Letter from . . .

    Malawi

Peace Corps people who worked for even less than the 19 cents an hour an the old advertisement claimed Volunteers would receive, were all the “moms” of the Volunteers — the wives of overseas Peace Corps staff, young mothers themselves, who took care of their own families as well as their extended “Peace Corps families” — those PCVs who from time to time needed a little TLC and a home cooked meal.
     One such woman is Jane Baker Lotter who went to Malawi in East Africa in 1965 with her husband Will and their four boys, ages three to twelve.
     Once there, she wrote letters home to family with “carbon copies” (remember them?) to neighbors and friends. Jane’s best friend/neighbor, Pat Allen, saved the letters and gave them to her when the family returned to Davis, California in 1967.
     This year, Jane self-published the letters in a book entitled
To Africa With Spatula. “The title,” says Jane, “was inspired by our favorite family activity — Sunday morning pancake open houses which we held to give the Peace Corps Volunteers a little touch of home.”
     Excerpted below is a short, amusing letter Jane wrote of her first trip into the interior of Malawi with her sons and several PCVs.

Sept. 17, 1965

While Will was giving his track clinic in Fort Johnston, a bit of excitement befell me (or at least befell my passengers) as Will wanted me to drive the truck about fifteen miles out to a place called Malindi to give a message to some PCVs there. Two of the gal PCVs from Ft. Johnston came along to guide me, and the kids went with me too.
     The first two blocks or so, I was trying to remember how to shift the gears on the truck and trying to convince the PCVs that I really did know how to drive it — heh heh. Before I’d fully refreshed my memory on how to do this, we’d rounded a bend and were headed down a hill, at the bottom of which was the Shire River and a little tiny
ferry onto which — to my horror — I would have to drive this truck!
     This
ferry is a flat pontoon ferry, more like a big raft, which is pulled across the Shire River by a cable. It was filled with Africans on foot. The man had them all stand aside and beckoned me to drive on. Ulp. My passengers blanched. I was on the verge of telling the PCVs which kids did not swim well and would need to be rescued first, trying to ignore the fact that the Shire River has a reputation for its large crocodile population, when I decided just to act very brave and nonchalant.
     The truck wheels had to go onto two little planks going from the shore over the edge of the water onto the boat. I hadn’t the least idea where the wheels were, the truck is so big and high. After putting it in the wrong gear three times (not nervous at all) and hoping the PCVs didn’t notice my shaking knees, I said a little prayer that the wheels were on the boards, and kept my eyes glued on the man beckoning me forward. Since he kept smiling, I figured we were on. Whew. What a relief — until the awful realization came that we’d have to do it again going back! Oh dear.
     The road to Malindi was almost as bad, being windy (how do you spell that? — well, the road wound — well, it was a very curvy road) having many narrow, sideless bridges with the same kind of two planks that the wheels must fit on. I just couldn’t believe I was doing this. I only learned to drive rather late in life and am Chicken Little at the wheel in any car — what was I doing?
     My shaky knees were justly rewarded, however, when we finally got there, by all the congratulations of the fellows at Malindi and by the women saying that I had done great things for American Womanhood! Little did they know that never in my wildest dreams would I have done this thing if I’d known what was before me.
     Will about died when he found out I’d had to drive onto one of those ferries and all those sideless plank bridges, with PCVs and all our kids in the back. One of the PCVs was new and I’m sure that ride was her first
culture shock.
     The thing that really surprised and pleased me the most though, was the reaction of my own kids. They said,
Atta boy, Mom! — my highest compliment!
     
Weren’t you scared? I asked them.
     
No, we knew you could do it.
     Wish I had been that confident.