Peace Corps Rising

Arabsiyo Mother

 My years in Peace Corps Somalia were the best education I could ever have. The long term effects on the Somalis by the PC Groups are remembered by Somalis as “the best Americans” they ever met, not me, but the whole group, year after year, living with the same difficult world around us. I have returned to Somalia in numerous capacities over the past 40 years, and the simple volunteers who were living a simple life there are still having positive effect. Hard to believe if you haven’t been there, but it’s true. I, too, call on the expanded funding for the Peace Corps.

If recent returnees are reporting a broken system, then it may have something to do with the recent Top Down Bush approach even to the Peace Corps. I saw similar deterioration in the Nixon years. The problem was Peace Corps Washington, not the Volunteers in the bush. Carter and Clinton supported the Peace Corps and it rebounded. Second, review your thoughts about the Peace Corps after you have been back in the US rat race for a couple of years. It gets sweeter with age.


A Letter from Peter Yarrow to Rep. Lowey on the Importance of the Peace Corps Vote

Dearest Rep. Nita Lowey, This is a personal message to you from your buddy, your long time supporter and your friend, Puff\’s \”real\” daddy. In the vote coming up next week . . .


Notes on a Sunday in Addis

Notes on a Sunday in Addis

Coffee tradition, she called it. That was yesterday in the afternoon, in the restaurant, gallery walls decorated with tight weave baskets, with high hat plate-covers, with professional photos of jeweled young women, highlanders they were, images surrounded by natural displays of local utensils, polished wooden bowls and spoons, on finished wooden walls, displays of draped gauze, loose linen sheets, caught still in looms, rivers of white cloth, imbedded with rich red jets set off by spurts of gold thread; scarves-to-be, shrouds-to-be, values and colors from the rural mountains; music comes in six eight time captured on locally made cassettes, the air is full of flutes and drums. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Waitresses dress in uniform cotton prints, flowers on white fields that might have been designed and crafted in the Carolinas or the Ukraine, matching two piece pant suits, very nice shapes, very subtle. Such beautiful faces, framed each one in styled hair, clean and tidy and black, pinned up or braided tight, slender necks and classic faces growing out from the printed cloth (are those sunflowers? African violets?). Straight white teeth contrast with cinnamon skin, such smooth cheeks and dark eyes, the mouths perfectly shaped for Amharic chatter. A band of musicians, full size in the corner, mocked up in show time dress, plaster men in handmade red and white do-rags, cotton gauze trousers, authentic guitars and flutes in their plaster hands, so still and quiet that I thought at first they were alive, just sitting calm and meditative, like a Macy’s window display on a Coptic Christmas, no manger, full sized, wisdom sculpted in the faces. My, my, the mannequins, the mirror behind them, the knowing looks.

Then a thumping heavy rain comes down on the corrugated roof above us, the busy-ness around the bar steps up, each print pant suit knows where to go, moves perishables and cardboard into shelter, squeals follow movement out to the kitchen courtyard, out of my sight, but surely directed toward adjustment, reorganization, a daily drill, moving items to dry refuge away from driving rain. Smiles and cotton prints return, relaxing. Satisfaction. The flutes, the drums continue.

I finish my lamb stew; some angera remains on the platter. The second portion of goat cheese takes the peppered heat from my mouth. She comes by again with warm water and soap, she pours from a spout over a small basin, catching the waste water from my hands. Would you like some coffee? It is our tradition. Yes, of course. The rain drums on the roof, the restaurant is filling, umbrellas rest on the front porch, the mannequin band still does not stir, their music made in rain, I am sure. The flute, the drum. The walls around me are rich, shape and color swallow me whole. She returns with coffee tradition, the parts separated into metal containers, each shiny and clean, one for the black and pressed oily essence of Ethiopian beans, maybe from Harar, one filled with steamed, frothing milk, and one with local sugar crystals, off-white chunks from the lowlands. There are several spoons, each with its own purpose, one to deliver sugar, one to stir. On the edge of the platter a small incense burner is smoking, delicate aroma, smoke rising nicely from a charcoal the shape of a thumbnail, frankincense and myrrh is stuck to the coal, melting now running. The room explodes in sweetness, she blows the smoke toward me and says, You are welcome.

copyright 2009 Jim Shanor