Book Reviews: Letters from the Peace Corps & Making a Difference: The Peace Corps at Twenty-Five

 So in our office library I found this gem of a book. Letters from the “Peace Corps: Collection of letters from various areas of the world written by members of the first band of Peace Corps volunteers” by Iris Luce in 1965. Written a year and a half after Peace Corps was started.




Peace Corps has been in Senegal for 50 years being one of the few first countries opened.  Sadly one of the things I’ve misplaced is the notes I took on the book. I found the book have strangely the same feel as we do now with Peace Corps. Unknown what successes or failures might await us along with homesickness, pride for our work and what our counterparts and work partners must/have thought of us when seeing and interacting with Americans for the first time. 



Soon after I started reading “Making a Difference: The Peace Corps at Twenty-Five” by Milton Viorst. In which the introduction the statement was made ” There [volunteers] enemies are hunger, ignorance and disease and serves humanitarian interests and Americans.” p.21

This statement I completely agree with. We deal with it in ourselves and in the countries, villages and people we worth with here. And many others struck a cord as well.

“You never have real privacy…Your every action will be watched, weighed and considered representative of the entire Peace Corps.” p.36

“I think I may have solved, or at least partially solved the problem of students making disruptive noise while I teach. The other teachers told me how to do it. “Tappaille le badmas haru lie pitnu parcha”, they said, which roughly translates as “You have to hit the bastards.”…Adaption isn’t a matter of choice out here. You simply have to do it, and this includes the adaptation (adulteration?) of your most strongly held principles.” p. 65-66

Of course these are only briefs of larger stories, lifetimes of 2 years wrapped up in a 200 page book that you expect being about a government organization to be a biased and feel like a marketing tactic rather than what is is. A very fair and balanced view of what the Peace Corps is. Crazy, developmental, governmental public relations organization with a built-in high turn over rate.

Many of the stories, antidotes and ideas still ring true 50 plus years later, which is crazy. How has this experience, with so much changing world wide, remained similar over the last half century?  Mind blowing and of course I’m proud to be part of it.

Creature Comforts and Cravings

Strangely this topic has been on my mind lately as ’tis the season for visitors from the land of plenty willing to bring us volunteers things we might like, want, or need to get through the worst/hottest/can’t-take-being-called-a-toubob-one-more-time kinda day/week/month/year. Traveling anywhere, or for that sake not traveling anywhere, causes you to find comforts that you would not normally have or maybe allow yourself in your sanest version of yourself.

Here in Senegal is definitely true. I have been holding out and trying to find things here that I can find (sustainable) rather than having things sent from the states (also very expensive). Although, I have eaten more sugar, chocolate and downed cold cokes than I can think of in a very long while because you take advantage of them when you have them at  your access and they are available to you.

This is not my list of things to send me but just examples of the strangeness of creature comforts here:

  • My chair and ottoman I had made:This sounds very strange when I say it. But chairs here are either a plastic outdoor chair (usually broken to the point they double them up to make able to use) or a wooden bunt (bunt is the actual name for these little stools and the word for wood in wolof). The bunts are seriously so small sometimes, I think made for children only, but anyone will sit on them and are to keep you from simple sitting in the sand/dirt/ground. Which in that case, they serve there purpose. This being said, they are not something you want to sit on while you chat for an afternoon with a small group of people. Your butt starts to hurt.

Sadly I don’t know what either of these birds are called, but they are beautiful
  • Quiet and listening to the birds: I’m lucky enough to live in a village without electricity (as I say while I’m writing a blog post in the office of the closest largest town, which happens to be a small resort town-the irony is not lost on me) meaning I can hear things like birds and see amazing amounts of stars at night. Beyond screaming children, goats being goats and donkeys being donkeys, simply being able to yourself think and not feel pushed by society to do nothing more than relax and keep cool. Because when it’s hot, your brain does simply stop working. Relax, enjoy it and find some birds to watch. Senegal is said to have some of the most beautiful birds in the world.

(from left to right) 5 frame capture hive, view in to the frames and the hive I transferred the capture hive into
  • Bees (of course): I recently read Farm City by Novella Carpenter and was thankful when she mentioned bees  and I wasn’t reading it for the sake of getting my dose of bee information and knowledge. I do truly love bees (just ask one of my former roommate about me crying from smelling some honeycomb she brought me a year I had not had the chance to work with them-it’s pretty visceral) and having them near by and able to work with them is a pleasure.

Plate of food from Christmas feast day

  • Food: Of course triggering comfort and emotion the first thing would be food. There is plenty of food here now, even though there is a hunger season that I have yet to experience. But I do find myself going for a cold coke more often that I would in the states. Volunteers near me and I try to have ‘feast days’ where we get together for the sole sake of planning a big meal and cooking a lot of food-usually American. Not to say we don’t appreciate chocolate, Oreos, nutella, or just beautiful ripe fruit (you get the idea)

 

Some of my favorite trees in Mboro, Keur Mama Lamine and Keur Malick Fady, respectively.

  • Books, magazines, english in general: Thankfully there are many, many books here. I also have a kindle and use my library from the states for free books. There are days when I’m frustrated that I allow myself to hole up in my hut and just read until I’m in a better mood. Sometimes this is longer than I would like it to be. So I have started making myself instead take a book and sit under one of the may shade trees in my village. On the best days, I can sit and read half a book in peace and calm with an occasional passer by greeting me (usually in mid afternoon, while people are still resting after lunch). Other days, I have 30 very curious children surrounding me, asking me questions, and staring at the toubob they have in there town. Which strangely, usually puts me in a better mood as it makes me remember I’m just like them and sure I can be an annoying SOB to these people as well. 

(from left to right) View from a dock in Toubacouta, glance through african silkwood trees to the mangrove delta, and the tide coming in on the mangroves.
  • The views here and exploring: When in doubt there are plenty of beautiful placed here with not many people around that are easy to find. Or if your lucky you are taken to as my case has been. I’m lucky enough to live about 10 mi/12km from the mangroves but also have a few people here that love taking me around to see new places as well as volunteers to visit and see there sites around the country. I’m lucky to live where I do in this country but also get to travel (fairly often)
  • Podcasts and music: I do have a tiny radio, but it works best as a speaker for podcasts and music for when I’m working in the garden, cleaning or doing laundry. Not having a newspaper to read or knowing what’s going on the world (oh do I wish I could get the bbc on the tiny radio) is at times very, very strange to me. So I make sure to load up when I go into the office and feel like I know whats going on, even if it’s a month old.
Rambo and me & my closest sitemate’s dog, Blaze.
  • Dogs:I am lucky enough to have a family in my town that has a wonderful well behaved dog. (Animals are not treated well in this country and so many of them are scared of people) This same family after hearing me think out loud about wanting a dog of my own, happened to get a puppy. (I had taught there older dog to sit in about 20 minutes 1 day and explained that in America we train our dogs to help us work). Both dogs are one of my favorite things about me site, they are always happy to see me, I visit/see them daily and train them (and explain to the kids how to treat them and other animals every chance I get) My closest sitemate asked me if I was a dog lady while the 2 dogs came over and laid by me in a compound of 20 people. They simply knew who loved them the most. (Strangely after thinking about this for a while, I remember my mom telling me when I was little she had lost me on our farm, she found me sleeping with the dogs in the doghouse or under the porch a few times so this shouldn’t surprise me being a reoccurring theme in my life)

“A good life is when you assume nothing, do more, need less, dream big, laugh a lot and realize how blessed you are” -unknown

I am very lucky at my site because I live in a very lush beautiful place with good people around me. I am very blessed.