Mitchell Romero, '92, joined the Peace Corps because he wanted to travel. He's back home in Seattle after two years in Swaziland, but in some respects, it's like he never left. His likeness is still getting around that southern Africa country.
Romero, 26, appears in a postage stamp commemorating 25 years of Peace Corps volunteerism in Swaziland. "I'm quite honored," says the Spokane native.
And surprised, too. Romero didn't learn of his new-found fame until a fellow volunteer in Swaziland showed him the stamp after it had already come out.
Romero, who holds a bachelor's degree in design and planning, was teaching woodworking at a junior high school located between the hamlets of Lavumisa (pop. 150) and Matsenjeni (pop. less than 100) in the southern end of Swaziland. One day, that country's Peace Corps director arrived to take some pictures. A photo of Romero's class was selected, and an artist--a fellow American volunteer from the East Coast --came up with a drawing for the 25-cent stamp. (U.S. value: approximately seven cents).
"It isn't like I posed for it," says Romero. "I had no idea it existed until a friend pointed it out."
Romero appears in the lower half of the stamp, along with two of his students. The top half features another American volunteer teacher and his class. The face of King Mswati III appears in the upper left corner.
Appearing on a foreign country's stamp is by no means his only Swaziland memory. He also held a mini-Husky reunion--with Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, '72, '74, of all people, who happened to be in the country on vacation. A Peace Corps official who knew both were UW grads arranged the meeting. "I never thought I'd get to meet the mayor," he says, "especially being so far from Seattle."
Romero also has vivid memories of life in Swaziland. To begin with, the day he arrived, it was 114 degrees. The area he was assigned to was stricken by drought and tropical diseases, including cholera and malaria.
And then there were the mosquitoes. "I had heard the stories, but I didn't believe them," he says. "After dark, though, it was like breathing mosquitoes, there were so many. I even had them inside the mosquito net I wore over my head."
He learned how to live on getting fresh water supplies only three days a week and how to take a "bath" with a drinking cup. The nearest electricity was in a town about 12 miles away.
After nine months of teaching in a remote part of the country, he transferred to the capital of Mbabane, where he got to put his architecture skills to good use, designing and building the pavilion where the 25th anniversary of the Peace Corps celebrations were held. He also designed and built a farmers' market.
It was in Mbabane that a friend showed him the stamp. "Everyone else knew but me," says Romero, who came to the UW after three years at Western Washington University.
While his memories will live forever, you could also say Romero has left his stamp on Swaziland. --Jon Marmor
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