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Why We Don’t Need Facebook

I met an Irishman named Peter once. It was in a village called Nkhotakota, on the shore of Lake Malawi, where he was volunteering as part of a youth development program. My brother and I had arrived late in the day and, it turned out, had the better part of a night to pass until the 64-year-old motor ship that still serves as the lone transporter of goods and souls between lake towns arrived the next morning. We were on time, but it, of course, was late.

We located the local watering hole / guest lodge / grocer and bargained a discount rate for dinner and a half night’s stay. I found Peter at the bar that evening. He was reading a book about what was effectively the German army’s warm-up for the Holocaust: the mass enslavement of and use of concentration camps on indigenous Namibians.

You can imagine the substance of that conversation but, despite it, we quickly became friendly. I am convinced that this is because Peter was wonderfully Irish – genial, garrulous, big-hearted – and had nothing whatsoever to do with my road-weary condition. At the end of the night, as we parted ways, I felt that familiar twinge of remorse that anyone who has traveled or simply shared a warm conversation with a stranger knows. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

As we stood to go, he told me he was going to tell me something another volunteer had said to him once and that he liked to pass along to fellow travelers. We shook hands, he looked me in the eye, and then he said warmly, “Enjoy the rest of your life.”

That was it. It was not a warning, or even a command; there was no malice in his voice. He simply wanted to wish me well and, with such plain words, soothe the hurt of an impossible friendship briefly known. He wanted me to know it was okay that our paths would never cross again, that that’s how it’s supposed to be. And though he would never learn its ultimate outcome, he hoped that mine was a good life.

::

The power of modern social media networks to shape, spread, and often simply reach the important news stories of our time is quite literally revolutionary. After the Boston Marathon bombing last April, during the firefight in Watertown, residents recorded footage on their smart phones, uploaded it to YouTube, and then used the #Watertown hash tag to broadcast it on Twitter. It began trending almost instantaneously, and suddenly it was watchable online before CNN was on the scene.

Throughout the investigation, you could follow the latest developments on Twitter; that network often beat out even the largest (or most local) news stations in sharing breaking news. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Google created a searchable database for folks concerned about their loved ones. The bombing demonstrated the ability of social media to meaningfully impact our lives.

And this is the fascinating thing about Facebook. Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Vimeo all possess a function. Their existence meets a need and, in select instances, contributes substantially to the greater human conversation. (See the incredibly smart – and pre-planned – use of Twitter by Texas State Senator Wendy Davis.) Facebook is the exception. For many, certainly for me, its only utility is as a forum for passive correspondence between acquaintances. I still call and visit good friends; I see family at the holidays.

Of course, not everything important must be useful; but it must be relevant. And I’m not sure Facebook holds any relevancy for me anymore. More importantly, I think it detracts from my quality of life and social interactions. We’ve all read about how much of a time suck the site is; how the avatars we present are disingenuous and frivolous; how it’s only a place to noncommittally confirm plans and receive reminders about random birthdays that weren’t important enough to write down.

There are, like any good rule, exceptions. During my Peace Corps service, Facebook allowed me to keep up with family back home in one, fell, data-lite swoop. I imagine it’s much the same for expats, the armed forces, and those whose normal interactions with loved ones are similarly stymied. I’ve also discovered that, for some, it allows a kind of casual networking that is ultimately vital to their careers. And as this study out of UCSD shows, it does have the capacity to massage public opinion.

But Facebook, I think most importantly, makes us lazy – not only in the typical sense of those who lament our increasing inability to write complex sentences and focus on longer selections of text – but rather in how we conduct ourselves in relationships. It circumscribes our own efforts, encouraging a passive, superficial knowledge of other human beings, at the same time insisting that they’re not worthwhile enough to know more about.

It is wrongheaded to believe otherwise, that somehow our lives are fuller or richer because of the meretricious connections we maintain on Facebook. We know less about people, not more, by being Facebook friends. This is not how friendships are kept. It’s how they’re lost. It’s the small erosion over time that crumbles the foundation. We maintain these casual and unedifying relationships through Facebook, absorbing but never contributing substantially. Like a lot of modern life, we consume it, but don’t shape it ourselves, not directly. And that is no way to live.

::

Leaving Facebook is an opportunity to vote with my behavior. We choose what clothes to buy based on a number of factors besides style and price, like if the process with which they’re made is environmentally friendly and whether the workers who make them labor under good and fair conditions. We consider whether the food we buy is healthy and where and how it’s grown. We rank cities on their overall quality of life and access to natural resources to help us decide if we want to live there. Why should we not also choose the manner and method with which we manage our relationships online?

The truth is, we don’t need Facebook. We don’t need much of social media, but most of it contributes to the conversation in some manner. Unlike its younger siblings, Facebook comes from a time when our understanding of our relationship to the Internet was only just forming, and sites that enticed our innate human inclination to schadenfreude (hello, Myspace!) flourished. Talking to an old friend recently about Facebook friends, he put it more succinctly. “At best, I don’t really know most of these people,” he said, “and, at worst, I actually dislike them.”

I’m not sure how much I agree with that sentiment, but I do know that in general I’m tired of reading about life online. I want to be in the messy midst of it, alive and engaged. I crave authenticity, the kind that comes from lived experience, rich with human interaction, and I am exhausted from this ashcan of terrible emptiness into which we all pour our lives.

It will be challenging, and I’m bound to lose many acquaintances – but no real friendships. Hopefully, if anything, I’ll save a few of those. So, at the end of the summer, after I’ve confirmed email addresses and collated my network, it’s happening: I’m saying goodbye. If we’re not already in touch on email, let’s fix that now. Seriously: drop me a two-line note to say hi. It’ll be invigorating, like going commando on a hot day. I hope you will email, call, and keep in touch, and I will strive to do the same with you.

I’m not the first to do this and something tells me I won’t be the last. MG Siegler, a partner in Google Ventures, wrote earlier this year, “One day we’ll all be laying on our death beds wishing we hadn’t wasted all that time reading a million ‘K’ email responses in our lives.” Friends of mine who have been married for a few years and also recently left Facebook told me, “Now, instead of checking our friends’ updates at night, we read to each other. One night, she reads, and the next I do. Doesn’t really matter what, though she prefers old crime novels.” I smiled, loving that he knew that.

