Monday, November 21
9:24 pm

MALAYSIA, 1967

Tom, the Peace Corps Regional Representative, had delivered several of us to our sites that day. I was last, the end of the line, the ulu, “in the sticks,” “up river.” Well, Iowa, my home, was ulu in the U.S. too, I thought. It was dusk, “Tom, why not stay here for the night?” “Nope, gotta get back to town,” as he climbed back in the Land Rover.

Evening. Might as well take a stroll. “Duduk demana?” Oh, Jeez, I know the words (Where do you sit?), but not the meaning! And that was the first day.

Total immersion in a new culture. Ever an outsider, but not quite alien. The only white man some had seen up close - are you healthy? Why is your skin so pale? Why do the little hairs grow on your skin, as little children sometimes tried to pluck at them. They said that was making peace. Maybe, but I had no comparison for that. They said the Peace Corps was idealistic service. I saw the Peace Corps as working with Ranjit, Choy, Hwa, Lian, Nasir, Cheah, Sharani, Noria, and Tan to teach our students.

The experience sticks with you. It doesn’t end on returning, perhaps it just begins. Hardly a day goes by that in some way I am reminded of those times and the lessons that another culture teaches.

I taught math to Junior High students. Helped run my school’s first Sports Day (ever hear of a 300 meter running track?). Built the school library (Dewey Decimals even!). Helped institute an overnight exchange visit with a nearby school in Thailand. Worked hard on cross-country. Got malaria (everybody had malaria in my town). Totally frustrated sometimes. Celebration at other times. I did things I didn’t know I could do, and haven’t done since. The privilege of service. One of life’s great adventures. And I would do it all again in a flash!