The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 3, 2007

Wally Kennedy: From Africa to Range Line Road

In this space in late June, I introduced Kate Raum, a young woman who was returning to Joplin after spending two years with the Peace Corps in Tanzania.

I wrote about her experience because she sent me an e-mail detailing how she kept abreast of Range Line developments by reading clippings of this column that were mailed to her by her grandmother.

She closed her e-mail with a postscript that asked: “Do you eat at all the places you write about? If so, how’s the new Fortune East on Maiden Lane? Man, I loved that place when it was in the old Dog N’ Suds (26th and Range Line).”

After detailing the conditions of Raum’s life in Tanzania and how she was a courageous example of living in the now, I closed the column with a promise of lunch at Fortune East when she returned home. Last Thursday, I made good on that promise. It also was an opportunity to make another introduction.

Erin Patton and Raum were neighbors of sorts for two years and did not know it. Patton was stationed with four other Peace Corps volunteers in Xia-Xia, a provincial capital in Mozambique. Raum was pretty much on her own in Sepuka, a small village on an escarpment of Tanzania’s Rift Valley.

When the two met for lunch, it was nonstop chatter. Did you have to take bucket baths? Did you have running water? Did you have electricity? Did you hitchhike? Dirt roads or paved? Relationships? What did you do? Christian or Muslim? Lots of lizards and spiders? TV or books? What brand of peanut butter? Long skirts?

Both lamented the fact that the Peace Corps expects female workers to wear conservative attire, such as long skirts. Nothing cute is acceptable; frumpy is preferred.

There were moments when they looked at each other and laughed when they realized a common memory. They knew exactly what the other one was talking about in ways that only another Peace Corps worker could understand. For instance, the Peace Corps attitude is: “It will get done — eventually.”

It must have been therapeutic because they both said it was fun talking to someone who had been in the Peace Corps, and they spoke about how they missed talking to the volunteers who had become their friends in Mozambique and Tanzania.

“Nobody else understands it like someone who has done it,” Patton said. “When you talk to your friends there, you want to go back.”

I find their stories fascinating. But not everyone does. In one of the funniest moments of our conversation, they both admitted to having one-minute, five-minute and 10-minute versions of their speeches about their work abroad, depending on the patience of their listeners, who invariably let them know when they become bored by saying: “Uh, that’s nice.”

Patton is the daughter of Dewayne and Anna Patton. Dewayne Patton is the manager of Northpark Mall. When I wrote the column about Raum, he told me that his daughter also was coming home from a stint in Africa.

Patton was in Mozambique when the movie “Blood Diamond,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was filmed. She attended a conference in the capital and went to the nicest hotel in the town “in search of a star. When we saw the drink prices at the bar, we knew we couldn’t afford it. The drinks were in dollars, and we only made $6.50 a day.

“But there was this nice man in the bar who bought us all drinks. We did not meet Leonardo, but we got free drinks. You have to mooch sometimes.”

While in the country, Patton had no television. She exchanged books with anyone who had them. She read 138 books.

Both Patton and Raum worked in HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. AIDS is a crippling problem in Africa. Progress, they said, helps spread the disease. As dirt roads become paved and are extended to isolated villages, the disease spreads to new victims. The infection rate in Mozambique is 16 percent. It’s 25 percent in South Africa.

Patton is the assistant manager of the bookstore at Missouri Southern State University. She wants to continue her major in history at graduate school. Raum is working in the law office of Spencer, Scott and Dwyer. She wants to return to school and get a degree in law. I suspect they could do anything they put their minds to.

The Peace Corps, they said, is not for everyone. They both said you have to be open-minded. When asked whether they would do it again, both said they would.

“It was the perfect time to go in our lives. We both had graduated from college,” Raum said. “It is the last great adventure.”

If you have news about something happening on Range Line Road, dial (417) 623-3480, ext. 7250; or send an e-mail to; or send a fax to Wally Kennedy at (417) 623-8598.