::

My brother and I boarded the ferry early the next morning, as the red sun was just beginning to crest the lake’s waters. I never saw Peter again, though I’m sure I could track him down now if I wanted to. But I don’t. I don’t know what happened to Peter, and that’s bittersweet. But it’s also okay. That’s a part of how human relationships work in real life.

As another Volunteer put it, “The joy of being in another place is intoxicating. Everyone should have the chance to live outside of their comfort zones.” Facebook is the comfort zone.

See you out there.

Et in Arcadia Ego

“You know, Nhlanhla, in our culture, rain is a blessing.”

I’m sitting in the repurposed kindergarten room that now serves as my primary school’s office, fumbling through one of the many farewell conversations of the last few days. The deputy principal, my counterpart in the life skills club we ran together for close to a year and a man of extreme – some might even say excessive – faith, and I are talking about the weather earnestly: they’re the first rains of the wet season and, despite being early, it’s the kind of rain that falls long and slow, in rhythmic waves, imbuing it with a sense of inevitability.

“And these rains, they’re wonderful, you know, because there’s no thunder, no violence: they stay for days,” he says, personifying the weather. “Yes, yes, it is a blessing from God, and a blessing on you and your journey. God is saying thank you.”

For a man who I’ve come dangerously close to throttling for invoking religion in any difficult situation, his ability to elicit raw emotion from me is no less keen or those instances infrequent. It would be dishonest if I did not admit to myself that, at times, I wonder if this is my penultimate lesson, the keystone of my service: a well-rooted patience for a perception of life that does not always adhere to my own interpretation.

Some days, there is also the fleeting, lambent sense of accomplishment, when a man greets me artlessly in town or, on one of my daily runs, a child jogs alongside simply to feel the rush of air on his face, to share that exhilaration with me. Mostly, though, I feel the conspicuous turn of the earth, the distinct awareness that somewhere out there the world is ageing and moving on, and here, in the village, we are all waiting.

My Swati family had been waiting for two weeks for my host father to get better. He came home from an operation at the private hospital in Nelspruit two weeks ago and, instead, became progressively weaker. The lymph nodes on his neck ballooned to the point where they formed a ring around the base of his jaw, again, and he started to vomit blood. On Monday, we marshaled a private car, filled it with petrol at considerable expense, and drove halfway to the city to meet the ambulance on the highway. As the smell of citrus blossom infused the air on the side of the road, I watched my father handed over to the ambulance technicians and driven away.

Only two weeks before, I had driven to Nelspruit with my host Mom and brother to visit him after the initial surgery. They had taken him to the private hospital because, as I was told in a freakish instance of jejune irony, even though the expense was greater, the government hospital was “where Africans go,” and so, it was inferred, the quality of care was inferior. (This was, I learned later when my other host brother was treated for pneumonia there, no exaggeration. The floors were unwashed, chipped walls exposed the cement underneath, one particular hallway was entirely unlit, and the ceiling was crumbling in parts: with minimal effort, its mis-en-scene could have been made to resemble the war-torn set of a Hollywood film.) The operation to “drain the swelling” was determined a success, by whom we were never told, and my host Dad was discharged a day later. At the time, I felt his stay conspicuously brief, and was alert to the pungent odor of minimal effort that hung furtively in the air.

On the drive home from that first visit, in a disquieting display of emotion, my host mother, plainly attempting to master her own consternation, thanked me for accompanying them on the trip. “You have done a good thing today, Nhlanhla,” she said to me. “You have shown that you are a real member of this family.” And then, after a short pause: “It means so much to me.”

I’ll say goodbye to her tomorrow and, if possible, to my host father (now in the ICU ward of the private hospital) for what is likely the last time, as I pass through Nelspruit on my way to Pretoria to close service. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to find myself above reproach for leaving, but the quotidian battle ahead belongs truly to family, and death has an inveterate knack for exposing the vain and dull absurdity of the teleological.

The painful truth of life is that it is defined by a continuous series of relationships and that this process does not stop until you reach the end. We thrive on these connections. The difficult trick is learning to love them while we can, to let them go once they’ve ended, and to keep them from bankrupting us for the next one. (This is why, after a tough breakup or, even worse, an amicable one, the most important thing is, as they say, to get back on the horse.)

Life’s regnant joy, of which human beings especially enjoy – besides self-consciousness and thus imagination and introspection – is the development and maintenance of romantic, familial, and friendly relationships. Perhaps the most difficult thing is letting one go that is, theoretically anyway, within our control to persist. But such is life, and to really honor that connection and, not unimportantly, to continue as a happy human being, we must will ourselves to the next one. We are not forgetting it, nor that part of ourselves, but building upon them as stepping stones that lead eventually to a crossing.

——-

Yesterday, as I rode the public taxi home from buying groceries for the last time, I sat watching two women in front of me talk, their gestures animating the expressive looks of mirth and joy on their faces, and I began to understand the truth about people: we are indeed all of the same earth. The shallow, loamy bits change with space and time. There will always be societies in which the treatment of a subset of its citizens clashes with another’s concept of justice and equality. It’s pointless to dispute such a fundamental cornerstone of ourselves, just as there’s no real substance to such a callow observation.

It is the granite bedrock beneath, unbreakable and extraordinarily deep, which underpins our humanity. There is nothing trite in acknowledging the sodality of being human. This foundation is, if anything, at risk from the erosive blend of cynicism and lassitude that commonly masquerades as pragmatism in most conversations about “others.” It is far too easy to dissuade ourselves of such a commonality, to accept passively labels and characterizations, when we cannot shake hands with the complexity of another human being, feel the fervor of their passions and beliefs, and sense that inexplicable emanation of mortality so redolent of ourselves.

Luck too easily discounts both inaction and intention, but there is something akin to chance at work in the way the world developed. That it is Africans who suffer persistent epidemics, relentless poverty, and drought and starvation on the largest scale is by no means simply a roll of the dice, but there is nothing unique that qualifies the continent for such an ignoble role, no trace of predetermination in the substratum of its peoples.

It is disarmingly easy, however we characterize our sociopolitical leanings, to assure ourselves of a magnanimous acceptance of alternative lifestyles. It is quite another thing to recognize the hidden prejudices within, the ones that no human need ever know of, that quietly cohere into a passive yet sustained disregard for an “other.” It is far too easy to turn a blind eye, to forfeit patience.

