One Hand Does Not Catch a Buffalo Update

The series editor, Jane Albritton, has seen a copy of the book and declares it beautiful.  To me, the best thing about it isn’t the look but the stories–and we’ve both been seeing those for quite some time, so already know just how much more than simply ‘beautiful’ those are.  It’s nice, though, that the vehicle stands up to the contents.

This is from my Introduction:

For the better part of a year, I’ve lived with the essays, going through them, sorting them, cutting them down so they could all fit in this volume. They’ve provided me with recognition, with joy, sadness, hope, disillusionment, and memory. They’ve taught me. They’ve re-opened a world I long ago left behind, and have helped me understand the nature of the Peace Corps beyond my own small experience. Ultimately, they have convinced me that, whatever its legacy in development, the Peace Corps will always be known world-wide as one of the United States’ most significant contributions to human kind.

Each perspective presented here is distinct. Though we who served in Africa will often nod in recognition as we read these essays, our experiences were never lock step, but were diverse and often extraordinary. This volume reflects that, as much as I could make it do so. Some of the stories deal with the small, daily events that came to be commonplace. Others present astonishing once-in-a-lifetime events. Together, they present a picture as true to the Peace Corps experience in Africa as I could make it.

The Peace Corps may not change the world in grand ways, but it does change individuals—and not just the volunteers. Like that seventh-grader awed by an African, there are thousands and thousands of people world-wide whose views of the world were expanded by naïve and idealistic PCVs who came to rest in their villages and towns, even if just for a short time.

That is one great success.

In a jaded America, we need to recognize this sort of ‘success’ much more often than we do, and not for our own aggrandizement,  but honestly recognizing that its the small where life resides, the small where true accomplishment lies.

The last essay in the book, “Children of the Rains” by Michael Tosso (who served in Niger from 2004-2006) contains this passage about leaving home:

When you travel to a foreign place, when the bright city lights hit you for the first time, when you first taste Coca-Cola, when you learn to eat foods other than millet, baobab leaves and peanut sauce, and you don’t know a soul in the world because you can’t speak the language, you begin to whistle this song. You sing the song as you walk along, and more likely than not, your song will find its companion.

Another Djerma youth’s whistle will join yours and you are no longer a stranger in a strange land: you have found someone to look after you and to look after.

My friend Yaye taught me this song shortly before I was to begin my preparations for departure. He insisted that I learn it, that I know the words elders sing from their fields as clouds gather on the horizon: rain clouds gather and bring your children home for the harvest. Elders and children sing to one another from across the Savannahs and cloud-filled skies the separate them.