WorldView WINTER 2018 Vol. 31 No. 4 worldviewmagazine.org
AND HER NEWCOMERS
OUR TEACHER OF THE YEAR
Fire alarms in Moldova • The languages of DC • Syrians in Cincinnati • Ignore those travel advisories
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WINTER 2018 Volume 31, Number 4
WorldView Editor: David Arnold Publisher: Glenn Blumhorst Contributing Editor: John Coyne Contributors:
A magazine of news and comment about the Peace Corps world Suzanne Adam Ron Amstutz Gerry Auel Chris Austin Glenn Blumhorst Ted Celeste Jennifer DaPolito Nate Ducey Kul Chandra Gautam Lee Grant Robin Landis
Dinuka Liyanawatte John McAuliff Steve McCurry Susan Robinson Kate Schachter Kemi Tignor Tyler Tjomsland Paul Theroux Pattye Volz Mark Walker Aaron Weiss
WORLDVIEW ADVERTISING Address all questions regarding interest in advertising in WorldView or NPCA social media and other online opportunities to Scott Oser at advertising@ peacecorpsconnect.org WorldView (ISSN 1047-5338) is published four times per year (Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter) by National Peace Corps Association (located at 1900 L Street, NW, Suite 610, Washington, DC 20036-5002) to provide news and comment about communities and issues of the world of serving and returned Peace Corps Volunteers. WorldView © 1978 National Peace Corps Association. Periodicals postage paid at Washington, D.C. & additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER Please send address changes to WorldView magazine National Peace Corps Association 1900 L Street NW, Suite 610 Washington, DC 20036-5002 EDITORIAL POLICY Articles published in the magazine are not intended to reflect the views of Peace Corps, or those of National Peace Corps Association, a nonprofit mission-driven social impact organization mobilizing those whose lives are influenced by Peace Corps. NPCA is independent of the federal agency, Peace Corps. EDITORIAL SUBMISSIONS Send all communications regarding WorldView magazine to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will consider article proposals and speculative submissions. We also encourage letters to the editor commenting on specific articles that have appeared in the magazine. All texts must be submitted as attached Word documents. For more details on writer guidelines go online to www.peacecorpsconnect.org/ cpages/submission-guidelines or email the editor at email@example.com. SUBSCRIPTIONS In order to subscribe to WorldView magazine for $35 go online to www.peacecorpsconnect.org and click on Join Now. If you need to contact NPCA regarding a magazine subscription or other matters, call (202) 293 7728 ext. 15.
RPCV Mandy Manning in her office at the Newcomer School.
TEACHING THROUGH FEAR
Pattye Volz talks to Mandy Manning and one of her students about the power of teaching as Mandy visits America’s schools as 2018 National Teacher of the Year.
PEACE CORPS NEWS: BRING YOUR LANGUAGE HOME
Lee Grant reports on a Peace Corps experiment in Washington, D.C.’s public schools
LIVING AT WORLD’S END
Suzanne Adam discovers how to embrace life in Chile
COVER PHOTOGRAPH: U.S. National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning in the corridors of the Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington. The photograph was taken by Tyler Tjomsland of the Spokane Spokesman-Review. WorldView ∙ Winter 2018 ∙ www.PeaceCorpsConnect.org | 1
Winter 2018 Volume 31, Number 4
The publisher of WorldView magazine is National Peace Corps Association, a national network of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, former staff and friends. NPCA is a notfor-profit 501(c)(3) educational and service organization which is independent of the federal agency, Peace Corps.
A magazine for the greater Peace Corps community
14 Year-old Abdou Osman, Jamie Kreindler of Cincinnati Area RPCVs and Abdou's mother, Mayada Abdullah.
DEPARTMENTS PRESIDENT’S LETTER
3 Glenn Blumhorst asks you
30 'Living Poor'
40 We Are Together
Mark Walker celebrates the impact of Moritz Thomsen’s great memoir
Jennifer DaPolito finds strength in gender
to help NPCA LETTERS
5 New Ebola Threat, Good Thread of Service, and Loud & Orange CASE STUDY: OUR IMPACT
14 Welcome to Cincinnati RPCVs made sure a Syrian family found a home in the Queen City
33 A Travel Advisory Paul Theroux sometimes overrules embassy warnings GALLERY
38 Liquid Guinea Chris Austin’s photographs of the children of Pita
41 The Russian School Aaron Weiss studies his Moldovan classroom
44 A Global Citizen Kul Chandra Gautam appreciates his role in democracy
Carol Bellamy, Chair, Education for All—Fast Track Initiative Ron Boring, Former Vice President, Vodafone Japan Nicholas Craw, President, Automobile Competition Committee for the U.S. Sam Farr, Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives, California John Garamendi, Congressman, U.S. House of Representatives, California Mark Gearan, Director, Institute of Politics, Harvard Kennedy School Tony Hall, Former Member of U.S. House of Representatives, Ohio; Former U.S. Ambassador to UN Food and Agriculture Organization Sandra Jaffee, Former Executive Vice President, Citigroup William E. “Wilber” James, Managing General Partner, RockPort Capital Partners John Y. Keffer, Chairman, Atlantic Fund Administration Virginia Kirkwood, Owner/Director, Shawnee Holdings, Inc. Richard M. Krieg, President and CEO, The Horizon Foundation Kenneth Lehman, Chairman Emeritus, Winning Workplaces C. Payne Lucas, Senior Advisor, AllAfrica Foundation Dennis Lucey, Vice President, TKC Global Bruce McNamer, President & CEO, The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region Gordon Radley, Former President, Lucasfilms John E. Riggan, Chairman Emeritus, TCC Group Mark Schneider, Senior Advisor, Human Rights Initiative and Americas Program, CSIS Donna Shalala, Member of U.S. House of Representatives for Florida's 27th Congressional District. Paul Slawson, Former CEO, InterPacific Co. F. Chapman Taylor, Senior Vice President and Research Director, Capital International Research Inc. Joan Timoney, Director for Advocacy and External Relations, Women’s Refugee Commission Ronald Tschetter, President, D.A. Davidson & Co. Gaddi Vasquez, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, Edison International Aaron Williams, Executive Vice President Emeritus, RTI International Development Group Harris Wofford, Former U.S. Senator, Pennsylvania
BOARD OF DIRECTORS Maricarmen Smith-Martinez, Chair Jed Meline, Vice Chair Patrick Fine, Treasurer Rhett Power, Secretary Mariko Schmitz, Affiliate Group Network Coordinator Glenn Blumhorst, ex officio Nikole Allen J. Henry (Hank) Ambrose Daniel Baker Keith Beck
Sandra Bunch Bridget Davis Elizabeth Barrett Corey Griffin Chip Levengood Katie Long Robert Nolan Mary Owen Thomas Potter Edward van Luinen
STAFF Glenn Blumhorst, President Anne Baker, Vice President Jonathan Pearson, Advocacy Director Kemi Tignor, Director of Development David Fields, Special Projects Coordinator Kevin Blossfeld, Finance & Administrative Assistant Elizabeth (Ella) Dowell, Community Technology Systems Coordinator Cooper Roberts, International Programs Coordinator
CONSULTANTS David Arnold, WorldView editor Lollie Commodore, Finance Scott Oser, Advertising
INTERNS Emily Drewry, Caitlin Haley, Nathaniel Lim, Anthony Orsino
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VOLUNTEERS Peter Deekle
LETTER FROM THE NPCA PRESIDENT
CATALYST FOR IMPACT Help us restore international affairs funding
By: Glenn Blumhorst
resident John F. Kennedy said, “Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” Approaching the 40th anniversary of our 1979 founding, National Peace Corps Association has firmly established its purpose and direction as a catalyst for global social impact by the Peace Corps community. Together we are changing lives around the world. We’re ensuring the future of the Peace Corps. Despite the administration’s proposed cuts to Peace Corps’ budget, we maintained level funding for the agency at $410 million for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. At the same time, we successfully championed key reform legislation that improves healthcare and safety for Peace Corps Volunteers. This happened because we mobilized nearly 30,000 meetings, calls and letters from the Peace Corps community to members of Congress. Your support enabled us to conduct research, prepare materials, modernize our technology, host events, and travel around the U.S. to hold advocacy training and join constituent meetings with legislators. Our work is not finished. Any proposed cuts to the International Affairs budget and reductions in Peace Corps’ fiscal year 2020 budget will require Congress to restore funding for these programs. And further reforms are needed at the agency - including increasing the disability payments for RPCVs who come home with servicerelated illness and injuries. It won’t be easy. The midterm elections dramatically alter the political landscape. With hundreds of new lawmakers and their staff coming to
Capitol Hill, we’ll have our work cut out for us to educate Capitol Hill’s newcomers on Peace Corps issues. For us, that means an urgent need for increased funding for more staff, advocacy events, travel, and leave-behind materials. We’re empowering our Peace Corps community to “bring the world home.” Our community-driven approach enables 180 NPCA affiliate groups to empower their members to act on Peace Corps values across the country. Our vast network is a tremendous force for good to resettle refugees, clean up park trails, speak in schools, and advocate for public policy. Our community represents the best of America. NPCA is building the capacity of these affiliate groups to do what they do best—champion causes. We provide affiliate groups with the support and services they need to thrive: access to our modern community-builder membership platform, group leadership forums and webinars, and small grants that serve to heighten our grassroots community engagement. In an increasingly divided America, now is the time to act on our Peace Corps values. NPCA must expand support to our community members and new affiliate groups to better enable them to champion the Third Goal. That means hiring dedicated staff to work with affiliate groups, holding more training webinars and events, and making more capacitybuilding grants. We're transforming lives by investing in our global community. NPCA’s financial and technical support of PCV- and RPCV-led projects positively impacted more than 546,000 lives in 2017. This June, jointly with
Water Charity, we signed a donor agreement with Peace Corps, committing to raise and invest $1 million in Volunteers’ water and sanitation projects. Meanwhile, in Liberia, the NPCA-Water Charity partnership is on track to bring safe water to every person by 2020. Another partnership with TCP Global is helping provide micro-loans to families around the world. Our strategic partnerships provide more opportunities for our Peace Corps community to re-deploy on short-term international assignments. We’ve sent dozens of RPCVs to Indonesia, Thailand, Peru, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico to provide capacity-building assistance to local NGOs founded or led by RPCVs. In 2019 we’ll send RPCVs to Togo and The Gambia to implement our new Water for Everyone initiative, working with local organizations and our partner, Water for Charity. We will expand our programs to deploy RPCVs domestically and internationally on short-term assignments or when natural disasters arise. We are a community of impact. At the center of this vibrant community, NPCA exists so that your mission may be accomplished. Thank you for all the good work you do around the world. Please consider making a special gift to the only existing global social impact organization founded and driven solely by the Peace Corps community. Your tax-deductible contribution will enable NPCA to continue to inform, connect and engage our Peace Corps community in support of the causes we care about. Donate online at www. rpcv.org or mail a check to my attention at 1900 L Street, NW Suite 610, Washington, DC 20036. Glenn P.S. If you are 70 1/2 or older, you may allocate your IRA required minimum distribution (RMD) to NPCA as a qualified 501 (c) 3 organization, thereby reducing your tax burden.
WorldView ∙ Winter 2018 ∙ www.PeaceCorpsConnect.org | 3
PEOPLE. PLANET. PURPOSE. Our planet’s most pressing challenges don’t fit into neat, isolated fields — which is exactly why we reimagined graduate education around a problem-centered, transdisciplinary curriculum. Together, we form a passionate community characterized by creativity, bold thinking, and determination. Our International Development, Community, and Environment (IDCE) master’s degrees bring students and faculty together around 10 focal areas of research, including Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation, Health Equity, and Youth Development. GRADUATE PROGRAMS • M.A. in International Development and Social Change • MHS in Community and Global Health • M.A. in Community Development and Planning • M.S. in Environmental Science and Policy • M.S. in Geographic Information Science (GIS) There’s never been a better time to be a change-maker. CLARKU.EDU/IDCE
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4 | WorldView ∙ Winter 2018 ∙ National Peace Corps Association
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Readers comment on recent articles in the magazine. NEW EBOLA THREAT To the Editor: In the weeks following the publication of “Healthy Truckers,” my article in the Fall 2018 issue of WorldView about health clinics of Africa’s North Star Alliance, there was a new outbreak of Ebola in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. This new cluster is particularly challenging because it is occurring in an active conflict zone which hosts over one million displaced people. The affected provinces of North Kivu and Ituri share borders and transportation links with Rwanda and Uganda. In late October the World Health Organization reported 264 cases of Ebola virus disease including 187 deaths with the numbers increasing. WHO has not declared an international public health emergency but the risk of national and regional spread is deemed very high. Even with intensified surveillance and ongoing ring vaccinations efforts, screening and other preparedness activities need to be ratcheted up especially in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan. Security incidents and community mistrust have hindered implementation of some response measures, highlighting the need to strengthen community engagement activities in partnership with armed groups. Confirmation of Ebola virus infections among four health workers increases the potential for transmission within healthcare settings, and also from health facilities to the surrounding community.