I do not know if the shift in fortunes of geopolitics that began more than a decade ago and has accelerated in the last few years will ultimately signal the decline in power of the West, nor do I much care. What interests me is the egregious inequality of life that persists around the world, East and West, developed and underdeveloped, first and third, from which there appears little relief. Conversations that abstract the visceral nature of this divide through obtuse notions of economics, politics, geographic happenstance, and the like do us all a disservice, as they serve only to obfuscate the facts, foment controversy, and obviate consensus.

And perhaps it’s only now, as I pack the same two bags I arrived with 27 months ago, feeling the emotional and literal weight of each item I choose to include or leave behind, that I begin to understand the connection between those worlds: the consumers and the consumed. The gift of service, whether in a foreign land or your own neighborhood, is the temporal bridging of that divide and the recrudescence of real, substantive relationships. It is our relationships that define our lives, bring meaning to them, and empower others to develop their own.

It’s true what they say, that they don’t tell you how to say goodbye. Peace Corps gives you a million and one tools, for everything from integration to persuasion. But they never tell you how to appreciate; or what to savor; and which fleeting glimpses of your life from the past two years you will miss the most. There is no user’s guide to saying goodbye to your PCV life, to the people you’ve grown to love as your own blood, to the extrication from an experience you’ve spent two years purposefully filling yourself up with. When it comes time, you just don’t know what to do with yourself. Do you say goodbye? Write letters? Give a gift? Shed tears? Or, perhaps, because no gesture or speech can possibly carry enough gravitas, does one simply shake hands and take care to shut the door behind them?

It’s been raining for four days now. The first rains of the wet season: a blessing on my journey.

——-

I wrote the above only seven weeks ago, but already it seems a lifetime. At the time, amidst the complexities of closing service, helping my host family cope with my host father’s cancer, and a slew of personal issues that included my own Dad’s health and my application to the Foreign Service, I didn’t know how to finish it. I know now.

My host father died four days before I left South Africa for South America. My host brother, the one to whom I was the closest, called me in Cape Town late one night. He had been drinking and was riding home from the hospital with my other host brother. He told me Babe (Dad) had passed. I asked if I could talk to Mom, but she wasn’t there. They sounded happy, but they weren’t celebrating. They were grieving, the way they knew how – the way I remembered from the other funerals I’d attended with them.

In some morbid way, it feels fitting that my service ended with a death – like it was some Shakespearean tragedy set in a faraway land. In the most crass sense, I felt my experience still inchoate, as though I was missing a seminal Peace Corps moment. I understand now, though, that this was because my Peace Corps service was, like my host father Jabulani (Happiness) himself, characterized by an indomitable patience, an understanding that all things come with time. Or they don’t. And if they didn’t, then that was okay, too.

When I left, despite the rain, the trees in my village stood still like brown midday shadows, waiting underneath a clearing spring sun. Their solitary forms were the only things that interrupted the baked carapace of the scorched veld. Like the blackened grass, they were waiting for that water. And so South Africa waits. Like Jabulani waited resolutely for treatment; like my host mother waited for a tincture of hope; like I waited to witness the fruits of my labor.

We wait for host brothers to pay lebola and for our host nephews to grow up without their fathers. We wait for test results, and then perhaps for ARVs. We wait for exam marks, acceptance letters, and job interviews. We wait for babies to be born. We wait for the change to come that was promised, for the roads to be repaired, for the hatred to die. In the morning, we wait for the sun to set; at night, for it to rise. We wait for vindication, confirmation, forgiveness.

Like Persephone returning to her mother, the rains did come, and my host father finally succumbed. Though Steenbok was no utopia, the relationships I nurtured there, that nurtured me, were the only human response to such a mortal place, and they alone succeed in comforting those who remain. But for those whose leave takes another form, who flout willingly those relationships for new ones, perhaps there is only shame. Shame for turning a blind eye. Shame for running out of patience. Shame for fleeing back to an ignominious, consuming world.

Or maybe we can find solace in the knowledge that once something unique was shared. Maybe we assuage that pain, fill the lacuna of torn memory, with the meaning that comes from intimate experience. Maybe, in the end, that is what it amounts to, and our own stories cannot be gainsaid. The famed educator, Horace Mann, wrote “until you have done something for humanity you should be ashamed to die.” My host father, whose funeral I could not attend, passed away a man above reproach. Draped in mammon’s garb, I remain a mendicant man, in search of meaning, and a little ashamed to die.

Why I’m an Ally

The below piece, with its accompanying introduction, ran recently in the Post newsletter’s “Get Bent” column, a dedicated space in each month’s issue reserved specifically for issues related to LGBTQ volunteers serving in SA.  Hope you enjoy.

Hello SA PCVs,
Attached and pasted below is the August Get Bent column, from our hetero hero Matt Kertman (SA22), about why he chose to become such a fierce advocate and activist for LGBTQ volunteers in South Africa. All of the achievements we’ve had this year started with him, and we’re proud that he’s chosen to share his reasoning for that with all of us as he prepares to COS. Enjoy. – Sean and Piper (SA23)

Why I’m an Ally

How one PCV got tired of waiting for justice and became an ally.

By Matt Kertman (SA22)

It feels like I’m always waiting.

I listen for the wind to surge, to signal the approach of wolfish clouds roiling low over dark mountains. I wait for the smell of wet sky, for the anvil strike of thunder. I wait for the seasons to change. I wait for water.

I wait for my counterparts to complete their share of a project, for Post to answer a question, for the happy double-ping of an SMS from another PCV. I wait for taxis to take me to town to buy food at month end and for the electricity to return to cook it.

I wait to feel like I’ve made a difference.

Early on, I concluded that if I couldn’t be as effective in my service as I had hoped, I would find a way to enable other volunteers to achieve more – not a grand mission, but a just one. Along with the Newsletter and VSN, I chose to focus my energy on helping to create a support system for queer volunteers.

I can’t say with certainty why supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning volunteers has become such a lodestone for me. Maybe it’s that, as a heavy kid, I was pushed around too much, and still identify fiercely with the underrepresented and heterogeneous. Perhaps it’s because, like many straight men, I had homosexual experiences growing up and today count among my friends many queer men and women. But more likely it’s as simple as this: thuggery and bigotry are alien to my sense of what it is to be human, especially when committed in the name of morality.

