28 March 2009

HAND WASHING - Photo Hunt #1

This image is in response to
Click on the link and post your own photo
or see what others have posted.

This week's assignment is to post a photo with the topic: HANDS.

The photograph above is a detail of a larger image of the
woman who washed my clothes by hand every week in Brazil.
Find the entire photograph and an accompanying story
on an earlier post HERE.

"Busy hands will not find trouble." (Proverb)

"A man is not paid for having a head and hands,
but for using them." (Elbert Hubbard)

"Put your future in good
hands - your own."
(Author Unknown)

"Chiefly the mold of a man's fortune is in his own
(Francis Bacon)

"Remember, if you ever need a helping
hand, you'll find
one at the end of your arm. . . . As you grow older you
will discover that you have two hands. One for helping
yourself, the other for helping others."  (Audrey Hepburn)

27 March 2009

THE ROAD TO HEAVEN - Sky Watch Friday #2


This image is in response to
Click on the link and post your own photo
or see what others have posted. 

        In Brazil, I was stationed in Glória, "heaven" in Portuguese. The scene above was my very first view of the small city in the distance on the horizon, when the Peace Corps director for the state of Sergipe delivered me, my suitcase, and my footlocker to the town in the Peace Corps jeep. 
        The countryside was a lush green indicating recent rain. On the dirt road to Glória, we had negotiated many large puddles that hadn't dried yet from the hot tropical sun ten degrees south of the equator. It was near the end of August 1967 and there would still be days of rain ahead, but the rainy season (six months of almost daily rain) was winding down. Once it stopped, we might not have clouds or rain again for six months and there had been years of drought when it hadn't rained at all.
        When I traveled to the capital city, I was always glad when, on the return trip, the bus rounded this curve in the road, and I saw Glória ahead.

(Photo and text ©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

13 March 2009


In my previous post, I published my thoughts
on the Peace Corps after attending the 25th Peace Corps
Anniversary Conference in Washington DC in 1986.
The following is an update I wrote three years after
attending the Peace Corps conference held in June 2002.

[In 2005, I wrote:]
         In 2002, I attended the 40th Anniversary Peace Corps Conference. It had been scheduled for September of 2001. After the 9/11 tragedy, the organizers decided to go ahead as planned, because they felt we needed the PEACE, as exemplified by the Peace Corps, more than ever. But when Reagan Airport was shut down, the conference had to be postponed until June of 2002. 
        Like the 1986 conference I wrote about previously, it was a happy, joyous, nostalgic, emotionally-draining weekend.

        I briefly met Jason Carter, Jimmy Carter's grandson, who had recently returned from service in Africa, following in his great-grandmother's footsteps. (The president's mother, Miss Lillian, had served in India when she was 68-70 years old.)
        Sargent Shriver, already suffering from alzheimers, spoke briefly. Bill Moyers, who had been in on the planning of the Peace Corps, was in attendance.

        Alejandro Toledo of Peru was supposed to attend, but he conferenced in by phone due to a national emergency. In 1963, Toledo, then an adolescent shoe shine boy in a family of 16 children, developed a friendship with Peace Corps Volunteers Joel Meister and Nancy Deeds. 
        After Toledo graduated from high school, Meister and Deeds helped him gain admission to San Francisco City College and later San Francisco State University, where Toledo earned a degree in economics by obtaining a partial soccer scholarship and working at a gas station. Subsequently, he earned a scholarship for graduate studies at Stanford University where he earned advanced degrees in economics and education. He became a professor of economics at the Universidad del Pacifico in Peru and a guest professor in Japan. He also worked as a consultant for various international organizations including the United Nations.
        In 2001, Alejandro Toledo was elected to the Peruvian presidency. [During Toledo's presidency, the economy grew steadily and Peru showed one of the world's lowest inflation rates. He served until 2006. He has denied rumors that he may run again in 2011.]

        At the 2002 conference, I enjoyed being with others who had served in Brazil, including two other Returned PC Volunteers from my own Peace Corps group. Gary had been working for the Christian Children's Fund and returned to Brazil often. Vivian remained in Brazil for 20 years where she met her Chilean husband. They had recently moved to the Washington area and kindly allowed me to stay in their spare room. Brunie, the woman who overlapped me for one year at my Brazilian PC site, attended the conference with her husband, adopted son, her niece and grand niece. Several evenings, a small group of former volunteers who had served in Brazil met at several Brazilian restaurants to enjoy feijoada and other Brazilian dishes.

        One elderly woman, 86 at the time of the conference, had served in Brazil for 15 years teaching goat husbandry. Most Volunteeers serve two years, but may extend service to four, especially if time is needed to complete a project. Apparently, the Peace Corps had to travel to her site to physically remove her because she didn't want to leave. I don't remember what years she served, but since the PC stopped serving Brazil in 1980, that may have been her 15th year.

