Peace Corps Posters: The Good, Bad, and Inexplicable

To celebrate the Peace Corps’ 53rd birthday, I’ve collected and rated Peace Corps recruitment posters from each decade. Click to enlarge ‘em.

I also chose the top three terrible posters. Look forward to those, because yikes.

• • • 1960s • • •  

Pros: Just looking at them makes me nostalgic for JFK’s Camelot, and I was born in the 80′s. The text on the second one warms my heart. Too bad you can’t read it unless you click here and zoom.

Cons: Bold move with that “Make America a Better Place: Leave” slogan. Really confident that the audience’ll read the small print, aren’t you?

Score: I think it’s an 8 out of 10… wait, maybe a 3? a 6? Geeze, that’s a lot of small font. Ah, forget it. 

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Fun times in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is a blast. Even better, despite being the largest city in northern Thailand (and a tourist magnet) it is  still somehow charming. This is thanks to the historical old city: walled-in with stone, surrounded by a moat, the city is brimming with temples, criss-crossed by cobblestone alleys, full of street food vendors and well-looked-after dogs lounging on the sidewalks. 

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Wat Tung Yu. Pet dogs roamed the streets without their owners. They even knew to look both ways before crossing the street.

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Countryside Cambodia

Angkor: temple overdose. After a few days, I was ready to see another side of Cambodia. Through word-of-mouth I learned about a local Khmer man, S., who leads day trips to his family village, and so a guy from my hostel and I booked a tour.

Even though the village was less than an hour from Siem Reap, it couldn’t have felt more distant. The roads immediately deteriorated upon leaving the town, and the pace of life slowed noticeably. I can only imagine how different the really rural areas of Cambodia must be.

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A typical homestead.

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To Southeast Asia! Angkor Wat

The hardest part of traveling is buying the ticket.

Okay, hold up, obviously I know that the hardest part is finding the time and money. But even when you have both, a lot of travel plans die somewhere in the “one day I’d love to…” stage.

My own “one day” destination has always been Southeast Asia. Backpacking there just seems like the quintessential 20-something travel experience, and was always going to take sometime in my nebulous future. But when I got time off for the holidays, I realized nothing was stopping me from making it happen now. I was a little nervous about an extended solo trip… but I bit the bullet and bought the ticket anyway. Things would figure themselves out.

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Meet Cape Town

Time to catch this blog up!

I moved to Cape Town in September; getting there involved roadtripping alongside a driver named Abe who has worked with the Peace Corps forever. It was a 1500km/930 mile drive that took 2 days. The morning that we left, Abe showed up to breakfast and told me: “We are going to the end of the world.”

This route, readers. This route did not have a lot going on. There were so few towns that every road sign just gave us an update about how far we were from the Cape. Abe and I had a lot of conversations like, “Going to Cape Town! Yeah! … Cape Town, woo! Any minute now! Cape Town!”

It took us through the Karoo, a semi-desert in the southwest interior. Occasionally it was dotted with charming little outpost villages centered around white-washed churches. Mostly, it looked like this:

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But as we neared the Cape, snow-covered mountains came out of nowhere and soon everything was glorious and beautiful!

Cape Town has been fabulous so far.  Both my house and office are in what’s called the City Bowl: the heart of Cape Town, which sits in a natural amphitheater of mountains.

citybowl

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I stay in the Gardens, which is a lovely residential neighborhood with lots of restaurants. I’m sharing a roomy apartment with five of the ten Grassroot Soccer interns who are working in Cape Town for a year. Check out their bios/blogs here - they’re a great crew. Our flat’s informally called the Kloof house. Check out the view from our rooftop balcony (aka the klooftop, copyright me?): 

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Unreal. Plus, I have running water! Talk about upgrades.

I work at the Grassroot Soccer office in the city centre, which is about a 20 minute walk from my flat. I spend a lot of time there, it’s a hardworking crew. It’s a really fun work environment though; GRS cultivates a culture of upbeat energy and activity. How many energizers have I learned since I began working for GRS? All of the energizers. That’s how many.

Here’s what our office looks like. Stole this photo from an intern’s blog:

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So that’s the lowdown on my life! I do still miss the people of Bungeni a lot, but I love living in the city. It’s great to be surrounded by so much activity and bustle. It’s so luxurious to have everything you could ever need/want within walking distance – instead of taking an entire day to travel and buy groceries, I can just pop across the street. Pretty wild. Yay city life!

More updates to come!