It’s difficult to miss. As any PCV can tell you, most South African bigots – black or white – miss every good opportunity to keep their mouths shut. The lame, “He’s a gay,” is used so often (and so often inaccurately) that it could be forgiven if it weren’t so dangerous. Try inserting “Black” or “Jew” instead and see what it reminds you of.

Queer South Africans live risky lives. Last week, a 23-year-old resident of Crossroads township outside Cape Town was attacked and stabbed while returning home from work with her girlfriend. Last April, Nokolo Nogwaza was raped by eight men near Johannesburg and then stabbed to death with a piece of glass, but not before the men disfigured her face by stoning it. She was 24. Then there was Vuyisa Dayisi, a trans woman found dead, stripped from the waist down, with signs of molestation. Two days later, a gay man who lived nearby was found shot in the head – his wallet and phone still on his body.

For queer PCVs, the danger is at once greater and lesser. The odds are high that being out in their communities will, if not endanger them literally, neuter their hopes of being effective at site. That’s unconscionable. “The insistence that gays and lesbians live like heterosexuals, or stay in closets, is not only a demand for uniformity,” Amartya Sen wrote, “it is also a denial of the freedom of choice.” A world away from their family and friends, queer volunteers don’t just need the support of straight PCVs, they deserve it. And I was bored to death of waiting for others to provide it.

I’m proud to be an Ally to queer volunteers, to be the “A” in LGBTQA, and for the goals we’ve accomplished in the past year:

  1. Created the Peace Corps South Africa LGBTQA Facebook page. It’s a safe space for queer and allied PCVs, wholly private, designed to encourage discussion and foster support for each other.
  2. Launched the Get Bent column. Since it’s debut in the Newsletter over a year ago, the column has moved quickly to cover a lot of ground, from gay bar reviews to serving as the platform for one Volunteer to come out. Above all, it’s a tool for asserting our right to have a presence in the PCV community.
  3. Lobbied for LGBTQA Training for Staff. Since July, we have conducted in-depth sensitivity training for all staff members at Post, South African and American, including the crucial PST team.

Allied volunteers have a responsibility to support queer PCVs in whatever manner we can. We can wait for the change to come, for the hatred to die, or together we can tackle Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s question that, “If you desired to change the world, where would you start? With yourself or others?” And most of all, why would you wait?

The Highlight

The highlight of my Peace Corps service arrived the 23rd of last month, when my counterpart and I took all 26 young men from Siyakhula Boys Club to Johannesburg on an educational field trip for the end of term break.

They raised roughly half the cost of transport themselves, the club paid for some of the remaining cost, and overly generous donations from a precious few friends and family in America provided the rest. Thank you!

So, what happened?  Well…

I spent the better part of Friday night running through the next day and making final preparations.  This included making 30 peanut butter and butter sandwiches that would ultimately serve as breakfast for the guys and two sets of 30 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that formed the main course for lunch.  In case you wanted to know how long it takes to spread, cohere, and bag 90+ sandwiches, I can tell you: exactly two hours and forty-seven minutes. I’ll never touch peanut butter again.

We left Steenbok early Saturday morning, after some serious struggles locating all 26 boys along the lone tar road at 3:30am. En route, I had the unique honor of belting Adele’s “Someone Like You” along with fourteen teenage boys at the top of our lungs. We also elicited some pretty fantastic looks of disapproval from stuffy travelers at the petrol station where we stopped, at approximately 9am to use the toilets and garner refreshments, when we initiated an all-out dance party outside the taxi and blasted bass-heavy trance like it was going out of style.

Arriving at the Apartheid Museum just in time for our 10am tour, things turned serious rather quickly – and rightfully so. I had arranged a Zulu-speaking tour guide in advance, and he took us through the entire museum on a 2.5 hour guided tour. The museum is one of those places you could spend a day and still not feel satisfied that you had gotten the full experience. It was as I had hoped: shocked expressions at the graphic videos, curious questions about the ’76 student uprising, fascination with the Mandela exhibit (though it certainly did not hurt they could take photos of themselves next to the red Mercedes Benz that transported Nelson Mandela after departing Robbin Island for his first political speech as a free man). Even Sam, my counterpart, and the two taxi drivers, who had lived through Apartheid, were engrossed. At the end, as we left, I felt the distinct pleasure that comes from having your intuition (not to mention hopes and goals) affirmed.

Afterward, we drove to Mary Fitzgerald Square, named for a prominent and early woman union organizer, where the boys ate lunch and reflected on what they had just seen. We then began a 3-hour guided tour of the SciBono Discovery Centre in Newtown.  Again, I had arranged a Zulu-speaking tour guide, and she was key in both holding the guys’ interest (a pretty young woman, the boys all clamored for individual photos with her at the end of the day) and explaining some of the more complex concepts of the exhibits. The center is an interactive educational facility that demonstrates scientific principles through fun, hands-on activities. There was a magic show that was subsequently explained through the principles of chemistry (stuff exploded, fire changed color, water turned into expanding foam), exhibits on wavelengths (special goggles refracted light to alter what you were looking at), energy, electricity (you could turn a crank and power a light bulb), momentum, and the body, and health-conscious exhibits like the one that showed all the different chemicals contained in cigarettes and how much money you could save (and what you could buy with that money over time) if you didn’t smoke. A popular exhibit used soccer to demonstrate the body’s sensory system by having an individual kick a soccer ball at targets as they lit up and beeped – and then scored them based upon their reaction time. The guys had a wonderful time, laughing and playing from one activity to the next.

Finally, it was time to go, and we drove a few short minutes to a nearby Roman’s Pizza. There, the Indian owner (who had been forcibly removed to a nearby “colored” township during Apartheid) gave us exceptional service (and an unplanned and incredibly generous discount), the boys were waited on, ordered their own individual pizzas and juice, discussed what we had learned at the science centre and talked about our favorite moments of the day, and generally enjoyed themselves. As I sat there listening to them share their thoughts and feelings, it was thrilling to see them all interact so maturely with each other in such an alien environment – more evidence in the already-won debate over whether some races possess “different capabilities” than others – and to bear witness to what I already knew in my heart: that each and every one of these young men has the potential to bust out of the cycle of poverty that attenuates village life.

From there, it was back into the taxis for the long ride back to Steenbok, where we dropped the learners, after more sing-alongs and multiple bathroom pitstops, with their waiting families around 01:00am. It was far and away the best day of my Peace Corps service, and special thanks must be given to Rebecca Fielding-Miller for her graceful assistance in wrangling 26 adolescent boys for almost 24 hours straight, and to my parents for their seemingly inexhaustible support of both myself and the club over the last two years. It was, without hyperbole, everything I had hoped for.

