|By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-239-147.balt.east.verizon.net - 220.127.116.11) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 7:35 pm: Edit Post|
Letters Home from Peace Corps - from somewhere in French-speaking West Africa (Part 1)
Letters Home from Peace Corps - from somewhere in French-speaking West Africa (Part 1)
Training is in its 4th week now, my French is still improving everyday. The sessions have shifted from language, health & culture to teaching technique and professional conduct & practices.
It's been almost a month and my digestive system is still in excellent shape!! Healthwise, I'm one of the luckier trainees. Except for a mild hag-f[??] I've had no negative reactions to the food, air, water etc etc. I am very careful with the guidelines for safe food & water. I started a rather intense excercise program here. In February, there is a race up Mt. Acirema. It is world famous, runners from all over the world come to run up and down the mountain (slightly less than a marathon). Peace Corps volunteers run the race every year. If I am in shape come February I'm there!!
Okay, not everything here is great. Complaint #1. The trainers spy on the volunteers - we're constantly being evaluated by Peace Corps Staff who form broad generalizations about our potential suitability based on superficial observations. I just got my first evaluation today. I have no idea how they get their information, but they know when & who I run with in the morning, what & how much I eat for dinner and where I go after training. I got a 4.5/5 which is pretty good but still it's annoying how they judge & spy on all the volunteers. Complaint #2. No time - same complaint in College.
I sent a few photos. One is of my homestay host JP. The dogs were being sold in the market for 3000 F's ($6). The city shot was taken from the top of Mt Eromhsur. The field is actually a weed bed of a lake near the University of Eromhsur. We went fishing there. Caught 9 of the ugliest fish I have ever seen. There's an annoying hair on the photos. I don't know yet whether it's from the camera or the developement.
I will be moving to Rupmul for technical training. Please write to the new address on the envelope. I have not yet received any letters from home.
Just had the most exhaustive weekend. Friday, on my way to a bornhouse (baby shower) when my PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader) shows up at my door with a month and a half of mail (Exstasy!) including two from you (Bonus!). But he also brought distressing news, Thomas, my soul-brother from training, was unhappy at post and ready to ET (Early Terminate). I resolved to see him the next day but on returning from the bornhouse, found him at my neighbors waiting for me. We had an all night session of Why am I here? I'm just window dressing for my school. There's no one to talk to. Can't walk outside at night (Thoma's post not mine). Teaching 90 chatty rug-rats with no books, pens, blackboard is infuriating. Everyone wants a piece of me (can you get me a Visa for the States? When do you want to make love to me?) Bitch sessions are the favorite volunteer activity, but the threat of ET hung oppressively over this one. I advized him to request a post change, get out of Osaple, a "Wild West" highway town that even the locals shake their head at. Accompanied him to Osaple to sort out his things, whatever he decides, he can't stay in Osaple. Said goodbye Sunday morning when he caught a bushtaxi to headquarters to chat with the big-wigs while I headed back to post (4 hour trip). What ever he decides, I'll hear through the grapevine, Peace Corps we soon discover is one big gossip mill. Here are a few rumours Thomas and I are trying to spread 1) Courtney Love is going to marry Michael Jackson 2) Dr. Samuel Sherman is a CIA agent (Dr. Sherman is the shits! Already served two years in Chad, got his PhD in Germany, taught in Singapore for a year) 3) Paula (our buddy in the Northeast Province - "The Swiss Alps") is having his baby in February (volunteer romance is everyone's business). Hope Thomas stays, hate to loose him...
Got back to post (good ole Notsob) Sunday afternoon. Read my mail again - carefully this time. Looks like the soap opera that is Kent State has folowed me to Africa. Reminds me of Al Pacino in the Godfather, "Once I get out, they drag me back in." Read a two week old Newsweek (Newsbleak). This past weekend was not typical. Most weeks are uneventful. That was the hardest thing for Thomas to deal with, the dead time and no one to talk to. Don't worry about me, I'm managing to squander all my time here quite effectively.
Read the first fifty pages of all the great novels, actually finished Anna Kerenina, feel primed and ready for War and Peace, the novel that has broken many volunteers. It, all 1444 pages of it, stares menacingly at me from my bookshelf. It's thinking to itself, "Read me, read me, I dare you to try, you'll get through 400 pages, 500 tops, but I'll break you, like the others, Anna Kerenina was just a teaser, ha ha ha ha" I'm scared. I've seen what this odious book has done to other volunteers. Those who've failed have taken to comic books and People magazine. Those who've suceeded sit around listlessly, staring at their navel, babbling, "What's the frequency Tolstoy, beam me up, beam me up..." Will I suceed, will I fail? Do I want to suceed? Will I ever be the same? I don't know, I just don't know...
