“Rintiho rin’we a ri nusi hove” [A single finger cannot grasp].
– Xitsonga proverb
Every society has its margins; even a Möbius strip has its edges. Most often the political and social margins discussed are drawn along economic lines, with the wealthy at the center and the poor falling off the rim. There are margins drawn along ethnic lines. There are the margins drawn along racial lines, an ever-raw nerve here in South Africa.
The most literal margin is among the least discussed. And yet the spatial, the geographic rural/urban divide is hugely significant.
It is also hugely visceral. About a week ago, I was taking a public taxi back to my village. One of the van’s windows was out; in its place flapped a half-taped cardboard square. As we rattled down the unpaved dirt road, dust blasted its way through the hole. Dirt caked on sweaty skin, and formed a fuzzy orange skin on shoes, clothes, and belongings. One man twisted about in his seat, trying to shield his open can of beer, with little success. With the acrid taste of dirt in your mouth, you can’t forget you’re far from city center.
Living in the margins means limited or no access to all kinds of resources. There is no semblance of a public library in my village, nor in any of the surrounding villages. The closest is in the nearest township, about 50 kilometers and a sixteen-Rand taxi ride away.
I’ve worked for the past couple of months to gather a committee to plan and create a community library, to serve residents of all ages. The committee is comprised of representatives from the local schools, the local churches, the village clinics, the tribal authorities, the municipal authorities, and other organizations.
As a first step, we are participating in Books for Peace. The program is a partnership between United States Peace Corps Volunteers serving in South Africa and the US-based nonprofit Books For Africa. This project will distribute 22,000 books to 30 schools throughout South Africa.
In order to receive books for our library, people in the village are raising 1,500 Rand, to partially cover shipping costs. In addition, I must raise another $300 before the end of June.
About fifty years ago, sitting in a Birmingham city jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote:
I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states… Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
When King wrote this, he was putting a physical pen to physical paper, decades before global markets would dive-bomb and buoy in time units observable only by a machine’s unblinking eye. Decades before a blog post could leap from a dusty rural village to any major metropolis, with nothing but a tricked-up telephone.
“Rintiho ri’new a ri nusi hove,” goes one Xitsonga proverb – a single finger cannot grasp. We in the village are working to raise money to bring a much-needed resource. We need your help, however, to reach our goal.
To donate, simply click on the Paypal Donate button below, an entirely safe and secure method of transferring funds online.
The Peace Corps is not only seen as sugar, spice and everything nice. It only takes a cursory search to come up with stories of volunteers’ frustrations and failures, and arguments positing that the organization either generally has little positive impact, or even causes significant harm. I don’t agree with that argument, or I wouldn’t have signed up, but by all accounts there is plenty of fair criticism to be leveled.
The Peace Corps is fecund ground for great stories, stories worth retelling. I’m in no way claiming that these stories are representative of all volunteers’ work — in fact, like great stories generally are, these are exceptions to the regular. With all that said, on to the good stuff.
This particular story is lifted from Brent Ashabranner’s book A Moment in History, which chronicles his experience working as a staff member in the first decade of the Peace Corps:
“One morning I received a frantic phone call in my Lagos office. The caller, whom I never identified, shouted that one of the volunteer teachers assigned to a school near the city had been bitten by a green mamba, an extremely venomous West African snake. I rushed to the school and found the volunteer waiting at the roadside with two of his twenty-one students and the dead snake. As we drove to the hospital, I got the story. The volunteer, who was wearing shorts, had gone to his house between classes and just as he entered his living room had been struck on the leg by the snake. The volunteer ran to the kitchen, picked up a butcher knife, and killed the snake. He then took his snake bite kit, which we had issued to all volunteers, and walked to his next class. He told his students what had happened and then said, ‘If you ever get bitten by a poisonous snake this is what you should do.’
He proceeded to take the razor blade from the snake bite kit, cut the proper cross over the wound made by the snake’s fangs, and draw out the blood with the suction cup. He explained that if the victim did not have that kind of equipment, he could suck out the blood and spit it out, or have someone else do it for him. The students told me this story in awe, and I am sure I looked awe-struck as I listened.”
If anyone has other stories, either from your own time as a volunteer or of another volunteer’s work, please send them my way!