Since that refulgent day five weeks ago, the guys have filled out M&E questionnaires designed to test what knowledge and skills they’ve picked up from the club; signed and written over a dozen thank you letters to different community and international sponsors; finally received the artwork from our participation in an international art exchange (if you could have seen their reactions: “she painted this…in what country?!”); and last Thursday capped six months together with an “I Can’t” ceremony (in which they each privately write down one thing they “can’t” do on a piece of paper and then take turns burning their slip of paper over the flame from a candle) and a yearbook signing party at our final club meeting. Unlike high school, I was the most sought after signature. Afterward, in what might have been the most touching moment of the last two years, I was faced with a classroom of young men that just sat there quietly, for the first time ever, not wanting to leave.

In the time between now and then, I spent two weeks at a backpackers that borders Tsitsikamma National Park in the Western Cape as part of a work exchange program (where I learned, amongst other things, how to make both proper muesli and a fire with wet wood), working evenings in the kitchen and behind the bar and spending my days hiking and running through what can decidedly only be called God’s Country.  I also visited another PCV near and dear to me in the Eastern Cape, losing a tug-of-war contest to some 12-year-olds and getting muddied up in the process.  I rode illegally in the driver’s cabin of an especially large luxury bus liner, listening as the man whose attention I much preferred remain on the rainy road in front of us excitedly regaled me with tales of his time working pastoral farms in America’s heartland.  And, a few days late but no matter, spent the better part of a weekend painting and installing new windows at one of my primary schools as part of Madiba Day – the South African unofficial holiday that commemorates his birthday.

Now as I stare down the shorter part of six weeks, the desperate gasp of my remaining stay here palpable, I am quietly grateful for the time I have had, and for the uncommon sodality I feel with a community impossibly estranged from the world – I must admit – I will inhabit for the rest of my life. Thank you, all, who made such an experience possible.

The late Christopher Hitchens, a hero of mine for his articulate writing and passionate dedication to the heterogeneous (because of its intrinsic human value), would try to go “at least once every year, to a country where things cannot be taken for granted and where there is either too much law and order or too little.” He did this for the sheer principle of the matter. Of the many lessons Peace Corps has taught me, one is that such integrity is painfully rare, and every instance must be championed and encouraged, and another is that that’s really not a terrible idea.

He also wrote, in his memoir Hitch-22: “How terrible it is that we have so many more desires than opportunities.” I want to thank, one more time and certainly not the last, everyone who helped to make the Jozi trip the success it was, who lent a hand in transmuting a desire into an opportunity for 26 young South African men. How wonderful our world would be if we all strove to achieve such a triumph not always more but never less than once in a lifetime.

Siyakhula Boys Club Sitawuya eJozi

Siyakhula Boys Club is going to Johannesburg tomorrow, Saturday June 23, 2012.  After months of preparation, fundraising, and coordination with many different vendors, every single member of Siyakhula (plus one extra-special Returned Peace Corps Volunteer chaperone) will depart Steenbok early tomorrow morning on a special graduation trip to Jozi.  For the boys, it will be their first trip to South Africa’s biggest city!

But we (or, really, I) could still use your help.  As different vendors committed or backed out of donations during the process, I ended up paying for many of the high-ticket items myself – mainly the koombis (or public taxis) from our village to Johannesburg and back.  And as several of the guys came forward in the last week and explained to my counterpart and I that their family was going to be unable to pay the R150 for their half of the transport costs (a lot of money for a family that might feed five people on twice that amount for a whole month), I again tapped my bank account.

And this is fine; I don’t think anyone would do it any differently.  However, if you’re reading and a fan of the blog, or just someone who is passionate about education or development work or even Africa, and you’ve got ten dollars lying around, it would be a great help to me.  I meant to get the video you saw up online two weeks ago, in a real attempt at fundraising our budgetary shortfalls.  Partly, it’s a renunciation of the debilitating stereotypes you see about Africa (hat tip to Mama Hope for the idea); partly, it’s a celebration of the club itself and all we have achieved together since February; and part of it is about raising funds for the trip.  As tends to happen with planned events here, though, things fell through, and I had to spend time and money immediately to secure our reservations.

When I first submitted the US Embassy grant last August, I had no idea of the success the club would attain.  There was no way of knowing that, almost a year later, all the guys would plead for another round of the club for the second half of the year.  I didn’t know I’d spend hours debating myself about extending service, just to stay another few months with them.  And so when I sat down to begin planning the standard “closing function,” in which we’d invite local dignitaries and politicians, and feed them and let them give mind-numbing speeches about something with which they had had no involvement, and everyone would get a meaningless cookie-cutter certificate and drink soda and eat sugar cookies, I balked.  I didn’t want to spend the club’s meager grant money on that.  The guys deserved something more; we had to do something special.  So I started calling and emailing, petitioning and negotiating, following up and thanking.

All of the guys can recite the names of resistance leaders – Steve Biko, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela – but virtually none could tell you why those men and women should be celebrated. So, tomorrow, they’re going to the Apartheid Museum, to learn firsthand about those heroes, about what this country was like before they were born, and thus better understand their own lives and communities.  Then we’ll eat lunch in Mary Fitzgerald Square, named after South Africa’s first female trade unionist.  For some good old-fashioned fun of the educational variety, we’re going to the SciBono Science Center in the afternoon.  Instead of sitting at an airport and watching planes take off – this, literally, is one of the most common school field trips, second only to Gold Reef City: a children’s amusement park that celebrates the racist and economically exploitative mining history of Gauteng – they’ll engage in hands-on and interactive activities that encourage greater understanding and interest in the sciences, facilitated by a tour guide that speaks their home language.  Finally, we’re going to eat a sit-down, pizza dinner at Roman’s – because after five months of paloney sandwiches and fruit, they’ve earned it.

Speaking about her service in India as a Peace Corps Volunteer, Lillian Carter said, “Sharing yourself with others, and accepting their love for you, is the most precious gift of all.”  It’s a bit schmaltzy, but like most things in life, there’s a solid grain of truth at its center.  The last six months of my service have been nothing short of wonderful because of the success of Siyakhula.  If I could, I would pay for all the guys to visit Robben Island.  As it is, I have high hopes for this trip tomorrow: to inspire, to motivate, to plant the seeds of a dream.  And it’s an honor to have played such a large role in facilitating it.  If, however, you want to also play a part, please copy and paste the link below into your browser and follow the instructions.  Many thanks.

