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Wednesday, May 16, 2007 02:33 pm

Out of Africa

Springfield’s Sydney Kling recounts her Peace Corps journey

Inside Outside: A Retiree’s Peace Corps Journal from South Africa By Sydney Kling (self-published, 2007, 387 pages)
Untitled Document Springfieldian Sydney Kling wanted to mark her retirement from a nursing career by doing something both different and worthwhile. She gathered her courage, did some investigating, passed tests and panels and at 67, with the blessing of her loved ones, headed for South Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer. There, her nursing and organizational skills were used by AIDS and HIV organizations and with infected persons, their families, communities, and orphaned children. She approached this situation with some trepidation. Part of her preparation was beginning a journal, which became her companion for the two years overseas. Now, at the urging of family and friends, she’s published it, and it forms a substantial volume.     Inside Outside has a journal’s strengths and weaknesses. One strength: “dailyness.” The reader comes to know the people whom Kling knows, the work, the landscape, the way of life, what’s for breakfast — and Kling’s thoughts on all these. One gets anecdotes rather than a plot rising to a climax. Some days, or groups of days, do have their climaxes: the horrendous rape and stabbing of a young woman and the community’s grief; a magnificent birthday party for an ordinary child that includes everyone — indicating a festival quality for a not-unusual milestone. Mostly, though, we hear of meetings, endless waits for transportation (she comes to expect this and is philosophical), and the luxury of occasionally having a little time alone. This dailyness could also be considered a weakness, for one can open the book anywhere and start reading — even backtrack, if necessary, to get a grip on a character or situation that’s been explained earlier.     One strength of this particular journal is that Kling writes a clear and pleasant prose. There are lyrical passages — never too long — and interesting stories. A reflection (truncated): “Lots have happened having nothing to do with why I’m here; makes me wonder. What would I be feeling had I not: spent so much time in the community, been chased by a bull, bit by a goose, grabbed by drunks . . . stranded in the middle of nowhere, stranded in the middle of somewhere, had diarrhea in the middle of everywhere and in front of everyone . . . washed my hair in freezing water . . . been misunderstood in some way every single day for 365 days, drunk too much, drunk too little . . . ” She balances the ledger: “But also had the sparkle and free love shown me by babies, toddlers, teens, young adults, moms, old people, dying people, traditional healers, professionals, evangelists, AIDS victims . . . the last bit of food in the house served to me . . . seen the sky so spectacular it cannot be described . . . ”
     Kling, wisely, has self-published her book. It isn’t likely that a commercial press would have taken it, yet it is an experience worth sharing. Kling typed the journal, a friend rendered good editing, and it was put together by Donna’s House of Type, in Springfield, for a reasonable fee. The attractive cover was created by a high-school senior in Table Grove. Five hundred copies have been printed, and all profits will go to Siyabuswa township to assist in AIDS education and treatment. Contact Kling (her phone is listed; her e-mail address is gogoskling@yahoo.com) to learn how to get a copy and how the money will be forwarded to Africa.      If you’re nearing retirement, or already retired, consider the Peace Corps as an option. This book will stimulate your thinking about the many things you might do to signify a change from your previous life, things that are interesting, challenging, and, yes, worthwhile.  

Jacqueline Jackson, books and poetry editor of Illinois Times, is a    professor emerita of English at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
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