A Retiree’s Peace Corps Journal from South Africa
by Sydney Kling (South Africa 200103)
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Reviewed by Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras 19751977)
SYDNEY KLING OFFERS intellectual communion with her South African Peace Corps’ journal while bearing witness to a nation that once was the African locomotive but now has been derailed by the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS on the planet. More than five million of its citizens are infected and the prevalence of this disease will affect South Africa for decades to come as the nation’s rail ties of community and family disintegrate. Recent studies project that the South African Gross National Product will drop by one fifth in coming years, compounding the plight. “Obtaining the knowledge that one is HIV positive and listening to all the counseling in the world will not make proper medications and treatment accessible,” explains the author.
Kling personalizes the epidemic, describing the deaths of friends, their relatives, and a parade of funerals. There are also unintended and sometimes forgotten victims, children. The author works hard to arrange surgery for an eleven year old with a tumor on his arm. Only afterwards does she meet the boy’s young mother, herself very ill and approaching congestive heart failure.
Kling offers a unique perspective. Like an increasing number of Volunteers, she joined the Peace Corps at the age of sixty-seven after retirement. Unlike the majority of Volunteers working to fight AIDS, she was already a seasoned nurse and describes with great precision the effects of this modern plague: “She, only 19 years of age, was lying on a mat on the floor in a corner of a very dark, stifling hot room. Her skin was cool and dry to my touch . . . Her pulse was too rapid to count . . .. Her lips were parched and blistered.”
The author also includes vivid descriptions of customs. For instance, for celebrations a Ndebele woman has her head shaved “and a band of beads has been placed around the forehead…Dark marks have been made down the center of her forehead. Several rings encircle her neck. Circlets of beads go around this and down the shoulders. Most also have on arm and leg bands made of more beads.”
There are those who consider journals “subjective” or “fanciful.” Journals, letters, and interviews form historical cornerstones for they offer future generations unfiltered witness. Kling has prepared such a cornerstone describing South Africa during a horrible era. Anyone concerned about the epidemic should read this book. One hopes that it will soon pass and the parades of funerals may be replaced with increasing numbers of beaded ceremonies. Proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the HIV and AIDS affected families in Siyabuswa Township.
Lawrence F. Lihosit works as a city planner. His books are published by A Book Company that plans to release two new books in July 2008: Jesus Was Arrested in Mexico City and Missed the Wedding (a travel narrative) and Attack of the Claw (poetry). He can be reached directly at LawrenceFLihosit@gamil.com