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=V7CUFAPF4A4YA

P.s.  Any monies received in excess of the $500 will, if a lesser amount, go towards educational graduation gifts for the boys.  If, through your kindness, I end up awash in extra funds, then my goal is to establish a fund to sponsor the guys for years to come.  Thanks again!

Here’s the video, just in case you missed it.

Siyakhula

After my most recent blog post, there was a substantial outpouring of sympathy and encouragement from friends and family.  It was heartening.  And while I appreciate the love – and its humbling to receive so many expressions of support – it seems as though I did a poor job of conveying the true message of the post.  It was a reflection of the lessons I’ve learned during my service, the skills I’ve gained, and an appreciation of the value of experience.  It was not intended as a requiem.

With this blog, I’ve endeavored to sustain a comme il faut tone, differentiated from the standard fare that characterizes most PCV blogs.  I have attempted, with varying levels of success, to rein it in from the blather of daily routine, the cloying posts of death and disease, and the rollercoaster emotional field reports.  My desire has been to write as detached from day-to-day activities as possible, instead reflecting on larger themes through the intimate and gritty lens of personal experience.

That being said, it now occurs to me I may have overcorrected and posted precious little in the way of success stories.  That’s an error I shall take great pleasure in remedying now.

Siyakhula Boys Club is a life skills club that I facilitate along with the deputy principal from one of the primary schools to which I’m attached.  We meet once a week, after school, for two short hours, with 31 male learners grades 6-8 that together represent five of the six schools in Steenbok.

Siyakhula is modeled off the Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) framework developed by PCVs in Eastern Europe during the 90s and now part and parcel of almost every Volunteer’s experience.  Originally designed to empower women emerging from the suffocating veil of communism in economically imperiled countries, today it serves as a springboard to issues as far-ranging as HIV/AIDS awareness, economic empowerment, and life skills transfer.

The two previous Volunteers in Steenbok coordinated GLOW camps – the typical, week-long, sleep away camps at which girls and young women, surrounded by their peers, feel comfortable to discuss often taboo topics, be themselves, and grow personally and as a group.  They are fantastic exercises in empowerment and I wish they were held regularly in America.

In South Africa, however, at least in the rural areas, men drive most social structure and cultural tradition.  In addition, male behavior is a primary factor behind many of the problems plaguing the country today, including the rapid transmission of HIV/AIDS (multiple partners, refusal to strap up, sex as an on-demand right, a sugar daddy culture), economic disenfranchisement (women must tend the home), crime (figuratively and literally distant father figures), and violence (real men use their fists).  This isn’t to lay the blame solely at the feet of men; but South Africa is very much a patriarchal society and to begin to address the challenges it faces means addressing the subset of the population that in strong part fuels those fires and must itself lead the charge in putting them out.

For this reason and a slew of others, my goal since day one has been to organize a Camp GLOW for young men (call it “Gents” Leading Our World).  Unfortunately, while massively successful volunteers in their own right, both previous PCVs also handled the lion’s share of organizing their respective camps, but then let educators participate as facilitators.  This set a precedent that I was not prepared to follow when I set mine in motion.  For almost six months in the first half of 2010, I struggled with the educators that comprised our planning committee (step 1 in organizing a Camp GLOW), desperately encouraging them to own the club by actually performing the tasks they themselves had assigned each other and promised to do.

I understood eventually it would not happen if I waited for them so, instead, I partnered with my friend and closest colleague, the deputy principal, and adapted the Camp GLOW framework to a weekly after-school club that the two of us could plan and facilitate ourselves.  (Peace Corps manual: “Volunteers will need to demonstrate resiliency and flexibility with regards to their projects.”)  Since late 2010, after a few test runs and the successful application for a VAST Grant through the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, Siyakhula Boys Club has been meeting regularly – and it has been amazing.

Earlier this year, we participated in the OneWorld International Art Exchange. The boys all painted pieces of art – whatever they wanted, it only had to come from the heart – and I shipped them off to the NGO in America.  In return, we will receive the same number of pieces of artwork, from the same age level children, from between 6 – 12 different countries from around the world.  It’s going to blow their minds.

Two weeks ago, we talked about self-esteem, how it’s important in all our lives but especially young men’s, and how we can help build the self-esteem and thus self-worth of our friends and family.  At the end of the session, my counterpart and I taped blank sheets of paper to their backs and had them walk around for twenty minutes writing something nice about that person on their back.  The only rules: it had to be positive and it had to be genuine.  I’ve never felt so proud.

For our last session, in two weeks, I’ve organized with the local health clinic to come and give a presentation on myths and facts about HIV/AIDS, do a condom demonstration, and then perform an HIV/AIDS test on me, in front of the boys, to try and demystify the whole thing.  (Credit here must be given to my “mentee” and good friend PCV Sean Smith, whose fantastic idea this was and from whom I shamelessly ganked it.)  The condom demonstration is especially important.  Many South Africans have heard of the rare but alarming cases in which someone contracted HIV even after using a condom and this has led to the even more alarming beliefs that condoms are purposefully laced with HIV/AIDS by Western governments or corporations to intentionally infect Africans or that the condoms have holes large enough for HIV/AIDS to pass through during intercourse.  The simple truth is that, in 99% of these cases, the condom was put on incorrectly and tore during sex.  Thus, the demonstration.

My counterpart and I are also planning a big surprise trip for the boys for their “graduation” after classes get out in June – more on that soon.  I’m also working tirelessly with the corporate social outreach divisions of regional companies to secure corporate support of Siyakhula for the immediate future so that it might endure once the embassy funding runs out (something the Camp GLOWs are supposed to accomplish by establishing that planning committee but, without which, always fails to happen).

In all, it’s been the lifeblood of my service and without it I would have long ago ET’d (Early Terminated).  So, while I have frequently expressed frustration with other counterparts or shared a sobering account of failed projects, I do not for a moment wish I had done anything differently.  Every volunteer’s service is unique, but not everyone is as lucky to have influenced the lives of so many promising South Africans – and to have been equally influenced by them.  They are the future of this country and I am infinitely proud to have worked with them

Oh – in our local language, siSwati, siyakhula means “we are growing.”

