|By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-239-147.balt.east.verizon.net - 18.104.22.168) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 7:33 pm: Edit Post|
Letters Home from Peace Corps - from somewhere in French-speaking West Africa (Part 2)
Letters Home from Peace Corps - from somewhere in French-speaking West Africa (Part 2)
John, Feb 27 97
Hey, Just got your Jan 31 letter. I went to Rupmul last weekend for a Gender Youth and Community (GYC - pronounced "geek") development meeting expecting to find a package from you but came up empty - I'm keeping my fingers crossed though. I did get a few dire warnings from Student Loan Inc though. The fact that they have the Africa address means they received the deferment form - bastards! Here I am saving the World, doing humanity some good and these damn sharks are threatening to repossess my Leatherman® tool. I sent them a nasty note with a 1,000 WFA note taped to it.
The road to Rupmul was a lot of fun; like something out of Mad Max. Dust storms, burning tires, vehicle carcasses, military checkpoints with goofy drunk guys carrying automatic weapons - rumour has it that the gov't doesn't give them bullets because they might shoot people in a drunken daze - see Acirema's gov't isn't that dumb after all. There was a layover in Norka where a couple of "matisse" (mixed race) beggar children wouldn't leave me alone. Some white guys, probably French, have kids in Africa and don't even know - probably don't even care. Koreans, who built an oil refinery, and Malaysian loggers have also contributed to the gene pool - kinda sucks 'cause everyone thinks I'm Malaysian. African cities are interesting places. Expats and the Acireman elite live in a totally separate World of satellite TV, Mercedeses and private foreign schools. Peace Corps volunteers straddle the fence between decadent expat and real world Africans. American expats are useful because we can always work them for free drinks and free rides - and we can feel smug in their company. The GYC meeting wasn't very productive; it's hard to sustain projects when volunteers only have a two year tenure - and some not even that. I do get to give a girl from my school an $80 scholarship. Not getting your package kinda sucked but I did pick up front brakes for my mountain bike. My buddy Enrique installed them for me - he does all the maintenance on it - but, then again, he rides it 10 time more than I do. I feel warm and tingley because I taught him how to ride - strickly against Peace Corps policy - heavan knows why.
I've been working out a lot lately on my dip-rack and chip-up bar. I'm going to buy a bigger mirror so I can flex in front of it. Ahh, simple pleasures. Oscar Wilde said simple pleasures are the last refuge of the complex - I think he's just making excuses for being an imbecile like the rest of us. I wish I had a squat-rack.
I'm well into Crime and Punishment; Dostoyevsky is one sick puppy. The two giants of Russian literature, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, both have complete yet totally divergent visions of the human condition. Supposedly Tolstoy writes about the conscious while Dostoyevesky writes about the subconscious. I can't decide who's right. Remember Kristen? She has shunned the great classics and is looking for the answers to life's great questions in the Star Wars trilogy - I think she's onto something... but then again, who's to say she has shunned the great classics...
The backlash agains the free market has begun. I hear Bill Bennett, the self annointed king of the self-righteous right, and Sam Nun have teamed up to bring laisse-faire economics down a few notches. Bill Bennet, the chain-smoking drug Czar, Reagan-Bush crony, turning on the system that made him. I'm impressed. Maybe I'll have to retract the suggestion that he take his Book of Virtues and shove it up his ass... um, not just yet...
I'm still waiting to receive the Communist Manifesto. Maybe I should read it before I start deciding where it falls apart. I think the assumption that party members would educate the masses rather than swindle them was much too naive. I better shut my trap because I've never even seen a copy. The question I've been wrestling with is can one man's labor be worth more than another's, and if so, how should he/she be compensated? I think the answer to the first part is "yes"...
Meg sounds pretty cool - go to her, bare her children. Gotta go save the World.
Leon Trotsky P.S. I got the TC UCLA package.