Send your comments and opinions about recent articles in the magazine by email to The editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Along the transport corridors and at border posts where North Star Alliance clinics operate, health staff has been trained to follow best practices to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and are prepared to support national and regional health authorities as needed. Robin Landis, Sierra Leone, 83-86
REVOLUTIONARY CONSEQUENCES To the Editor: I appreciated the Book Locker article in the Fall issue of WorldView on “My Little Radios.” It shows how close we get to being considered “revolutionaries” and suffering the consequences when we promote social change. When I find a digital version I’ll share it with my author-colleague, Tom Miller, who donated his Moritz Thomsen materials to the Special Collection at the University of Arizona and whose specialty is Cuba— his wife is Cuban. Mark Walker, Guatemala, 71-73
A GOOD THREAD OF SERVICE To the Editor: Now in my third round of Peace Corps service, I realize how much Peace Corps is far more than volunteer projects and programs. I am becoming aware of its worldwide web that embraces the globe with its gossamer filaments of encounters, influences, and friendships. I have been marveling at this phenomenon since I finished a book by Hafida Latta, my Tunisian roommate during my first Peace Corps service. A reminiscence written not only for her children but also for all who treasure cultural
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connections, A Daughter of Kairouan covers a lifetime of travel and service. The Peace Corps is one of her earlier influences as Hafida describes meeting a PCV architect when she interned in urban affairs. Later sharing a flat with women PCVs, she became an unofficial PCV herself, discussing cultures, teaching Arabic, and speaking English like an American. A group of us conspired to smuggle Hafida into thenPresident Bourguiba’s reception for new Peace Corps Volunteers only. With her command of English, she passed herself off as a new volunteer and met the leader whom she credited with changing her destiny and that of her country. She was certain the president recognized her as a Tunisian and remembers his commenting, “Now you see why I love
the United States of America. Looking at this young girl, you would think she was Tunisian. America is the whole world in a single country.” Over fifty years later in 2018, reflecting on our long friendship and composing this letter in the volunteer lounge in Tanzania, I encountered a new volunteer. She revealed that she had been born in Tunisia and was returning there for a brief visit. As we exchanged our Tunisian stories, another filament was spun, expanding the web. I’ll share her name with Hafida. This is also the Peace Corps experience. Gerry Auel, Tunisia, 66-68; Burkina Faso, 13-15; Tanzania, 17-19
LOUD & ORANGE Steve Horowitz has a predilection for telling stories. The professor and
DONATE TODAY WWW.PEACECORPSCONNECT.ORG/CPAGES/GIVE 6 | WorldView ∙ Winter 2018 ∙ National Peace Corps Association
former director of the English as a second language program at Central Washington University in Ellensburg has countless times, in spoken and written word, described his years living in Iran from 1968 to 1971 during the time of the Shah. He has even performed readings about Iran in cafés, libraries and Persian studies classes. For 10 years he has produced a world music show and not long ago began hosting a two-hour FM radio talk show on Ellensburg Community Radio called “Small Town, Big World.” But his playwright-daughter, Joanna Garner (her pen name is her great grandmother’s maiden name) may be attracting a much larger audience to a few of her father’s stories. Now the director of exhibition narrative at Meow Wolf, an immersive arts company in Santa Fe, Garner’s play “The Orange Garden” won the 2016 Keene Prize for Literature and in that same year, made the national Kilroys List for top new plays by women playwrights. The work was first performed at the University of Texas at Austin where Garner earned her MFA in playwriting. The play was later staged at Northwestern University and received a reading at Theatricum Botanicum in Los Angeles where it won the 2018 Israel Baran award that is given to a play that “speaks the loudest” to the jury. The play is still looking for a world-premiere professional production. Garner grew up in Washington State listening to her father’s Iran stories about friends, students, travels, and the rituals of Sufi dervishes, surrounded by Persian carpets and artifacts of 1970s Iran. Her award-winning play follows a young Peace Corps volunteer to Iran where, as the program notes of one of the productions tell us, the main character gets swept into a dangerous romance and the growing fire of revolution. The production includes both Persian and Beat poetry, 1960s rock music, live setar, and a script woven with lines of Farsi. Garner’s father’s tales of Iran inspired the play although the story is fictional. “I grew up with this beautiful picture
of the culture, people, food, language, and landscape and, through him, I feel such a love for a country I’ve never been to, one that so many Americans fear or hate,” Garner said in promotional materials for the University of Texas production. Horowitz’s love of Iran continues to inform his own writing. In one story, Horowitz tells of witnessing a mysterious
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and disturbing dervish gathering. Just as Horowitz was about to return home on a bus, he writes, “I sensed someone looking at me from outside, I turned to the window to see the smiling face of one of those dervishes. He gestured with a small bow, his hand on his heart. Simultaneously, the bus pulled out of the station.” The Editors
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COMING TO AUSTIN?
Build your Connect tradition in Texas in June By Kate Schachter
ince my return from my first Peace Corps service in Ghana in 2007 I’ve been coming to NPCA’s annual Peace Corps Connect conferences every year with the exception of the year I spent in Georgia with Peace Corps Response. Connect has become a long-standing tradition of gathering to build a stronger Peace Corps community. For almost 40 years NPCA has coordinated with affiliates to hold yearly national conferences for RPCVs all over the nation, usually in larger cities such as Cleveland, Denver, Miami, San Diego, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. There are major turnouts for the fiveand ten-year Peace Corps anniversary events in Washington, D.C., but RPCVs also come to these annual conferences in smaller cities like my own hometown of Madison, Wisconsin; to Eugene, Oregon; and to the lovely Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort in Pennsylvania’s Poconos Mountains. This summer the owners
of the resort, Ginny Kirkwood and her family, welcomed about 250 RPCVs to Peace Corps Connect 2018. Several years ago NPCA initiated a Peace Corps Connect rotation from Washington, D.C. to the Upper Midwest, Northeast, South, and West. It’s the same great opportunity to meet with RPCVs from other regions who are building on our Peace Corps community’s Third Goal to bring the world back home. There are now more than 225,000 RPCVs and I think more of you should come. If we get more people, the conference pays for itself, and then some, with NPCA able to provide lower prices, especially to new RPCVs and volunteers. For 2019, we’re off to the South. I plan to sign up for Peace Corps Connect 2019 in Austin, Texas, June 20- 22, hosted by the Heart of Texas Peace Corps Association. Will I see you there? I mean, what’s not to like about Austin? And what’s not to like about the conference theme of Innovation for Good?
Here’s why I love Peace Corps Connect conferences. The people I get to meet with RPCVs who served in the 1960s and those who have just returned looking for a way to continue their Peace Corps experience. Returnees come looking for careers, grad schools, and the diversity that our Peace Corps has become known for. All of the innovations and values I love start here with this community. For example, this year in Shawnee I was chatting with Averill Strasser and his wife, Beverly Rouse. They run Water Charity, a non-governmental funder of potable water and sanitation projects around the world. Averill mentioned he is working with Peter Jensen, who now manages projects all over Africa and is starting with South America in Peru. Peter is teaching people how to bury water and has made great progress showing successes in desperate situations. Wait…
Paddling the Delaware River at the Peace Corps Connect 2018: Andy Smith (Costa Rica 94-96), Wendy Owens (Paraguay, 00-02), Chris Biles (Tanzania 15-18), and Kristina Owens (Bolivia 00-02).
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what? Bury water? Look it up by googling Terra Firma Permaculture! There’s wonderful cause-related knowledge in every presentation and every panel discussion. Through panel presentations and discussions, groups, Peace Corps, and NPCA share important news about projects that impact members. As a leader of the RPCVs for Environmental Action, I was pleased to meet with more than 20 RPCVs who had a wide choice of other panels or a kayak trip on the Delaware River to choose from. Our panel of speakers on the topic of “RPCVs Take Environmental Action” had an engaged group of attendees. Leaders and honors Representatives of many of the more than 180 RPCV affiliates gathered for a half day to share organizational skills, discuss areas of potential growth, learn about new support services being offered by the NPCA staff and board, and to give them feedback on what they think is working and what’s not. Outside the half-day forum, we honored the Cincinnati Area Returned Volunteers with the Loret Miller Ruppe Award for Outstanding Community Service for their work with refugees. Others were honored: former UNICEF assistant secretary-general Kul Gautam received the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award; Arlene Golembiewski received the Sargent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service for her work starting the Sherbro Foundation in her former Peace Corps site in Sierra Leone; and Diane Jones and Roma Guy won the Deborah Harding Women of Achievement Award for their lifelong support of women, the LGBTQ community and people with HIV. All acceptance speeches were heartfelt and inspirational about the work accomplished. The bigger picture I always feel charged from the effect of being with “my people.” The combination
Karen Keefer (Nigeria 66-68), Chic Dambach (Colombia 67-69), and Kate Schachter (Ghana 04-07) dining in the Shawnee resort pavilion.
Former Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet (Samoa 81-83) passed the microphone to her successor, Jody Olsen (Tunisia 66-68), as they discussed major agency challenges.
of meetings, receptions, dinners, and downtime turn the conference into an exciting dynamic of Third Goal accomplishment. The pomp and circumstance of a Gala dinner at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center or a Parade of the Flags in D.C. in 2011; a boat cruise and dinner for 150 RPCVs on the Mississippi River in 2012; another cruise in Boston Harbor in 2013; a community garden service project in 2017; a hike along the Appalachian Trail in 2018. These examples bring it together for an enjoyable long weekend. This all started with our service in Peace Corps. When I went to Peace Corps Response/Georgia, I was proud to see
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that they had both versions of the Peace Corps Pledge – the required one, and the new one that Meleia Egger created and introduced to us in 2015. I was prepared in Georgia, but still I was blown away by the poetry of it. The pledge created the right atmosphere in Berkeley when it was formally introduced. It remains a fitting commitment to world peace and friendship. Kate Schachter is a past president and still active with the RPCVs of Wisconsin-Madison, as a former member of the NPCA board of directors and coordinator of the Group Leaders Forum. She is now a Peace Corps recruiter on the University of WisconsinMadison campus.
WHY I GIVE
way to a job at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and I started to find my way in a role where I could continue to help people. She helped unite the larger Peace Corps community Tignor: Why do you support NPCA’s mission? Tignor: What does the NPCA Tignor: Where did you serve and Keefer: Peace Corps service provided community mean to you? when? me with a life-changing experience. In my Keefer: I was a co-founder of NPCA Keefer: Offa, Kwara, Nigeria from Nigerian tour of service, I “grew up” and so for me it’s like my child. After returning 1966 to 1968. learned what “living” was all about when to America, I longed to know others who Tignor: What is your happiest several of my village friends died from were also interested in issues of the wider moment from your time in the Peace preventable diseases and accidents. Today, world as I was. By 1977, I made my way Corps? I support NPCA on behalf of RPCVs to Washington, D.C. and spent some time Keefer: In my second year, I really like me who return home full of fire and hanging out in Peace Corps Headquarters, started to grow as a person and as remain committed to living their entire where I connected with a member of a lives by their Peace Corps ideals. I am a number of RPCVs community. It was Shriver Circle proud of my role as “Mother of the NPCA who had also served the first time I felt movement.” With each gift to NPCA, in Africa. We formed like a true family member Karen Keefer I believe I stoke the flame for service African Agenda to member. Someone talks with NPCA's and peace that exists in all of us and see how we could use who was loved, who development director, is best exemplified by our Peace Corps our positions in the was loving, and who community. nation’s Capital to belonged. Kemi Tignor, about Tignor: How would you encourage continue helping those Tignor: Who in her commitments the larger community to support NPCA? we left behind. Rather the Peace Corps do Keefer: There needs to be more love organically, small you most admire? to our Peace Corps in this world. We are all in this together. RPCV groups like ours Past or Present. community. If you believe that, then you work began to connect with Keefer: Those towards that, towards an expansion of other RPCV groups who are continually our personal world to include everyone across the country. committed to in it. It’s easier when you meet people The next year African Agenda became the serving the world. from other backgrounds. Peace Corps majority of a new DC area group called Tignor: What is your greatest volunteers have had our minds opened, Action Alumni Association of the Greater treasure that you brought back from your we have met and Washington Area. time as a volunteer? come to know, That group became Keefer: I brought back me as a real understand and love the nation’s largest person. When I went over, I was like five people of various RPCV group and different personalities, a new character to backgrounds. It helped to form the meet the requirements of whatever group is important that National Council of I encountered. Over there, they didn’t we share this RPCVs, which later play the games of personalities. I stripped experience with our became NPCA. myself of all of the facades that you take friends, families, I also came on as an American trying to fit in. I was and community. back from Peace worried that there might not be anything NPCA connects, Corps looking to underneath all of those facades, but I was supports and find what I wanted seen by the Nigerian family I encountered catalyzes the to do in life. I felt and came to love. They made me into larger Peace Corps that I had a lot of something. I felt I was born in Africa. community for career experience Tignor: What is your relationship good. I want to but found myself with your host country now? encourage members over-qualified at Keefer: I have maintained many of the Peace Corps each job I applied personal friendships with the people community to think for. So for 10 years I lived with in Nigeria. My Nigerian Karen shared a little shade with a market mama about NPCA as the I moved from job during Moroccan travel. “daughter” who was two years old when I cutlery that we use to job, city to city met her and four when I left her lives in to spread sweet honey throughout the searching for a meaningful role following Silver Spring, Maryland. I see her when I world. a life-changing experience as a Peace come back to the East Coast and greatly Corps Volunteer in Nigeria. I made my value our friendship.
