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PCVs John McAllister and Andy Christofferson teach Chemistry in Tanzania
PCVs John McAllister and Andy Christofferson teach Chemistry in Tanzania
Peace Corps volunteers teaching chemistry in Africa
By Lynnette Hintze
The Daily Inter Lake
Aside from scorpions in their homes, poisonous snakes outside and an occasional lizard in the lantern, life in Tanzania has settled into a routine for two Kalispell men serving in the Peace Corps in Tanzania.
John McAllister and Andy Christofferson knew each other from high school, but never had any deliberate intention of heading in the same direction after college.
McAllister, a 1997 Flathead High School graduate, and Christofferson, who graduated in 1998, both received chemistry degrees from Montana State University in Bozeman.
And both are now teaching chemistry in Tanzania.
They're two of 6,678 Peace Corps volunteers currently serving in 70 countries who are working to bring clean water to communities, teach children, help start new small businesses and stop the spread of AIDS.
Friday is Peace Corps Day, an annual event that marks the anniversary of the organization founded by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to promote world peace and friendship.
Each year the tradition of service is honored as returned Peace Corps volunteers share what they learned from their overseas experiences. McAllister and Christofferson use e-mail to keep friends and family abreast of daily life in East Africa.
McAllister, the son of Harry and Francy McAllister, said a quote by T.S. Eliot inspired his international adventure: "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."
"I love to connect with and help people," he said. "I have a strong desire to take a stand, make a difference and not hide out in what I think to be safe."
McAllister lives in the coastal city of Tanga, "a very hot and humid, malaria-infested, mdudu-ridden place" on the Indian Ocean. Mdudu is the Swahili word for bugs.
He's been there since December 2001 and teaches A-level chemistry at Tanga Technical School. His service ends late this year.
"I'm blessed with fairly reliable running water and electricity," he notes on his Web site at www.deepgreendesign.com/john/africa.htm
"Compared to some places in Tanzania, I live in the lap of luxury," he said. "For right now in my life, this is really what I want to do. Of course I have my difficult days, too, those in which I want to stay in bed under my mosquito net, away from the world and wishing everything wasn't how it is."
Getting used to the routine in Tanga — washing clothes by hand, cooking all food from scratch and living with "a rich assortment of interesting germs, worms and fungi that can affect and infect me" — was the easy part.
"The hard part is simply learning the culture here," McAllister observed. "People here have very different values than Americans and learning those differences is a continual challenge."
One of his latest projects is to start a softball program for his students. The Sunriser Lions Club, of which McAllister and his parents are members, is collecting used bats, balls and mitts to send to Tanzania. Anyone who has equipment to donate may call Rich Rossow at 756-6041 or the McAllisters at 755-2790.
Christofferson, the son of Brian and Trish Christofferson, arrived in Tanzania last September. He will spend two years in Korogwe teaching A-level chemistry at an all-girls school, and already has several projects in mind for the school, such as a decent computer lab, resources for blind students, a more reliable water supply and better storage of food.
He keeps friends and family posted about what's going on in Tanzania via e-mail, and incorporates humor in his writing that makes the narration funny and informative.
"Life seems to be so much more literal here," he wrote on Dec. 9, 2002. "Like when you're at a restaurant in the states and your food is taking a long time you might say, ‘what are they doing, killing the cow right now?’ Here, that's likely the case. And when you say, ‘don't let the bedbugs bite,’ here you're giving a legitimate warning."
Christofferson spent the first few months soaking in the culture, visiting nearby towns on days off and taking every opportunity to experience life in Tanzania.
"I've been on one safari so far, and I got to see giraffes, zebras and a lot of cool monkeys," he wrote. "I went to a Masai village and they served me a goat's head. I didn't eat it."
He doesn't eat meat anymore, period.
"You wouldn't either if you saw a Tanzanian butcher shop," he said.
"I try to find humor in just about everything, but some things here really aren't funny at all. One of the students at my school died Thursday of malaria. Classes Friday were canceled. There was a service Saturday."
Both Christofferson and McAllister take Mefloquine to ward off malaria. The medication, Christofferson quipped, "is harder on my liver than my freshman year of college was."
While Christofferson's rambling e-mails are hilarious, they're also profound at times.
"The Peace Corps forces your eyes open to the world, and I imagine it's difficult, if not impossible to shut them again," he said. "My neighbors’ son is dying. They don't have the money to send him to India for the operation, but I do. How do I tell them that I won't give it to them because I want to climb Kilimanjaro this summer? Tonight when you go to bed, after you turn off the lights, stare into the darkness and imagine a boy with bloodshot, yellow jaundiced eyes and a swollen belly, and ask yourself what you would do if you were in my place. Would you give him the money?
"The reason I want to stay is that very few worthwhile things in life come easy, and being here is making me a better person," he wrote last week. "Twice in two days I've been confronted with problems that seem simple and obvious enough, but, in spite of my willingness to help and best efforts, I couldn't solve them. I can't help but wonder if life is trying to tell me something ... or maybe I need to cut back on the anti-malarial drug dosage."
Features Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.