Postmarked 16 -4 1997
John, 16 April 1997
I made up my mind. I'm going to apply for the Peace Corps Fellows Program at Teacher's College UCLA. I guess life without a Corvette is no longer as terrifying as it used to be. This will be the last chance I'll give myself before I cash it all in and make a million bucks. It's about time I started thinking about the rest of my life and stopped running away from it.
I think I got a dear John letter from somewhere in the Pacific but I'm not too sure. It arrived April 1, gotta love the timing... so I hit the road again. Haven't ran in three months due to the heat of the dry season and a little smoking habit that was becoming more than a habit. It's starting to rain again -- about time. I love running in the rain... Aciremans think I'm crazy... life is more or less on hold when it rains. I run through the bush up Inikib Rd towards Mesape circling up Mount Eboog. There's a natural incentive to keep up the pace when running in the jungle; there's a threshold speed to maintain which prevents the near-naked runner from being mauled by swarms of midges (biting flies / "no-see-ums"). Up Mt Eboog until the quads burn - then Kamakazi down. The idea is to hurt the pain and to not swallow too many bugs.
The Prime Minister came to Notsob this past Sunday. Stanley Islune, a native of the North East. He's reputed to be the only good man in Semoi's gov't. The Prime Minister theoretically oversees the day to day operation of the gov't but in Acirema he's a figure head who, in Islune's case, is appointed to give John Semoi's gov't a shred of legitamacy. The current gov't is packed with Semoi toadies whose competence would be a big African joke... if you think blatant corruption is funny - which many Aciremans seem to do. Semoi's no idiot; he knows his regime is ridiculous so he keeps a few good technocrats like Islune around to clean up ministries ransacked by Semoi cronies. Islune's last post was the manager of the ADC (Acireman Development Company). The ADC used to be a pretty sharp operation building schools, hospitals and roads with profits from bananas, palm oil, and rubber. Then Semoi took over and made it a huge pillaged mess... for Islune to clean up. Islune's project as Prime Minister is to "root out corruptions". Aciremans say this with a smirk knowing that unless he starts with Semoi, he's not going anywhere...
My classes were cancelled last week to prepare for the Islune visit. The students were sent to the DO's (District Officer) house to cut grass with machetes. For every five classes held, one or two is cancelled for some arbitrary reason. It used to piss me off, but now, hey whatever.
I just got a response from Denny K. Smarmin, "Manager" of The Student Loan Inc. Student Loan Inc has been killing a few forrests stuffing my box at headquarters and now my box here in Notsob with dire warnings of "collection agencies", "garnishing wages", "damaged future credit", and "guys named Vinny who'll break your legs for 10 bucks". So I sent them a letter telling them to suck on a big one, telling them that I sent them a deferment form which is how they managed to track me to Africa I included 1000 WFA ($2.00) and told them I was skipping lunch and dinner to contribute to the "CitiBank Executive Mercedes® fund". Well Smarmin wrote back with my 1000 WFA saying, "We called to get the exchange rate for the funds you sent, in hopes of applying this as a payment against your account. Unfortunately CitiBank does not deal in this currency so we are returning it to you." Ah alas, no one wants the WFA! Marilyn Monroe
Postmarked 9 -5 1997
John, 29 April 1997
How does Forrest Gump run for five years without getting shin-splints? I bet he's not bow-legged and I guess he had nothing better to do after Jenny ruined his life. There's one ping pong table in town. I see kids playing. They're pretty good but nowhere near as good as Forrest Gump. There are many beautiful women in town who throw themselves at me. I don't do anything because I don't want AIDS, like Jenny in Forrest Gump. If I had to have sex, I'd like to have sex with Sally Field while her husband's on vacation so I can make funny noises, like that slimy principal in Forrest Gump. There's a beggar in town with no legs. I give him money sometimes because he reminds me of Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump. When I go running, these kids always harass me, but they never throw stones and they never chase me on their bikes or pick-up trucks like they did with Forrest Gump. Once, when I was running through the jungle, something came up from behind and bit me in the buttocks. I think it was a bug and not a bullet, like what bit Forrest Gump. There was a death celebration that I went to a few weeks ago. I drank too much palm wine and had to pee right when I was shaking the chief's hand - kinda like when JFK shook hands with Forrest Gump. When I go to Rupmul, I can watch a whole bunch of movies on video - but I always watch "Forrest Gump."