IT'S LIKE MY CHILD
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LEVELS OF DISCOURSE
Teaching civility across the aisle one state at a time By Ted Celeste
ecent events such as the Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings and the run-up to the mid-term elections have raised the rhetoric and the finger pointing. Civility has been through the wringer. Why should we be civil, some ask, when they haven’t been? We need to fight fire with fire, others say. It has been a particularly nasty environment. So, how should we interpret the recent results of the mid-terms? Clearly, one thing is still very much an issue: We have created a schism in our society that will not be easily bridged. I strongly believe that we must all continue to work hard at finding ways to look for common ground. We must treat each other with respect. We must listen to understand. And we should pause before we hit send. I have been part of an effort to reach these goals by working with state legislators around the country. Let me tell you the story of how I came to devote my career to bringing Republicans and Democrats together. My journey includes the Peace Corps, my dad, political service, and Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. It begins in the early 1960s. I was in high school in Lakewood, Ohio, and because my father was the mayor of Lakewood I had an incredible opportunity as a young impressionable teenager. The newly elected President John Kennedy rode through Lakewood in a motorcade and I met him. I was raised in a very political household. My dad was a Democrat even though Lakewood was then a very Republican town. We talked politics around the dinner table and I learned from my dad the value of working across the aisle. I heard a lot about President Kennedy. Meeting the President had a profound impact on my life at a time when the political world was just
appearing on my radar. Also, at just about the same time as my encounter with President Kennedy I turned 16 and could drive. Why was driving important? Well, my dad was looking to run for Attorney General of the State of Ohio. During the primary, I became one of his drivers and met many more political figures. None were as impressive as John Kennedy, however. His ability to relate to people of all stripes was particularly important. This was a formative time for me. My dad lost that primary race, and I learned a lot about what it means to lose when you think you can win. And I heard many stories about President Kennedy. We still display a beautiful color photograph of President and Mrs. Kennedy personally autographed to my father. The next year I graduated and headed off to the College of Wooster where as a freshman I was crushed by the news of the President’s assassination. But the Kennedy message and that Kennedy charisma stuck with me and I knew I wanted to go into the Peace Corps. When we got married, my wife Bobbie and I applied and were invited to teach in the Fiji Islands. We joined and after training on the island of Molokai in
We must listen to understand. And we should pause before we hit send. Hawaii, we headed off to Waya Island in the Yasawa group in Fiji. Bobbie taught third grade and I taught fourth grade. Upon our return to the United States, I worked for the State of Ohio and got involved in local, statewide, and national campaigns. In the early 70’s, I ran my brother’s campaign for
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Lieutenant Governor of Ohio. Following that successful effort, I ran the Ohio Jimmy Carter primary election campaign which we also won. I enjoyed the role of campaign manager but thought I would like to run for office myself. A different kind of campaign I discovered that I had a strong conviction based on all of those political experiences that if I ever ran for office, I wanted to do it differently. I was committed to running a positive campaign and to work across the aisle. It would take me 24 years before I found the right opportunity. In 2006, I challenged an incumbent Ohio state representative and won. I had run an all-positive campaign and thought that I could take that spirit into the State House. During three terms in the Ohio General Assembly I established a reputation as someone able to work across the aisle. However, I grew increasingly frustrated that the level of partisanship reached such a low point that good legislation couldn’t move forward. I felt there should be a better way. After my third term I was redistricted out of my seat. Instead of running in my new district I chose to develop a nonprofit that would work with lawmakers to build a more civil legislative environment. I soon discovered The National Institute for Civil Discourse which had been created after the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. The Tucson community and the University of Arizona wanted to make something good come out of the horrendous event. In 2012, our two organizations partnered to create Next Generation, a program for state legislators that provided a half-day workshop called “Building Trust through Civil Discourse.” We trained 40 legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, to be facilitators. Since 2012, we have held 23 workshops in 16 states that led to the creation of the National Network of State Legislators committed to Civil Governance.
We have reached over 750 legislators—including some RPCVs— with this training and lined up more states through 2019. The goal of the workshops is to provide a safe environment for meaningful dialogue and the preparation of a working action plan for implementation of ways to improve civil discourse in the legislatures. Key elements include the establishment of ground rules for the workshop, a personal journey exercise in which legislators identify impactful events which led to their personal value system, and a working action plan. At first it was difficult to get legislators to participate. Our groups were usually only 10 to 15 participants. Now the average size is around 25 to 30. In one state all 105 legislators signed up for a workshop. Our goal is to have each state institutionalize the workshop for all new members. The election of 2016 changed the dynamics of our nation’s political discourse to a great degree, and created growing interest in our work. Unfortunately, with the growing dysfunction in our politics both nationally and within states, the need for changed behavior is even greater. Positive signs abound. In addition to The National Institute for Civil Discourse more than 80 national groups have joined under the banner of the Bridge Alliance working to improve our dysfunctional system. The lessons of the Peace Corps guide the way—not imposing our values on others, but to listen and understand through their cultural lens. Our work is needed now as much as when President Kennedy first proposed the Peace Corps in the 60’s.
PEACE CORPS CONNECT CONFERENCE
Peace Corps Connect 2019 Conference Theme: Innovation for Good
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Ted Celeste is director of state programs for The National Institute for Civil Discourse and leads their Next Generation program. For more information write to tceleste@ email.arizona.edu or go to nicd.arizona.edu/ national-network-statelegislators or go to bridgealliance.us/
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WELCOME TO CINCINNATI By David Arnold
before President Trump signed Executive assam Osman worked in a shoe Order 13769 banning immigration for factory in Aleppo, the commercial Syrian refugees. capital of the Republic of Syria. The State Department’s Bureau of During the seven-year civil Refugees, Population and Migration war that some called a revolution, the gave them a onegovernment of time stipend of President Bashir al$1,125 for food, Assad bombed that The Cincinnati housing, utilities shoe factory and and transportation. more than 130 other Area Returned For three months city buildings. Volunteers received Catholic Charities Seven years ago NPCA’s 2018 Loret provided them Osman crossed the housing, cultural border into Turkey Miller Ruppe Award orientation, classes to get emergency for Outstanding in English as a medical treatment second language for his oldest Community Service. and job readiness. daughter, Zulekha, Catholic Charities and returned home asked CARV to to rescue his wife, provide mentoring and ongoing social Mayada, another daughter and two support to assist the family in integrating younger sons from the bombing. They into the Cincinnati community and were among more than 5.5 million American culture. Syrians who have fled their brutalized homeland. Experienced hosts The family struggled in Turkey’s “We’re a small affiliate,” says Susan informal refugee camps or living with Robinson, who has led much of the relatives for five years. Osman later told group’s recent work with refugees and an interpreter and Cincinnati Enquirer immigrants. For more than 15 years reporter, “In Turkey, my kids were called RPCVs in CARV have served informally scavengers and dirty.” to help immigrant communities in The UN High Commissioner for Cincinnati adapt to life in America, Human Rights declared the Osmans including mentoring a newly arrived refugees. The State Department refugee family from South Sudan in conducted an extended background 2004. Beginning in 2015, CARV initiated investigation and security check and a project in partnership with their local medical exams. Their status as stateless Catholic Charities to greet refugees and and displaced Syrians ended in 2016 immigrants at the airport, deliver the when the State Department offered to refugees to new temporary housing in resettle the family in the United States. apartment buildings, truck in recycled The family flew to Cincinnati, where furniture from the Catholic Charities Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio warehouse, tutor them in English as offered them a new American home in a second language, invite these new the Queen City. They arrived six months
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RPCVs resettle refugees from Syria’s eight-year civil war
Now settled in Cincinnati, Bassam Osman and Mayada Abdullah and their children escaped warfare in Syria and displacement in Turkey for five years before Catholic Charities and the Cincinnati Area Returned Volunteers welcomed them to Cincinnati; Left to right, Bassam, Abdou, Mayada, Ahmed, Mohammed, Sara, and Zulekha.
They arrived six months before President Trump signed Executive Order 13769 banning immigration for Syrian refugees.
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CARV member Jamie Kreindler (second from left) and Elizabeth Billings (far right) Haiti 01-03, showed the Osmans the Contemporary Art Center
American families for holiday dinners, join them in community service projects, and guided them on field trips to city museums and countryside orchards. “Catholic Charities saw us as a pretty cohesive group,” say Robinson, who had worked in irrigation, agriculture and sanitation projects with her husband, Jim, in central India from 1969 to 1971. Since her retirement as a financial officer at Macy’s, Robinson has come to know the Bassam and his family well. “They asked us to mentor the Osman family in the next phase of their integration into our community.” Under Robinson’s watchful eye, more than 50 CARV members pitched in to mentor the Osman family, finding Arabic speakers to translate, recruiting English language tutors, taking families to doctor appointment and negotiating the labyrinth of city and school bureaucracies for all of the family, which now includes a year-old baby boy Abdou. The job NPCA chose to honor CARV’s refugee resettlement work because it far exceeded
expectations for the commitment and success of other NPCA affiliates or any other organic community organizations. The Osmans needed CARV’s help and they got it. The Osmans first three months in America were daunting, says Robinson. “They’d fallen behind in their English classes and the employment class.” Bassam had not found a job yet. Catholic
Howell challenged the young Syrian on the shop’s green sewing, stitching and finishing machines and hired him on the spot. In his low downhome Georgia accent, Clarence Howell told the Enquirer reporter, “When I met him, he reminded me of myself.” Since then, Howell has increased Bassam Osman’s pay from $9 to $11 an hour and increased his daily hours from three to fulltime work.
'Catholic Charities saw us as a pretty cohesive group,’ says Susan Robinson
The economics For all of their generous support of the Osmans and the long ranks of immigrants they have served, Catholic Charities policy encourages refugees to be self-sufficient and discourages dependency members from buying food or clothes for the families. “We use Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul’s because that seems more fair and sustainable,” Robinson says. However, the biggest financial challenge for the Osmans was a $7,000 loan from the Geneva-based International Office of Migration for the cost of their flight from Turkey to Cincinnati and the cost of applying for their green cards. CARV lifted that financial burden for the
Charities had offered him several. “But he wanted to be a cobbler,” Robinson says. That problem was solved when at a CARV potluck members raised the issue. Alberta Hemsley, Philippines 67-69, found just the man who could help. The 78-year-old African American owner of Clarence Howell Shoe Repair in the revitalized neighborhood of Pleasant Ridge had a backlog of shoes to fix.
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Osmans. The group posted an appeal on GoFundMe and within six weeks CARV members, family and friends raised funds with which the Osmans paid their debt. Mentoring a family One of CARV’s strengths in mentoring the city’s New Americans is the close network of members whose volunteer commitments and careers are intertwined. Annie Scheid, Jamaica 9193, is director of refugee resettlement for Catholic Charities of Southwest Ohio. Ron Ison, Togo , 84-87, trains volunteers for the city’s Community Learning Center Institute. Rachel Von Holle, Macedonia, 14-16, teaches English at Roselawn Condon Elementary School, attended by Bassam and Mayada’s daughters when they arrived. They were in her classroom last
year. “Zulekha is the very social one and loves to talk,” Von Holle says. “Sara, the second one, is a little more relaxed. Both love to help their mom and the baby brother.” She found that their father enjoyed making jokes. Jamie Kreindler, Morocco, 15-18, used her Moroccan Arabic to help the family and to get to know Bassam’s wife, Mayada. “She’s adjusting very well. Her children help her a lot.” Mayada’s English is not as good as her childrens’ but she is always thanking CARV members for what they have done. “She says in English, ‘Thank you, Susan,’ and holds her hands over her heart.” Breaking away With the help of their local mosque, the family has moved from their first
apartment in Bond Hill to better housing in Colerain Township. In May of 2016 the children received scholarships to attend the Universal Muslim Academy, a blend of English instruction, Islamic tradition, and a Montessori curriculum. “We don’t like losing our students,” Von Holle says. “It’s fun to see them learn, but we understand that’s what the family needs.” CARV is now looking for another service project. Robinson says the Osmans are in good shape. “We’re keeping those friendships and many of us still visit them.” The author is editor of WorldView magazine and taught English as a second language in Asbe Teferi, Ethiopia, 64-66.
BRAZIL HONORS JUDGE PETER MESSITTE Brazil’s President Michel Temer presented the Order of the Southern Cross, the highest honor given a foreigner, to U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte who, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, taught comparative law at the University of Sao Paulo Law School in Sao Paulo in 1967 and 1968, Messitte, the U.S. District Judge for the District of Maryland, has received several honors for his several decades of work with Brazil’s judicial system. He has performed pro bono consulting on judicial reform through the U.S. Agency for International Development, the International Judicial Relations Committee of the U.S. Federal Judicial Conference, the American Bar Association Rule of Law of Initiative for Latin America and the Caribbean, and at the direct invitation of foreign judiciaries. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Judge
Messitte taught law and coached a soccer team in Sao Paulo and his wife Susan developed health and hygiene clinics for young girls in underserved neighborhoods. After his Peace Corps service, Messitte, who is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, started a private law practice in Montgomery County, Maryland and represented many nonEnglish speaking clients. He then served as a Circuit Court Judge for eight years and, in 1993, was appointed to the U.S. District Court for Maryland (South Division) in Greenbelt, Maryland. Judge Messitte’s court was in the news last summer when he ruled that a law suit can go forward arguing that President Donald Trump is violating a U.S. constitutional ban on federal officials receiving emoluments by receiving financial gain from foreign or state governments whose representatives
stay in rooms at Trump International Hotel, the former U.S. Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue.
