Got an email today. Evidently, I have a qualified medical clearance; I guess I find out in a few days what that means. I’m still on, but for whatever reason, Francophone West Africa seems to be out.
What does that mean? It sounds like I’m still going to be in Sub-Saharan Africa somewhere teaching math, and still leaving in July. However, the precise location is up for grabs. I’ll post updates as I get them, although I don’t think that I’ll have much to say until I get my official invitation.
Update: No, nothing official. I just did some searching. Assuming that I’m barred from West Africa, but still teaching Math in Sub-Saharan Africa somewhere, it looks like I might be in Namibia, South Africa, or Tanzania; perhaps in Cameroon, which would be why I “may not” be in Francophone Africa. Or maybe they figure that Ghana, the Gambia, or Sierra Leone would be safer places for me than Burkina Faso. All of this could be overturned in seconds with the next piece of info I get, of course.
I went to a PC networking event last night. There were a bunch of other prospectives, as well as returned volunteers and families for all involved. It was interesting hearing people’s stories of where they had been. I also had some good chances to talk to people who had recently been in Africa. They speculated that I would probably be placed in Burkina Faso (or, the country formerly known as Upper Volta), since it is the only country in West Africa that they know of that both speaks French and needs math teachers. Since speculation is all that I have at the moment, we’ll go with that. And who doesn’t want a capital called Ouagadougou?
Although I might have more soon. See, there are four separate evaluations – medical, dental, legal, and placement. I finished the placement eval earlier this week, and just got notice this morning that my medical eval was complete and that I’ll receive the results in the mail soon. (Of course, that could mean that I was deferred or something – but I like my version better.) So it’s just legal and dental. Dental was received at the same time as medical, so I would think that it should be processed soon, and I don’t have any major surgeries or anything that need to be done. Legal, well, there’s that stupid document I forgot to sign. But I sent that in a few weeks ago, so hopefully that should be done soon as well.
So I might find out sometime relatively soon where I’ll be going. There are a lot of hopefullys in the above paragraph. But after listening to all the people last night who have been waiting a year and a half to find out their placements, I figure that I’m going through this whole process rather quickly, one way or another.
UPDATE: Legal has been cleared. So I’m just waiting on dental, and then for the different groups to get together and discuss placement options. Fingers crossed….
Medical forms were finally submitted last Monday. French exam was passed yesterday. Now I just sit back and wait for a month or three, most likely to find out that I was stupid and missed something that I will have to send back. The absolute earliest I will hear anything would be April, and possible as late as June if I’m still on for this nomination (or later if I get pushed onto another assignment for any reason). But for the meantime, I’m taking a couple days off of French and easing up on studying a bit.
So now for the polygamy part of the title. Polygamy is part of significant portions of African society. But why? Let’s start from the standpoint of set, traditional gender roles. Men do their thing, whatever that is, and women do their thing, which is general to take care of the house, take care of children, and probably pick up the slack of the men in the fields and such. I’m not saying to agree with this starting point – but you can’t just go in and change it overnight. (Let’s say that you tried. You’ve convinced some women to throw off their shackles and be progressive. What have you won for them? Society still doesn’t have much in the way of jobs for them, and the men who would not be as progressive aren’t going to marry them. You’ve only made them social pariahs. Change must come from within the community itself for it to stick – and there are African women’s movements, to be sure, just not as the focus of this blog post.)
So starting from these gender roles, the point of polygamy is not just so that men can have as many women as they want. The point is that these women will be taken care of properly. The point of marriage in such a society is not romance – that’s a luxury, and often an overly-idealized notion of marriage. Marriage in such a society is for making babies and having a family arrangement to take care of them, including inheritance rights and an order to who does what in the community. Your husband/wife would not be your best friend and confidant – that’s generally what your family and community are for.
In that light, a man who has the means can take care of more women and more children. These women and children will be better off by being part of a rich man’s family than by being the only wife and children of a poor man. Also, more wives means that the wives can split house chores, easing their workload. The arrangement provides a form of life insurance as well: if a husband dies, his closest male relative has to take care of his wives and children.
So if we do start from the standpoint of strict gender roles and are pragmatic (which most of the world has to be), polygamy makes sense. Which is not to say that I condone the overall social arrangement, but matters are seldom as simple as “this practice is all-good” or “this practice is all-bad.”
I just finished reading Nine Hills to Nambonkaha, aided in part by illness keeping me in bed and in part by a head that just won’t take in any more French at the moment.