        Since 1961, more than 165,000 [now 195,000] volunteers have served in the Peace Corps, working in such diverse fields as agriculture, small business and community development, education, environmental conservation, healthcare and information technology. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. The oldest volunteer was 84. Most programs require a college degree and all majors are welcome. Non-degreed applicants must have three to five years of experience in business, farming, ranching or a skilled trade. Peace Corps service is a two-year commitment. Its benefits include language and cultural training, medical and dental coverage, housing, travel to and from the country of service, as well as a monthly stipend and 24 vacation days a year. Volunteers may defer repayment of various student loans while serving.

        With the Iraqi War costing this country billions of dollars and thousands of lives, I often wonder how much less it would have cost in both lives and money for us to send teachers, nurses, doctors, farmers and business professionals to Iraq and other mideastern countries to wage peace.

(©2005, with 2009 revisions, C.J. Peiffer)

11 March 2009


Originally, this was written in October of 1986,
thus many references are to that time.
Much of this is still relevant today.

[In October 1986, I wrote:]
        Nineteen years ago, on an August evening in 1967 when I was 22 years old and fresh out of college, full of hopes and ideals and ready to save the world, I arrived in the tiny town of Nossa Senhora da Glória where I spent the next two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, teaching English and working on community development projects in Brazil's underdeveloped Northeast.
        I didn't save the world, of course. Although some of my optimistic hopes and ideals were soon dashed, many were also fulfilled.  After almost twenty years, I look upon that time as one of the best times of my life and one of the experiences of which I am most proud.
        In those two short years, I probably learned more than ever before or since in a 24 month period. I learned about the customs and habits of another culture. I learned to communicate in the Portuguese language. I learned to live reasonably well without running water, electricity, and other conveniences. But what I really learned is a little less tangible.

        I learned I could do many things I thought I would never be able to do ---like learn another language well enough to get along in most situations. I learned to live without things I thought I couldn't live without, such as TV and telephones. This gave a boost to my self-confidence.
        I learned to look at the United States from a global point of view during the Vietnam years. I didn't like the warmonger, imperialistic image I saw. I thought it was a shame that, as a nation, we were not respected nearly as much as we were feared.
        I learned that we are truly one world, and that we are going to have to start thinking and acting as if we believed it. One of the Peace Corps' mottos is  to "bring the world back home." One contribution Returned PC Volunteers have made to our society is to return with a wealth of experience and knowledge of another culture to share with family, friends, students, and coworkers.
        Most of all, I learned how lucky I am to be an American. I am not complacent. There are many things that need to be improved here, but living in a town of 2000 where perhaps 20% of the people were functionally literate, where the infant mortality rate was about 30%, made me appreciate, more than ever, the wonderful opportunities I have as an American, at the same time celebrating the similarities and differences of other cultures.

        In September 1986, I attended the Peace Corps 25th Anniversary Conference in Washington, DC.  I learned a sobering fact there. The Peace Corps has less funding per year than our military bands. The Peace Corps has always had to beg for its meager funds.
        In 1961, Kennedy had so much faith in the idea for a Peace Corps, that he used his discretionary funds to train and place Volunteers in 8 countries before Congress approved PC funding. For months it operated from a hotel room, with mostly volunteer workers, people who hunted down the office and dropped in to give time to the project.
        At the conference, I learned that everything and anything could bring me to tears.
        I cried when Cory Aquino [the new president of The Philippines] received a standing ovation upon her entrance. I cried when Bob Shriver told us how proud his father [Sargent Shriver, first PC director] was that his younger son had joined the Peace Corps, the first Shriver to do so. 
        When the first PC Volunteer told how he received a letter saying he had been accepted to serve in "China or some other African country," I cried with laughter. He was assigned to Korea.
        Awards were given to Volunteers who had returned home only to do amazing things, like start a program to prevent blindness in a Caribbean nation. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I listened to the award winners' stories.

        I was thrilled at the sight of 7000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers marching from the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington Cemetery, each group carrying the colorful flag of the country served. We passed JFK's gravesite on the way.
        I cried at Bill Moyers' speech at the memorial service held in Arlington's amphitheater,  honoring Volunteers who had died during service and when Sargent Shriver and Loret Miller Ruppe [the PC director in 1986] handed yellow roses to family members of the deceased. [Fewer PC Volunteers died during service than those in the same demographic group at home. Most were victims of accidents.]
         Although not many from my own PC group attended, many others who had served in Brazil were there. Brunie, the girl with whom I shared my PC site [our service times overlapped for a year] flew from California, along with her fiancé and adopted daughter. It was wonderful to see her and to catch up with an old friend.
        It was a happy, joyous, nostalgic, emotionally-draining weekend. I didn't want it to end.

