In 1969, when I was a Peace Corps trainee, psychologists, or social workers, or psychiatrists–mental practitioners of some sort–still had integral roles on training staffs.  I actually went through two training classes for two different countries (that’s a different story) and can attest that at least from a trainee’s point of view, what that role was was never quite clear.  Most of the time they just sat there, “observing.”  (In Ghana, our shrink didn’t even do that.)  Training methods had at least progressed past the dreaded knock on the door in the middle of the night announcing the “de-selection” of some hapless trainee, so the need to attend to that immediate psychological shock had been disposed of.   Mostly, the presence of the resident shrink just lent a decidedly uncomfortable  “Big Brother” atmosphere to the entire proceedings.

I had direct conversations with the shrinks exactly two times, once during each training class.  When I decided to leave the first program, it was the psychiatrist whom I informed.  In Ghana, I never sought out the Ghanaian practitioner assigned to our class.  The only interaction with him I ever had was one he scheduled.  It lasted 15 minutes and it was one of 75 such interviews he set up, one with each trainee.  Among other things (I guess), his observations informed staff decisions on where trainees would be posted.

I have no idea what vibes I was giving off during those three summer months in 1969, but based on that single 15-minute session, the learned doctor decided I was “wild.”  (His word, as related to me later by my headmaster.)  This created a problem for the training staff because I had had a chance to visit to Kumasi, the political and cultural heart of the great Ashanti Kingdom, fallen in love with the place, and decided I wanted to live there.  It would be an urban posting, one of the coveted few.  The staff had the good sense to try and accommodate trainees’ posting requests so there would be a better chance they’d stay, but apparently Kumasi presented problems in my case.  There was a concern that my “wild” self woud be vulnerable to the temptations of the wicked city.  When the assignments were announced and I learned that I was indeed being given a job at Kumasi High School, I was overjoyed, but my celebratory mood was tempered by the words of Kofi Boakye, my language teacher.  Leaning in close, he said, “Remember Ralph, everybody in Kumasi wants  money.  The girls want money, the boys want money….” My heart lept into my throat at those words.  “The boys want money”?  Had somebody figured out I was gay?  Were they just taking their chances on me, giving me enough rope to hang myself?

I needn’t have worried on that score.  To protect me from my own rope, I was cosseted with extra care.  My roommate would be an older guy, a second-year volunteer well into his 30s who projected great maturity and a settled outlook on life.  I was co-placed in Kumasi with Michele, a cute girl who would be my American social outlet.  And to be extra safe, the Peace Corps, in all its wisdom, placed this completely closeted, 24-year-old jug of gay hormones at a boys’ secondary school.

Michele became a great and life-long friend.  The roommate, once he saw  that I wasn’t inclined to share in his marijuana habit, early-terminated.  And Kumasi High School was and remains my definition of  heaven and hell in one package.

So much for the 15-minute talk with a Ghanaian shrink.  More to come.