Oh boy, April was a doozy. Had some very good runs up and down Mt Eboog - but I think my shins are disintegrating. Quit smoking, not too difficult, but I'm not too sure if I was addicted or not. I went to Kinte last week during the Muslim "Fete du Mouton" when they kill their sheep. It's a huge deal in the Eastern Provinces but we couldn't even find where they were doing it in Kinte. I was hanging out with Tom, perhaps the most cynical volunteer in country. It was a lot of fun. I stole a whole bunch of really great Forrest Gump jokes from him (what? you think I can just make that stuff up?). Tom thinks the human race is just a messenger on Earth. We're here to make a perfect life form - some sort of metal based self-replicating mechanical life form - cold, efficient, and heartless - which being "perfect" will destroy mankind. Then it can go about doing what life is meant to do - space travel and the colonization of other planets. The only danger is that we may destroy the world before we ever create such a being or we may never get around to making one because we're too caught up squandering our time with biological reproduction - then other civilyzations would just shake their heads when observing Earth and say "Man, never thought they'd amount to much." Either some woman ruined Tom's life or he's seen "The Terminator" one too many times. He's COSing (Completion of Service) in June. A lot of first year volunteers - peace, love and understanding, holding hands and sing Kumbaya - can't wait to get rid of him, but I'm going to miss him. He's passing his torch to me.
I called Mom and Dad from Kinte. I really didn't feel like talking to them, last time I called in March, Dad decided to viciously snap at Mom when she picked up the other cordless phone which causes static on the line. I decided to get sick of it all and hang up on both of them. How the hell those two got married and stayed that way is a testament to human weakness. Getting into a relationship is an admission of defeat - it means you can't hack it on your own.
Ba gave me some fatherly advice about putting chemicals around the house to ward off snakes. I laughed at him but yesterday, I walked into the kitchen, saw a whole bunch of flies and smelled something really raunchy. I thought I left some food out so I started looking around for rotten meat. Then I looked down and saw a dead snake on the floor. YOW!! I freaked out and ran to my neighbor Luther who disposed of it for me - I love Luther. I feel like such a wuss. Oh well gotta go. Joe
Postmarked 28 -5 1997
Ice fishing. I've never been ice-fishing. I think I'm going to devote my life to ice-fishing. Remember how I used to love to fish? I think I know why I gave that up now. Too much pressure, I was too success oriented. Trout, salmon, steelhead - big prestige fish. You don't fish for that kind of game - you hunt them. And when you return empty handed, it's a defeat, a failure. You need expensive graphite rods and fancy Japanese engineered reels, precious machined lures from Finland. Ice fishing is definitely much cooler. A few wooden rigs, 10 bucks each, that pops a flag when a fish hits, live bait - minnows, grubs, meal worms. Sit out there on the ice in thermal underwear and a big greasy parka, smoke a pipe - definitely a pipe, not cigarettes... there's something uncool about tossing a butt on the ice, shoot the shit with the other die-hards on the ice - yeah, you gotta ice-fish with people, I ain't Henry David Thoreau nor the Unabomber. Perch... yellow perch and sunfish, bluegills and pumkinseeds - that's what I'll fish for. I'll leave the pike and walleye for the overachieving macho men. Every Saturday in January and February, I'll sit out there and just be really really happy.
