Author Topic: Re: Tom Kennedy's talk at the 12-2 meeting  (Read 1340 times)

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Offline Suzanne Meeks

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Re: Tom Kennedy's talk at the 12-2 meeting
« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2017, 10:24:31 AM »
Tom Kennedy's talk 12-2-16
     Tom always considered himself a lucky guy.  He'd spent his career teaching environmental sciences in a "radically liberal" classroom.  Along the way, he accumulated two sons and a grandson.  Now, closing in on 65, he's mostly retired, building a cabin, and observes, "Life is good."
      One night a few years before he retired from teaching, he was watching the news.  An older couple was returning from Peace Corps service in Africa; the woman said it was the best experience of her life. "Then I knew Peace Corps was on my bucket list," Tom said.
     After he retired and started building his cabin, he recalled this and decided to do it.  "I was thinking I was Superman.  I said I'd go anywhere and do anything. They sent me to Gambia.  I'd never heard of it either,"  he said, noting the blank looks on the faces of his audience.  (It's in west Africa, surrounded by  Senegal.)   
   It was unlike anything he'd ever experienced.  Sixty percent make less than $1 a day.  There's no running water or electricity.  What there is, is family and community.
     As a self-described loner, he recalled, "It would drive you crazy.  They wanted to hold your hand.  They ask how you slept, how are the kids, the home folks -- they were sincerely interested in me.  There were 300 in the village.  A sense of community is what made them successful.  There WAS nothing else." He said they have no concept of  being "alone," though closing one's door does mean "do not disturb."   Once the company became too much for Tom and he closed his doors for an evening of alone time.  He found an English-speaker at his door the next morning to ask if he were ill, or if they had offended him.

     He noted that our violent society has lost its happiness and satisfaction, in large part because we've lost our relationships with our neighbors.  In contrast, this group was working toward a common goal, like our sorghum group.  Tom referred to the book Tribe, which points out why small groups are so important.  For larger ones, like our cities, it seems to take a crisis like a tornado to pull a community together.
     Tom said he went to Gambia with the right idea -- he wanted to make a difference and ease conditions.  But he's now not sure changing their conditions is justified, since they're the happiest people he's ever met.  They laughed more than anybody and wanted be with him all the time.  He felt when he went that his whole teaching career had prepared him for this, but after he met them, he felt he had little to give them.
     They're not perfect, of course; among their other cultural practices we would find incomprehensible is female genital mutilation.  And they enforced their communism to the point of discouraging personal accomplishment, or doing anything that made one too different from his neighbors.  When Tom left, he had about $200 in their money he wanted to give his host family.  When he asked if this would be acceptable, he was told it would not.  He could give them some,  but that much would give them so much more than the other villagers -- too much separation.  He gave most of it to the elders council to use for the community.
     They have  no formal education, but they speak three or four languages -- so hard that volunteers studied them six hours a day.
     Men and women have strictly assigned tasks.  When he asked about water, he was told that was the women's domain; gathering at the community well every morning to draw water is part of their social fabric.
     Tom found the whole experience too intense.  He only lasted a month.  The climate was part of the problem.  When he was interviewed, he was asked if he could tolerate heat and humidity.  He thought living in Missouri meant he could.  However, he found the unrelenting 95-degree heat and 95 percent humidity constantly stifling -- "the mud hut was so hot it melted my Mitchum deodorant."   And he was puzzled that men weren't allowed to wear shorts, but women often went topless. 
     Tom was one of 36 Peace Corps volunteers who went to Gambia.  Many were from other countries, which he said is typical for the Peace Corps.  He found it devastating to quit, but felt that he had learned something.
     For one thing, he became great friends with a solar cooker his kids had given him.  He said it cooks well even in winter.  It's expensive and hard to find, but he noted that it might be rather simple to build one; it's merely metal pieces hinged into a box shape. 
     His only light was a small solar lamp (he donated one to the 50-50).   
     He said that without electricity, running water, or furniture, your life really changes.  But like these simple products, the solutions to many of our problems are right in front of us.  He said ONE's discussions should address these things.
     "What we have here is very special.  You should feel good about working together.  It's hard keeping the group together when we're surrounded by a culture that has forgotten about these things," he said.
     He passed several videos that have a positive spin on community, and the book Tribe; they're available on loan. --Suzanne Meeks, Secretary