Gifts Peace Corps Gave Me (Turkey)
by Stephen Franklin (Turkey 1968-70)
I entered the world literally in Peace Corps in the 1960s.
Suzanne and I lived in a small, somewhat isolated village in the middle of Turkey, a place at the end of a long dry plain and a muddy road up a mountain. We had running water one day a week, and sometimes electricity, and the village was closed to the world in the winter when the snow brought the wolves down from the higher places, and if a bus tried to get to the next biggest city, it rode over the fields because they were easier to maneuver than the roads.
Later we moved to Istanbul and ran an orphanage for 40 boys by ourselves. We learned about kindness, humanity and compassion for others. We learned about the tremendous power of hope and the great downward pressure of poverty and the cruelty of bureaucracies and the infinite cruelty of being trapped in where you were with no escape. We learned about us and them, and the incredible beauty of another culture and another place, and the absolute joy of discovering all of life that you haven’t encountered before.
In embassy after embassy, I always met someone, who was in the Peace Corps and sometimes it was the ambassador. I’ve met teachers and social workers and others working across the globe doing work that somehow had its roots in their days in the Peace Corps.
I think we shared this part of us that had floated out into the world and continued to float among its humanity. I know we were changed utterly. One day on a long all-night bus ride on a very cheap bus from our village across the country, Suzanne sat holding a child in the back of the bus for a weary young mother. Her embrace of others and empathy has never changed. I know I can live anywhere and feel at home and that struck me one day in Afghanistan surrounded by the Taliban and living on nothing. But I also know that I am enriched and fulfilled when I am doing something that feels right and helping someone else and that’s the gift the Peace Corps gave me. And so, talk of not allowing the Peace Corps to thrive and to continue seems a terrible terrible mistake to me.
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Beautifully, passionately said, and better than I could express it, even knowing the same feelings of connectedness, compassion, and love of the people and places the Peace Corps took us or led us to. Thank you.
Our lives have gone in entirely different directions since we met in Peace Corps training… I now live in the small place in eastern Oregon where I came to spend one year–
fifty years ago. But the lessons I learned in Turkey and the Peace Corps were the same lessons you learned, and I can see parallels in our distant lives across continents and oceans.