Jim Brown (Colombia 1962-64) served as a PE instructor and coach in Bucaramanga, Colombia, and the other day he sent me this short piece about his group of “PE Guys.” He had read it to a gathering of twenty-nine other Colombia RPCVs, and their spouses and adult children, who had gathered for a reunion at the National Conference Center, near Leesburg, Virginia. Since his Peace Corps years, Jim has been a coach, college professor, writer, and editor. He lives now in Atlanta with his wife, Arlene, where they produce health, medicine, and sports content for various organizations, including the Cleveland Clinic, the Duke School of Medicine, and the Steadman-Philippon Research Institute in Vail. Thanks, Jim, for sending us, When the “PE Guys” Arrived in Bogota.
When we - the “PE Guys” - arrived in Bogota in January of 1963, the English teaching part of the group was already there after training with us in El Paso. They were clearly superior to our guys. They knew it and we knew it, but let’s face it, we did not exactly set the bar at a height that couldn’t be cleared.
The Colombia IV English teachers were well educated, had wonderful social skills, and they dressed as young professionals, which they were. To keep us in our place, they made up this curious, secret language they liked to call Spanish.
The PE guys, on the other hand, had poor language skills - in English. Spanish was not even part of the conversation.
Our clothes: Gym shorts and tennis shoes. That’s it, although on more formal occasions, we also wore T-shirts.
What limited social skills we had were further eroded when Peace Corps officials sent us off to live together in a hot, crowded tent during survival training in a Puerto Rican jungle before departing for Bogota. It was experience from which some never recovered.
The rest of us survived, but with a mentality that eating utensils weren’t really that necessary and that personal hygiene was a novel option, an attitude that seemed to limit our effectiveness in the sophisticated cities of our host country.
In Bogota, a reception was arranged for both the English teachers and “the PE guys” (a less-than-respectful name, I might add) at the U.S. Embassy.
The official purpose was to welcome our groups to Colombia, but the actual purpose (we heard) was for U.S. and Colombian officials to make a final decision on whether our PE group was ready, willing, or able to do the job for which it had been trained. If we could have just gone one-for-three that night, their expectations would have been exceeded.
At 7:00 pm, we arrived at the Embassy.
By 8:00, all the food was gone - the first time in the history of the U.S. Embassy this sort of thing had happened.
By 9:00, and I won’t mention names ….. okay, I will, Don Curry, Mike Town, Mike Haviland, Loyd Kepferle, and others had discovered the Ambassador’s personal humidor containing expensive Cuban and Colombian cigars. Cigars not being smoked were being stuffed into pockets.
By 10:00, the English teachers had moved over to the dark side and demonstrated to the jocks how to seriously deplete one of the great wine inventories in Latin America.
All in all, it was a miserable, unacceptable performance. Had it been a high school final exam, we’d have all gone to summer school and taken the English teachers down with us.
But Ellis Carrasco, our Peace Corps PE director, using every one of his world-class diplomatic skills, convinced officials from both countries that his “PE guys” were just having a bad night.
For his loyalty, Ellis was rewarded with the privilege of bailing us out of trouble on a regular basis for the next two years. He got reinforcements a year into the project from the PE men and women of Colombia XIV. They weren’t much better.
- Jim Brown (Colombia IV PE Guy)