Lake Chautaugua, lake Champlain, Oneida, maybe the Thousand Island area - plenty of water up there. I'll find some country school district to teach in. I'll be the math teacher that everyone has for 10 grade algebra. I'll tell the same jokes every year, "When I was in the Peace Corps..." Maybe I'll advise the yearbook committee on the math club. I'm not going to teach in an affluent suburb, no way. Don't want to deal with overachieving acedemic goons nosiree. A nice country district where the kids are headed to the meat packing plant, the farm equipment factory, or maybe a good state college. Every two or tree years, some poor kid will be accepted by Cornell or some other brand name school and a little lump will develop in my throat. I'll get my teaching certificate, put in a few years in the big city - New York, Detroit, or San Francisco - which-ever one of those Peace Corps Fellow programs will accept me and give me a full ride - then I'll find my Upstate New York school district. Maybe even Ithaca or Geneva, wine country, Finger Lakes, a little log cabin in the woods. I'll consider other states. Upper peninsula Michigan - I remember driving across Makinaw Bridge, I was too young to appreciate it then but I think the scene was awesome. Minnesota, I hear there're so many lakes up there that even a teacher can afford lake front property. Imagine that, ice-fish in my back yard.
In the Spring thaw I'll do my taxes - very easy 401K, deduction for the mortgage, gov't bonds. I'll plant my garden, very small & simple, tomatoes, zuchini, carrots, radishes, just enough to spice up a summer salad. Clean out the gutters, remove the storm windows. In the Summer, I'll teach driver's ed, garden and devote my time to lawn maintainence. In the Fall, I'll drink cider, watch the leaves turn red, put up the storm windows, rake leaves and chop wood - a wood burning stove, definitely a wood burning stove. The fun begins in December, I'll tune in to the local radio station to get ice thicknesses. I think a three inch base is considered safe. A few dingalings will race to be the first ones on the ice, but I think I'll let them test fracture strength.
If I can get all that set up by the time I'm 30, I'll be so cool. Now, I still have to scam some woman into buying into this hairbrained plan. Hopefully I'll reach the point where I'm content enough to go it alone but the thought of taking my kids ice fishing is somehow very appealling. They'll hate it cause it's cold, boring, and probably rather miserable but hey it's character building. That's the plan for now, how does that sound? I'd be every school district's wet dream... I don't know though. Will I wake up when I'm 35 and say, "What if I went to law school? What if I joined the foreign service? What if I took that job at General Motors?" I'm having a crisis, one life to live and I'm probably gonna fuck it up... twenty two years old and I'm already having a mid-life crisis about some life I haven't even had yet.
I was in Rupmul early this month. They have American satelitte TV there. CBS Evening News with Dan Rather - top story Jon Benet Ramsey, second up Tiger Woods. What the fuck is that? Zaire was the lead story every day on BBC and it's beat out by some dopey 21 year old golfer. I hate Tiger Woods. You wanna know why? Cause I'm gonna have to hear about that doofus for the rest of my life. When I'm 83, a dirty old man in a nursing home, lancing boils, eating baby food, making lewd comments at the nurses, peeing on myself, I'll turn on the TV and hear, "Tiger Woods has once again beaten his own record at the Masters becoming the oldest multi-ethnic player ever to win every single grand slam event..." What a doofus, I hate Tiger Woods and I hate his 30 million dollars.
My neighbor and perhaps my best Acireman friend Luther is moving out of Notsob. Going to the beach in Arme to drive his taxi. Sucks! One thing I've learned in the Peace Corps is that I hate being alone. I'll never be the Unabomber even if I think he makes total sense. That's so scary. The Unabomber actually makes sense now. Well I'm out of space, gotta go save the World. Joseph
Postmarked 16 -6 1997
Department of Mathematics, And Computer Sciences, Faculty of Sciences, University of Dea
20th May, 1997
Dear Mr Yu, I received your letter not long ago but was preoccupied by tests at school so I couldn't reply immediate. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude at the manner with with which you treated all my requests and the advice that followed.
Joseph had shown me the forms you sent long before I received my letter and he told me that you had sent one similar package to me. I was waiting to receive my own letter before writing back, hoping there would be some directives in my letter.
As concerns the kind of processors we use, they are the 286 and the makes are IBM or DAEWOO. They are a grant from the South Korean government to my school. Our computers are also of the same make. The Pascal compiler we use is a product of Borland International. The operating system we use is DOS Version As concerns the CD-ROM, we don't have one but I have a friend who father owns one as well as Compton's Interactive Encyclopaedia. I have bee trying to learn how it works. We also got the 3" floppy drives as well as the larger drives (I guess they are 5").
