My Favorite Mad Man: Harris Wofford, Part Four

That summer in Washington changed my life. It changed all our lives in one way or the other, but in most respects it was a peaceful few months. We were back on a college campus; we were living a simple routine of early morning exercises, breakfast, classes, lectures, and beers in a bar late at night. We had some money in our pockets, and we had little responsibility. It was a lovely time, and those of us who might worry, worried about being de-selected, not that we knew much about that process. We all thought we were going to Africa once this silly Training thing was over. For the most part it was vacation time. Only after two years in Addis Ababa, coming back and working for the agency, and going to Training sessions for new Volunteers to Ethiopia, did I find Training useful. Now, I knew, something about the Empire, and how to put into context what the academics were telling me about the country.  

There were, however, amusing moments. I remember one August afternoon sitting on the college quad and seeing Bob Poole come charging across the lawn. Poole was one of our Associate Directors for Ethiopia and he stopped off at Training every once in a while for some reason or the other. He had been a football player at Yale, then coach at a eastern  prep school, and while he turned out to be a good guy, I wasn’t giving him much rope. I should have been nicer, but I had a reason.

When we arrived in Ethiopia I found him early in our tour in the Peace Corps office checking a map of the provinces and trying to decide, he told me, what PCVs he would visit. His decision was based on the part of the country he wanted to see, not what the Volunteers might need or want. Bob left Addis Ababa after a few months, went to open the new Peace Corps project in Malawi, and from there back to Washington as head of the African region. From the Peace Corps he went onto the Smithsonian. Years later, he would died tragically in a car accident in Kenya while working for a wildlife environmental group.

But on that long ago afternoon, Poole came charging across the Quad towards us carrying this bulky brown briefcase as if he were rushing home from the office.  He was, however, wearing shorts (he was one of those guys who always wore shorts that summer) and he had short muscular legs that made him resemble, from a distance, a wild bowling ball). Anyway, he was charging over to where three of us  were sitting on the grass late on a weekend afternoon. He arrived all out of breath and plopped down his thick briefcase and I had a fleeting worrisome moment thinking, ‘What’s this about?” and then he popped it open and reaching inside pulled out a football and asked wistfully, “anyone want to play catch?”

Welcome to the Peace Corps!

End of Part Four

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