Notsob is a town on the border between Anglophone and Francophone Acirema. Access by 4 wheel drive March - October. I live in a concrete duplex, electricity 90% of the time, running water 85% of the time. Teach physics 7th grade and English / AIDS prevention eigth grade. They laugh hysterically everytime the words "sexual intercourse" is said. The curriculum calls for a condom on banana demo - I foresee total chaos. Shouldn't joke though, infection rate among certain age groups is 30%.
The country is welcoming, gorgeous, frustrating, infuriating, and hilarious. The bush taxis here are a perfect analogy for the country as a whole. Looking at one, you'd be surprized if it can move on its own accord let alone keep from bursting into flames. But somehow it accomplishes its basic duties as a motor vehicle - get from point A to point B (albeit with points C D E & F in between and a few casualties). The beaurocracy here is a farce. Corruption is a trickle down effect from the President (Dip-shit) to the postal workers (not the Notsob ones though). But somehow, the basic duties of a gov't are fulfilled.
I learned a new term - neo-colonialism. The French are fucking rapists. The WFA (West African Franc), Acirema's currency, which is pegged on the French Franc, was devalued by half in 93. Supposedly, it was overvalued but in reality, the devaluation gave the French Franc a boost so that it is in a good position to join the EC's unified currency in 1999. The French are a bunch of self-obsessed incompetents who're too lazy to improve their own economy so they cause a "crize economique" in its former colonies. The current gov't is kept in power by the French who see nothing wrong with corruption as long as cocao prices are low and Peugeots (a real shitty car) are exported to Africa (the only countries who actually buy Peugeots). Ah France, nuclear testing, foreign assasinations, always the dissenting voice "I gotta be me!" (a self obsessed disenting voice "Je doir etre moi."). If it wasn't for Juliette Binoche, Jacque Cousteau, and Romain Gary (who's actually a Russian Jew), I'd have nothing nice to say about those croissant chewing, escargot snorting, oversexed ninnies...
The Acireman Paliamentary & Presidential elections are coming up next year. The current puppet French patsy of a president (John Semoi) who in 1982 obtained power from a local hero through the help of France and political chicanery is about as popular as G. Gordon Liddy. Everyone despizes him but through what the locals call "jungle politics" - vote rigging, arbitrary changes to the constitution, bribes, he has stayed there. We'll see what happens next year. That's the problem of this place, the people see this, know this, but because food is plentiful, and much of native culture has been destroyed, they're content to be cut-rate French wannabes. "Ah Acirema" (favorite local saying when something goes wrong).
I learned quite a bit of Pidgin English; I'll teach you some: Asha - hello / sorry / nice to meet you / sucks to be you (depending on context & intonation) Piskops - Peace Corps Palava - problem Palava no dey - no problem Kuakanda - Bachelor / worthless person Humbug - annoy (verb) Chop - eat (verb) / food (noun) Pikin - child Wondafo - terrible Waka-waka wuman - hooker fo - universal preposition A wan fo chop fufu an njama-jama I want to eat cous-cous and veggies. dem - plural marker di - present perfect tense (eating) Ol Piskops dem lak di chop witi waka-waka wuman dem. All volunteers like eating with hookers. (Not true) (No bi so)
Acireman Pidgin is English stripped of its annoying syntaxes, injected with a rhythm, melanged with Portuguese (early traders), French, English, and native tongues to form a rich, expressive and totally cool language of its own - sure to be a hit at cock-tail parties. Asha, ol piskops dem fit tok pidgin fayn!!
Can you do me a big favor? If you still have a Web page, stick my stories on them. Fix the typos if you see any (they're plenty) and send me the address of site.
I have a project here that I'm trying to get some University students to work on (actually they're doing all the work, I'm just enticing them). We want to set up the University of Dea on the Internet. This is developement at its best! Total anarchy of ideas, information at your finger tips, revolution through communication, who the fuck needs roads when communication travels by phone lines. The facilities are crude. Donated Daewo 386's. They need modems, serial port hardware (what ever that is) and funding. Bill Gates has a few billion, how many Porshe's can one man drive? Africa, Africa & China. Those are the places where humanity will be tested in the next century. The developed world has stagnated, with all its wealth, they've reduced themselves to MTV and Beavis and Butthead. To liberate Africa from the ravages of colonialism and corruption, that's a worthy goal for a technology like the Internet. Anarchy of ideas without the collapse of chaos. What does a university need to be a player? A server? How big? Software? What kind? Funding? How much? Poke around that rich fancy pants company of yours. Acirema needs this. Africa needs this. There has to be better, more enlightning uses for the Internet than looking up the words for "California Dreaming" and playing fantasy Star Trek.