One of the problems we have is that concerning viruses. Our diskettes are easily damaged due to viruses in the memory or boot sector and unfortunately we donnot an antivirus software. I would like to know how one could preserve his diskettes. I would like to find out from you which other language would be advisable for one to learn. I would like to say that any advice from you, of any nature, is very welcome. As concerns the internet, there is a Canadian-sponsored project across the country aimed at equiping the country with some service providers.
I hope to hear from you soon. May God Bless you.
Yours faithfully Wenkt Shoal Benny
Postmarked 22-10 1997
Twenty-two year old Joseph goes to bed at night with no beer to drink. Twenty-five year old Thomas spends all day teaching and has no money for cigarettes. For the price of just a cup of coffee a day, you can sponsor a Peace Corps volunteer and keep him/her in smokes and happily inebrieted. Hi, I'm Sally Struthers, here at Save the Peace Corps volunteer you can sponsor a thin wasted atrophied displaced American for as little as 50¢ a day. You'll receive quarterly letters from your volunteers telling you about his latest ringworm infection. Your money will go towards beer, cigarettes, casino runs, and lice shampoo. Together with other Save the Peace Corps Volunteer sponsors, you can build a hamburger grill, volleyball court or even sponsor a wild provincial party. So please, open your hearts - a little goes a long way.
I've resurfaced. School started and it's going great - comparatively great. No English this year - ecstasy! Math & physics only. I've learned to ignore administration, Peace Corps (useless) and my school (hopeless). Election year '97 has just taken place in Acirema. It was a farce. The major opposition parties boycotted the elections because the gov't refused to to allow an independent electoral commission. Oh well, whatever.
The new batch of math/science volunteers are in country. They've been at post just over a month and they're in the throes of POST-traumatic stress syndrome. I had this major urge to play Tom Enfeuno, but alas, I don't think I can ever be the original - I was so supportive it was sickening. They're actually really cool - a lot like me a year ago, which is kind of scary. All these grand plans of saving the World!
I read One Hundred Years of Solitude last month. It changed my life - for about a week. Not as good as Tolstoy (who's changed my life for a whole month) but better than Toni Morrison (who changed my life for about 15 minutes). Tommorrow I hit the big two three. That's old! I should start doing something with my life. I just got your card today - sorry I haven't written in a while.
Last week, I did something unbelievably cool. I took a bunch of stuff I don't need to the artisanot in Anabru (a handicraft mall). All I wanted to do was get rid of it all for maybe a mask or, if I'm lucky, a knife or something. I ended up getting a bunch of African clothes, 4 mahoganey carved pipes, a drum, a spear head and two masks - AND I DIDN'T PLAY A SINGLE FRANC! I'm addicted. I'm going to barter all my stuff!
My mail has been pretty dry lately - that's a function of my own lazyness. It's kind of depressing.
All the second year volunteers are in the throws of "What am I going to do with the rest of my life?!" anguish. I just finished pouring through that big thick book on China by Jonathan Spence and Thunder Out of China by Theodore White. I think I smell my future. What do you think? Sounds like a plan?
In the mean time, I have to whip some Aciremans into shape. My buddy Thoma's and I are planning a blow-our-readjustment allowance tour of Africa & Europe.
Meet us in Paris... Love Ya, John Semoi President of the Republic
Postmarked 5-11 1997
John, 9-Dec 97
Let's see here, what's going on. I've been drawing lately. I sent you a batch before this, hope you received them. They're getting printed in the volunteer newsletter - admin will hate me.
I may have gone on a date last Saturday. I'm not sure. I hope not because it's definitely over my head. Let me tell you about it and decide for yourself whether or not I should be slapped. I paid an official visit to see the 61/2 month old baby girl of a friend. I've been at post for 151/2 months. If you do the math, it may seem a little suspicious but unless immaculate conception is a reality, I can be reasonably certain that I had nothing to do with it. The mother's name is Marian and she's beautiful, absolutely beautiful. She's unlike the other attractive women here.
