|By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, July 13, 2001 - 8:37 am: Edit Post|
Letters Home from the Peace Corps - Very funny and insightful look back
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
|By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, February 03, 2002 - 8:47 pm: Edit Post|
John, Hey, just got your 10/30 letter. Let see here, what's new... I have ring-worm in my navel. It itches like a mother, festering pus and guts. I'm at a loss for what to do... the anti-fungal cream I've been using seems it aggravate it creating a chalky, flakey, pussy mess - it's really gross. I'm lucky though, most men get it due South. Roomate Dan sent me a picture of his new Prelude, my buddy Rick bought a BMW, other roomy Fischer has an Acura... I have fungus in my belly-button.
I finished War and Peace last week. I knew I should have left well enough alone. There's no reason for me to participate in life anymore. Every thought, feeling, idea, philosophy I've ever had, will ever have, am totally incapable of ever having (no-matter how grand or how trivial) is documented in War and Peace. I'm going to spend the rest of my days sucking on rock candy, picking my navel, and reading War & Peace over and over... another Peace Corps volunteer ruined by Tolstoy...
Heard Clinton won (also heard Holyfield pillaged Mike Tyson). Dude, in Africa, I've come to appreciate how great of a system American politics is. It's so good that it's totally inconsequential to the vast majority of the population. How much will your life really change if Dole won? Taxes may go up or down a few ticks, Medicare deductible may be $50 instead of $25, but the sun will still shine, The Late Show will play on, and farmers will still collect their subsidies. Less than 50% of the elegible population votes. That's a good thing!! It shows how marginal government is and how much faith people have that the system will chug along, "They don't bother me, I don't bother them." I would be worried if the country had an 80-90% turn out. India has that kind of turn out and either Calcutta or New Dehli riots after every election. We have "incumbents" and "challengers", Acirema has "the ruling party" and "the opposition". The 45% who do vote are the political hobbiests - the gun nuts, Rush Limbaugh ditto-heads, Mother Jones radicals, senior citizens. It may be democracy at its pinnacle of evolution - you vote if you care enough and step aside if it doesn't really affect your life. Here in Acirema, everyone will vote come election day, but it's still probably going to be rigged and railroaded by that bastard Semoi and his gang of French patsies. Cynical bastards we are in the Peace Corps... (I truly hope the people riot, that is the only way)
About the Internet here. It appears as if total internet connection in Africa is feasible in South Africa, East Africa and maybe Ghana. Acirema is working on it but the companies in charge of upgrading and running the phone service is.... French. Seems like a recurring theme here. I will find out more Thankgiving when I visit Dea. I know e-mail is possible through a few foreign organizations. They bundle the messages and send them out once per day, I'm not too sure how that works. It appears that Dea needs computers much more than an Internet connection. Students in the computer science department make do with a few Samsung clunkers. Their actual hands-on time on the computers is a farce. Double-clicking the mouse is a rarely enjoyed maneuver. I will talk to some big-wigs in the Peace Corps and send you a sponsorship proposal (begging for aid) on official Peace Corps stationary with some official big-wig signatures sometime around Christmas. Right now, I'm trying to get the Acireman students to push for it themselves with a little bit of guidance from the Peace Corps. Many mistakes have been made in the past in foreign aid which may have done more harm than good... this system Acirema is saddled with right now appears to be a vicious cycle. A community that doesn't solve its own problems will very soon cease to be a community (Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire, Bangladesh, The Beatles)
What Africa needs is a shining example of a well governed nation. A nation free of corruption with minimal foreign obligations and strings attached.... Acirema is not it... Eritrea may be the nation to watch. If they remain idealistic, uncorruptable, and play the foreign policy game well, they will be the African Singapore... but to hope in Africa is a dangerous game. The Agony of Africa!!
These two years for me is an opportunity to do what I can do but more importantly to learn how people function in their niche in the world. Through no-fault of anyone, people invariable fall into exploiter and exploited classes. Social change, labor unions, welfare, social security has done much to alleviate and humanize the exploiters & the exploited but the modern world, with the end of Marxism, and with the free-market run amuck, a dangerous trend has developed. The exploited people of this world are no-longer a social-economic class but an entire continent! geographiccally isolated from the developed nations to cause any social unrest. The Agony of Africa.
P.S. Peace Corps does not allow publication of material while still in service... but leave out my name all mention of PC & Acirema, how will they ever know
Postmarked 3 -12 1996
Department of Mathematics And Computer Sciences Faculty of Science University of Dea
25th November, 1996
Dear Sir, I got your address from your friend, Joseph. He teaches in my area and my father happens to be the principal of his school.