Oh well, getting a little too excited. Write more later.
Later Olivia Newton John Notsob Acirema
Postmarked 6 -11 1996
Remember that situation where Thomas may or may not have been ET'ing? Well, he stayed but the plot thickens. He moved to Paula's post last week. I saw Paula (sans Thomas) at a Volunteer Halloween party. She wasn't entirely happy about the situation. She was a little miffed that she wasn't consulted before the deal was done, and I got a little shit for it. Okay, I admit, I thought they'd make a cute couple, which (dumb ass me) is out of the wrelm of possibilities now because Paula is determined to rezent his presence... Ahhh Peace Corps, one big rumour mill / soap opera. Here are a few I'm trying to start 1) Billy Joel is dating Courtney Love 2) Mikhail Gorbachev is starring in the next Star Wars trilogy 3) The Village People are doing an Africa tour with a date in Acirema...
I have a few more huge favors to ask of you. Could you send me some books? A GRE (Barrons with word list) book, and one GRE with just tests 5 GRE's, The Norton Anthology of English Literature Sixth edition volume II, The Norton Anthology of American Literature (latest edition), The Communist Manifesto, application (next year) for UCLA teacher college, the Lousiana teachers Corps and just the names of the top Journalism schools (US News Guide to Grad Schools). I think I'm meeting Mom & Dad in Naples this summer so most of the stuff can go with them but I kinda want the GRE books and grad-school info (Just names and requirements of for J-schools for now). No real hurry on any of the stuff. Send packages to the Rupmul address.
What's new here? Hmmm, have a new plantar wart on my big toe. Dressed up as a waka-waka woman for Halloween. My toilet leaks. I have diarhea. Aciremans are a messed up bunch of people. The Peace Corps cannot do any good here at the prezent moment. Africa needs to get rid of all the aid agencies and foreign development projects if it expects to move into the modern world. This silly game of foreign aid for cheap raw materials and political influence is played pretty well by the US & Europe, who get their cheap coffee, cocao, and oil for the nominal cost of a few goody-too-shoes volunteers.
We volunteers are either super idealists or a bunch of cynical bastards. I undermine US foreign policy every chance I get. I hate hearing Aciremans obsequiously thanking me and the US gov't for helping them. Help them my ass - I'm nothing but window dressing. But here in Acirema, US foreign policy is not so bad yet. The US is now positioning itself against the French (who are really raping the country). So far, the US does not yet have the opportunity to exploit. So far so good, kick out the French with America's help, play your cards right and some real development may take place. But for the opposition to win, they may allign themselves too much with America and there's little chance of escape.
Very true observation about PC volunteers, we're all a bunch of nobody, fuck-ups in the States, but here we're Gods. Goes to some people's heads.
Postmarked 6 -11 1996
I live in Inikib Land Notsob, on the Anglophone side of the border between Northeast and Larotsap province, is situated at the foot of Mount Eboog. The Inikibs' are the indigenous people of Mt. Eboog, a thickly forested dormant (hopefully) volcano. A road 60 km long traverses Inikib Land, running north through Notsob, winding up and around Mt. Eboog, finally stretching to Mesape (the location of the mystic twin lakes). The road is unpaved, a fact that rankles the locals, accessible by 4 wheel drive only during the rainy season (Spring & Summer). The soil of Mt Eboog is among the richest in the world. Black volcanic soil nourished by tropical rains and the Equatorial sun. Cacao, cassavas, yams, manioc, plantains, bananas, exotic fruits, groundnuts (peanuts) are cultivated along Inikib road. The Inikib themselves have concentrated on cocao as a cash crop. Cocao, the origin of chocolate, is grown only in the tropics. Introduced to Equatorial Africa from South America hundreds of years ago, cocao has become a major industry of West Africa. Harvested from cocao trees, a few times a year, the pods are split revealing rows of slime covered beans. Sucking on the white mucous is a tropical ecstasy. Many people liken it to "drinking flowers". The taste is sweet, tangy, perfumy bearing no resemblence what-so-ever to chocolate. The beans are stripped out, dried in the sun, fermented, bagged, and sold to buyers who cruize through Ikinib Land a few times a year in their chauffered Range Rovers. Whatever alchemy they perform in Hershey PA or Nestlé Switzerland is a mystery to me and the Inikib growers, many of who have never tasted chocalate. If the harvest is good this season and if the sorcery in far off lands is kind, the price of the harvest will enable Marc Atolé to pay the bride price (~$150) and marry his girlfriend. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
The Inikibs are a people, a tribe, on the wane. A century ago, an Inikib man held his head high. He cultivated some of the richest farmland in Acirema, his culture and language was proliferating, his witchcraft was feared by all. An Inikib man had many wives and kept slaves. But today, the Inikibs are known as a has been and a wanabe. When the British, French, and Germans raced to colonize Acirema, the Inikibs threw their cards into British hands. Being a dominant tribe at the time, the Inikibs were sought out by the British. The Inikibs were among the first tribes of Acirema to adopt Christianity (or be adopted depending on how you look at it). In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Inikibs "Westernized" loosing much of their culture. They provided the British with clerks and secrataries to help administer the British colony. A few Inikibs were educated in Britain, cultivated to run the colony into the 20th century. Who knew colonialism would end (sort of) and the British would withdraw? The end of British Acirema spelled disaster for the tribes with their chips on the Brits.
