Marjorie Michelmore Peace Corps Postcard, Part IV (Nigeria)
Meanwhile back at Murray Frank’s home, the PCVs had assembled and were trying to understand the intense reaction of the Nigerians. Nigeria, newly independent, was surrounded, as Murray put it, “with the visages of the colonial period, including and especially white people who symbolized a colonial past.”
What had quickly emerged in Nigeria was a self-image based on their new freedom, especially among the young intellectuals. These students and others were asking: how could the Americans help us if they were writing letters home about them?
While many of the new PCVs had experienced student protests in the U.S. they were still unprepared for what was directed at them. Could they survive the postcard? They didn’t know. They began to ask themselves: why stay when so many students wanted them to leave?
Other PCVs said. We know Nigeria needs teachers. We can teach. We are not imperialists, nor CIA agents, nor ugly Americans. We know who we are. We can make a difference.
In the long afternoon and night of discussion, Murray Frank was the discussion leader, moving the Volunteers from one hard point to the next. These young people were on the firing line, Murray knew, and they had to decide themselves.
And they were all young. Murray was the oldest in the room, only 34. Also, they were all newly transplanted in a new country, confronted with a situation that they had no preparation for, but they had, Murray recalls, “spirit and maturity.”
They decided to stay. They decided to tough it out.
That decision by this group of “Kennedy Kids” made all the difference in their lives, and in fact, made all the difference in the future of the Peace Corps. If they had ‘cut and run,’ giving up at the first brush up against a hostile group of HCNs who did not know the reason these Americans were in Nigeria, it is a good chance that the fledgling Peace Corps would not have survived those few months of its existence.
The next day in Nigeria,the next day in America, Marjorie’s postcard appeared in every newspaper; it was reported on the radio, and it was seen on television. The whole world knew what had happened in Africa with this young Peace Corps Volunteer. Within days, former president Eisenhower would make a political speech in Madison Square Garden in which he said that the U.S. should send Peace Corps Volunteers to the moon since it was also an underdeveloped country and they could do less harm there.
Out in Ibadan, Murray and his Nigerian Volunteers waited for directives from Washington, waited from advice from the Peace Corps HQ. There was no cable traffic from D.C.
Finally, a telegram arrived. It was from the State Department back in Washington, D.C. The cable asked only one question: “Were there really over 256 words on one side of the postcard?”
Don’t you just love that?
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