SWAHILI ON THE PRAIRIE – A film by David Goldenberg (Kenya)

Thanks for the ‘heads up’ from Bob Gribbin (Kenya 1968-70)

 

 

Kenya PCVs 1968-70

 

David Goldenberg (Kenya 1968-70) has produced a documentary film about his  training group and service overseas. This training program was one of the last to be done in the U.S.  Goldenberg’s film premiered in North Dakota last January because that is where they trained and where it all began. You can find Swahili on the Prairie at Vimeo.

David Goldenberg

After the Peace Corps, David received his PhD from Brown University in anthropology and then had a long career working for (primarily child-focused) NGOs.  He worked for Plan International for about 15 years and then was a consultant for Plan, CARE, Save the Children, and other agencies.

He started making documentaries about 20 years ago.  In the build up to his group’s 50th anniversary in 2018, he decided to make a film about their experience.  He traveled around the country interviewing members of the group as well as some of their trainers. He also managed to find his Bismarck girl friend, now living in California. He had some Super 8 footage from that summer and he collected photographs from many members of the group. His next film project is to pull together another feature length film about the group’s Kenya service time.

14 Comments

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  • Unfortunately, I’m in lockdown in Connecticut with no ability to access a long video of any kind, but I did find the trailer and it looks fabulous. For many reasons I want us all to be free of this virus, but for me right now, I just want to be able to see this film! Something to look forward to. I also have a deep connection to North Dakota and look forward to sending a link to the film to people in Devils Lake, N. D. where my Jewish Great Grandparents, escaping the pogroms in Russia, Homesteaded in the 1880s. A cross-cultural experience from another time. Thank you, David Goldenberg!

  • Our Botswana PC training took place at the Penn Center in Frogmore, South Carolina, about the same time as your group was in North Dakota. A bunch of us got together at Penn in 2018 for our 50th anniversary…

    Great film – Thanks!

  • Congratulations on the film. You might consider a book follow-up, using that film as the meat and potatoes. Years ago, PBS did this with a documentary on Lewis and Clark. The book sold well. I have a copy of both and while venues for film change, then pages of the book still turn.

  • David Goldenberg, where are you in the group picture?

    David is at the left of standing “row 3 partially obscured with my eyes closed”!

  • I just watched SWAHILI ON THE PRARIE. It’s an extraordinary film about an extraordinary group of volunteers who were fortunate to have gone through an extraordinarily excellent training!

    I’m recommending it to everyone I know, RPCVs and those who never availed themselves of such a life-changing experience.

    Thank you David Goldenberg for making this film!

  • David, your video, Swahili on the Prairie, is extraordinary. Your focus on how you told the story made it so much more than a memoir and got me thinking about my relationship with Vietnam. I was in Malawi from 1964-66 and while in the country was protected from daily tumult of what was happening to my world back home.
    Even while completing college upon my return, I experienced no fears as to my fates. Then it was a safe and easy transition into grad school to study anthropology.

    Then my world changed. Graduate school was no longer a safe haven. They changed the rules and to maintain an exemption one was required to have completed more than one year of graduate studies. I had
    only nine months, but plunged ahead with my plan to return to Malawi to do research for my masters thesis.
    Again, I did not spend too much time worrying about things back home. However, then I got a letter from my mother telling me that I had been drafted. She encouraged me to hurry home; my own thought being that it might be best to remain unfindable.

    I returned home to face my local draft board. I was advised that my opportunity for an appeal had passed because I had not notified them where I could be found. By the grace of God, they did agree to allow me a personal appearance, something that was not required by the law. My meeting was scheduled for the next week. On the morning of my personal appearance I received a call from my brother who told me he was going to keep it short. He told me, excluding the details, that the evening before he had participated in the biggest debauch of his life and the thing that I needed to know was that it took place at the home of an individual who happened to be on my draft board and would be participating in my meeting that afternoon. He then asked me if I would be able to meet with his new friend that morning. I told him that I thought I could rearrange my schedule.

    The meeting at his office that morning was my opportunity to tell my story. As I concluded my story of my two years in the Peace Corps and my progress in my graduate studies his response was rather flat, “Well, we have taken those kinds of things into consideration in the past.”

