Short Works about the Peace Corps Experience

Including essays, letters home, poetry, a song and Journals of Peace.

1
Finding “Teranga” from Senegal to the streets of Paris by Carrie Knowlton (Senegal)
2
“Tequila and Temblors“ by John Krauskopf (Iran)
3
“When the Right Hand Washes the Left” by David Schickele (Nigeria)
4
“The Non-Matrixed Wife” by Susan O’Neill (Venezuela)
5
“Back at Site” by Andy Trincia (Romania)
6
Excerpt: LEARNING TO SEE by Gary Engelberg (Senegal)
7
So well remembered — Judith & Michael Jerald (Turkey)
8
Sixth Prize Peace Corps Fund Award: “A Nice Black Shirt” by Nathan Hecht (Peru)
9
Sixth Prize Peace Corps Fund Award: “Hyena Man” by Jeanne D’Haem (Somalia)
10
Fifth Prize Peace Corps Fund Award: “Where Carbs Mean Friendship” by Lucas Gosdin (Peru)

Finding “Teranga” from Senegal to the streets of Paris by Carrie Knowlton (Senegal)

  Teranga by Carrie Knowlton (Senegal 1999-01) • You can fall in love with a person, but you can also fall in love with moments in time, the sounds of drums on the beach, and roosters crowing while women pound millet at dawn. You can fall in love with the way the Atlantic Ocean smells at sunset and the way all those things come together to become your memory of a place. After two and a half years living in Senegal while serving in the Peace Corps, I was smitten. Senegal is that bump that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean just below the Sahara desert on the western-most tip of Africa. There is a beach in the capital, Dakar, where you can sit and eat a plate of fish and rice, watch the sunset, and listen to drumming and the call to prayer. The country is 92% Muslim and French is . . .

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“Tequila and Temblors“ by John Krauskopf (Iran)

  Tequila and Temblors by John Krauskopf (Iran 1965–67) PEACE CORPS TRAINING was intensive and stressful. Superficially, it seemed a lot like the college culture most of us had recently left. Walking around the University of Texas campus in Austin had a familiar feel since we lived in a dorm and attended classes much like any other students. However, the regimentation of fourteen-hour days was an unwelcome novelty. Back at the University of Michigan, when I put in a fourteen-hour day or pulled an all-nighter, I had arranged that torture for myself. In the Peace Corps training program, we surrendered complete control of our waking hours. Classes started at 7:00 am, and every minute was programmed until at least 9:00 pm. In the third week, there was a mini-revolt over the lack of time to go to the store or take care of personal business. The staff seemed to be . . .

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“When the Right Hand Washes the Left” by David Schickele (Nigeria)

  David G. Schickele first presented his retrospective view of Volunteer service in a speech given at Swarthmore College in 1963 that was printed in the Swarthmore College Bulletin. At the time, there was great interest on college campuses about the Peace Corps and early RPCVs were frequently asked to write or speak on their college campuses about their experiences. A 1958 graduate of Swarthmore, Schickele worked as a freelance professional violinist before joining the Peace Corps in 1961. After his tour, he would, with Roger Landrum make a documentary film on the Peace Corps in Nigeria called “Give Me A Riddle” that was for Peace Corps recruitment but was never really used by the agency. The film was perhaps too honest a representation of Peace Corps Volunteers life overseas and the agency couldn’t handle it. However, the Peace Corps did pick up Schickele’s essay in the Swarthmore College Bulletin and reprinted it . . .

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“The Non-Matrixed Wife” by Susan O’Neill (Venezuela)

When Joseph Blatchford was appointed the director of the Peace Corps in May of 1969 he brought with him a set of “New Directions” to improve the agency. Whether these directives were new or not is endlessly argued, but what was clear was this: Blatchford wanted skilled Volunteers, i.e. “blue-collar workers, experienced teachers, businessman, and farmers.” While the Peace Corps has always found it difficult to recruit large numbers of such “skilled” Volunteers, Blatchford and his staff came up with the idea of recruiting married couples with children. One of the couples would be a Volunteer and the other (usually the wife) would be — in Peace Corps jargon — the “non-matrixed” spouse. The kids would just be kids. It would be in this way, Blatchford thought, that the Peace Corps could recruit older, more mature, experienced, and skilled PCVs. And the Peace Corps would stop being just “BA generalists” . . .

