Around the Island

Richard’s almanac: Teaching in Zaire

STOCK PHOTO Frank Milano spoke about his time in Zaire as a teacher in the Peace Corps.
Frank Milano spoke about his time in Zaire as a teacher in the Peace Corps at a recent Friday Night Dialogues.

“Jambo” means “Hello” in Swahili and “koo koo” means chicken. I learned these and a few other Swahili words from Frank Milano during his talk about his time in the Peace Corps at the library last Friday.

Frank was stationed in Zaire from 1984 through 1986 and taught biology and chemistry at a Catholic high school there. He was 29 when he started.

He noted that nothing prepared him for life in a third-world country, particularly since he had to do his teaching in French which he was just beginning to learn. Frank explained that one of the most difficult situations was trying to learn all of his students’ African names. He had 20 to 60 boys in a class. Girls were taught separately.

Frank admitted that he was sick a great deal “and it seemed that I had diarrhea all the time.”

But he never gave up. He said that where he was, most males lost weight and most females gained weight. And that the men rarely got beyond 40. Many died of dysentery.

He enjoyed going to the marketplace on Fridays. A very crowded area where people sold arts, crafts and different foods. Lots of koo koo.

He recalled a time on a bus ride when he was very tired, he was dozing and resting his head on a large woman sitting next to him. They rode and he slept, punctuating whatever she said with “yes.” Finally others on the bus began laughing  and Frank asked what was so funny.

“You said yes when the big woman said she wanted to have 25 children with you!”

He described eating grasshoppers that “tasted like shrimp” when fried in palm oil. Frank also told the audience of some 40 people what it was like to see gorillas up close in the wild. He was very near where the “Gorillas in the Mist” was filmed.

“They were massive and powerful and pretty scary. I was just a few feet away from them,” Frank said.

He described the school as very strict. For example, he saw a student have his head shaved for not speaking French. But the students remained very motivated and curious.

“They enlightened me,” Frank added.

He ended his talk with a song in Swahili called “Great Love.”

Meanwhile, there are still openings in the AARP driver safety course. It’s offered on Tuesday, October 23, from 9 to 4 p.m. Call the Senior Center at (631) 749-1059 to register.

Additionally, if you are interested in receiving the shingles vaccine, it will be available at the Center for interested adults. Call the center to get more information.