Coda

“…That the battle between good and evil is perennial, that the purpose of the good life is not to win the battle, but to wage it unceasingly.” – Alan Paton, Towards The Mountain

We do the best we can.

The pernicious nature of our lives as Peace Corps Volunteers is that we live in the same environment as the rest of our village, but we are always, acutely, aware of what’s outside it.  We know the potential; we live the failure.  We think about the things we’ve lost and always are we reminded that they never had them to begin with.  If only someone had told us it would be like this.

Part of what’s so difficult is that even the most levelheaded has an idealistic conception of what development work details.  And then we step off the plane and into the village and the reality is so drastically different.  We don’t expect the people we want to help to resist.  We’re surprised at their frustration with us, disheartened by their blithe acceptance of the status quo, and defeated by the morass of culture through which we inevitably wade.  The pro forma declarations of cooperation nettle, the deficits of trust sting.

One volunteer related a story.  She was on the phone with a close friend back home.  He told her, “Since you’ve gotten there, you drink more, smoke more, and are just a little bit meaner.”  We’ve gone from yoga and hiking to cursing and sleeping.  It’s funny, until it’s not.  Volunteers take drugs, take chances, gorge on hope.  Some days we don’t go outside, except to empty our waste buckets and refill on water.  It is a rake’s progress.

When we finally make it back out of the hut, reset and ready for round whatever, inevitably drawn to the lodestone of service for which we applied, we find our work woefully undone: library books lost or reshelved improperly; teachers doing everything by hand as the computer sits idly by; learners doing their multiplication tables with dashes on paper; the NGO apparently nonfunctional without us.  And then there are the rancorous looks, the ones that accuse a supercilious spirit.

And now, well, we have to figure out a way to extricate ourselves from this thing fraught with discontent and still, somehow, joyful and exotic and immense.  Look now, far past the apogee of our service, banking into the end, what we have to show for it.  At the end of two years, as we prepare to depart, to return somewhere, what long-lasting change have we effected?  What of our resiliency has endured?

I’m a big proponent of the philosopher John Rawls’ social theory The Veil of Ignorance, which says that for a democratic society to function successfully, and in doing so allocate resources, rights, and responsibilities equitably, all interested parties must be denied knowledge of their own social standing and natural ability (the tool for doing so is said veil).  In such a manner, cooperation is achieved by invalidating all considerations morally irrelevant.

Let’s drop the veil on our Peace Corps personalities for a moment and leave alone that reflexive urge to tally our service.  The HIV/AIDS prevalence rate for South Africans over the age of two hovers around 18% right now.  The rate of new infections has stabilized, but approximately 500,000 are still infected annually.  Only 29% of male youths can correctly identify ways to prevent sexual transmission as well as reject misconceptions about its transmission.  For girls and young women, that’s lower.  In schools, learners continue to fail English, Maths, and Science-related courses in vast swaths, even as they’re passed onto higher grades as teachers struggle to lighten their own burden.  We’ve all borne witness to the (still) staggeringly high use of corporal punishment.  And as unemployment climbs and the education system is overhauled yet again, public schools will continue to attract those least qualified to teach and further dissuade them from giving a damn.

Now lift the veil.  Social inequality and HIV/AIDS in South Africa is not an abstraction, and part of our journey is demystifying the mythology: they are people, not numbers; it’s a country, not a continent.  And in this country, poverty is not a bilious aspiration, no matter how many grants are given out.  Death is not desired, despite the behavior.  What is beyond our own ken, what we cannot possibly ever comprehend, is the impact we have when we’re not even trying.  The second and third goals of Peace Corps are not frivolous jokes; they are vital cornerstones of the program.  Our efforts count, but more so our relationships.

Loving something and letting it go, as its said, takes strength.  Fellow 22s, something I never said too much: I’m proud of us.  We’ve done good.  We earned our Peace Corps moniker, workshop after conference, village after vacation, training after tragedy.  You leave a legacy that will last long after you depart this place, no matter what you think, and that’s important.  More important is that we tried.

Accepting failure isn’t simply about acknowledging it though.  If only.  No, that parochial notion doesn’t hold water here.  There is something in the process of owning it, a reckoning, which demands the inherent and pivotal step of self-reflection.  And it is there that we actually grow from our loss.  While intention may be the ugly stepsister to action, bereft of ambition and ideals, we slowly lose ourselves in a bleakness of spirit.  And we can do better than that.

I signed up for the Peace Corps because I wanted to believe I’m selfless, but I stayed because I am selfish.  I stayed in Peace Corps South Africa because I couldn’t bring myself to leave, despite the overwhelming ineffectiveness.  I stayed because a spark cracked, a signal flared, and suddenly I felt a connection.  I understood how precious it is, and how little everything else matters.  What am I still doing here?  I’m learning how to be selfish.  It ebbs and flows, so I keep running to it.  I need to be strained.

We create our tiny worlds around us, saturated with second-hand information easily available, and travel is the only way to bust them open, to instead live a life drawn taught by personal experience.  It is so fleeting, our time here, that to spend it any way but in vigorous pursuit of the unknown, however you define it, seems to me to be a waste.  And in the end, as I look back on these two years, in service of all 29 of them, I am reminded of these artless words, written by William Allen White nearly a century ago, but forever anointed upon my soul:

“Or is there somewhere, in the stuff that holds humanity together, some force, some conservation of spiritual energy, that saves the core of every noble hope, and gathers all men’s visions some day, some way, into the reality of progress?  I do not know.  But I have seen the world move, under some, maybe mystic, influence, far enough to have the right to ask that question.”

Be good to each other.

A Great Poem

“…And your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…” — Walt Whitman

The last four weeks have seen those pulchritudinous words borne forth over and over, winging me home and back again across the 10,000-mile journey in a flutter and flurry of life.  I feel as if I hardly had time to breathe, yet I am full of life.

I want to thank everyone who donated to the KLM Foundation on my behalf.  Together, you raised almost R10,000 for their annual scholarship – bringing me in second place for most funds raised out of almost 100 PCVs!  Ari, Kira, Bonnie, Paul, Ben, Lindsey, Greg, Kim, Peter, Josie, Sally, Jesse, Maria, and Anonymous: I am grateful for your generosity.