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TEACHING PAST FEAR
America’s Teacher of the Year began her career in Armenia By Pattye Volz
Everything started for me when I walked into her classroom,” says Hussein Al Khazraji. With no family and very limited English, 19-year-old Al Khazraji moved from Iraq to Washington State, then entered Mandy Manning’s classroom in Spokane, Washington. “In Iraq, I hated school but here, Mandy taught us to love learning. She made English and math fun, plus introduced us to everything. She opened America to me.” “It’s like a family in that class,” he says. “She treats everybody like her own kid. She’s always smiling, caring, being positive and taking the extra step for someone. She helped all of us get out of
our fear zone and then care about each other.” Al Khazraji says Manning visited their families, took her students out to explore the neighborhoods, and included them in activities with her husband and three children. For seven years Manning, 42, has been teaching English and math at the Newcomer Center at Spokane’s Joel E. Ferris High School. The center provides the first formal educational experience for many of the area’s immigrants and refugees in a learning environment that has included more than 75 languages. They come from countries like Sudan, Tanzania, Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Guatemala, and Chuuk, a collection of Pacific islands in the Federated States of
Micronesia. In Manning’s typical class of 20 students, it is often the case that no one in the room initially speaks the same language. Manning is the 56th teacher in the United States to receive the annual National Teacher of the Year honors. She began her teaching career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in an elementary school in a small village near Alaverdi in the Republic of Armenia in 1999. She is the second RPCV to receive the award. Michelle Forman, who received that honor in 2001, taught global history and social studies in Middlebury Union High School in Vermont. Forman was a health volunteer in Nepal from 1967 to 1969 and died in August of last year.
"They are so young with such potential," Manning says. "It’s exciting and such a privilege….We impact the future every single day, one kid at a time. It’s a gift."
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‘Kids are so funny and such a challenge. It’s cool to walk with them on their journey to be adults.’ The selection committee from the Council of Chief State School Officers called Manning “a strong educator who believes in a great public education for every student and has a unique perspective on meeting the needs of some of our nation’s most vulnerable children.” As the 2018 Washington State Teacher of the Year, Manning had already been giving talks and meeting with teachers since January. Since her visit to the White House as National Teacher of the Year, she’s been released from her classroom in Spokane to travel the nation to speak with educators, administrators, decision makers, and advocacy groups about education, schools, and especially her students. In Orlando, she attended the Educator Rising Conference. She spoke with advocates of public education at the National PTA Conference in New Orleans and joined some of America’s best and brightest students at the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. “It’s been a whirlwind so far. My intent is to challenge educators, encourage them to look outside of their own experiences,” says Manning. “It’s pretty simple. I want all of us to see the value of connections, building bridges instead of fences and to question our perceptions.” When she spoke at National Peace Corps Association’s Peace Corps Connect Conference in August, she recalled her own experience as a Volunteer in Alaverdi and the exhilarating adventure of crossing new bridges of landscape and culture. One cold winter day, she had to walk to a larger neighboring town to buy more kerosene for her heater. Manning stuffed a change of clothes in her backpack, grabbed her empty plastic drum, and headed for the stop where a marshutni, a public minivan, waited. “I was walking down the street, laden down with this big backpack and carrying that drum and I remember walking down the street marveling at my life. It was so complicated but so simple all at the same time and I was overcome with happiness. “This was my life and I was so incredibly lucky to be experiencing it, right at that moment."
A natural teacher in Armenia Manning hadn’t initially planned to be a teacher. People close to her suggested she consider it as a career, but as an undergraduate she was preparing to be a filmmaker. Then, she joined the Peace Corps. “I knew she was a natural educator,” says Matt Fabian, Manning’s Peace Corps site mate in northern Armenia. “She was always very prepared, took her students’ concerns seriously, and went out of her way. Her empathy was particularly distinctive.”
Fabian and Manning worked together on a secondary teaching project to help Armenian Red Cross volunteers improve their English. “It became more and more popular, growing to 30 or 40 adults.” Her Peace Corps experience taught Manning, “There are so many ways of being and doing, and they are all valid so it’s important to be open to diversity.” She also thinks it’s a Peace Corps thing to intentionally seek experiences to challenge oneself. “I wish everyone would join Peace Corps, or something similar. It broadens our world view so we see differences as an asset. “Peace Corps showed me I could be a teacher. I loved those kids in Armenia.” She
Manning’s latest hair style is the creation of one her of students, Iraqi refugee Hussein Al Khazraji, who graduated and moved to San Diego to become a hair stylist.
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found further inspiration among students when she returned to the United States and a tiny town in rural Texas. “I loved it from the first day,” she says. “Kids are so funny and such a challenge. It’s cool to walk with them on their journey to be adults.” The principal at Joel E. Ferris High School, Ken Schutz, says, “She has the drive and great communication skills to build personal relationships, build a trust. Then learning takes place at a higher level.” Schutz says Manning’s preparation for classes and her classroom style result in substantial student growth and learning. Beyond the classroom she coaches basketball, delivers blankets, and hosts potluck dinners for her students. “Things that build personal relationships and make them feel welcome,” Schutz says. She recruits mainstream students to tutor her Newcomer students and develop closer ties between students of both schools. Manning jumped in Manning’s natural response is to do more than expected for these students in transition. The family of one Newcomer
student faced eviction. “By the end of the school day,” says teaching colleague Amanda Mills, “Mandy had gotten a truck, a charity to help, and a place for the family to go. She just jumps in to help.” “She really is this person,” says Mills. The two have worked together at the Newcomer Center for six years and knew each other before that. “She sees the kids as people first, sees each as an individual to figure out how best to teach them.” Manning is also a dedicated advocate for her profession. A national boardcertified teacher with many awards to her name, Manning is active in educational
‘It’s pretty simple. I want all of us to see the value of connections— building bridges instead of fences and to question our perceptions.’ organizations, mentors other teachers, and holds leadership positions on several board and committees to strengthen
ties between the school and the Spokane community. Those connections include facilitating classroom visits from school board members, colleagues, administrators, legislators, and more than 150 teachers-in-training. She describes the challenges the students have in adjusting to life in the United States. Her Message Manning sees fear in her own students when they arrive because they don’t know how they will be received. She believes that when they are welcomed, they can learn, connect, and become productive. She hopes people will become less fearful. “I don’t mean like taking unnecessary risk, but getting out of our comfort zones. Walking next door to meet the neighbor or asking questions of a classmate unlike us. If we intentionally seek out these experiences across differences, especially for our students, it might end up broadening our perspectives…. Otherwise, we miss opportunities to make connections, to learn, and to grow into our best selves.”
A row of red-robed graduates of Manning’s classes in Spokane’s Newcomer School stand for the camera.
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Given the current national debate over immigration, Manning’s message is definitely getting attention. After her White House announcement in May, some news reporting and social media took her to task for not shaking hands with President Donald Trump. She shook the President’s hand “several times,” she says, “but couldn’t when he was handing me the award as it was heavy.” She was also criticized by some who felt the many pins she wore for the White House ceremony were a sign of protest. The pins she wore that day celebrated Peace Corps, National Education Association, Council of Chief School Officers, Women’s March, and TransEquality Now with a rainbow. She wore them to let “my students and colleagues know I was representing them.” Manning took the kickback in stride, she says, because it helped to spread her ideas, but she shut down her personal email briefly after receiving some intimidating messages and was disappointed that those details distracted
from the issues. “I would never go into that situation to be rude or impolite,” she insists. She says it was “a wonderful ceremony” and handed the President letters from her students and invited him to visit her classroom in Spokane. Celebrating the selection Students from that classroom cheered when they gathered together to hear that Mandy Manning had been named National Teacher of the Year. Hussein Al Khazraji couldn’t agree more with the choice. He remembers how Manning helped him identify a path forward in his new country. Recognizing that Al Khazraji had experience and interest in cutting hair, she helped him get into cosmetology school, assisting with the specific English vocabulary and details like getting a job, a car and a place to live. Eventually, Al Khazraji became Manning’s hairdresser, giving her the stylish cut she now sports.
CINDERELLA IN LOS ANGELES On a Monday night in September, Maureen Orth stood on the Microsoft Theater stage in Los Angeles celebrating the Emmy win for Outstanding Limited
Maureen Orth shares her Emmy win with Ryan Murphy, creator of the TV series.
Series for American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. It is based on her 1999 best-selling book, Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History. Orth’s reporting career began at Newsweek in 1973 and led her to New York Magazine and NBC News and eventually to special correspondent for Vanity Fair. She has profiled everyone from Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel to Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift. Her acclaimed investigations into the charges of pedophilia against Michael Jackson and Woody Allen went viral on the Internet. Her 2015 cover story on the Virgin Mary, the World’s Most Powerful Woman, was one of the bestselling covers for National Geographic magazine. Last September in Vanity Fair she interviewed one of Colombia’s most feared FARC female revolutionaries, alias “Karina.”
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They continue to keep in touch. Al Khazraji now lives in San Diego, working as a hairdresser while also writing and producing music. He credits Manning for his successful adjustment to life in the U.S. “I never had anyone care that much about how I was doing before.” Manning believes it’s important to help such newcomers adjust here. “Ninety-eight percent of these students come in with this hopeful, excited, dedicated attitude. They really see that they’ve been given an opportunity and want to become contributing citizens.” Pattye Volz is a freelance writer in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 2017, she served as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Tbilisi, Georgia, developing public communications for the office of Georgia’s attorney general. Before that, she was the editor of two community newspapers in Colorado Springs for more than seven years and public affairs director for a U.S. Department of Energy laboratory in Ames, Iowa.
Orth has covered the lives of many stars but says, “winning a major award is the very best way to go to Hollywood. When I got back to my hotel that night, there was a bottle of chilled champagne waiting for me with giant chocolatecovered strawberries and a note from the hotel congratulating me on my win. So very Cinderella at the ball.” Orth served from 1964 to 1966 in Medellin, Colombia where she helped build a school that is named for her. In the last 12 years her Marina Orth Foundation has provided 7000 computers, STEM, English and leadership training in 21 schools for 11,000 students. In 2015, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos awarded her the Cruz de San Carlos, Colombia’s highest civilian award for service to the country.
BRING YOUR LANGUAGE HOME Language Fellows transfer their skills to Washington, D.C. schools By Lee Grant
s a profession, teaching, it is said, draws a special kind of person, one seeking to reach children and tap into their uniqueness, to make a difference in lives. As the poet William Butler Yates wrote, “Education is … the lighting of a fire.” The year-old, ambitiously titled the Global Language Corps is a program that connects the Washington, D.C., public schools and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to light fires through language learning among elementary, middle school and high school students in the District. The program focuses on Arabic, American Sign Language, French, Italian, Latin, Mandarin and Spanish to support RPCVs who apply for teaching positions in DC’s Global Language Corps. Applicants to become Peace Corps Fellows in D.C.’s Global Language Corps must demonstrate proficiency in a second language and the ability to adjust their classroom skills from the countries in which they served to a U.S. school district with a high percentage of students living below the poverty line. A successful threeyear commitment can lead to a fulltime teaching license. For the District’s public schools, the goal is to cultivate a pool of qualified language teachers for a system which boasts the highest teacher salaries in the country. A class of global thinkers A rigorous screening process identified three RPCV candidates for D.C.’s Global Language Corps. School administrators conducted a one-week pre-service training and now hold monthly feedback and support meetings with them. One of the chosen few was Emily Clayton, who taught English as a Foreign Language in Nicaragua’s Rio San Juan region from 2012 to 2014. She now
teaches Spanish to pre-kindergarten through 8th graders at the city’s West Education Campus. Clayton is 28 years old and her teaching background is rich. At Tufts University, she majored in International Relations with an emphasis on Latin America and studied abroad in Chile. Emily has found an educational home in Washington, D.C. teaching Spanish as a World Language in a school with a high population of students who learned it at home. “This is one of the most diverse schools I’ve seen ethnically and socioeconomically, kids from all over the city chosen by lottery. “We have students who themselves have immigrated from El Salvador, Honduras, Ethiopia, Cambodia, China, and students who were born here to parents from another country. Overall, our school is still technically majority African American.” She bikes to school and arrives around 7:30 a.m. to work in a classroom full of middle school students. “I try and get
there early.’ She has her own classroom and fills the day with 20 classes of students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Clayton’s biggest challenge is teaching a world language and giving students the exposure they need in the time she has. And she doesn’t give up. “If they haven’t been exposed to the language at an early age, then in order to grasp it, I just continue to work with them. They’re young to take this risk and be out there in front of people speaking another language” Building relationships with students fulfills her. “I now know a lot of their families,” she says, “We meet with parents for home visits as part of the work we are required to do at school and parents are very involved in school events." Moment of reflection: “In Nicaragua, the challenges are very different. Here we have enough chairs and a sold roof over our heads so the expectations about what students need to achieve to be successful in life are very different."
During her Nicaragua service, Emily Clayton practiced her classroom techniques with some local teachers during an English teachers conference in Nueva Guinea on the Caribbean coast.
