Rebecca with Students

In A Different Life

Rebecca shares about her experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer and how it helped shape her writing journey.

By Rebecca Zornow

In a different life, I lived at a rural school with the birds and the honey badgers. I spent my days operating a library and teaching art to students who had never reached beyond doodling before. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years in Swaziland.

I was incredibly passionate about trying to better the lives of the students I worked with: little girls and boys who didn’t have enough to eat at home, whose parents may have died in the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and who dreamed dreams bigger than the adults around them thought appropriate.

I lived a morning’s drive from the nearest city and could hardly get on Facebook. It was the perfect environment to dedicate myself to work. In my time in Swaziland, I organized and coded over 6,000 books and checked out 1,500 library items. I helped at least 20 kids and 1 adult fall in love with Harry Potter. I assisted another local school open their own library. In the afternoons, I had plenty of time to teach my 16 art club students about perspective, papier-mâché, and the Sistine Chapel. I also had the opportunity to build real relationships with the people I worked with. Instead of rushing home from work to take care of chores and get ready for events, there was really no rush. Really. I spent countless hours listening to my Swazi friends describe their lives and point of view and thoughtfully sharing about life back home.

It was also a special time in my life to delve into my passions. My husband and I climbed 3 mountains, visited 5 countries, and spotted over 150 species of birds, as well as leopards, cheetahs, and elephants. Our income was low so instead of shopping, I sewed curtains for our house and cut Oliver’s hair. We gardened and took walks and spent a day making our own chess set.

It was also an incredibly lonely time in my life. For the first time, I was the outsider in the community. The umlungu. I had to think through everything I said to see how it might shape someone’s perspective of America. Nights were dark (and full of terrors, like snakes and spiders) and my husband and I spent them mostly by ourselves.

My service was a vivid time in my life, but one of the reasons why I remember it so well was Oliver and I kept a blog about our experiences. I’ve been back to the blog a few times to look up a city I visited, to find the name of a food I tried, and to remember what that way of life was like.

I read a lot during my time in Swaziland—the Bible cover to cover, a dozen Shakespeare plays, stacks of children’s literature to prep for my library activities, care package books, training manuals, and even outrageous, anti-feminist columns in the local newspaper.

One writer I kept coming back to was Alexander McCall Smith, beloved author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series. Humorous antics and a strong female lead aside, it was rewarding to read the books and nod along because it was set in Botswana, which has a similar culture to Swaziland. Yep, people really do feel that way about cattle around here. Hey, that’s the tea brand everyone drinks. Yes, finally, someone who understands how hot it is.

Maybe you wish you lived in Southern Africa for two years, or maybe you’re okay enjoying it from afar. Either way, I’ve got something for you.

I’m going to give away a Signed First Edition of The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, a No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Novel! I normally don’t read the inside flap on Smith’s books because I know I’ll love the humor and the characters, but for you….

“A well-respected Botswanan politician is up for a major public honor, and his reputation is now being called into question by his rivals. The man’s daughter has contacted the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency to investigate these troubling claims, but, as in so many cases, all is not as it seems…”

To enter to win this book signed by Alexander McCall Smith himself, all you have to do is sign up for e-mail alerts for Conquer Books. You’ll see the prompt on the upper right side of the screen. Anyone who has already signed up for e-mail notices from Nicole and I will be automatically entered as well. Blog follows will get you some great content, but do not count for this contest; e-mails only. I will mail the book to the winner anywhere within

the United States.


I’ll draw the name on Friday, February 16th at noon so sign up right away.

Good luck!

[Editor’s Note: The drawing took place 02/18 and the book made its way to a happy, new owner]

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Recommended Reading from the Two Year In the Kingdom Blog:

Metsi-metsi Wilderness Trail: Written by my husband, Oliver, it recounts our adventurous stay in a rustic camp at Kruger National Park. We saw rare wild dogs and tracked lions on foot.

Furry and Non-furry Friends: Photos of my animal neighbors.

Art Club Field Trip: I took my art club on a field trip to a contemporary gallery and rock art site. It was a big day for everyone. Photos as well.

Final Library Projects: A recap of some of the activities and projects my students did for library.

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