Another very helpful read, the presents the author’s experience in PC as a sort of optimistic roller coaster. This author was involved in health work in the Côte d’Ivoire, shortly before it devolved into civil war. She paints her village in lively detail, making the assorted personalities come to life. She shows the many frustrations that beset her mission as well as her initial struggle to find a place in the community, while also sharing her (rather significant) successes. On top of all that, the book is well-written and a quick read.
I’ll write some more soon on issues that the book raises – two that come to mind are the complexities of polygamy and whether health efforts should try to use belief in sorcery instead of stamping it out – but I’ll wait for my head to feel a little less cotton-filled.
So I just got some PC stuff in the mail today. Turns out that I forgot to sign a fingerprint chart. Oops. Though at least I know now why a hold was placed on my account. I’m still wondering how I missed that, when I looked over the sheet multiple times.
I’ve also been waiting for my medical forms to get back to me. I had scheduled my physical exam right away, got the lab work done… and have been waiting now almost a week and a half to get the paperwork back. Not waiting on lab results any more, mind you, but simply for a licensed MD to come in and sign the paperwork. I’m getting kind of antsy, since I was told that I need to get the stuff in right away if I want to make it for the July position. It’s not a huge deal, since if I don’t make that nomination, there will be others, but I am chomping at the bit to get started.
On a brighter note, French is going much more quickly than planned. I had originally been planning on taking the exam in May. However, I’ve been working through Carnegie-Mellon’s online course at the rate of about a lesson a day, and have started French 2. Since I only need a decent score on the exam and not a perfect one (and, from what I remember, the Spanish CLEP exam was pretty easy – there’s no reason I should have tested out of 4 semesters of Spanish with what I remembered for that exam), I am currently planning on taking the test next week or the following Tuesday and getting it done. (That way, I can give myself license to study a fun language, like Hausa or Bembara.)
One week down. I’ve been coming along on reviewing French, although I still need a lot of listening and conversation practice. That, and getting these dang genders down. Noun gender is the one thing English does do logically (though I suppose a French person would be befuddled about why I don’t consider a room to be feminine or a book masculine). To get genders down, I’ve been writing masculine words in my notebook in red and feminine ones in sky blue. Together on the white page they make the page look very French.
I’ve been doing some more reading on West Africa, too. Fortunately after the first chapter, the book buckled down and stopped hitting me over the head with its agenda (I don’t mind a history that is written to make a point. Histories generally are, and some personal narratives that are interwoven with historical research can be both fascinating and informative. I just want it to be done well, with attention to nuance.) West Africa is an interesting region. It appears to have been the source of much African culture originally and has all sorts of climates (rain forest, savannah, sahara, sahel [the “coast” between the sahara and the savannah], and coast), together with many different ethnic groups. It was home to two great African economic empires, the Ghana and the Mali (which I’m excited to read about. I’m such a nerd.). It’s also interesting looking at how it was viewed by other cultures. Islamic sources seem to look up to West Africa as a model of governance, while Europeans saw them as barbarians.
And that info dump is all I have for the moment. I’ll try to read more, so that I can present more interesting material.
I went to Chicago for my personal interview with the Peace Corps today. It looks like it is going to be a very busy few months ahead of me. I wanted to start a blog (yes, yet another one) about the journey for a couple of reasons. First, I plan to continue a blog overseas (assuming that everything from here goes smoothly and I actually get the position, which is not a certainty!), as a way of keeping in touch with people. Second, I hope that making myself post regularly about preparation will be a way of forcing myself to be diligent about it. We’ll see how that pans out.
Most of the positions available are for next year, so it is a possibility that I could be around for a fair bit longer. However, it looks like I will be conditionally nominated for a post in Sub-Saharan Africa teaching math. The “conditional” part is this: I need to know basic French before going over there. I know some French, but I need to be able to CLEP out of four college semesters to meet the requirements. Further, this particular position begins in July, so I need to learn the language quickly.
Next steps: finding ways to learn French. Carnegie Mellon has a free course online: http://oli.web.cmu.edu/openlearning/forstudents/freecourses/french. There are also free FSI public-domain courses (http://fsi-language-courses.org/Content.php?page=French). I may try the Alliance Française to see about private lessons or group chat sessions. Anyone willing to sit and watch French movies with me? Amélie? Le Cité des enfants perdus?