    My meeting was a 4:00. At 6:00 my brother called, asking how I thought my meeting with the board had gone. I told him I had no idea. They had simply asked me to talk and they listened, no one asking a question or saying a word. I told my brother I was scared and had no idea what they would decide. But it did feel it had not gone well.”

    Then he asked me how many men were on the board. I told him there were five of them. Then he said, “It might be helpful for you to know that one of them spent a half hour after the meeting convincing the other four not to draft your ass immediately.”

    David, your work is so insightful and important because of your decision from the onset to not only tell the story of the young men in your Peace Corps group that went to Kenya in 1968, but also the nature of the times … and the fears of young men at the times. While in my case the fear did not come until after my Peace Corps experience had been completed, for you and those in your group, acceptance into program was a real matter of life or death.

    The story you have told is a unique one made even more meaningful by the way you chose to tell it. It is filled with honesty, good humor, the insights of those who participated with you in Kenya and a grand exploration of the role that chance plays in each of our lives.

    I hope that many, both those who have had the Peace Corps experience and those seeking to understand it from the outside looking in, will get to see Swahili on the Prairie.

    I write this at an extraordinary time in history when for the first time in almost sixty years there are no PCVs in the field. The question of whether the Peace Corps will continue to exist is real. At a time when enduring animosity forms the rotten core of our political system, there is no doubt many will see this as the time for hanging the crepe on the Peace Corps. I feel that anyone watching Swahili on the Prairie would readily see and appreciate the other aspect of Peace Corps, it’s role in fostering the growth and sensitivity of individuals who serve our countries needs.

    Finally, as my highest compliment, I found your working entertaining in the fullest sense of the word. Thanks.

    • Kevin, Sorry for not replying earlier to your comments which are greatly appreciated. Everyone in our age group at the time felt the tension and uncertainty about our futures. I recently did an oral history interview about Vietnam for a project at Dartmouth College. I told them about how I spent the Spring semester of 1967 doing independent anthropological research in Senegal on religious life. And when I interviewed men with access to spiritual power I would pose my predicament to them. Next year, I may face the danger of the draft and have to go to Vietnam. How can you help me? The old men remembered dealing with this problem during French colonialism. I ended up with a very powerful gris-gris and it worked!

  • You represent what Jack Kennedy believed would result from his establishment of the Peace Corps.

    Collective praise to all of you charged particles of good, not just in the Peace Corps or the later America corps, but to all who are working actively for betterment years on such as to the first Respond workers in this and the times of come of danger and the fear of danger.

    The year before the Peace Corps was established I was working as an intern at WGBH-TV the NET station then located above a former roller rink on the M.I.T. campus just across from Boston’s Charles River in Cambridge Massachusetts and working for the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard’s leader Louis Lyons in his twice-weekly interviews and New England news programs.

    There was much talk with persons such as Kennedy himself, his brother Robert, Eleanor Roosevelt, Herbert Humphrey, Harold Stassen, Adali Stevenson about the need for such a dynamic national corps that might counter the bad stuff with the good.

    I joined the new group, the Peace Corps, when Jack Kennedy announced it through our station, and by the end of August 1961 was in Ghana. (And by the way, I worked on the announcement back at WGBH-TV back at our station. It was our assembly of the footage brought back from D.C. by our director Paul Noble and our cameraman Don that was broadcast nationwide.)

    Many orbits of the moon since the optical points that have since circled reflects observations of the good done, and as well the negative winds that always swirl.

    Returned Peace Corps Volunteers like you have done much good (and as your film shows are still at it). While many of us have made nothing of that significance happen, we look and watch, and help in small ways, and at least do not add to resident evils and maybe mitigate them trying while we live to recognize and celebrate those make lives be enriched in positive directions.

  • David Day told me about your film and suggested I watch it, My wife and I were volunteers in Kenya 1965-67, in Kisii. I don’t have a work DVD player. So is there another way to access it?

    Thanks

    Arthur Dobrin

  • The RI RPCV group is hosting a discussion of the film this coming Thursday, June 25 @ 6:30 PM EDT. Here is the Facebook link.
    https://www.facebook.com/events/ical/upcoming/?uid=100000219654099&key=6A9BHwZNvU3uGt3y

    or go to the
    Rhode Island Area Peace Corps Association Facebook page to find the session announcement and zoom link.

    Here is the link to the film again. We are asking participants to view the film beforehand.
    https://vimeo.com/403916814

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