Moreover, your support and warm wishes inspired me to give the Longtom Half Marathon my all, and I finished almost 10 minutes faster than my time last year, coming in third place out of all the PCVs running (though certainly not for the marathon in general!).  My deepest appreciation to everyone who encouraged me during training and on the day of.

And then there was America: I could not have asked for a warmer homecoming.

They say you should know who your true friends are. Well, Peace Corps brings into sharp relief the differentiation between the casual and the close. And though it is true that as time goes along, friends change along with the rest of life, it is comforting to know that some do not.

Thank you to the former colleagues and friends in New York who went out of their way to welcome me home with open arms (and apartments), good sushi, cold beer, tasty hoagies, and tall pitchers.  It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done to get on that plane a second time.  I am glad for the time spent with those that made it out and greatly look forward to seeing those in September that I missed.

The same goes for the good folks of Portland, California, and Arizona who made everything from extra time to road trips on my behalf.  You sure know how to make a guy feel loved.  I relished our conversations, seeing the lives you’ve built, and simply sharing a beer over a few calm moments.  And to the wizened few who long ago left the title of teacher behind and became mentors, I’m privileged to count you as friends.

For a man who has, at times, felt slightly out of sync with the world around him, it is humbling to have such steady friends as you.  Thanks for loving me for who I am, replete with my exuberances, splenetic outbursts, and all manner of miscreant behavior.  For your friendship, which is my lifeblood, I am ever grateful.

My little brother and I saw our older brother and his wife off on their honeymoon a week ago today.  Their wedding was the stuff of fairytales, their love and devotion legendary.  I am happy for them in a manner and magnitude previously unknown to me and look forward to sharing in the beautiful future they’re building together.

To my family and friends, in New York, California, Connecticut, Park City, Portland, Detroit, Arizona, Virginia, and (yes, even) New Jersey: as Whitman remarks above, thank you for adding to the fluency of my own poem.

Permanence

The depth of field is so skewed, it feels like I can I reach out and take them in my hand, glittering orbs they are in the night sky.  Encircled in my palms, I gaze upon the glow that emanates from between my fingers.  But it’s only an illusion, and the reality hits home as my host brother’s kombie turns a corner and its headlights obliterate the serene darkness I’ve lost myself in.

I’m standing outside behind my two-room cement hut, sneaking a rare cigarette on a moonless night and enjoying the unfettered view of the Milky Way above.  The porch lights of my family’s house catch on the plastic soda bottle used as a rain shield for those of my own abode – the ones I’ve switched off.  If you cup your face and strain your neck, they all begin to fade.

I feel like I can see everything – or everything that’s important.  In a way, I am seeing everything: Arab traders plied the waters 150km to my east hundreds of years ago, relying on the very same view.  The light I’m seeing now is several thousand times older than the ruins and relics they left behind.  In a hundred years, when all the friends and family I have made here have left their own dust on the land, the sky will look the same to their lineage as it does to me.  The stars never change.

“Oh god,” I think, “What am I going to do in six months?” A common plea, I think, for many of the agnostic Volunteers currently serving out their final quarter in Peace Corps.  And, like them, I don’t know.  As I stand there, pulling a drag of the only thing that still reminds me my previous life, memories flood back.

I know what New York is: it’s greasy pizza, public transportation, good bars and live music.  It’s my 20s, in as much as any one place can be.  But I can’t say I really know what it is I’m going back to after my service.  I’ve lost all ability to imagine the workings of my life before Peace Corps and, despite all details to the contrary, I don’t really know what New York will be for me if I return.

Something winged flits across my face and, instead of spasming in a feat of urban horror, I subconsciously brush it off, mildly perturbed by its distraction from my gaze.  The stars: when you can see them, really see them, they never cease to captivate.  The otherworldly equivalent of fire, or an undulating ocean at sunset, all sparks and flashes and shimmering awe.  I stand there as time drips away.

I drop the unsmoked cigarette, my fingers stinging from the heat.  I check my watch: it’s been almost fifteen minutes.  Inside, I close the burglar gate, then the door.  I never bother to lock either anymore.  I wash my face, brush my teeth: tomorrow I’ll tend my tomatoes with that water.  I turn on a song to fall asleep to: the same routine since childhood.  I lie down in bed and close my eyes and still I see the stars.

What we seek, more than anything else in life, is permanence.  We are drawn to the search because, whether we realize it or not, we are aware that nothing lasts.  Nothing lasts: it is a wretched thought.  All things come to pass, good and bad, and in the end, regardless of a supreme being, the world turns, the sun sets, and the stars come out.  And so we seek permanence in the face of the passage of time.

For most of us, we achieve such perpetuity a bit piquantly, with a paroxysm of passion and the aid of something French and red.  Others accomplish it more surreptitiously, not through children, but rather legacies of profit, expansion, and market share.  Like blind men, we churlishly hurl our ephemera into the ether, convinced they will breach God’s carapace.

With great aplomb, we beget our legacies onto the world.  And the humble truth is there is no right or wrong way.  There are simply choices: how do we choose to conduct our lives?  What are our values and how do they influence our behavior?  Whom do we love and for what reasons?  For the many who find solace in religion, most of these questions are answered.  A good friend of mine would argue – and I’d agree – that most of them are answered for the agnostics and atheists, too.

Regardless, we find agreement in the gray areas in between.  One such place would undoubtedly be the Kgwale Le Mollo Foundation.  This fantastic NGO sends a overachieving yet underserved student from a rural area of South Africa to one of the top high schools in the country every year.  And then it pays to keep them there for all four years – all costs, everything.

Each year, Peace Corps Volunteers in South Africa run the Longtom Marathon in March as a fundraiser for the KLM Foundation – an organization started by PCVs some years ago.  Last year, I raised a lot more than where I am now.  If you haven’t donated, please: check out their website and consider making a small contribution.  They truly need it, every bit helps (it pays for a child’s education), and it’s all tax-deductible.

Faced with such impermanence, surely there are few better ways to make our presence felt than by sending a brilliant, alive thing to a place where it will take root and grow.  Mawkishness aside, this is the mirror we hold unto the stars.  This is the sacred fire that outshines the night sky.  It is not about money, or African children, or any of the effusive causes with which we are inundated daily.  Knowledge is the key, the factor that empowers or dissuades, and an organization like the KLM Foundation empowers with the utmost prejudice.  I encourage you to do so, too.

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