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'This is one of the most diverse schools I’ve seen ethnically and socio-economically. Kids from all over the city chosen by lottery.' Gaining global confidence Kate Ireland was the founding director of this four-year-old Global Education program for the public schools in Washington, D.C. It was her idea to connect with the Peace Corps and help students gain “global confidence and be global citizens of the world.” She knows that children with “multi-language skills have many more opportunities” but it was a struggle recruiting teachers. “It’s grueling work,” says Ireland, “incredibly challenging and demanding. Those called to this are passionate and believe everybody deserves to have an excellent education … This is a basic piece of democracy everyone should have.” “It’s intended to be a pathway, an entrée to the U.S. public school system, someone excited to work with these kids.” They were looking for Fellows with language proficiency, teaching experience and “folks who want to make a career out of teaching.” In the first year of the program, she had 90 applicants for three teaching fellowships. Ireland says the three teachers who were selected understood that “teaching abroad is very different than teaching in an urban school district.” Ireland said these fellowships are for “incredibly driven, incredibly thoughtful people dedicated to making a difference, a desire to be a contributor, be a participant and do something greater than yourself.”
Teaching French and Latin Then there’s Nathalie Hanlet, an RPCV who served in Ukraine from 2012 to 2016. Her last 18 months she taught English and trained teachers at a teacher college as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer. She applied for the D.C. Global Language Corps because “I wanted to keep doing what I was doing back in Ukraine and to get to know Washington better.” In addition to her Peace Corps service, Hanlet spent three decades teaching part-time at Kennesaw State University and Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Now she teaches six classes of Latin and French at Wilson High School in D.C.’s Tenleytown neighborhood. Her biggest challenge as a member of the D.C. Global Language Corps is “Balancing the demands of the administration with relationship building with the kids.” But there’s also the magic in “expressing a concept in such a way that I can see the light bulb go off in somebody’s head and that excites them, and me.” Her day starts at 7 a.m. in the peace and quiet before students enter the building. “I like the peace and quiet for preparation,” she says, and finds satisfaction in the work when, for example, a student walks up to her and says, ”Last year you encouraged me to try out for the play and I got the lead.” D.C. Global Language Corps: Trying
something out of your comfort zone. For Nathalie, these classes at Wilson High make her think, “I’d like to maybe do another stint with Peace Corps. It was satisfying, enriching, exciting.” Lee Grant is a former journalist who served in Vanuatu from 2011 to 2013 and teaches first graders at a San Diego school for homeless kids. Those interested in the Global Language Corps in Washington, D.C. should go to dcpsglobaled.org
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24 | WorldView ∙ Winter 2018 ∙ National Peace Corps Association
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Suzanne Adam and her husband, Santiago Gordon, vacation among the snowy peaks of Patagonia.
LIVING AT WORLD’S END Gardening beneath the Andes By Suzanne Adam
’ve lived a greater portion of my life in Chile than in the States, yet my connection with my American homeland remains strong. I often recall Wallace Stegner’s thoughts on the subject: “Whatever landscape a child is exposed to early on, that will be the sort of gauze through which he or she will see the world afterwards.” Chile in the year of my arrival, 1972, was immersed in social, economic, and political turmoil, beleaguered by protest marches, strikes, and shortages of food and basic necessities. A year later, a military coup ousted president Salvador Allende, and for the next 18 years we lived under a military dictatorship. Adjusting to the novelty of another country, making do with shortages, and holding a full-time teaching job kept me occupied. At first, standing in long lines at the supermarket to buy a chicken didn’t leave space to think about missing the family, friends, and places I’d left behind. The severe food shortage posed great challenges for cooks. When I arrived in Chile, I found here most of the same fruits and vegetables as in California, the climates being so similar. Short
on meatless recipes, I bought a small cookbook of simple, traditional Chilean dishes. I’d make tuna-and-Swiss-chard casseroles, shepherd’s pie, and fish croquettes. My mother-in-law explained how to soak dogfish shark in milk to eliminate the ammonia odor and gave me her recipe for lemon pudding. Although I enjoy typical Chilean dishes, like empanadas and pastel de choclo—a corn pie—I haven’t had the motivation to take on their time-consuming preparation. But friends and family here claim that I make great salads, especially basic tossed salad and dressing, a skill I learned from my mother. At Christmas they know I’ll be preparing my grandmother’s recipe of Scottish shortbread. However, I soon discovered that most Chileans have their maids do the cooking. While I was teaching full time, we employed a live-in maid, a situation with which I never became comfortable. Since my retirement, we are fortunate to have part-time help, and I admit I leave most of the cooking to her. It gives me more time to devote to my garden.
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Pruning the bougainvillea This morning the frost is still sparkling on the ground and rooftops as Oscar, our occasional gardener, pulls up in his 1992 beige Volkswagen van. I hear the van chugging to a stop, and I sigh with relief. He’s arrived. I say “occasional” because he is a no-show more often than not, which is not unusual here in Chile, where gardeners tend to be as unpredictable as spring weather. I put up with his unreliable ways because I like him. He and I are botanical soul mates. Clad in baggy khaki pants, blue flannel shirt, and baseball cap, Oscar slides open the van’s side door. He’s brought me a present, un regalo, he says, pulling out a rectangular plastic flower pot planted with a variety of herbs: mint, cilantro, thyme, oregano, dwarf celery. Surprised and pleased, I thank him, though I suspect it’s his way of apologizing for his absences. Problems kept him away, he says, poking at the dichondra, declaring it’s looking good. Just wait till spring, he says. The garden will be beautiful. He clops about in his thick work boots, leaving a trail of mud clods on the patio. Oscar put this garden in for me last spring and takes an interest in how everything is faring. Planning and planting it was our mutual labor of love. High up on the ladder, he wrestles with the thorny bougainvillea, snips away, and tosses the branches down to the ground, and we chat. I ask him about insect-repelling plants and those that will attract ladybugs. Many of the same flowers and trees grow here as in California. I just had to learn their Spanish names. Oscar runs a small nursery and brings me plants he knows I’ll like such as the California poppies he put in the front yard and the black-eyed Susans trailing up the back wall. I bring him coffee (three teaspoons of sugar) and wire to tie up bundles of branches. Oscar is not a big man, but he’s strong and fit. He breaks up the branches with his rough hands, dirt caked underneath his fingernails. I ask him why he doesn’t wear gloves. He works better with his bare
hands, he says. As a no-gloves gardener myself, I empathize with him. My sense of touch guides me to work the tender roots into the soil. “Oscar, por favor, if something comes up and you can’t make it, call me.” “Sí, señora,” he says. “I’ll be back in fifteen days.” He lurches off in the van, and I look about my garden with satisfaction. He has waved his magic wand and coaxed the beauty out from under winter’s ravages. Soon spring will tiptoe in to round out Oscar’s magic. Sons of Chile We’d started off at noon on a bright, warm fall day for the wedding ceremony to be held in a colonial adobe chapel in the countryside. Like most Chilean weddings, it began late. My stomach grumbled as we drove to the reception at a large country house where several hundred guests spread out across the expansive lawns or sought shade under broad old trees. Black-aproned waiters served champagne, pineapple-basil juice, and canapés until we were summoned to a ballroom-size white tent where we sat at our assigned table. Lunch was served at about four o’clock, along with copious amounts of fine wine, followed by a dessert buffet where I made a weak attempt at exercising willpower. It was still light outside when the bride and groom danced the traditional waltz. Then the DJ switched to the “music” dictated by the tastes of the young generation, the volume raised to deafening decibels. From then on, things went downhill for me. I barely knew the others at our table. My husband deserted me to join his jogging pals gathered like football players in a huddle, wine glasses in hand. I had to do something, so I headed to another table to chat with two women with whom I knew I could carry on a conversation beyond small talk. Hours later a friend of my husband perched on the chair next to me and wanted to hear “my story.” “Tan linda tu historia,” he said. I leaned in closer to hear him over the
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WorldView ∙ Winter 2018 ∙ www.PeaceCorpsConnect.org | 27
strident, pounding din. “What story?” “How you gave up everything—family and country—for love. To come here and live at the other end of the world. How were you able to make such a decision?” His words wafted on waves of winescented breath. I doubted he’d remember our conversation the next day. How much effort did I want to invest to answer these potent questions? Besides, I was tired after sitting at this wedding banquet for more than nine hours, carrying on small talk in Spanish. Once the loud dance music started, I caught only words and phrases in the din, smiling and nodding as if in agreement with whatever was being said. Hours of that became torture. “When you voted, which country’s elections excited you most?” I pretended to hesitate. “Uh . . . the States.” “Do your boys feel more Chilean or American?” “Chilean. After all, they were born and raised here.” “Do you regret your decision?” Oh, boy, he was treading on dangerous territory. But I dipped into my stock of appropriate answers: my parents’ heartbreak, my being their only child, and that when I married in Chile, I thought the plan was that we’d return to California. I concluded, “I have no close family left in the States. My family is here now.” He went on to sing lengthy praises of my hubby, such a fine person, an example for all, et cetera, et cetera. I smiled while looking over to the man in question for signs that we might leave soon. But he didn’t see me. The friend continued, “In fact, if I’d been born a woman, I would have married him myself.” Bending over, he plants a warm kiss on my cheek and moves on to join the guys. Friends on foreign soil I receive an email from my friend Laura, who left Chile with her four children 20 years ago. She and her daughters are coming here for a funeral and need a place
to stay. We have plenty of room, I tell her. Since her last visit, 13 years ago, we’ve been in touch only sporadically, our lives seemingly full and complete with family and work. What fun it will be to catch up after all this time. When they arrive, Laura and I hug and laugh. She must reintroduce me to her daughters, whom I knew only as children and who are now grown women. The girls’ father lives here, and they spend time visiting with him and his side of the family. Laura and I set up dates to meet for dinner, lunch, coffee with other friends from the past, all Americans married to Chileans, and who figured we’d always be here. It’s a time for reminiscing about the days when our children played together. We wonder, “Whatever happened to …? Do you keep in touch with …?” We’d arrived in Chile at a time of social and economic turmoil. Protests, terrorist bombs, nighttime curfews were our daily bread. But we were resilient and prevailed in spite of the coup d’état and years of military rule. Laura and I met at a Lamaze class while expecting our first children in 1974. Doctors and relatives were puzzled by our preference for natural childbirth. Expat friendships, formed on foreign soil, are particularly vulnerable. Some friends returned to the States. Some divorced or were widowed; others went in search of better economic opportunities. Some of us are still here decades later, having sometimes drifted apart when children attended different schools or when we settled in different neighborhoods or work left us little time to socialize. Seated with two of our old gringa group, I am struck by the wonder of this encounter. “Look at us—gray-haired grandmothers now! Did we ever imagine back then that decades later we’d be sitting around, remembering the days when we were young, energetic and hopeful for the future?” What impresses me is how quickly and easily we reconnect. The basis for friendship is still there. “Let’s start up our group again! Maybe for birthdays?” I suggest. “It’s amazing how we can seem to
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pick up the threads from when we were last all together.” Laura’s eyes turn watery. “It’s because we lived through some emotional times with each other.” Laura has gone. The house feels empty. She texts when she arrives in Texas: the trip went well, and her heart is full. Although she came for a funeral, she received an unexpected gift: the opportunity to reconnect with old friends. Her visit sheds blessings on me as well. I’d let some friendships lapse and, now, resolve to nurture these renewed friendships. I open my address book and update phone numbers and addresses. Laura and I are now connected via WhatsApp. Over the years, I’ve come to realize how privileged I’d been to have grown up in that small California town surrounded by rolling hills, rich vegetation and abundant wildlife. Living in this city, situated amid dry hills populated by cactus and no nearby forests, I’ve missed the scents of the golden California hillside grass, of redwood and bay trees. But I take pleasure in the fields of California poppies, so well adapted to this country, and at the majestic Andes Mountains I view from my window, my constant companions. I once wrote in my journal, “Perhaps I had to travel the road that I did in order to realize that earth, grass, mountain, and sky are my sustenance.” Developing familiarity with this land of crazy geography, immersing myself in its rich, varied landscapes, is the path I found to deal with my sense of loss. Suzanne Adam served in Barranquilla, Colombia from 1964 to 1966 and earned a degree in special education in Santiago, Chile where she taught students with learning disabilities at the International School Nido de Aguilas. She has lived in Chile for more than 40 years. Her first book, “Marrying Santiago,” won the 2016 Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience Award. This article is excerpted with the publisher’s permission from her new book, “Notes from the Bottom of the World: A Life in Chile,” which is published by She Writes Press.
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WorldView ∙ Winter 2018 ∙ www.PeaceCorpsConnect.org | 29
Moritz Thomsen’s classic captures the spirit 50 years later By Mark D. Walker
oritz Thomsen’s words will undoubtedly be more fully appreciated posthumously, making the 50th anniversary of the publication of his first and possibly the best Peace Corps experience book ever, Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle, a proper time to assess its true impact. In the U.S. alone, the book has reportedly sold over one hundred thousand copies. Thomsen was able to articulate like few others the essence of being a Peace Corps Volunteer as with this passage from the preface of Living Poor,
Consequently, it should not be surprising that the reasons this book has resonated with many RPCVs are just as diverse as the individuals who joined the Peace Corps. In July 2018, I posted a question on the RPCV Group Facebook and LinkedIn pages, asking what impact Living Poor had had on their lives. Within a few days, the question received over
A newspaper serial According to Thomsen, much of the material of the book was first published in the pages of the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle.
