In the mail the other day I received a CD documentary film about the Peace Corps entitled, Posh Corps. The video was new to me, but it turned out that the documentary has been around for a year, and there have been several showings in California. I was out of the loop.
The video focuses on Peace Corps Volunteers serving in South Africa in recent years. The disk also contains interviews with RPCVs who were in Asia, West Africa and Eastern Europe. Those interviews focus on the struggle that PCVs have in coming home.
I see a lot of material produced by RPCVs, mostly books, but I was really impressed by what the director, producer and editor Alan Toth has achieved with this film. Alan was in South Africa from 2010-12. Today he works at a non-profit documentary production company in the San Francisco Bay area. Posh Corps is his first feature film.
Making the film with him were two other RPCVs: Socorra Camposanto, who wrote the music. She was a PCV in Morocco, and now works with an educational non-profit organization; Lilly Fine, another PCV in South Africa, is the Associate Producer. She studied economics and international development in college and now works for a micro-finance organization in San Francisco.
Posh Corps focuses on the lives of Peace Corps Volunteers in South Africa, but Alan Toth says it is more than that. He wrote me, “For fifty years, the US Peace Corps has been sending American Volunteers to developing countries around the world to teach skills, and build relationships. As these countries develop, capitol cities become modern enclaves, while rural villages struggle with the cultural strain that accompanies rapid development.
“South Africa is one of the most extreme examples of this shifting Peace Corps experience. The struggles of Peace Corps Volunteers in South Africa provide a glimpse of the future for Volunteers throughout the developing world. Their stories demonstrate that the need for Peace Corps does not end when countries become more modern… in fact, the need becomes more pressing than ever.”
While in South Africa, Alan found that during his service it became clear to him that serving in South Africa, was much more difficult than the “romanticized Peace Corps experience.”
So, what he wanted to do was make a documentary about the Volunteers who experience this modern/traditional dynamic. “I knew that a documentary about Peace Corps in South Africa would likely be dismissed as not totally authentic, because South Africa is “posh corps.” I wanted to confront this dismissive idea head on, so I called the documentary Posh Corps.
He believes that in the coming decades, the experiences of Peace Corps/South Africa Volunteers will look more like the norm, than the exception. More Volunteers will be struggling with rapid modernization, and all the cultural strain that accompanies it.
Personally I am not so sure. In my experience the Peace Corps only becomes more “romantic” with time and distance. We still recall that adjusting to the “strangeness” of a country takes about thirty seconds. What is difficult, however, is learning the language, learning the job, learning to live as a second-class citizen where we just don’t quite fit in. That was the challenge.
But Posh Corps has a lot to offer. It is beautifully made film and thought provoking. It is well worth seeing. See if you can organize a group of RPCVs to view and discuss the film, and compare it to what you experienced in the Peace Corps.
The two upcoming screening I know about are:
November 6th 2014, SLG Art Boutiki & Gallery, 44 Race Street, San Jose, CA.
November 7th – 14th 2014, Posh Corps is an official selection in the Oregon Underground Film Festival.
For more information, check it out at: www.poshcorps.com.
Click here if you and/or your RPCV group would like to host a screening of Posh Corps.