious. Over two decades had passed. What were the chances they still had this obscure Libyan’s records? With no access to phones or telegraph, the only option was mail. I had no idea where to even send a letter of inquiry. And mail in this third world country was slow and unreliable. I couldn’t, therefore, send along his official letter for fear of losing it. And Xerox machines were in relatively short supply in this village.

“I’ll see what I can do,” I said.

My first step was to write a letter address only to “British Army, London, England.” This was all I could figure out. Two months later, I got a letter back directing me to another office. At least this time, it was more specific. A month after that, I was directed to a third office. Then, about another month later, to a fourth office in Scotland.

Then (again from the book):

January 25, 1969 dawned cold and sunny. I went to the post office where a small box awaited me, postmarked from Scotland. Could it be? Upon opening it, I was at first astonished, then deeply gratified to see, nesting in the box, Ahmed’s three long-deserved World War II medals. I rushed over to Um El Jersan, tracked Ahmed down and offered him the box. He was overwhelmed, tears moisting his eyes, thanking me profusely. He wanted to put the medals on his holie and asked me to help. I managed to pin all three on, in the upper left chest section where I figured medals should go.

He marched about the village, chest puffed with pride, explaining to his friends that the stories he’d told them for decades about the medals were now fulfilled. The word swept through the village like wildfire and soon everyone was clapping and cheering as he continued his tour, especially the ragamuffins circling him like small planets. I felt touched by history. The whole village felt touched by history.

What makes the tale stand out? There’s the magic, the miracle of actually getting these medals 25 years later. There’s the reaction of the old man. There’s the joyous reaction of the entire village. There this sense of connecting the gigantic episode of WWII down to this tiny village. There was this humble feeling of being a witness to history. And the deep feeling of gratitude that I could help someone who had been hoping against hope that he would be redeemed, year after year. 

WOW: Thank you so much for sharing your time and talent with our WOW! Readers and the world with 101 Arabian Tales. This has been such an eye-opening experience! You are a joy to interview and a talented storyteller. Thank you, Randy! 

 ***** 101 Arabian Tales Giveaway ***** 

 Enter for your chance to a copy of 101 Arabian Tales. Enter using Rafflecopter below. Giveaway ends on July 4th. We will announce the winner the next day on the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

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Sioux Roslawski said...

Randolph--What a wonderful story of persevering, along with the story of getting Ahmed's medals for him. Congratulations. I know why Churchill said to never ever ever ever quit, because if we quit, we might be just one agent or publisher away from getting a "yes." I queried over 140 publishers and agents--a lot of no answers at all--before I got a yes.

I hope I win. I have a teacher friend who did the Peace Corps and was stationed in Cote d'Ivoire. She tells incredible tales about her experience. I'd love to read your memoir, and then pass it on.

Good luck with your future writing...

Margo Dill said...

This is really interesting. Peace Corps is always something I thought I would do and didn’t! Thank you for the interview!

Angela Mackintosh said...

What an inspiring interview, and such motivating story of persistence! Thank you, Randolph, for sharing your journey. Your memoir excerpts are captivating and what a wonderful gift for Ahmed. :) Yes, never ever ever quit!

Crystal Otto said...

This was such an enjoyable book to read! Thank you Randy for the interview as well! Your insight is priceless!!

kywave said...

This is going on my reading list. You don't hear much about the peace corps these days. I was born in 69 when it was bigger when this book takes place. Cannot wait to read it

TRIPPER2365 said...

This looks like a very good book .

Patsy said...

This book looks amazing!Great interview:)

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