For those of us without fifty thousand dollars or so to invest in a pack trip through the Himalayan passes, the Peace Corps is perhaps the last great adventure available to Americans over eighteen years of age. The physical world has been mapped; but in the last analysis, the Peace Corps is an intellectual exploration, the chance (if you are patient enough) to enter in some degree into the hearts and minds and feelings of alien people with exotic cultures…. Yet he recognized how unique each volunteer experience would be, as well as the common problems each would face, which is probably one of the reasons his book resonated with so many Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. …Yet even though each Volunteer makes his own story, the basic problems of fate, poverty, hunger, disease, and ignorance are pretty much the same. And the Peace Corps still exists as the great adventure and the great challenge for individual Americans.
not read his book until I returned. Helped me with readjustment. I wish I could have read it before or during my volunteer experience in the Philippines. Matthew: I read it prior to PC service as an intern overseas in Ecuador, then again as a PC trainee in Nicaragua, and then a few more times after service over the next 20 years. It’s one of my favorite books and really talks about many PC type experiences that many if not most of us can probably relate to. Lisa: I was a PCV in Ecuador 20082010. This book wasn’t formally part of our training, but volunteers throughout the country passed copies of it around, and I think almost all of us read it at some point during our service. It was a great read and, in particular, a great opportunity for reflection for those of us in the agriculture and natural resources sectors.
Initially I was very gingerly and at arm’s length passed from desk to desk and end up in the office of Stanleigh Arnold, the Sunday editor, who thanked me for my offer and told me that the Chronicle was buying no freelance material. Thanks, but no thanks.
40 “likes,” over 85 comments, and four “shares”, as well as another dozen comments on LinkedIn such as these: Laura: Yep, I definitely read this book while I was deciding whether or not to apply to Peace Corps. It was one of the books that helped me decide to apply… Jim: Yes - Thomsen was one of my heroes. El Oro, Ecuador, 1967-70. Donna: I trained in the U.S. but did
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But Thomsen sent his stories anyway and the editor published them. He also included several of Thomsen’s ink drawings of village life in the Esmeraldas. Thomsen shares numerous stories and highlights foibles almost all volunteers can identify with, like the challenges of learning a new language, which might have been even more challenging for Thomsen because he didn’t join the Peace Corps until he was 48. Up to a point it was true; in no time at all I could express the
fundamentals. To me it was very friendly and rich this fish them, I would say in impeccable Spanish, receiving a dazed smile of appreciation from my hostess. His sense of humor could take a darker turn, as when he described riding on one of the local, rural buses, an experience shared by most Peace Corps Volunteers, Riding in one you undergo a personality change that is truly profound; you take on a degree of innocence lost since childhood, and you feel like a paper cutout, very simple and uncomplicated, riding in a bus drawn with red or green crayons. On long trips this feeling of innocence is slowly replaced by feelings of pain, then horror, then rage….
Thomsen was also able to identify and articulate stories that reflected universal values. Living Poor is like being sentenced to exist in a stormy sea in a battered canoe, requiring all your strength simply to keep afloat; there is never any question of reaching a destination. True poverty is a state of perpetual crisis, and one wave just a little bigger, or coming from an unexpected direction, can, and usually does, wreck things.” The book went through several editions over the span of five decades. The book’s title ranged from Meat is for Special Days: Pride and Poverty in a Village in Ecuador to Living Poor: an American’s Encounter with Ecuador, and the University of Washington press version, which
came out in 1969, Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Various versions of the book were published in German, and one was published in London. According to WorldCat, the world’s largest network of library content and services, no fewer than 775 libraries worldwide currently own at least one copy of these editions of Living Poor thus multiplying manyfold the number of people exposed to his work. A writer’s guide Thomsen’s first book led to a career of writing, during which he influenced many aspiring authors. His prolific correspondence included “wicked” literary critiques. According to author Tom Miller, “…the severity of one letter from him could often take days before its impact wore off.” Despite his propensity for separating
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WorldView ∙ Winter 2018 ∙ www.PeaceCorpsConnect.org | 31
himself from the outside world, or perhaps because of his isolation, he was an avid letter writer, corresponding with numerous authors, publishers and professionals on all levels. Many of those letters were written in hot, humid jungles with a typewriter. Sometimes he’d write up to five letters per day, each one impacting a fellow writer or friend. He’s been called the Patron Saint of Authors for Returned Peace Corps writers and provided insights and critiques to many authors over the years. RPCV Christopher West Davis’ Letters from Moritz Thomsen chronicled how one of these growing relationships developed over the years. Paul Theroux, probably the most proficient and best-known Returned Peace Corps author, reflected on his friendship with Thomsen in his introduction to The Saddest Pleasure. “I should have declared my own interest at the outset—he is a friend of mine,” wrote Theroux. “I am glad he used a line of mine as a title for this book. Our
friendship is, I suppose, characteristic of many he must enjoy. “We met in Ecuador twice in the late seventies and have corresponded irregularly since. He goes on boasting of his ailing health, his failing fortunes, and his insignificance. For these reasons and many others, I am proud to know him. There are so few people in the world like him who are also good writers.” After his death in 1991, RPCVs have gone to Ecuador to pay homage to Thomsen. In 1993, Mike Tidwell, Zaire 85-87, and author of a half-dozen books, including The Ponds of Kalambayi: An African Sojourn, tells a poignant story of one such visit in his essay, “Ashes on the River Esmeraldas.” “I later had my moment on the Esmeraldas, sitting reverently on a bank where it flows into the Pacific,” Tidwell writes. “The tide was going out, the sun was setting and I was silent. Moritz would have found this hideously pretentious, I’m sure. And actually, if it was a connection I sought, a final closeness, it came less on
the river than in Río Verde itself, sitting with the people who knew him. It was on the beach in Río Verde, for instance, that I met Wai.” Wai was a fisherman and Tidwell’s favorite character from Living Poor. Living Poor will continue to impact RPCVs and people with a love of travel and learning about other cultures. As prolific adventure travel writer Tim Cahill put it, “Moritz Thomsen was among the most elegant of writers, capable of breaking your heart in a single sentence and making you laugh out loud in the next….” So we can expect even more RPCVs and fellow travelers to be inspired by this extraordinary book and author for the next fifty years. Mark D. Walker served in Guatemala from 1971 to 1973 Guatemala and began a career working for eight non-government international development organizations. His first book, Different Latitudes:
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32 | WorldView ∙ Winter 2018 ∙ National Peace Corps Association
Dire official travel warnings of labor strikes and political protests in Colombo may discourage some adventurous tourists from catching a crowded train to Sri Lanka’s capital, but probably not Paul Theroux.
A TRAVEL ADVISORY
Ignore most of them for a life-altering journey By Paul Theroux
Don’t go there,” the know-it-all, stay-at-home finger-wagger says of many a distant place—I have heard that my whole traveling life, and in almost every case it was bad advice. Yet a familiar paradox of my experience is that these maligned countries are often the most fulfilling. I am not saying they are fun. For undiluted jollification, you can bake in the sun at Waikiki with a mai tai in your fist or eat lotuses on the Côte d’Azur. As for the recognition of hard travel as rewarding, the feeling is mainly retrospective, since it is only in looking back that we see how we have been enriched. At the time, the experience of being a bystander to sudden political or
social change can be alarming. Throughout history the traveler has been forced to recognize the fact that leaving home means a loss of innocence, encountering uncertainty. The wider world has typically been regarded as haunted, a place of darkness: There Be Dragons, or as Othello reported, “Cannibals that each other eat, / The Anthropophagi and men whose heads / Do grow beneath their shoulders.” But it is the well-known world that seems particularly dire at this moment. Egypt has been upended, and I smile at the phrase “peaceful mob” as an oxymoron; all mobs contain an element of spitefulness and personal score-settlers.
Tunisia before the mass demonstrations and the coup was a sunny shoreline, popular with European vacationers, where the chief annoyance to the traveler was the overzealous rug dealer. Libya is a war zone, but only the other day the Libyan tourist board was encouraging visitors with promises of Roman ruins and cuscus bil-hoot (the Berber version of couscous with fish). Baghdad may have been the Paris of the ninth century, as Richard Burton described it, but James Simmons points out in Passionate Pilgrims that it has disappointed most travelers since then as “a city of wicked dust,” “odorous, unattractive, and hot,” with an “atmosphere of squalor and poverty”—
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Rich Afghan traditions Yet Afghanistan in the 1960s and ’70s, for all its hassles (gunslingers, scolding mullahs, ancient buses, bowelshattering cuisine), was astonishingly rich in tradition, ancient pieties, and dramatic landscape, shimmering with the still-intact Buddha sculptures in Bamiyan, and penetrated with a sense of the medieval, robes, ragged turbans, daggers, and a certain dusty romance, dark eyes peeking Shmoo-like from a burqa. Kiss that goodbye. I well remember the jolting bus ride from the border city of Meshed in Iran, the walk across the stony frontier to Islam Qala, and the small-scale magnificence of the ancient city of Herat. But it will be a long time before any farang with a backpack, or a Gucci bag, takes that bus ride again. Few natural disasters are more upsetting, more apparently unnatural, than an earthquake. Charles Darwin, in his account in The Voyage of the Beagle of an earthquake he witnessed in Valdivia, Chile, in February 1835, described that strangest of events when the trusted firm earth begins to give way and slide in a brisk liquefaction under us. “A bad earthquake at once destroys our oldest associations: the earth, the very emblem of solidity, has moved beneath our feet like a thin crust over a fluid—one second of time has created in the mind a strange idea of insecurity, which hours of reflection would not have produced.” This seismic alteration can also be compared with the sudden mob in Egypt, the overthrow of a long-standing government, the eruption of a volcano, and the release of radioactivity into a blue sky and cows’ milk. What then is the traveler to do except huddle and observe? Tourists have always taken vacations in tyrannies—Tunisia and Egypt are pretty good examples. The absurdist dictatorship gives such an illusion of stability, it is often a holiday destination. Burma is a classic case of a police state that is also a seemingly well-regulated country for sightseers, providing they don’t look too closely—Burmese guides
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and these descriptions are from the 1930s, long before invasion, war, and suicide bombers.
Theroux brought the perspective of an RPCV to the transformation of post-war Vietnam. After his Peace Corps service in Peru John McAuliff watched students of Hanoi's Conservatory of Music join the city's celebration as the war ended on April 30, 1975.
are much too terrified to confide their fears to their clients. Kenya’s twenty-four years of kleptocracy under President Moi, which ended in 2002, never discouraged safari-goers—might indeed have encouraged them to believe they were safe with so many conspicuous cops (though one of my Kenyan friends was held and tortured in Nairobi’s main police station for being an outspoken journalist in this flush safari-going period). It is only relatively recently that tourists and hunters have begun to stay away from Zimbabwe. At a time when President Mugabe was starving and jailing his opponents in the 1990s, visitors to the country were applying for licenses to shoot elephants and having a swell time in the upscale game lodges. By contrast, the free market–inspired, somewhat democratic, unregulated country can make for a bumpy trip and a preponderance of rapacious locals. The Soviet Union, with nannying guides, controlled and protected its tourists, while the new Russia torments visitors with every scam available to rampant capitalism. But unless you are in delicate health, and desire a serious rest, none of this is a reason to stay home. ‘Catholic Moslem or Protestant Moslem?’ “You’d be a fool to take that ferry,” people—both Scottish and English—said
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to me in the spring of 1982 when I set off at Stranraer in Scotland for Larne in Northern Ireland. I was making my way clockwise around the British coast for the trip I later recounted in The Kingdom by the Sea. At the time and for more than ten years, a particularly vicious sort of sectarian terror was general all over Ulster. It seemed from the outside to be Catholic versus Protestant, centuries old in its origins, harking back to King Billy—William of Orange—and the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, the decisive event still celebrated by marchers in silly hats every year on July 12. Ulster violence in the 1970s was pacified and then stirred by British troops, and the terror given material support by misguided enthusiasts such as U.S. Representative Peter King and Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, bedfellows in this self-destructive nastiness. How do I know this? I was there, keeping my head down, eating fish and chips, drinking beer, and observing the effects of this confederacy of murderous dunces, the splinter groups, grudge bearers, and criminal hell raisers of the purest ignorance. “I’m a Muslim!” a man cries out in a Belfast street, in a dark joke that was going around at the time. And his attackers demand to know, “Are you a Catholic Muslim or a Protestant Muslim?” The narcissism of minor differences was never more starkly illustrated after
that rainy night when I boarded the ferry from Scotland and made the short voyage into the seventeenth century, setting off to look at the rest of Northern Ireland. What I found—what I have usually found after hearing all those warnings—was that it was much more complicated and factional than it had been described to me. And there were unexpected pleasures. For one thing, the Irish of all sorts were grateful to have a listener. This is a trait of the aggrieved, and to be in the presence of talkers is a gift to a writer. What I saw in Ulster on that trip was unforgettable. It was first of all the recognition of the utter uselessness of the conflict and its self-destructive element. But it was also the way in which, in the worst situations, life goes on. Market day was observed, even though a bomb was now and then detonated in a market square. Rituals were observed: at one such, in Enniskillen in 1987, 11 people were killed when the IRA detonated a bomb at a Remembrance Day ceremony—murdered as they were mourning their dead. Still, life continued: a cake sale, a bike race, farmers mowing their fields, the sound of a choir from a church, “Have a cup of tea?,” birds singing on country roads where I waited for a bus, the blackening rain coming down, and the exasperated good humor of humane people who were sick of it all. It was all a revelation that has become a rich and enlightening memory. And it had been far from the only time I was warned against a place. “Don’t, whatever you do, go to the Congo,” I was told when I was a teacher in Uganda in the mid- and late 1960s. But the Congo was immense, and the parts I visited, Kivu in the east and Katanga in the south, were full of life, in the way of beleaguered places. In the mid-1970s, when I was setting off from my hotel in West Berlin for a train to East Berlin, the writer Jerzy Kosinski begged me not to go beyond the Brandenburg Gate. I might be arrested, tortured, held in solitary confinement. “What did they do to you?” he asked when he saw me reappear that evening. I told him I had had a bad meal, taken a walk, seen a museum, and generally gotten an unedited glimpse of the grim and threadbare life of East Germany.
