Of Witches, Red Dust, and Tjwala

Stories By A Former Peace Corps Teacher In Africa

Non-Fiction - Memoir
76 Pages
Reviewed on 07/27/2020
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Author Biography


Born in 1946, I grew up in Spokane Valley and went to college at Gonzaga University ('64-'69) earning a B.A. degree in Biology and my Teaching Certificate. My first year of teaching was at Willipa Valley Junior High School near Raymond, WA. After one year of teaching, I joined the Peace Corps and served from '70-'74 in Swaziland. It was from those wonderful experiences that I had there, I wrote my first book "Of Witches, Red Dust, and Tjwala". After the Peace Corps, I returned to the Northwest and studied and received my M.S. degree in Science Education from Oregon State University. After graduation, the "travel bug" got to me again and I moved to Istanbul, Turkey, and taught biology at Robert College '76-'78. Istanbul was the most enchanting city I ever lived in, and I hope to write about my experiences there, too. After Istanbul, I moved to Oman where I taught for two years at The Sultan's School. After Oman, I returned to the States and taught at French-American International School '80-'90. The romance of international living lured me back overseas to live in Bangkok, Thailand, and teach at Bangkok International School (ISB) from '90-2011. I consider Thailand my second home and the most wonderful country that I have lived in. There I met and married my wonderful wife, Duangchai, and had my son, Nathaniel. After retiring, my family and I moved to Seattle where we live now.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite

Have you ever visited Swaziland, or as it’s now been renamed, Eswatini? I haven’t, but I do love learning about other countries and cultures. If you share my interest, pick up a copy of this very short, thoroughly delightful memoir by Daniel Stantus: Of Witches, Red Dust, and Tjwala. Memoirs can be very dry, but that’s one description that doesn’t apply to Stantus’ book. This reads like a collection of short stories, often humorous, told in a conversational style, and focussed on the highlights of Daniel’s four years as a voluntary teaching member of the Peace Corps. Daniel’s training had him living with a Swazi family where he saw a need for and oversaw the digging of a decent “toilet” 20 feet deep: he found it a preferable way for eliminating human waste but I’m not sure the Swazis agreed.

It seems Daniel was forever being surprised by what he experienced in this beautiful country. Like how did he, someone with no interest or experience in sports, end up being the sportsmaster? But perhaps even more surprised were the members of his football team when he miraculously brought a team player back to life. Did Daniel have magic powers like their witch doctors? Oh, speaking of witch doctors, imagine how weird Daniel felt when he spotted a witch doctor dancing around his front yard and throwing bones onto his veranda at night! Why did he do that? Even funnier is Daniel’s story of the reaction of a newly arrived couple of volunteers. Daniel invited them to stay overnight in his home while he was away. When he returned, they had fled in obvious distress and haste. What spooked them? You’ll be laughing when you find out, but if you experienced what they did, you might have fled too. Of Witches, Red Dust and Tjwala (which is a Swazi homebrew) is a delightful read. Laugh while you learn. Treat yourself to a relaxing, informative memoir by Daniel Stantus. You’ll be glad you did.

Jack Magnus

Of Witches, Red Dust, and Tjwala: Stories By A Former Peace Corps Teacher In Africa is a nonfiction collection of cultural/historical memoirs written by Daniel Stantus. Stantus had been a teacher for one year in his home state of Washington when he made the decision to volunteer with the Peace Corps. It was 1970, and the inspiration of John F. Kenned,y who had started the program during the 1960s, had captured the author’s imagination at an early age. In his application, he had indicated his preference for a teaching position somewhere in Central America, so it was with some surprise that when he opened his assignment packet, he found he would be working in Swaziland, a small country surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. His memories of the tour, which lasted from 1970-1974, would resonate with him for decades. His book is a collection of stories including the details of his initiation and Peace Corps training, his volunteer work as Sportsmaster, the presence of witchcraft and the impact of witches in Swaziland, and evenings spent relaxing in a native pub with Swazi beer.

Daniel Stantus’s Of Witches, Red Dust, and Tjwala is an engaging and well-written account of the author’s experiences while on tour in Swaziland. I had also considered volunteering with the Peace Corps as a teen, so I found this memoir to be particularly interesting. The author’s easy conversational style made getting involved with each of his stories irresistible, and I found myself unable to put down his book. And, yes, reading his memoirs made me wonder what experiences I had missed out on in not having submitted an application myself. Of Witches, Red Dust, and Tjwala is marvelous and offers the reader a look into life and culture in Swaziland in the early 1970s. It’s most highly recommended.

Deborah Lloyd

“A volunteer should expect the unexpected” is a phrase by author Daniel Stantus in his nonfiction work, Of Witches, Red Dust, and Tjwala: Stories by a Former Peace Corps Teacher in Africa. Daniel was a Peace Corps volunteer assigned to Swaziland in the early 1970s. This country, now called Eswatini, is surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. The language is si-Swati which Daniel learned after his arrival. He was assigned to be a teacher in a small rural school called the Nsongweni School. Although he had no interest in sports, he was also named the Sportsmaster which meant he coordinated all the sports programs and attended every practice and game. The chapter describing witchcraft is especially intriguing. There is a strong belief in black magic, as well as healing medicines from plants and animals. The practice of throwing and reading bones, stones, and other items was widely used.

Another interesting aspect of this book is the references to the current events of the time, including music and the Vietnam War. His photographs are also illuminating, showing how the people of the country lived. Visiting a local tjwaleni (the local, unlicensed bar) and drinking homemade beer from a large clay pot is shown. Of Witches, Red Dust, and Tjwala written by Daniel Stantus is a fascinating read. It captures the adventures of a Peace Corps worker in a land that most readers will probably never visit in person. In the last chapter, the author muses about the changes that have occurred in this country in the last fifty years…the reader will wonder at this too. A compelling read!