In a society that oppresses the talents of women, their only recourse is their sexuality and how well they use it for material security. As a result, beautiful women, especially those with a bit of education, exude a "tude" - Afritude - that reeks of sexual condescension. Thank God for the "tude"; I find that completely unattractive and if it were absent I'd be in trouble. Marian is different, probably because of her situation. She always looks like she's choking back a tear. I ate at her restaurant almost everyday last year watching her progressive condition. She shut down her business last May to give birth and I hadn't seen her until a couple of weeks ago. She invited me over for dinner and cooked chicken (a very big deal) with the gizzard which is a sign of respect (gizzards are only offered to important men). I cut the gizzard in half and insisted that she eat it too because I wanted to see a woman eat gizzard. I gave her a tin of milk and a box of sugar for the baby. This woman is beautiful, I had to avert my eyes all through dinner, otherwize I would just stare. As it stands now, I'm just a concerned friend, but I know she's hoping for more - good god she cooked gizzard for me! This is a hopeless situation. A no win scenario. I wish you were here to slap me!
Moving right along... I got into a tiff at a Gender & Youth meeting. The Gender & Youth Committee wanted to issue a statement calling timber exploitation a "destructive" industry. Presently, the foreign loggers here are destructive - bribing gov't officials, reckless exploitation, and encouraging child prostitution. But Acirema needs the income. There's a grand lie that developement agencies are trying to shove to the third World. They disguise it in euphamisms such as environmental conservation, sustainable development, communitty forests, bio-diversity. You can have forrests and development, you can practice environmentally sound farming techniques, you can have your cake and eat it too! HOOEY!! Who are these forests really important to? Us or them? If these forests really are important to World ecology, we'd put our money where our lies are and buy the forests instead of sending in brainwashed Peace Corps agro-foresters. The villagers can decide for themselves what to do with the income. Whatever is important to them and not what we think should be important to them. Schools, clinics, roads - that's great. Beer and cigarettes - hey whatever, it's their money. These subsistance farmers are buying this grand lie of agro-forestry. Even if they double or triple their current yield, they'll still live in poverty subjected to disease, ignorance, and random death. Their timber is a way out whether they cut it down or demand compensation for leaving it standing. A statement made by the Peace Corps GYC committee amounts to a whole lot of nothing, but I can't stand a few Birkenstock wearing, Indigo Girl listening, tie die Peaceniks who spout a whole lot of hooey because they're rich enough to care more about ferns and fuzzy animals than people. Hold your trees for ransom. Shoot the Lorax!
I got your letter and Mike Lee's on the same day. He's miserable at Anderson Consulting. Sounds a little like you. I don't know, I think the first few years after college is rough on everybody. The only people who still sound like their former selves are those still in grad school where their role is still defined for them and they're happy in the present because they envision a happy fulfilling career. The ones with serious relationships sound the same too - as smug as ever. I'm far from being a happy man right now because I'm accomplishing nothing. Sure I'm learning a lot, probably too much - most of it will just become clutter or interesting chatter to impress women. I'm not saying this to cheer you up or to tell you how great Microsoft should be but right now I feel almost fatally dislocated because I'm accomplishing nothing. I sit up at night wondering what I'd be thinking if I had taken that job at General Motors. I'd probably be where you and Mike Lee are. Another day spent testing engines so that Americans can buy a new car they don't really need every four years. Useless, completely useless. Here, with all the idle time with nothing to do except read I recognize the sanctity of work. Having something to show for the time spent no matter how inane.
Whatever. When I get home, I'm gonna find a job for a year, take the GRE, LSAT, and foreign service exam and decide, based on my scores, what to do next.
Well, gotta go. Yeah the system sucks but it's the only one we got. Joseph
Postmarked 14-1 1998
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.
|By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-123-27.balt.east.verizon.net - 22.214.171.124) on Tuesday, February 22, 2005 - 1:14 pm: Edit Post|
If you missed Part I of this story, read it here.