The Peace Corps taught me everything I needed to survive the pandemic
I think I learned everything I needed to survive the COVID-19 pandemic during my time in the Peace Corps in Swaziland in the early 1990s -
Vaccines are vital - When we arrived to start our three months of training at a compound near Sibebe Rock, we were prepared for Siswati language lessons, teacher training, rules & regulations of the Peace Corps, and cultural immersion. What they failed to fully explain was that when we weren't training, we were being tortured by the Peace Corps Medical Officer with injection after injection of vaccines ... but none of us went home early with a dreaded disease :)
Working from home was the norm - Well, kind of. Most of the 100 or so Volunteers were teachers in rural communities where our homes were on the grounds of the schools at which we taught. While not quite like working from home in this modern era, my "commute" was simply to cross this dirt road (house immediately to the left in this picture).
Pets help out at work - When I moved into my house, I found that it came with two semi-feral cats, which the Volunteer I replaced had creatively named Mom and Tom. They lived in the yard, but expected to be fed and occasionally would grace you with some measure of kindness. After one litter, we took one of the kittens inside, Marge, and made her a proper house cat. Much like my dog today, Marge was by my side as I worked - planning lessons, grading assignments and more into the evening (by candlelight).
Walking is the primary form of exercise - Though us Volunteers had nothing on our students when it came to the amount of kilometres covered per day, many of us turned to walking as our key form of exercise. Practically every day after school had ended, I'd go on a long walk through the hills and valleys surrounding my school. Beyond the physical exercise, these walks allowed me to be in the community, to see my students in their home environments ... and to practice screaming at a very high pitch and sprinting whenever I saw a snake.
Once a week grocery shopping - My school was about as far from a city as was possible in a country roughly the size of New Jersey ... without the transportation options of that state. We had one bus that served the community, down a longish dirt road that connected to another dirt road that connected to a small pitch of tarmac which went down a hill to finally connect to the one of the main roads in the country.
Departing a little after noon on a Friday, I was lucky if I'd make the ~140Km journey to the capital in time for dinner. Sunday mid-morning was always reserved for loading up my backpack with the week's meal plan sourced from the local Spar grocery store and the excellent fruit and vegetable market in the capital, Mbabane:
Meat's a treat - Because we had no electricity, no running water, and, hence, no refigeration, meat was a rarity on my meal plan. Between the veg-heavy diet, all the walking and lugging my backpack everywhere, I was surprisingly healthy.
Art projects are therapeutic - Life was very peaceful and the rhythm was quite mellow. After my post-school walk, I was still left with many hours in the evening to while away reading, writing and amusing myself. In the pre-Internet, pre-cell-phone times of the early 90s, my only form of news from the world was papers I read when I was in town or publications my friends and family sent me. I was fortunate to get loads of mail - the postmistress and I became very good friends - and used various clippings, pictures and other sent items to decorate my otherwise drab, concrete block house.
You can always find a place to swim - In a landlocked country, with rivers teaming with crocodiles in the lowveld / midveld area where I lived, one would think I spent two+ years completely out of the water. But, one fateful weekend in the capital, a few of my fellow Volunteers and I discovered there was a team biathlon - 1km swim + 5km run - competition being held at one of the highland lakes near the city. We gathered a few teams together and made it out for the very small event.
Little did I know that this would be the start of my involvement with the Swaziland National Swim Association (SNSA). Yves & Basia Garnier (upper right picture) were the 'power couple' who tirelessly supported and promoted swimming in Swaziland. I began spending, whenever possible, weekends traipsing around Swaziland to the few pools that existed, both helping Basia coach and getting in some pool time myself. The highlight of my swimming involvement was to attend a multi-country competition in Mozambique with the Swaziland team. Not only did I get to see a country which had been off-limits due to a civil war during most of my time in Swaziland, I also got to do a little racing of my own against a couple of Olympians - Pedro Lima from Angola (standing, holding the wine bottle in the picture) and Sergio Fafitine from Mozambique (right below me).
But, more than any of the life lessons above, going through my old photo albums has provided me with proof that I invented 'Work Zoom Happy Hour attire' thirty years ago: