Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Happy 50th anniversary Peace Corps

March 1st, 2011 marks the 50th year anniversary of the United States Peace Corps.  I don't wish to give you a run-down of the history of the organization, but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge this day. I think it's pretty amazing that this organization was not only able to come into being, but it has been able to thrive and, at 50, is still goin strong!  So, thank you American tax payers!  And thank you to congress (I guess) for not slashing the funding too much.  I tend to try and distant myself from organizations, from bureaucracy,  from all the rules... but I can't deny that I am now part of something rather organized and bureaucratic.

Our awesome country director (no sarcasm intended... she really is pretty awesome) sent out an e-mail in honor of the anniversary, and she included some quotes from JFK when he signed the executive order that created Peace Corps.  Here are my favorites:

“Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language.

“But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.”

Yes, the times they have a' changed, but the basis of this organization remains the same, or at least tries to.   No, I'm not allowed to pilot my own moto (a damn shame if you ask me); yes, it's because when Peace Corps discovered that moto accidents were the leading cause of volunteer deaths, they forbid moto ownership.  I have internet use readily available (I am literally sitting in bed writing this right now), and I can instantly communicate with folks anywhere in the world.  Gone are the days when you have to walk to the nearest post office, an hour away, to get access to a telephone (true story told to me by a woman who volunteered in the 80's).  But, the students still have a hard time understanding me, and the old mamas still look at me with awe, admiration and outright confusion.  And, I'm sure that some things I'm experiencing over here are experienced by volunteers in many countries; experiences spanning many years (in fact, some may be out-right timeless).  

Like it or not, I have gotten myself into an organization.  And, being part of this organization means that I have a common thread tying me to other crazy (or generous) Americans who sign up to serve abroad for two years, and who are all the better because of it.  Hooray for a solid 50 years!

*This just added* 

I want to share with you some “classic” Peace Corps moments, in honor of the 50th year anniversary of the organization.  I label these as “classic” because I’m sure that many volunteers have the same stories, the same sorts of interactions, and the same kinds of reactions.  But, I guess for all of us, the entire experience is somewhat unique.
  • On Sunday I sought shelter from a rain storm.  In the carpenter’s “warehouse,” amidst new furniture and wood shavings, with a handful of Rwandans.  In broken Kinyarwanda I explained to them how life is in America.  I tried to convey that there are poor people in America, but I don’t think they really bought it.  Then, when I said I didn’t want a husband and maybe I would get married when I’m 30, the old woman in the group laughed in utter disbelief.  Also, I learned how to say “hail” in Kinyarwanda (hail on a tin roof is LOUD).
  • Today, I walked out of class early because I wanted to spare my students (and myself) any further torture.  Having 60 blank stares when you’re explaining the simplest things doesn’t exactly raise your morale.  Alas, we will try again tomorrow!
  • A few students came to visit me.  We nearly exhausted their English abilities and in the process one of them said something absolutely amazing.  His name is Richard, one of my best students, and when I teased him (though teasing is lost on these students...) about him knowing my name he said “I will always remember your name.”  And I knew that to be the whole truth, and nothin’ but.
  • When I went to Kigali (the capital city) I spent almost my entire salary.  I need to remember that I’m living the vida village these days, and I need a budget to match.  We had a great time though!
  • After retrieving packages from the post office in Musanze, I walked into town with a few to leave them for a fellow PCV (one of the ladies sharing our PO box).  A man offered his help and conversation... upon accepting I discovered that he was a teacher at the National Police Academy, and a very courteous gentleman.  He filled me on on the Police academy and I told him all about Peace Corps.
  • I tend to stand out in this country.  Everyone notices my whiteness immediately (and to be honest, when you’re in a country where ever person has very dark skin, you notice your whiteness immediately as well).  This is certainly true even when I’m crammed in the back of a twegerane, one arm hanging out the window in order to facilitate more shoulder room.  But, it’s fun to talk to a taxi full of people (about 16) and try to explain to them (in broken Kinyarwanda) that even though I’m white, I’m a poor teacher and I live in a village.  Cue hearty laughter, followed by modest acceptance.  Also, when the traffic police stop your van to do the typical routine checks, the fellow passengers feel it is imperative that they yell that THIS van has a muzungu.  Thanks guys... 


  1. I love those quotes, and I love you!!!!

    And you're welcome for you $$$

  2. Yeah Peace Corps!!! Love your quotes and reflections, Ally! Here's hoping for another good 50 years! There better not be any stupid Republicans out there thinking they can cut spending and balance the budget by cutting Peace Corps funding! Proud of you! xoxo