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HAPPY FIFTIETH BIRTHDAY PEACE CORPS!!

And I swear you don’t look a day over 35.

Fifty years ago today, US President John F. Kennedy asked the American people, “How many of you who are going to be doctors are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers — how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?”

Since that day, more than 200,000 people (including yours truly) have answered the call, serving in over one hundred countries and filling thousands of different roles. Doctors and lawyers, artists and thinkers, men and women, fresh-faced college grads and senior-citizen-technology gurus. We’re a diverse group, but we all share two things: passion for the global community and a desire to affect meaningful change.

Peace Corps Kenya has been around nearly as long – 45 years, if I recall correctly. There have been bumps in the road (if you’ll forgive the dastardly understatement) but we’re still going strong and not leaving anytime soon.

So happy birthday, Peace Corps. And many more.

Any time you have an internationally recognized sporting event, a certain degree of trouble is to be expected. Between the crowds and the publicity, all weaknesses are exposed as little cracks become gushing fissures. We saw it in Germany (anyone remember the human trafficking brewhaha? The rumors of “mobile rape vans”? Whatever happened with that), we saw it with Vancouver (aka the FAIL-LYMPICS), we will see it in South Africa. Many of the cities in which there are stadiums are beset with crime; despite best efforts, the crime rates haven’t gone down significantly ( in fact, in some places they’ve gone up). Hundreds of thousands – maybe millions – of tourists swarming into places that are just a little off-kilter? Particularly when said tourists are passionate sports fans, or going to be drinking/celebrating, or going to be carrying lots of merchandise, or any other number of complicating factors? Could get extraordinarily ugly, extraordinarily fast. Just saying.

Politically, a number of issues are threatening to tarnish the event. The government spent over six BILLION dollars building stadiums and improving infrastucture; the motivations are understandable – local jobs, improving neighborhoods, enabling the economic boon of the trip, etcetc (the usual rigmarole) but it hasn’t been sitting well with a number of people who are quick to note that six billion dollars could’ve gone a long way to, say, building schools, or assisting neighborhoods with no running water or flush toilets. Not to mention the accusations of skimming off the top and shameless “pork” (as we call it in the States) of legislators that have been thrown around. Despite efforts to improve it, public transportation is still a HUGE issue, which will be vastly more complicated by throngs of matchgoers in an already tense and overloaded system. And even though FIFA has tried to stress World Cup 2010 as a “continental celebration,” the skyrocketing costs associated with the event make the trip economically infeasible for a lot of Africans.

There is also the ongoing complication of politics not related to the World Cup *at all* that have been held forth as reasons why South Africa is not a great choice. A lot has been said about the murder of Eugene Terreblanche, internationally-famous white supremacist and epic asshole as upping the tensions of political polarization and threatening to spark racially-motivated violence. Some fear this will keep the tourists – and their dollars – away, while others are concerned that the general upheaval associated with the World Cup could be all that’s needed to incite some massive violence. Others have expressed fear about terrorism, from al-Shabaab to the AWB. South Africa is not unique in being threatened by terrorism, but it does have the kind of slightly volatile political climate that could be really, really deeply affected if something happens.

That said, I still think SA is a overall magnificent choice. It’s a movement away from the euro-americo-centric model of sports achievement and a means of involving a very football-crazy region of the world in a great sport. It’s an instiller of national and, yes, even “continental” pride (I read one interview that said something along the lines of “Who cares if SA wins? We got to host the cup, that’s winning already.”) It’s a much-needed boost in a country that could do with some hope and unity right about now. And maybe if people flock there and see something they like (or don’t), they’ll be inspired to learn more about the province, the nation, the region … good things could happen.

To conclude, here’s a little commercial thrown together to raise people’s spirits. It would’ve been nice if they could have, you know, gotten an actual African to speak up for SA instead of some random old Australian dude, but it’s a start. I especially love the awkward slow clap at the end. Who among us HASN’T wanted to tell a stranger in an airport to quit their bitching and STFU?

Interesting youtube link someone sent me – a “micro-documentary” (5 minutes) about the debate as to whether the International Criminal Court should pursue charges surrounding the 2007-2008 election violence. I’m going to hold my tongue on this one (for now). Watch, learn, draw your own conclusions.

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The opinions expressed on this blog do not represent those of the Peace Corps, the United States government, or any other organization. The author is solely responsible for all content on this blog.
Yours truly