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WorldView ∙ Winter 2018 ∙ www.PeaceCorpsConnect.org | 35
Cambodia or Vietnam? Not all warnings are frivolous or selfserving. Passing through Singapore in 1973, I was warned not to go to Khmer Rouge–controlled Cambodia, and that was advice I heeded. There is a difference between traveling in a country where the rule of law prevails and one in a state of anarchy. Pol Pot had made Cambodia uninhabitable. I traveled to Vietnam instead, aware of the risks: this was just after the majority of American troops
had withdrawn, about eighteen months before the fall of Saigon. I had flown from Singapore, where I was warned not to go. Vietnam then was defenselessly adrift in a fatalistic limbo of whispers and guerrilla attacks. It was less a war zone than a slowly imploding region on the verge of surrender. My clearest memories were of the shattered Citadel and muddy streets of Saigon and the stinking foreshore of the Perfume River in Hue, up the coast, the terminus of the railway line. Now and
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then tracer fire, terror-struck people, a collapsed economy, rundown hotels, and low spirits. Thirty-three years later, I returned to Vietnam on my Ghost Train to the Eastern Star journey, which was a revisiting of my Great Railway Bazaar. I went back to the royal city of Hue and saw that there can be life, even happiness, after war, and, almost unimaginably, there can be forgiveness. Had I not seen the hellhole of Hue in wartime, I would never have understood its achievement in a time of peace. Seven million tons of bombs had not destroyed Vietnam; if anything they had unified it. And Hanoi, which had suffered severe aerial bombardment over the many years of the war, looked to me wondrous in its postwar prosperity, with boulevards and villas, ponds and pagodas, as glorious as it had been when it was the capital of Indochina, certainly one of the most successful and loveliest architectural restorations of any city in the world. Just a few years ago Sri Lanka emerged from a civil war, but even as the Tamil north was embattled and fighting a rearguard action, there were tourists sunning themselves on the southern coast and touring the Buddhist stupas in Kandy. Now the war is over, and Sri Lanka can claim to be peaceful, except for the crowing of its government over the vanquishing of the Tamils. Tourists have returned in even greater numbers, for the serenity and the small population. There are more people in greater Mumbai than in the whole of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was on the might-be-yourlast-trip list of the traveler Robert Young Pelton. He has made a career of clucking about hazards, descriptions of which fill his books, notably The World’s Most Dangerous Places. But on the one occasion when we met—on a TV show that was taped in New Jersey—he came across as a genial if torpid Canadian, except when he was talking about the horrors of Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Colombia. I had made pleasurable trips to all three, I said. And I was compelled to point out to him that we were just a few miles from what a local newspaper called “America’s homicide capital”—Camden, New Jersey.
Pillars of Hercules. Not risky, but a tumble through the looking-glass. The earth is often perceived as a foolproof Google map, not very large, easily accessible, and knowable by any geek drumming his fingers on a computer. In some respects this is true. Distance is no longer a problem. You can nip over to Hong Kong, or spend a weekend in Dubai or Rio. But as some countries open up, others shut down. Some have yet to earn their place on the traveler’s map, such as Turkmenistan and Sudan, but I’ve been to both not long ago, and although I was the only sightseer, I found hospitality, marvels, and a sense of discovery. The stupendous Greco-Buddhist ruins of Gandharan monasteries in and around Taxila, not far from Peshawar, in Pakistan, are unvisited except by jihadis, and even then, their only mission is to deface them. The Kingdom of Sikkim, in northeastern India, is open for business, but when I was there late last year the hotels were empty, and they were not much fuller in Darjeeling, where I’d driven from. For that matter, the coast of Maine is pretty much unvisited in the winter months, but it is just as friendly, and as lovely, as in other seasons. In my own Tao of Travel, the fact that a place is out
It’s only a Google map Many people think of global travel as though presented on a menu, one of those dense, slightly sticky volumes that resemble the Book of Kells. It is a changing menu, the places of shifting importance, often a Place of the Day, and some deleted. Iran was on the menu once; Albania was not. I found it impossible to get a simple tourist visa to Iran a few years ago, but had no trouble going to Albania in 1995. After decades of being closed to the world, Albania opened up and was a mere overnight ferry ride from Bari, Italy (“Si prega di non andare!” my friends had said, begging me not to go); it was and remains one the weirdest places I have ever been, as I tried to show in my
RED CEDAR CAP
Guggenheim and the Whitney in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Smithsonian’s Hirschhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. “Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions,” is published by the Art Institute of Chicago and distributed
Paul Theroux began teaching English at Soche Hill Secondary School in Limbe, Southern Nyasaland as a Peace Corps Volunteer in December 1963. Soon after the nation’s transition to independence as Malawi, Prime Minister Hastings Banda accused Theroux of collaborating in a plot with Banda’s opponents to overthrow the government. Theroux was expelled from Malawi and was terminated from the Peace Corps in Oct. 1965, at which point he became a lecturer at Makerere University in Uganda. He is the author of 31 books of fiction and 18 travel books including The Great Railway Bazaar, Riding the Iron Rooster, and Dark Star Safari. This essay, titled "Traveling Beyond Google," is in a new collection of essays, Figures in a Landscape, by Paul Theroux. Copyright©2018 by Paul Theroux. Reprinted by permission Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
by Yale University Press. Big Phrygian, 2010¬—2014 is 58 x 40 x 76 inches © Martin Puryear, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, courtesy the Glenstone Museum.
Martin Puryear’s Big Phrygian is a monumental painted red cedar work in the Passage in the Pavilions overlooking the water court at the recently opened Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland. The Glenstone is the newest and one of the largest private collections in America. Puryear’s work is a wood rendering of the so-called liberty cap that was the symbol of resistance during the American and French Revolutions. Puryear began teaching art in Segbwema, Sierra Leone as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 1964. He has since become one of the best-known American sculptors. His abstract and sometimes massive steel, mesh-tar, and wood sculptures are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the
of season doesn’t make it less interesting, just more itself, and a visit perhaps more of a challenge. In the same way, while weighing the risks and being judicious, travel in an uncertain world, in a time of change, has never seemed to me more essential, of greater importance, or more enlightening.
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Mists shroud Mali-ville’s Mount Lora as it towers over the Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea’s Labé region and the surrounding waterfalls that feed the Senegal River to the north. In 2012 Chris Austin went to Pita to run a youth training program and co-founded Dare to Innovate for social entrepreneurs. Austin is studying economic inequality and U.S. criminal justice reform in the Masters in Public Affairs program at Princeton University. In photographs clockwise from the top: the 1,100-meter tall Mount Lora; a boy peddling past a pool of rainwater at the soccer stadium in the Labé regional prefecture, boys taking shelter while they wait for the rain to stop; in Pita playing soccer at sunset.
Text Photographs by Chris Austin
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PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRIS AUSTIN
WorldView ∙ Winter 2018 ∙ www.PeaceCorpsConnect.org | 39
WE ARE TOGETHER
Finding identify among the women of a village By Jennifer DaPolito
s the third consecutive Volunteer to live in the small rural village straddling a busy highway in the southern highlands of Tanzania, I walked in the footsteps of Alex and Dan. Their sturdy shoes felt far too hefty for me to step into when I first arrived. Villagers constantly reminded me of their accomplished endeavors. The names of two men whom I had never met soared above me while I rounded the community to make introductions. One day, early on in my service, I walked alongside a woman who led me up a steep path lined with towering pine trees. Her midnight hair was pulled into thin tight braids that gathered at her crown. She was a full head shorter than I, as were most of the women in the village, but I could hardly keep up with the swift cadence of her bare feet. Her shoulders were carefully wrapped in a thick scarf that flowed down her back as she moved. I cannot remember where we were going but I will never forget the pivot of that moment. As we climbed to the top of the hill, I wondered out loud about Alex and Dan. She stopped abruptly and turned to me. In a steely voice, she said, “Tupo wanawake, tupo pamoja,” We are women, we are together. It was then that I realized where the focus of my service would lay. Mama Oslo became a dear friend of mine. I was not prepared when, months later, she passed away. It took me a long time to realize that my service was not about the projects I listed on my Volunteer Reporting Form. Those were, of course, important and acted as a sturdy scaffold around which
I structured and organized my time. But the soft moments that beckoned my heart to mold to the hearts of those around me in unbending unity gave me the most pause. Those were the moments in which I undoubtedly knew what I was doing in Tanzania. The fragile foundation Every project that I worked on and all of the partnerships that these projects garnered rested on a fragile foundation of trust. The people with whom I interacted every single day would devote themselves to me only as much as I devoted myself to them. My ability to integrate into the daily composition of life in that village would make or break my service. In time, acceptance and belonging would sweep over me. I had extended a hand and in return I would receive many. It was the day Mama Oslo died that I knew the community had carved out a tender space for me. Mama Oslo lived two houses down from mine. So, on the morning after her passing I awoke to a soft shuffle outside my window. The village had started to assemble. I rose. I had been to funerals in the village before, but none had brushed against me with such sharpness. I had seen the mosaic of women in their brilliant khangas on these occasions before and it was a tradition I had admired, until this day. I did not feel like putting on the golden threads I had picked out the night before. I settled, instead, on a sapphire wrap to balance the black clothes I wore underneath. I stepped out of my house and into a stretch of women draped in fabrics that I could now see were stained with grief. When I arrived, I assumed a familiar position around enormous metal pots poised on hefty stones. I usually joined in with the women cooking at these events and I had not yet seen any of the women whom I had come to know so well. I picked up a bundle of pumpkin leaves and tried to untangle my own sorrow as I washed off the dirt. Moments later, I heard someone call my name. I looked up and saw Mama Tafteni, one of Mama Oslo’s friends. Her flushed eyes met mine as her hand reached out like a songbird’s wing inviting me toward her. “Twende,” she said. I didn’t know where we were going
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but I followed until we reached the door to Mama Oslo’s house. I entered. A circle of women sat bound at their haunches. The magnitude of their grief consumed me. I bent down and felt the consolation of firm ground beneath me. As I leaned against the cold brick wall my eyes swelled uncontrollably with warm tears. Our collective voice mourned the loss of our friend, sister, mother, and daughter in hymn. When it was time, the men came to prepare her casket. The women stood and we plodded outside. Mama Tafteni knelt to lay a scarf over the long box before it was raised above our heads. And then they carried her. Down a steep hill people began to run, trailing the scarf as it caught the wind. The cortege reached the burial site where she was gently placed in the ground. After the eulogy, we each released a handful of dirt over the scarf until it was completely covered. There are many misconceptions about Africa that dominate the American consciousness of a faraway poverty and disease-stricken land caught in the margins by warlords and corruption. These tragedies do exist on the great continent. And yet, there is a brighter—often invisible—core where children laugh and play soccer, mothers share stories as they braid dried grass into baskets, and fathers take great pride in a thriving eucalyptus orchard or a successful solar panel business. This is the supple crux in which I lived for two years. The women and their fierce allies who surrounded me during that time have spent their lives determined not to be defeated by their circumstances. They act as keepers of an unrelenting hope that seek to better the lives of future generations in a part of the world where all odds are stacked against them. Theirs are the stories worth telling. To them, I am forever indebted for accepting me into their sacred sphere of kinship and light. Jennifer DaPolito conducted projects in childhood nutrition, chronic malnutrition, sexual health, reusable sanitary pads, and income generation for orphans in a village in Tanzania from 2015 to 2017. She is in a Masters of Public Health program at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Russia’s political godfather looms over portions of contemporary Moldova and the town of Riscani near the Romanian border.