I got interested in the internet from articles I read in "Newsweek Magazine". I discussed this with Joseph, who in turn referred me to another Peace Corps Volunteer who is a lecturer in my school, Professor Marcus Lee. He is the one who told one friend of mine and I what the internet precisely is, and advised us to practice network communication for a start. We are required to write a "protocole" program to handle the data leaving and entering the computer; we are still at this stage.
As for the conditions under which we work, they are, to put it mildly, not the best. We use computers that run DOS exclusively and for the more than fifty students offering Computer Sciences as a minor, just about ten computers are available. I happen, however, to have friends who have one running a version of Windows. It is an old make though.
Please, any aid towards helping us achieve our aim would be received with a lot of gratitude. This could be, amongst other things, improving on our working conditions with more hardware and software, preferably Windows, and most important of all, the internet. But I have been advised to learn the C programming language, as the language we are being taught is Pascal. I would be grateful if any documentation on C and a compiler could be provided.
We count very much on you and your corporation, Microsoft. I wonder whether it would be advisable to write to the management in this regard.
I will be looking forward to hearing from you.
Yours faithfully Wenkt Shoal Benny
Postmarked 11 -12 1996
Yeah, take that Paul Weinberger, French patsy piece of Euro-trash. François Mitterand
Postmarked 12 -2 1997
John, Feb 7, '97
Ha, I'm in heavan man! Madison, one of my roomies just sent me a package with a People magazine, Car and Driver, and the new Doonesbury anthology. A similar thing happened to a volunteer at IST. Some dangerously irresponsible friend stateside sent over a year's supply of Hockey News. We found him in the nick of time - glassy eyed, foaming at the mouth, convulsing amidst a pile of Hockey News. We bought him back down to planet Acirema with non-stop makassa music and Pidgin English... he'll be okay.
Forgot how much I loved Doonesbury... but I think I've hit on a dark side of Garry Trudeau - he has a fetish for Asian women. Honey Huang is the repression of his neurosis - sexless FOB in a Mao jacket. She was just waiting to cut loose, to grow hair that dangles flirtatiously in her face, to wear low cut shirts, and debug bitchin' software. Remember TV quoting Vietnam orphan? Adopted by Jewish parents? National Merit Scholar? Well, she's Mike's new girlfriend, dropped out of MIT for a Seattle software start-up. Hmmmm... Kim Rosenthal - babe with brains. Making up for Honey Huang or just indulging in an Ivy League fantasy woman... Garry man, you got a lot of explaining to do. For instance, where are the Asian American men? We want to be parodied too! Blacks have Clyde and Ray to offset Ginny. We got personality too! Okay, so we're not too tall, but underneath that engineering degree, there's a warm, sensitive, lively fella with the muscles of Bruce Lee. We're computer literate to boot! And contrary to urban myth, we're fabulously well endowed!!
Besides, we're Garry Trudeau's best customer. We follow him religiously. He owes us! If it wasn't for Doonesbury (with a little help from Saturday Night Fever) I would know nothing about the 70's, if it wasn't for Uncle Duke I'd never have read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and if it wasn't for Zonker, I'd never have tried marajuana (twice, inhaled, didn't feel a thing). So you see Mr. Jane Pauly, we're the ones carrying your torch. We want to be represented. Even a token character (has to appear in at least 6 strips) would be appreciated. I know, there's Phred. But Phred's a has been and he doesn't read the funnies in Vietnam. Don't know much about Asian American men? Go visit a Saturn dealership, or hang out in a computer lab on any college campus. Or Mr. Trudeau can read Tripmaster Monkey... if he can't create one, he can always heist one (read: Uncle Duke, B.D., Roland Hedley, Lacey Davenport....)
Life on planet Acirema is still zany. Got malaria - again. House is a mess - again. Saved a hungry child's life - no, not again, actually not ever, but hey, I wanted to! I'm going to Dea tomorrow for the weekend. I need to get away from post for a while. Live a little, take a break from saving the World - it's a tough job... okay, no it's not. Peace Corps - the best travel agency in America.
Oh shit! Just discovered a letter I've been writing you but haven't sent yet. Oh well, you'll get two at once. Not much has happened that's not covered on the other letter.
Gotta go save the world! Phil Donahue
Postmarked 24-2 1997
Arrrr-g-g-gh! Phoey! Goobers, boogers, total bummer! I just found out that I missed five of my 15 minutes of fame. THEY READ MY LETTER ON BBC's A JOLLY GOOD SHOW AND I MISSED IT!!! Two volunteers sent me letters saying they heard my dedication to all my students named Elvis - there are 17 of them. I can't believe they played it; it was such a snide letter. I said my hobbies included, "staring into space, twiddling my thumbs, collecting small shiny objects, and bad-mouthing American foreign policy" I hope the country director wasn't tuned in. I requested a salute to all the Elvises in my class but "putting my American jingoism aside (as I do every night when I pass over the VOA for the BBC) I preffer the Costello version who hales from your lovely isles" I should have known that was the clincher - insult the VOA and plug the BBC. I requested Elvis Costello's tribute to British colonialism, "Oliver's Army". I still can't believe they played it, that scathing attack on the English:
"It's no laughing party When you've been on the murder mile All it takes is one itchy trigger One more widow One less white nigger..."