Today, the Inikibs are in an odd position and a real bind. After "independence" and unification with Francophone Acirema, relations between the Francophone majority and Anglophone minority have always been strained. The Anglophones have felt oppressed and exploited but instead of solidarity there is bickering. Inikibs are resented by other Anglophone tribes for being British patsies. The Loceers of the Southeast grasslands are at the forefront of the opposition to the regime of President Semoi (a thief, liar, goon and all-around asshole). But, out of spiteful pride, the Inikibs have conspicuously withheld their support, "Why should I, an Inikib man, be lead by my former slave?" John Semoi, ever the opportunist, is well aware of the division and has appointed an Inikib man as Prime Minister (a largely ceremonial role) to entice the Inikibs. This is a no win situation for Inikib Land. Semoi has no intentions of helping any Anglophone and if the opposition takes power, the lack of Inikib support will win few favors. Looks like the road from Notsob to Mesape will remain unpaved for at least another political generation (in Africa, who knows how long that will be).
Having bet on the British and lost, the once pround Inikib are in a depression. Some, who have bet on a Western education have done well, many of the best and brightest are abroad. Other degree holders are unemployed, too proud to work the farms with no civil service jobs available to Anglophones. Inikibs are getting displaced in their own land. The Nagichimés, a hardworking and enterprizing tribe (known as the Jews of Acirema) have moved in and are more productive with the land. Instead of limiting themselves to cocao, the Nagichimés have a diversified crop selection. Many young Inikibs admire and emulate the Nagichimés but the old generation sneer at the newcomers with envy.
Perhaps all this is for the best. Sooner or later the Inikibs will find a niche to fill. Perhaps it is best to emulate the Nagichimés. Perhaps those with the drive and gumption to go abroad should be applauded - I'd be a hypocrit if I condemned them. But tonight, the bars in Notsob are full of Ikinib growers drinking their cocao money away. Can you blame them? Do you work dust to dawn on a crop that satisfies the sweet tooth of Europe and America, barely able to understand why this year's harvest is worth less than last year's (ask the traders in New York about cocao futures, options and puts), having your own currency slashed in half by French bankers, and seeing the buyers cruise through Inikib road in the newest air conditioned Range Rover model, offering you peanuts for your labor? When asked why people insist on making beasts of themselves through alchohol, Samuel Johnson replied, "He who makes a beast of himself, gets rid of the pain of being a man."
P.S. Could you forward this to Mom and Dad?
All's well here, you have to excuse the journalistic style, this letter was originally sent to Brookline Junior High's global studies class, figured you'd appreciate it too. I hate not having cut and paste, insert, delete, copy, and other neat tricks, really put a cramp in the whole writing process.
Teachers may go on strike again. Ahhh Acerima!!! The only way for development to take place is to kick out all the white men and corrupt politicians. A white man in Afica is inherently up to no good. This is an odd situation. A real Nash Equilibrium (economic game theory). If they kick out all the white people, development takes place, but if the Americans are not here to check the French, it would be capitalism run amuck - a total pillage, plunder, and rape - and if the French leave... well, it hasn't been tried. This late in the game anything is better than the French... kinda like the arms race, total nuclear disarmament is impossible.
The French have their volunteers too, they live in the cities and drive Land Cruizers and hang out at the Embassy and white men clubs. We like to scoff at them, but are we any better? Peace Corps, a few cheap goody-too-shoe volunteers to polish up American foreign policy. When the Aciremans finally get fed up with the French, America is all too ready to fill France's shoes, instead of Michelin Tires, Good Year will come to pillage. Volunteers bad mouth global economics every chance they get.
