This profile introduces Sara and Julie, who served in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), 88-90. (Zaire: where booze grows on trees! — did you know palm wine comes right out of the tree when it’s tapped?) Their story involves fish ponds, motorcycles, and palm grubbs, as well as unspecified quantities of palm wine.
Sara grew up in Kansas, Julie in Massachusetts, and after college (Sara at University of Portland and University of Kansas, Julie at Yale) they both headed to Peace Corps, motivated by a desire for adventure and service. Julie said it was a “secular mission,” one that fit with her Mormon upbringing. They met during 10 weeks of training in South Carolina, in preparation for the role of fisheries volunteers. Both were posted as sole volunteers in their villages, Sara on the far east of the country in the town of Kalehe, overlooking Lake Kivu and Rwanda, living alone in a mud hut, with a motorcycle, learning Swahili and French. The volunteers in that area all went to Rwanda to use the telephone and call home on pre-arranged calls.
Julie was on the middle west side of the country, 1,000 miles away, near the town of Mweka, also with a mud hut and a motorcycle. Julie learned Tshiluba, a Bantu language, and French. Both were living alone in their villages for long periods of time, maybe visited by a neighboring PCV, and went to the regional capital every 3 months.
As fisheries volunteers, they helped build and maintain fish ponds so local farmers were able to raise a crop of tilapia; 6 months to harvest from start to finish. The fish did not become a cash crop for most people, as they were usually given away, but they did improve nutrition. At the end of 1990, Sara extended to spend another year managing the regional capital that coordinated the work of 30 volunteers. They’d become a couple by then, and both traveled. Sara hitchhiked to Victoria Falls, took a Zambezi rafting trip (19 class 5 rapids!), and after COS went overland to Bujumbura in Burundi, then to Lake Tanganyika, took trains and busses across Tanzania, had a safari, and visited Olduvai Gorge, then on to Nairobi, where she met up with Julie and they took a train to Mombasa, and then flew to Zanzibar. Then she flew home via Cairo, and settled in DC with a job with EPA.
Julie ended up in DC too, working at the US Dept. of Education, then came to NC for grad school at UNC Greensboro, to get an MS in Elementary Ed. and a teaching certificate. After teaching elementary school in Durham, she got her PhD in Education at UNC, and now works in educational research, studying & evaluating high school and the early college initiative. Sara has now been with EPA for 22 years.
They live in Durham and have a busy family, with three teenage kids, all with African middle names: Samual Kweta is 16, and Emma Malaika and Jacob Mandela are 13. They are all profiled in a 2014 documentary film, Unconditional, which focuses on their efforts to navigate the legal system to obtain legal parental-child bonds.
Fun facts: one of Julie’s favorite foods is palm grubs. Yes, weevils. Maybe she’ll bring some to our next potluck!
Sara told me that she has toured Air Force 2 and met Al Gore. Both Sara and Julie are active in local communities and politics– Sara is current co-president of the Durham People’s Alliance. Both have been past presidents of NCPCA, and Julie has coordinated our sales of the RPCV calendars for years. I’d say Sara and Julie haven’t stopped pursuing their missions.