Traveling to Accra to visit the Peace Corps office was not something I or anyone else in Ghana with me did very often. The Peace Corps’ approach to volunteer acculturation at the time was to counsel us, strongly, to forget we were in the Peace Corps once we were at our job sites.  Teachers were to consider themselves first as employees of the Ministry of Education.  We’d get an occasional newsletter from Accra, and of course our living allowances, and we always knew we could call on Accra in a pinch.  But today’s regimen of regular and numerous volunteer site visits expected of programming and medical staff did not exist.  This state of affairs was all we volunteers knew back in 1969, and it was just fine with us.  Most of us felt we were there to learn about Ghana, and Peace Corps’ hands-off policy worked toward that goal very well.

But since I was basically ignorant of the Peace Corps bureaucracy in Accra, when I presented myself to begin the process of early termination I had no idea whom to go to or ask for.  I flagged down the first person I saw, a  man named Whit Foster (that’s his real name–to this day I don’t know what his job was), and told him I needed to leave.  He invited me into his office to talk.  So I talked.  And talked and talked and talked.  The sad story about my relationship with Kofi poured out of me in its entirety for the very first time.  I knew I’d be kicked out for telling the Peace Corps I was gay anyway, so I had nothing to lose in spilling all the details.  I also mentioned the complications I faced back home, either with the draft or with coming out to my parents–huge, potentially life-changing situations in themselves which seemed small potatoes compared to the emotional abyss into which I had fallen.

And then a miracle happened.  Whit Foster wasn’t shocked.  When I was done spilling my guts, he said, “You know, Ralph, this happens all the time.  Volunteers are always falling in love with their students.  It’s not always same-sex, but crushes are very common.”   Suddenly a weight lifted.  I wasn’t a freak, and the Peace Corps, at least in the person of Whit Foster, wasn’t frowning at me and ushering me to the first flight out.  All I had was a “crush,” and it was “common,” and the fact that it was homosexual wasn’t even an issue.  And Whit never made me feel like a fool or a silly kid for having come to such a  juncture.  He treated me with the utmost respect, as if my insane decision to early terminate facing all that at home  made perfect sense.  On that score, all he said was that he needed to look at some administrative details, check into flights, etc., and that I should come back to the office the next day.  I did as instructed, and was told again to return on the morrow.  Meanwhile, as was Whit’s obvious intention, I began to decompress in Accra.  I started having some fun with the various world travelers who frequented the Peace Corps hostel (after nearly a year and a half in the country, I finally visited one of Accra’s fabulous dance bars–terrazzo-floored open-air pavillions with great local cover bands who played the latest music from around the world and dared you to sit still under that tropical night sky while being pounded by those 6-foot speakers).  After just a few days of taking care of myself, my problems back in Kumasi and my drastic solution to them fell into proper perspective and I was able clearly to see the shape I had gotten myself into, and what I needed to do about it.  I never even went back to see Whit for a last time–I just went back to Kumasi in a vastly improved state of mind, able to deal.  I have always regretted losing contact with Whit Foster and never having thanked him properly for saving me from myself.  The humane way he handled me at my moment of extreme crisis exemplifies the very best of the Peace Corps and was my beacon in the years to come, when I worked at the agency, and had to make decisions of my own about how to treat people.  He will always be in my debt.

My absence from Kumasi turned out to be a good thing for both Kofi and me.  I returned refreshed; he was, of course, overjoyed at my decision not to leave early, and he had made a decision of his own:  if by some miracle I decided to stay, he would find another place to live.  (By now he was finished with school and he was no longer a student.)  We both knew that our friendship was a good thing, but that we hurt each other badly in too-close proximity.  We both agreed that time apart, with frequent visits, would work.  And that is the happy way I spent my final months as a Peace Corps volunteer.  I extended for a bit after my 1969 cohort left to help my friend and landlord, Fred Bampoe, with a French translation project he needed done.  I was a free agent and began visiting Accra every other weekend just to keep myself sane. I had a great time, and Kofi and I were able to enjoy our days together in a happy and healthy way.

Ah, but the draft!  It wasn’t done with me yet.

My board decided to change my status to 1-A as my Peace Corps assignment came to an end, a mere four months prior to my reaching the the magic, draft-free age of 26.  Even my rock-ribbed mother thought this was too much, so she called the draft office and spoke with that same, sainted Mrs. Pearl, who had erased my name from the June, 1969 call when she gave the me Conscientious Objector  forms.  Mrs. Pearl counseled my mother that I should appeal the 1-A from overseas.  Since all draft business at that distance required a 60-day turnaround instead of the standard 30, I would turn 26 during the appeal process and I would be home free.  An appeal required a personal appearance before the draft board, however, so that meant a trip home.  I asked the Peace Corps office if they would pay for a trip to the States for that purpose and of course they refused.

So where most volunteers returning home cash in their Peace Corps-issued tickets and then add the standard 1/3 of their readjustment allowance to the ticket money to finance a rambling and fun trip home, I had no choice but to use my 1/3 readjustment to pay for this trip to deal with the draft.  I arrived at Dulles.  As soon as I got in the car, my mother turned to me and said, “You sure must have been happy to get that letter!”  I was jet-lagged.  My nearest points of reference were still thousands of miles away.  I had this scary meeting before me to worry about.  Foggy and disjointed as my thinking may be, I was pretty sure I had no idea what my mother was talking about.  “What letter?” I asked.  “The letter from the draft board.  They extended your deferment!”

While I was in Accra getting ready for this trip home to appeal my 1-A, a letter notifying me of my re-instated deferment arrived in Kumasi.  There I sat, back in DC, one-third of my readjustment allowance poorer, for no earthly reason.  I  spent about 10 days at home with my parents, then returned to Ghana, read the damn letter, and  finished out my translating job for Fred.  In November, 1971,  I came home home again, this time for good.

This ends my gay Peace Corps draft drama.  My education continued, of course.  I eventually paid a price  for all that beautiful but completely impractical self-absorption in college, and didn’t really get “started” in life until I was around 30.  I spent the 70s floundering, basically–but I had fun!

Next time:  an epilogue.