        In many countries of the world today, people acquire their impressions of America and Americans from TV or movies. It's frightening to think that Rambo movies and Dallas or Dukes of Hazard reruns form opinions of us. [Remember, it was 1986 when I first wrote this.]
        In many remote villages, the only real American anyone ever meets or has been close to or worked with, has been a PC Volunteer, someone who looks strange to the locals, who may dress differently, may not speak the language particularly well, but someone who cares about them and their lives, someone who will work hard and love it ---as they say, it's "the toughest job you'll ever love."
        PC Volunteers live in remote regions of the world, not needing protection. Few have had to be recalled because of internal problems in host nations. Local people love the Volunteers for what they do. When I left Peace Corps service in 1969, a few Brazilians, frank to a fault, told me they still disliked the United States, but they loved me. This was progress ---some had told me two years earlier that they despised America.
        It wasn't easy. There were times I would have gone home in a snap, like the time we found a poisonous snake in the house --- but there wasn't a bus passing through Glória for four days, so I stayed.
        We had to cook everything from scratch (that meant starting with a live chicken), boil and filter water, sleep on a straw mattress under a leaky roof, teach with fewer materials for an entire class than a single American student would have. At times, I suffered depression, culture shock, alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation. I lost nearly 30 pounds and suffered with intestinal worms that required a handful of horse-sized pills to cure.
        Yet there were wonderful moments. I taught English as a foreign language and helped with community-development projects. I made visual aids for the elementary school and for the doctor who showed up once a week, because sometimes he had only one text book for an entire class at his medical school. I was able to travel throughout Brazil and visit other South American countries. There were lazy days at the beach, exuberant Carnaval celebrations, soothing rhythms of samba and bossa nova, and wonderful new Brazilian friends. There were also many humorous moments, such as on my first day in Rio when I ordered two fried grapes for breakfast.
        I loved Brazilians and Brazil. It was truly a land of contrasts. At times, I found Brazil backward, yet rapidly progressing, sexist yet wonderfully romantic, fascinatingly exciting while amazingly slow paced. Each day was full of joy, humor, and tragedy. The land surrounding the town where I lived was drab and colorless. The cities, the language, the music, and the people were vibrantly colorful, sometimes exotic.

        In its heyday, the Peace Corps had more than 15,000 Volunteers serving around the world. Today [1986] only about 5500 are in the field. In the 1980's, with an ever-increasing military budget, star wars, and terrorism, we need a Peace Corps more than ever.
        Current Volunteers and Returned PC Volunteers have become citizens, not only of the United States, but also of the world.

(©1986 with 2009 revisions, C.J. Peiffer)

05 March 2009

THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY - Cowboys in Glória

This post is in response to A Thousand Word Thursday

        Every Friday, late in the afternoon, local cowboys sauntered into town on their horses, driving a small herd of cattle in front of them. The photo above was taken from the front door of the house Brunie and I shared. In Brazil, the cowboys were vaqueiros, but in Glória, they were usually called gauchos.
        The gauchos wore leather chaps and leather jackets. They often had holsters with guns strapped to their thighs and dangerous-looking knifes in leather sheaths on their belts. Their leather gaucho hats had brims that were turned up at the front and back rather than at the sides.  Many also wore small decorated leather purses at their waists ---perhaps a precursor of fanny packs.
        They were rough men hardened by harsh conditions.
        The herd of cattle passing our house would be kept in a small corral outside of town, then slaughtered in the wee hours of the morning and be sold at the weekly market on Saturday morning.

Gaucho, c. 1967
(photo: Brunie Chavez, used with permission)
        A family from the neighboring state of Alagoas moved to a farm outside of town. There were a father and either four or five sons and one daughter. I never saw the mother so I'm not sure if she had died, left, or if she stayed on the farm when other family members came into town.
        On the outskirts of Glória, someone would see the men heading toward town on their horses. Dressed in usual gaucho garb, they were dirty, unshaven (would have been designer stubble today) and, of course, were missing a few teeth much like many of the local cowboys. Their faces and arms had been roasted to a leather color to match their chaps. Someone would yell that the Alagoanos were coming. Mothers ran outside to grab their children from the streets, dragged them inside, and quickly closed and locked their doors and shutters. It was like a scene in a Western movie when gunslingers showed up in town.
        As far as I know the Alagoanos never caused any trouble. They never hurt or threatened anyone, nor stole anything, but they were feared. Perhaps it was just the fear of the unknown.

        Once when we were in the market square, we heard a gunshot. The wife of a local man had been aiming for her husband's mistress. The wife was normally left outside of town  to live on the farm while her husband had a mistress in town.  Luckily no one was hurt.  After the gun was wrestled from the shooter's hand, she was reprimanded by the mayor and handed over to her husband who promised to keep her out of town.

        Cowboys. Cattle drives. Horses. Gunslingers. Shootouts. No wonder there were times when I felt like an extra in a Western movie. I didn't play a big part in the plot, but there I was in the background, observing the dusty action.
(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)