Peace Corps experience inspires 'Giraffes Tell Secrets"
“Giraffes Tell Secrets”
By Jeanine Morgado
$4.99 at amazon.com (for kindles) and barnesandnobles.com (for nooks)
10 percent of the book’s profits are being donated to educational programs in Namibia.
When Jeanine Morgado was going to Sac State, her favorite subject was British Literature. Throw in the fact that she loves to travel and explore new cultures, and it’s no wonder she took off for Liverpool right after graduation.
For her sake, it’s good she didn’t take a liking to Siberian Literature. For the world’s sake, it’s fortunate that wanderlust led her to the Peace Corps.
“Every time you meet somebody from the Peace Corps, they always have such interesting stories,” Morgado said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, to be able to live in a different culture and do something good at the same time.”
Morgado, who grew up in the Auburn area and attended Placer and Maidu High schools, was sent to a village in Namibia, near the Angolan border. There, she taught English, P. E. and basic science to sixth- and seventh-graders.
It’s typical for volunteers to take on a local name. Hers was “Ndinelao” (pronounced dee-nay-la-ow). Another name that would soon become linked with hers would be Megan Colt, protagonist of her book “Giraffes Tell Secrets.”
“It’s loosely based on my life and experiences there,” she said. “But there are a lot of liberties taken.”
But why take liberties when your experiences include being chased through the village by a rather large, angry pig?
“I heard a lot of the stories first hand,” said her husband, Adam Larson. “But the book does a great job of making you feel like you are experiencing it as the main character is.”
Larson met Morgado on the flight to Africa. They went through two months of Peace Corps training together in Namibia before they were sent to different villages. Larson taught science to eighth- and ninth-graders, and said that he and Jeanine saw each other about every other weekend.
“I couldn’t tell you how far away it was distance wise,” Larson said, “but I can say it was about a two hour walk/taxi cab ride/hitch hike, best case scenario.”
The couple now resides in Reno, but a return trip to Namibia is never out of the question. Thanks to cell phones and Facebook and yes, snail mail, Morgado still keeps in touch with her friends in the village. When asked if she felt she made an impact there, she said it’s not always easy to tell.
“Sometimes you don’t know,” she said. “I’m sure there are people that have influenced me in my lifetime that are not aware of it. I’d like to think maybe I’ve influenced one of my students to further their education, maybe get beyond the village or go to school in the capital city or something.”
The fact that her parents frequently took in foreign exchange students when she was young could have influenced her desire to explore other cultures. She said her parents were very supportive and pretty enthusiastic about her joining the Peace Corps.
“She’ll tell you she’s one of the luckiest people and she’s right, but I think optimistic people like Jeanine create their own luck,” said her friend of nearly a decade, Jonathan Schwarzberg. “I am sure there are changes in everybody after going through an experience like that but I don’t see any monumental shifts in her character. She’s always had an amazing capacity to take care of people.”
Now she helps by donating 10 percent of her book sales to educational programs in Namibia. Programs like Camp Glow, set up by Peace Corps, that takes students from different regions (there are at least 14 officially recognized languages in Namibia) and give them the opportunity to meet new people and build leadership skills. She also hopes the book will inspire people to travel outside the box.
“I wanted to show that Africa is not a big, scary place,” she said. “The people there are kind, warm and very accepting. I would like people to have a little slice of Namibia without having to fly there.”
The book is available as an ebook at Amazon for kindles, and Barnes & Nobles for nooks.