Sleep No More

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One of my best things I did in the States was see Sleep No More, an immersive theater performance in NYC that I’d heard amazing things about. It was the best. I’m going to talk about the time I got locked in a room with a character. And because this is me, I’ll tell it via animated gif. Prepare yourself.

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Stray Observations on the USA after 2 Years in the Peace Corps

Hello readers! It’s been a long time, so I have a lot to fill you in on.

Before moving to Cape Town, I took 5 weeks of home leave in August to visit the USA for the first time in 2 years. To put that in perspective, some things that didn’t exist the last time I was Stateside: Occupy Wall Street. The final Harry Potter movie. Gangham Style. Indeed, the world was a different place.

That means I had an interesting opportunity to see how two years in very different circumstances can change your perspective on home. I thought I’d note a few of my impressions of the USA:

+ Everything seemed so nice and clean. Rural South Africans spend a lot of time cleaning, but they’re fighting a constant battle against dirt/insects/decay. Not to mention the lack of water, trash pick-up, paved roads, etc. It was so easy to stay clean in the US. Related: the grass in America was SO BEAUTIFUL!!!! 

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Ohio!

+ In the village, much of my daily energy was spent worrying about basic things like water. Suddenly having that burden disappear felt odd, like I was constantly forgetting something that I had to do.

+ Driving through the suburbs and not seeing a single person outside was bizarre. In the village, people will drop by unannounced and you’re expected to stop what you’re doing and sit with them. I never got used to this, but I did like the strong sense of community. I interacted with all my neighbors every day. By comparison, the suburbs suddenly felt very isolating. I spent some time in NYC and was much more comfortable.

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[From chicagonow]

+ Everyone had an iPhone, even people who were broke/counter-culture. Technology in general could be surprising. One of the first things I encountered (in the airport) was a trash can that compacted your garbage on the spot. How is that a thing?

+ There are some things I totally forgot existed. Those paper toilet seat covers. Sunchips. Water fountains. (!!!!!)

So much free potable water! [Wikipedia]

Free. Potable. Water. [From wikipedia]

+ I realized that volunteers are actually really gross when we talk about bodily functions like we do. I guess, isolated from other Americans, I’d thought we were charming or something. Um, sorry. Haha.

+ It sometimes felt like some people complained and made themselves unhappy over insignificant things.

+ I knew I wouldn’t have the stereotypical PCV breakdown in a grocery store, because I’d visited plenty of posh South African grocery stores that I thought were just like American ones. But I was actually surprised by just how giant the stores in the USA were; random towns had nicer ones than you’d find in South Africa’s big cities. I’d forgotten that. I found myself wandering around them just looking at things, as if in a museum. Actually buying things seemed a little beyond me. I was also struck by how there’s a product and store for everything. 

[From Wikipedia]

For example. [From Wikipedia]

+ Being able to understand random overheard snippets of conversation was awesome!

+ The food was great, but not so great that I needed to pine over it.  I realized that many things I’d missed would always be there. PCVs put America on a pedestal.

In some ways, it was difficult to be home. It felt like my time in the Peace Corps had been a dream, because no one knew or really understood the people and places that had been important to me for over 2 years. It was a scary feeling. Talking to friends who’d spent significant time abroad helped, because it seemed like they also felt this way sometimes. I was glad that I’d be able to return to South Africa.

I also didn’t know how to talk about my experience. Sometimes I didn’t want to talk about it, but had nothing else to say. Sometimes I did want to talk about it, but didn’t know how to do so/didn’t want to be annoying. I felt weird and conflicted about it. Sometimes I just literally didn’t know how to talk to people. Yay Peace Corps awkwardness.

Speaking of which, several friends asked me how I’d thought I had changed in the Peace Corps. I’d love to know, but it’s hard to say. I think I’m more mellow in a lot of ways. I’m more spontaneous. I’m definitely more grateful and have a better perspective. I think I have a better understanding of the world/people with different cultures. On the negative side, I feel like I’m more self-centered and callous… just as defense mechanisms that come with living in the village. I’m not proud of it. I do think the positives way outweigh the negatives; joining the Peace Corps was one of the best decisions I ever made.

On the whole, it was so great to see everyone. Going into the Peace Corps, one of my fears was that my friendships would suffer. I didn’t want to feel like people had forgotten about me. But in August I was able to see most of my close friends, and I realized that the distance/time hadn’t impacted our relationships. It was so encouraging, and made me feel that much better about returning to SA.

I got to meet-up with another PCV, Marie, in the USA!! Weird. I don't recognize these clean people.

I even got to meet-up with another PCV, Marie, in the USA!! Weird. I don’t recognize these well-groomed people.