The refrain of the song says, "Oliver's army is on their way, Oliver's army is here to stay, AND I WOULD RATHER BE ANYWHERE ELSE BUT HERE TODAY" Those who heard the show were a little worried about me. Actually, that's not how I feel at all, wasn't until after I found out that it played that I realized a possible misinterpretation.
I'm tingly all over. That's my first World wide audience - all 50 loyal listerners of the BBC around the World! - and I missed it... it's like having a wild buck-nekid encounter with Juliette Binoche and developing amnesia afterwards. Like getting a picture taken with the president and leaving the lens cap on. Winning the lotto and losing the ticket. Meeting David Hasselhof and fainting before shaking his hand! What a tragedy...
In other news... I got a bunch of letters from Brookline JH (now James Middle School) to my students. I asked them to help be debunk Michael Jackson so I get a stack of letters saying how he lightens his skin, talks like a girl and molests little boys. Yup, just doing my part to make a better World... just you and me.... lets see that money bag - wanabe white - pedophile try and hawk his third rate muzak in my town! Jacko is History!
I went to Mesape to see the famous twin lakes. Gorgeous... but whoa is is me, got these huge blisters on my little toe. The hike was three hours each way and not the 71/2 as advertized & I, being an imbecile, thought I could get away with not wearing socks. Took a plantain truck back to Notsob. Sprawled out on a bed of plantains on four hours of dusty road - I love this place... NOT!
I got the UCLA & Lousana grad school stuff. I'm gonna try to register for the GRE's here. That'll keep me buzy for a while.
Tomorrow, I'm going to headquarters for a Gender Youth and Community development meeting. Just another opportunity for a hot shower ice-cream and Seinfeld re-runs. I love Peace Corps! Best travel agency you'll ever love!
A buddy of mine from town is moving into my house. Could be a disaster or could be pretty cool. He drives a taxi. We went to Dea a coupla weeks ago to hang out - a lot of fun. We'll see what happens. I'm trying to be cross cultural here!
All is well here, more or less. I gained a lot of weight since X-mas. Been working out on my dip rack & chip up bar. Getting all kinds of muscles - yup, rebuilding that exterior shell to hide interior insecurities... but if I can look like an Acireman coccoa farmer I don't care if I'm a neurotic mess inside.
Have fun. Gotta go make a better World... just you & me... Janet Jacko
Postmarked 3 -3 1997
|By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, February 03, 2002 - 8:48 pm: Edit Post|
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
|By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, February 03, 2002 - 8:48 pm: Edit Post|
I'm trying to get admin. Seperated (fired). There are 100 copies of each flyer and this letter ready to go to all the newspapers, up and down timber roads, and churches. The Malaysian mafia will probably kill me too but fuck'em. There's an internet Cafe in Norka costs an arm and a leg. I played street fighter in Revod. A bastardized version only 3 buttons but I still kicked ass. I attracted quite a crowd! "Le Chinois, le Chinois connais Kung Fu!"
Other than that, I'm bored shitless.
Acirema's Timber Industry
Four of Acirema's provinces, containing some of the world's most biodiverse primary tropical rainforests, are under the threat of deforestation. Heedless of the fate of local people, expatriate loggers operate by a system of pay-offs, rip-offs, fraud, and intimidation; up to 98% of the tax revenue collected from the foresty sector never reaches the National Treasury (La Voix du Paysan, 10/94). It is no accident that those areas of the East, South, Central, and Southwest with the highest rates of deforestation are also the least developed in the country. In Revned and Oiho, health facilities and schools are either non-existent or barely functional. Niam road of the Southwest remains a treacherous highway of dust and mud. Everywhere that foreign timber companies operate, poverty follows. Neo-colonialist exploitation of Africa's resources can only prolong its underdevelopment. That is what it is meant to do.
To be sure, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the exploitation of natural resources for national development. Europe, America, the Middle East, and more recently Asia have successfully exploited their timber, minerals, and oil in exchange for quality health care, education, and infrastructure. Can we say the same thing in Acirema? Is Niam road a tarred highway or a treacherous dust bowl? Do the citizens of Amabala, Sasnak, and Yesrej receive adequate health care and education? True, the timber companies grate the roads to allow their lorries to pass and "cadeaus" are given from time to time to placate the local communities, but even a blind man can see that such gifts are a pittance compared to the enormous wealth stolen with each passing lorry. Ever try to find out for how much every load of timber is sold at the ports of Norka? I would recommend against it if you value your life and liberty, but just note that each Mercedes lorry costs upwards of 50 million WFA. Money is being made... or, more accurately, money is being stolen.