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“Back at Site” by Andy Trincia (Romania)

   Back at Site by Andy Trincia (Romania 2002-2004) In Peace Corps vernacular, it’s called “site.” That’s where you live, your base. It could be a remote village, a crossroads town, even a big city. During two years of service, Peace Corps Volunteers utter that word countless times. “Heading back to site,” we’d say. For some, site was a blip on life’s radar. For me, it became a pivotal place – and a home. Now, 15 years later, I’m once again living in Timișoara, Romania. Back at site. Some cities are great to visit while others just give you a certain feel, a sense of comfort, a vibe that you could live there. That’s how Timișoara (pronounced Tim-ee-shwoara) was for me. I remember the first time I saw Victory Square (Piaţa Victoriei) in the city’s core. Hopping off a train at the drab railway station and walking a mile down . . .

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Excerpt: LEARNING TO SEE by Gary Engelberg (Senegal)

“Test of Time”is an excerpt from Learning to See,  a collection of memoirs and short stories about the culture of Senegal and the experiences of Gary Engelbery there. — JC • TEST OF TIME by Gary  Engelberg (Senegal 1965–67)  June 2003:  A lone podium in the middle of the field faced an expanse of tents that protected about 300 guests from the African sun. The Peace Corps Director who was also a former Senegal volunteer, had invited me to speak at the swearing in ceremony of the new Peace Corps Volunteers in Senegal. It was a special day because it was also the 40th anniversary of Peace Corps in Senegal.  The first volunteers had arrived in 1963. I was in the third group that came in 1965 and had been in Senegal ever since. So the Director asked me, as the “dean” of former volunteers, to speak in the name of . . .

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So well remembered — Judith & Michael Jerald (Turkey)

I received a note from Ken Hill (Turkey 1965-67) about the Instagram message from Judith Jerald (Turkey 1965-67) that he received and I contacted Judith who wrote back, “There are not many people who would be interested in this, but since many of you may have had similar experiences, I am sending it along to you.  It touched my heart and confirmed for me, once again, that although we were ( mostly) very young Volunteers, we perhaps had more of an impact on our students and neighbors than we thought at the time. It has been 50 years since we left Turkey, so I find this pretty amazing. Meral found me on Instagram, and the conversation we had is below.” • Hi Dear Judith this is Meral from Kozan.  | If you are my teacher I will be very happy to find you. Because you have affected very much to our life . . .

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Sixth Prize Peace Corps Fund Award: “A Nice Black Shirt” by Nathan Hecht (Peru)

  Nathan Hecht (Peru 2012-15) was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the high Andes Mountains near Huaraz, Peru. Nathan worked on projects to promote community environmental management, including reforestation through agroforestry, trash management, environmental education, and, in his third year, climate change adaptation and water quality monitoring with The Mountain Institute. Originally from La Crosse, WI, he is now a graduate student at the University of Minnesota studying sustainable agriculture and diversified farming systems.   • A Nice Black Shirt by Nathan Hecht “I DON’T HAVE a nice, black shirt.” A familiar feeling of anxious uncertainty rose as I realized I didn’t know if Quechua people even wore black to funerals. “White is okay, Natan,” my host mother said kindly, “for the angels.” My mind grasped at thoughts of training on cultural integration, the historical influences of Christianity in Peru, the Spanish word for “condolences,” as I brushed a layer . . .

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Sixth Prize Peace Corps Fund Award: “Hyena Man” by Jeanne D’Haem (Somalia)

  Jeanne D’Haem, Ph.D. (Somalia 1968-70) is currently an associate professor of Special Education and Counselling at William Paterson University in New Jersey. She was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Somalia. She served as an English and math teacher in Arabsiyo and Hargeisa, and taught adult education classes and sponsored the first Girl Guide troop in Hargeisa. Jeanne was a director of special services and a special education teacher for over thirty years. As a writer, she has published two prize-winning books and numerous journal articles. The Last Camel, (1997) published by The Red Sea Press won the Peace Corps Paul Cowan Peace Corps Writers Award for nonfiction. Desert Dawn with Waris Dirie (2001) has been translated into more than twenty languages. It was on the best seller list in Germany for over a year where it was awarded the Corine Prize for nonfiction. Her most recent book is Inclusion: The Dream . . .

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Fifth Prize Peace Corps Fund Award: “Where Carbs Mean Friendship” by Lucas Gosdin (Peru)

    Lucas Gosdin (Peru 2013-15) served as a community health volunteer in Peru where he had two host families and lots of friends. He loves to visit them and communicate with them through WhatsApp. Lucas never learned how to make good ceviche, but he can make a lot of delicious dishes you have never heard of. Lucas is a doctoral student studying maternal and child nutrition at Emory University. He also conducts research in Peru.   •   Where Carbs Mean Friendship by Lucas Gosdin EVERY GUEST KNOWS that refusing food might be considered rude. Now imagine being in a place where friendship is measured in food. After hugging me and calling me her new son, the first question my host mother, Teo, asked was, “Qué no te gusta comer?” — what don’t you like to eat? After living in Peru for a few months of training, I knew the connotation . . .

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