THE RUSSIAN SCHOOL
Baptism by fire drill in Moldova By Aaron Weiss
was born in Ohio during the Cold War. At that time Moldova wasn’t yet a country. Tucked between Romania and Ukraine, I’d never noticed it on the map during geography pop-quizzes or seen mention of it in National Geographic, my two childhood sources of world knowledge. But as I prepared to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the new country, Moldova has just ended a civil war, its president was communist, and through pre-departure research, I learned a recent civil war had ended, the president was a communist, and many outpost towns spoke Russian exclusively instead of the
national language, Romanian. As the poorest nation in Europe, Moldova’s workers had little work. One in four adults left the country to seek employment. Those who stayed used their bodies for income and sustenance, working in the fields, but also trafficking themselves to those trading in sex and human organs. It lacked an international marketplace for wine—its only export— so people tended to drink up what was on hand. It had schools without adequately trained teachers and politicians without scruples. Orphanages were filled with children whose parents had either departed the country or couldn’t afford to feed them. Moldova needed a superhero, it seemed, not an English teacher. I wasn’t the first American to be stationed in Riscani. Three other English teachers had passed through before me. Their site reports didn’t inspire confidence. “Kind of a ghost town,” and “very Russian,” one described Riscani. The mayor, a member of the communist party, was labeled “unhelpful and patronizing.” The schools were “terrible environments” which suffered from “daily disorder” and “undisciplined children.” Yet all the other Volunteers had arrived speaking Romanian, and they’d clearly suffered for it. Each had recommended that future volunteers sent to Riscani speak Russian. So there I was. When I arrived at the Russian school for my first day of teaching, most people thought I was a parent dropping off a new pupil. I’d dressed in clothes purchased at the “professionals” section at the bazaar—a purple dress shirt with snapping breast pockets and a pink tie. Teachers asked if I was lost and told me where I might find my child. Sometime during the chaos of these first moments in the school, among the bodies of boys and girls and adults running to find the correct room, a small girl came up to me and complained that a boy had lit her hair on fire with a match. She showed me a collection of singed ends as proof. I understood nothing, patted her on the
head and said, “Very good.” I made my way to the English classroom, met briefly with the school director—a man with a naturally angry face attempting to smile—and was then alone with a class of fifth graders. The look of serenity on my face was completely fake. Sweat rolled behind my ear down into my collar. I loosened my tie. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. “Does anyone speak English?” I asked. Nothing came out of their mouths. I repeated the question in Russian, and almost immediately 15 little hands began shaking in the air to indicate 50-50. We did introductions in Russian and then in English and completed 45 minutes of basic grammar and vocabulary. I could tell these fifth graders weren’t ready to write poetry. But they’d successfully introduced themselves and expressed their likes and dislikes. Nearly all had liked football and disliked mathematics. It seemed my new job wouldn’t kill me. So then I felt optimistic about my eighth- and ninth-grade classes. The textbook for this level asked students to express opinions about the political systems of English-speaking countries. “Does anyone speak English?” I asked. No one responded. I asked again in Russian and they began to giggle. All 20 of them laughed. One managed to choke out, in Russian, “Of course not.” I tried not to panic. “Please take out a piece of paper,” I said. The students looked at each other to see if anyone understood what I’d said. A student in the front row reached into her backpack, removed her textbook, and placed it on top of her desk. She smiled at me. Students in the back murmured. Those who had textbooks—about half the class—placed them on the desktops. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s start with the textbook, then.” I held the book in the air. “Textbook,” I said, and the students repeated, “Textbook.” We named objects for the rest of class.
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A class full of cell phones My next ninth-grade class performed even worse. They didn’t respond to questions, English or Russian. They stared out the windows or talked to friends at nearby desks or played games on outdated cell phones. Every child had a cell phone. One pupil recorded himself screaming monkey noises into his phone and played it back every few moments. In 45 minutes, I managed to introduce myself, nothing more, but I doubt any one of them could have told you my name later that afternoon. I hadn’t exactly captivated them though to be fair, I couldn’t remember their names either. Miroslav had been the kid making the monkey noises. The rest of the students were a confusing mix of Dashas, Mashas, Sashas and Pashas. During the first week of lessons, each boy shook my hand after entering the classroom. Each girl smiled at me before sitting down. The shock, wonder and awe, or whatever my students felt about having an American teacher, didn’t last long. The fifth graders, those groups attentive on the first day, now settled into the habits of the older kids, gossiping in whispers, finding interest outside the windows, claiming ignorance in all matters concerning education. Instead of answering my questions they came up with their own. What is your father’s name? What can we call you? Why isn’t Mr. Aaron married yet? And why are the tips of his shoes rounded? My students obsessed about my shoes. Evidently a teacher needed pointed tips to be taken seriously. I would attempt to present new material but eventually derail the lesson by committing a crime against one of a million Russian superstitions, whistling indoors or tossing a hat in the air. Twenty minutes of perfect behavior would evaporate in a second as the students argued over the practical consequences of my indiscretions. Will Mr. Aaron die poor? No, like this he will never get married. But I think he will just catch the flu! Eventually, the students’ kindness and patience evaporated entirely. I was treated like any other teacher but I could stand in front of them all day without reacting to their insults. I wouldn’t understand words
like suka (bitch) and blin (damn it) for a few months yet. If a child cursed I’d repeat the words loudly—“Bitch! Damn it all!”— and when the laughter subsided we’d get back to class. Other aspects of my demeanor confused them also. I didn’t hit anyone. If a student (almost always a boy) misbehaved in class, it wasn’t because I was American. He did it because he thought school was the place a boy got away with indiscretions unthinkable at home such as spitting on the floor, swearing, wrestling, and smacking girls on the butt. All were common-place. If a student got caught, he’d get a smack upside the head from a teacher. Almost every time I approached a boy after he’d touched a girl, he’d shrivel up in preparation for taking a blow. Several of my eighth-grade boys smoked. If you smoked, you had to do it outside, that was the school’s only rule about smoking. Two weeks into the job, I arrived at school and was informed by a ten-yearold pupil that there would be no classes that day. I thought he was threatening me. I advanced toward him and expected him to shrivel, but he didn’t. He smiled. I turned to the brightest girl in the class who proudly announced, “Teachers’ Day!” The school’s other English teacher, a young woman named Nadezhda, entered and informed me these children weren’t lying. It was a holiday, Teachers’ Day, a Russian tradition. We went to the gymnasium, where students recited poems, danced and sang, and studentwaitresses served shots of cognac and vodka to their teachers. The entire room toasted every ten minutes. I passed time by counting how many laws this ceremony would break in America. The next day, everyone was back at work nursing hangovers. I stayed out of the teachers’ room because we were expected to finish the leftover cognac during the breaks between classes. Tough questions A month had passed since the first day of school, and my students were finding more and more ways to waste time in class. I’d ask a question, five hands would
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go up, and the only response I’d get would be, “Moshna vuitia?” And I’d scream back, “No, you can’t leave! Stop asking!” and then the whole process would be repeated a few moments later. At last, when it appeared we’d get nothing done that day, the leader of the class, a girl named Natashka, raised her hand and asked politely, in English, “Mr. Aaron, what is the Sex Bomb?” I must have blushed. The questioner was 11 years old. “A bad thing?” she asked. I claimed ignorance. “Listen,” she said, taking out her cell phone and playing a song. She wanted to know about a song. I felt less confused. I recognized the singer, Tom Jones, and I even remembered when the song had played on American radio a decade before but how to explain the lyrics? Natashka used a dictionary to eliminate alternative definitions of sex and bomb but the two words together didn’t make sense to her. While I thought about my response, two boys asked to leave and I casually waved my hand for them to get out, not wanting them to ruin the only productive thing we’d do all day. “Well,” I explained. “You know what sex means, yes, it means a lot of love. And a bomb is something that explodes. So a sex bomb is when you have so much love that you explode.” “A bad thing, I think,” said Natashka. “Yes, okay, does anyone have another song to translate?” Every hand in the class shot up, but just then an alarm echoed through the entire school, a sound like a giant copper ladle against a metal pan. The students screamed, “Fire!” My thoughts went directly to the two boys I’d allowed to leave class. In my mind they’d teamed up, one standing on the shoulders of the other, to pull the fire alarm. “No one’s going anywhere!” I screamed. “It’s just an alarm. We’re finishing class!” The students looked scared and then looked to Natashka to clarify the situation. “Beg your pardon, Mr. Aaron. But in Moldova we don’t have fire alarms, just fires.”
I heard Natashka speak the words in Russian and I felt like I hadn’t understood. I walked over to the door. The handle was cool on my fingertips. Through the wood I heard a commotion in the hall. I cracked the door open and saw smoke billowing down the corridor and students running in every direction. I closed the door and turned back to the class. “Okay,” I said. “Run.” The smoke was thin enough to see through. I followed the students as they ran outside into the courtyard where we found the two boys I’d excused from class. They held their palms up to me in anticipation of blame. “Not us,” they said. After a minute the entire school stood collected and accounted for in the courtyard. The school director and the vicedirectors took turns yelling at the kids. “No accident!” said the director, holding a soot-covered trash can in the air. “Firecrackers don’t jump into pails by accident!” I glared at my students from across the courtyard and they continued with their palms raised. The two boys became more agitated as I walked toward the director, alternating between flapping palms and index fingers against their lips pleading for my silence. I returned to my spot. “Go home,” said the director. “All of you.” Plastic had burned in the trash pail and fumes had spread throughout the school. No one ever discovered who lit the fire.
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Aaron Weiss taught English in Riscani, Moldova from 2006 to 2008. This is an excerpt from “The Russian School,” a chapter of his book, Lenin’s Asylum, and is reprinted courtesy of the publisher, Everytime Press. The book is out now in paperback and eBook formats from everytimepress.com. Weiss is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee with one special mention, and the recipient of a grant from the Bronx Council on the Arts. To read more of his work visit www.aaweiss.com.
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A GLOBAL CITIZEN
He lobbied in the halls of Congress By Kul Chandra Gautam
So, you can see the long Peace Corps was born in a small village in a thread that runs through my life. remote district of Nepal with all Joining the United Nations later the characteristics of primitive was also directly influenced by the Peace underdevelopment. My father Corps’ ideals, which the UN embodies on was semi-literate and my mother was an even larger scale. completely illiterate. I first began lobbying for the Peace I became quite close to my Peace Corps when I was a graduate student Corps teacher, Ken Martin, who came at Princeton. In 1972, some powerful from just outside Springfield, Illinois. members of Congress were hesitant and Outside school hours, I used to visit even hostile to supporting the annual the PCVs at their residence to practice budget appropriation for the Peace Corps. English. They also taught me how to A fellow student and friend of mine at play chess and Scrabble. To my surprise, Princeton, who had been a PCV in Nepal, I became pretty good at Scrabble. Charles Bailey, suggested that I join him Occasionally I even beat them. in Washington, D.C. to try and persuade The U.S. deputy ambassador to Nepal, one particular Congressman to support Harry Barnes, came to visit the PCVs. the Peace Corps budget. I was introduced to him as the little The Congressman concerned was Otto boy who beat his American teachers in Passman (R-LA), a super-conservative Scrabble. The deputy ambassador was and influential member of the House duly impressed and after I finished high appropriations committee. He was school in Nepal he even wrote a letter holding up the funding with the intention recommending me for a Fulbright travel of making the Peace Corps weak and grant when I was admitted to Dartmouth eventually defunct. College with full scholarship. If you Google Passman and Peace Like many older RPCVs here, I was Corps you will see a quote attributed actively involved in the anti-Vietnam War to him in which he says, “If I had three protests. I was the founding president of minutes left to live, I’d kill the Peace the International Students’ Association Corps.” at Dartmouth, and Passman barely gave opposition to the us a hearing. Instead war was one of the Kul Gautam is the he gave us—in his fine causes we embraced. 2018 recipient of Southern accent—an When Senator George early version of the McGovern visited the NPCA’s Harris “America First” speech Dartmouth in 1971, Wofford Global that we hear so often stumping for the these days! presidency, I had the Citizen Award Charles and I politely opportunity to be on thanked him, briefly a panel with him. I shared our personal went on to support his experiences, and told him why we candidacy—partly because I shared his thought the Peace Corps was doing a ideas and ideals, and partly because his great job promoting goodwill for the US running mate was former Peace Corps and providing great help to countries like director, Sargent Shriver, whom I admired Nepal. And we pleaded for his support. immensely.
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The Congressman was polite but noncommittal. We were not sure if we had convinced him, but we felt good that at least he heard our pitch. You can imagine how happy we were to learn, shortly thereafter, that the appropriation was approved. Charles told me later that we deserved a medal (or perhaps combat pay) for going to the lion’s den to make our pitch. Charles very much wanted to be with us today, but he could not be here as he is pursuing another worthy cause that he and I have been deeply committed to: mobilizing support to help millions of children still suffering from the residue of Agent Orange sprayed during the Vietnam War half a century ago. In lieu of combat pay or a medal for our efforts back then, I’d like to share with Charles the honour of today’s Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award. Let me add one more Peace Corps connection. At one point my boss at UNICEF was Carol Bellamy who had earlier been a PCV in Guatemala and director of the Peace Corps in Washington DC. It was at Carol’s recommendation that Kofi Annan—a great leader of the UN who just passed away last week— appointed me as her deputy at UNICEF and an assistant secretary-general of the UN. So, thank you, Carol. So, dear friends, as you can see, my journey from Nepal to Dartmouth, then on to Princeton and the United Nations would not have happened had it not been for the Peace Corps. This text is excerpted from Kul Chandra Gautam’s acceptance of the NPCA’s Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award on August 24. In a 30-year career at the United Nations, Kul Chandra Gautam served as deputy executive director of UNICEF and UN assistant secretary-general. He is the author of Lost in Transition: Rebuilding Nepal from the Maoist mayhem and mega earthquake and his recently published memoir, Global Citizen from Gulmi: My journey from the hills of Nepal to the halls of the United Nations. He is chairman of RESULTs, the non-profit that performs research and mobilizes public support to fight poverty.
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