Now some of this wealth, an ever so slight amount, is trickling into the local economies with devastating effects. Trees are not the only things being exploited on timber roads. Everywhere foreign timber companies operate, prostitution and, more devastatingly, child prostitution skyrockets as does the consequences of the sex industry -- STD's, AIDS, crude abortions, disintegrating social structures etc. Young girls from impoverished areas are easily enticed by loggers, lorry drivers, and their sinister expatriate proprietors -- Malaysians, Lebanese, French, and Italians. School girls along Niam road have even earned the dubious distinction, "Malaysian Small Thing". The symbiosis of the timber industry and the child-sex industry reveals the moral vacuum in which the foreign companies operate. What they are doing to Acirema they could care less because this is not their country and the girls are not their daughters. They are here to steal, whether it be mahogany, iroko, money, or the innocence of a school girl -- they will damn the consequences and steal!
I too am a foreigner albeit one involved in a "development" organisation. But I am guilty. Just as guilty as the Malaysians who destroy trees and school girls. Just as guilty as the government officials who enrich themselves with timber company bribes. I am guilty because my development organisation is a piece of the machine, a part of the system. The system that turns a blind eye while theft, environmental devastation, and child prostitution rages like a dust storm before our averted eyes.
In the end, this is not my problem. When my service is over, I will return home and enjoy all the benefits of a first world country and try to forget the dust storm of Acirema. In the end, this is Acirema's problem...
Postmarked 26-5 1998
John, 26 May '98
So the the Karaoke King of Lansing got his first big break! I'm basically flabbergasted I'm going to be eating me Tevas when I see Ba so I figure if I have to eat shoe, I should eat shoe in Italy where I can conveniently pick up some Bruno Maglis for those golf outings with O.J.
Now the 12 minute conversation with Ma was probably an excercise in miscommunication (my Chinglish is very rusty) but I heard something about Beethovan's 9th and the Pope. All I know about Beethovan's 9th is that that's the tune those cute little penguines danced to between stages of Pengo, and all I know about the Pope is that he's Polish. Now this has all the earmarks for one big ethnic joke. This is probably just common bigotry but some races of people are just plain funny and when you combine them with other humourous ethnicities (especially when Karaoke's involved) it can almost be as funny as a good Jewish comedian (I'll get to that later). When have you ever heard someone mention the Pope being Polish and have not waited for a punchline? But this scene is just classic: Chinese PhD physicist will sing the songs of the great black composer Beethoven (1/16th Moroccan) before Polish Pope (Toes Go In First).
This has got to be the biggest break the Lansing Far East Diaspora of Pavoratti Wanabes has ever had. Now I've never understood why Opera (and Karaoke, its degenerate cousin) is the favorite fetish of upper middle class Asian Americana, but I'll be the last to say that it's a bad thing. Where would Andrew Lloyd Weber be without the soulful Chinese rendition of the Theme from Cats, "Memories... arr arone in the moonright..." I really shouldn't make fun. I'm already going to eat my Teva's, if I crack a few more jokes, I may have to eat my running shoes as well.
Right now, I'm on Jeremiah of the Old Testament. The word of God is a painful read. Now I understand Kafka and the Big Jewish Joke. Maybe the Israelites would have been better off if God chose some other people. The Lord, as far as I can tell, is a raving lunatic and either Jews are the dumbest people on Earth or they've got one hell-of-a sense of humor. I would go with the latter cause you can't get any smarter than Freud, Kafka, Marx and Einstein and you can't get any funnier Jerry Seinfeld and Woody Allen. After tooling through most of the Bible, all kinds of stuff starts making sense. So that's what Indiana Jones was after!! They say Job was Chinese. I think that theory is very scetchy though Job is the best book of the Old Testament so far. That and Song of Songs, "Your breasts are like fawns..." How that delicious piece of poetry appeared in the Old Testy (pun intended) is beyond me.
I've finished teaching. Went out with a bang! Complete and utter bufoonery. I now know how to eat up an audience of Junior High School kids. But then again, it may be easier here where Charlie Chaplin works everytime and my competition isn't MTV and David Letterman but two goats fornicatering on the lawn. I need a job. Any job. Are there schools in your area placing adds? Does Microsoft need an office gopher? Does Bill Gates need a food taster?
June 19 I'm in London. If I can't last to see Ba in the Vatican seranade JP, I'll go to Seattle to Toilet Paper Bill Gate's house.