The free market run amuck. Marxism proved unfeasible (maybe not, it was railroaded by a few neurotics), but are we resigned to accept this unchecked free market? Capitalism has proven to be productive and stable, but it's morally bankrupt relying on the most venal aspects of human nature to maintain stability.
Trotsky declared that Communism will succeed because, "mankind will reach moral perfection. In the future, the average man will be an Aristotle, a Goethe, a Marx, and from those heights greater peaks will rize." HA!! Sorry Trotsky but we're doomed to be assholes forever... (anarchy on the Internet... maybe there is hope...)
Postmarked 13 -11 1996
Whoa, easy on the admire stuff. Peace Corps we soon learn is not what it's cracked up to be. The way to survive in Africa as a "white man" is to check your idealism at the door... just don't forget to pick it up on the way out. This is an education for the volunteer, not for Africa.
They say 10% of Americans are crazy. In the Peace Corps 10% of Americans are normal: there's Greg, who's here because he's convinced that there will be a War between the US and China in 1998, Lahva, a former Hungarian competitive ballroom dancer, who, during my mild malaria attack, told me that if I meditate and truly BELIEVE! the malaria will go away, I gave it a half-assed-shot, the fever went down... hmmm... maybe she's onto something, then again maybe it was the mefloquine, Thomas sleeps with a knife and talks to mosquitos, Yori wants to adopt an Acireman child and form a national ultimate frizbee team, Missy had 200 lbs of luggage, wears designer dresses while everyone else is in Tevas and T-shirts, Dr. Sam Sherman, who we all worship, turned out to be secretly married to a German woman who is now here in Acirema teaching with him... then there are the normal people who will slowly but surely go crazy, probably during the second year. I'm determined to keep my head screwed on right and be a "closet idealist" - if you're not a cynical bastard in Africa you're a few eggs short of a dozen.
It's an old Peace Corps aphorism but it rings true: volunteers in Latin America return political and revolutionary, volunteers in Asia return philosophical and spiritual, volunteers in Africa return cynical and laugh at everything.
That may be a little too bleak a picture to paint. The real work of volunteers will be done in America (or where-ever they end up - Dr. Sherman who's lived in Germany, Singapore, Chad and Acirema has spent less than six month in the states in the last 10 years). I feel like I've learned more about how this world works (or doesn't work) in these five-months than all my years of formal education. This is the only time in my life when I can sit and read with freedom and minimal distraction. Right now, it's an ecstasy over Tolstoy, July & August were devoted to Henrik Ibsen, Arthur Miller, and Tony Kushner (Angels in America, too perfect to be true). Seen and read too much to be at peace with the world, haven't seen and read enough to be at peace with myself.
There are two projects I'm trying to get funding for. A lab for my school, and Internet for the University of Dea. But I'm not too enthusiastic about handing over a check and going to a ribbon cutting ceremony. The Aciremans have to work for it so that they feel like they did it and it was not handed to them. For the funds to build a lab, I need to know who to write, what funds are available, what proposals and documents are needed.
For the Internet in Dea, I'm hoping it will be initiated by the students. Foreign aid has a funny way of turning into political statements here. I know Microsoft replaces obsolete computers all the time, can you get a hold of some? Right now, it should be a matter of net-working. Getting Aciremans connected to the right people. There's a man in the States with an Acireman Web page, Mr. Mhocalm Sur, send him a note. Tell him that my friend Benny Wenkt, a student at U. of Dea is interested in the internet - hook them up and see what happens. If equipment is just donated, it has a funny way of ending up in some administrator's office. There are about 25 PC's sitting in the British embassy because the donor balked when he learned that if they are released, it has to be through the ADPP (the ruling party) as a gift of the party... hmmm, things work a little funny here. Software is another matter, collect a list of software that you think a college student would most likely use and a description of what it does. Aid has to be administered with care.
P.S. Looked like I cut the shit with Tricia, but after after a few letters, looks like we're hanging on by threads... well, we've never had anything but threads...
Postmarked 27 -11 1996
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 - 18.104.22.168) on Tuesday, February 22, 2005 - 1:12 pm: Edit Post|
Read Part II of this story here.
|By regina_d (c-69-248-14-74.hsd1.pa.comcast.net - 22.214.171.124) on Saturday, December 23, 2006 - 8:29 pm: Edit Post|
who wrote that bitingly funny missive from notsob so long ago? respond please and i will send you my story as well.