Talking with Meghan Elizabeth Kallman about THE DEATH OF IDEALISM

 

 

Meghan Elizabeth Kallman

Meghan Elizabeth Kallman is a graduate of Smith College with an MA from the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. from Brown. She lives in Pawtucket, RI where she is on the City Council, and where she lives with her husband Tim. (Neither of them were PCVs.) She is also an assistant professor at the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. The Death of Idealism: Development and Anti-Politics in the Peace Corps is Meghan’s second academic book. It was published this April by Columbia University Press in New York. In her acknowledgment, she writes, “I deeply, deeply appreciate the many Peace Corps volunteers and staff who permitted me to sit in, take notes, observe, pry, and explore their experiences and their gatherings. In giving me access, you gave me a gift.”

In her book, Meghan mentions that she visited three different Peace Corps countries, that she interviewed 142 PCVs and RPCVs, staff, and agency officials, and she has survey results from 2,800 RPCVs. Today there are an estimated 250,000 former Volunteers and Staff. Kallman’s book, therefore, is based on the opinions of approximately 1/2 of 1% of all PCVs and Staff.

In her book, Kallman sums up by making this point about PCVs: “Peace Corps volunteers seem to exemplify the desire to make the world a better place. Yet despite being one of history’s clearest cases of organized idealism, the Peace Corps has, in practice, ended up cultivating very different outcomes among its volunteers. By the time they return from the Peace Corps, volunteers exhibit surprising shifts in their political and professional consciousness. Rather than developing a systemic perspective on development and poverty, they tend instead to focus on individual behavior; they see professions as the only legitimate source of political and social power. They have lost their idealism, and their convictions and beliefs have been reshaped along the way.”

Doctor Kallman, what is your field of study?

I am a sociologist (my Ph.D. is in sociology), but I teach in an interdisciplinary program in the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development at UMASS Boston.

Did you ever think of joining the Peace Corps?

I did consider it, and for a number of reasons, it wasn’t the right fit. I’ve lived abroad several times; a few years each in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic. In Bolivia, I was working for two community NGOs, one of which was binational. In the Dominican Republic, I was employed teaching English.

What led you to decide to write a book about the agency?

The Peace Corps is a bit of an enigma, and it’s a pretty interesting illustration of a few things that I was interested in. The first is development: how does the US think about development, how has that changed over time, and why does it matter? The second question is about people’s values and politics: how are those shaped by the organizations in which they participate? Organizations are not passive or neutral structures. Rather, they are always teaching us lessons and socializing us, sometimes very tacitly. They are teaching us about what is “good” and what is “bad”; they are shaping how we think about the world, just by how they themselves operate and what values they instill. This is true of the Peace Corps, and of every other organization. Those things, combined, are why the Peace Corps is a very interesting case study. The book is about the pressures of rationalization (a certain set of social/cultural values) in development, and while it’s a story about the Peace Corps, it’s also a story about bureaucratic pressures and the consequences they have. In other words, it’s also a story about more than the Peace Corps–it’s a story about development and governance as well.

I’ll also note that this is a question that I spent much of the first chapter of the book talking about, so I definitely think that it would be worth looking at that. (“Why the Peace Corps?” starts on page 12).

How many RPCVs did you interview?

The book is based on data from 142 interviews, and from a survey of more than 2,800 respondents, in addition to document analysis. Check out the book’s methodology (starting on page 237). It’s got a full breakdown of who I talked to and who participated in the survey.

What led you to think that Volunteers were ‘idealistic’ and that’s why they became Volunteers.

This is a hard question to answer briefly since there’s a whole section of the book on it (in Chapter 1, especially starting on page 45). In short, because the data says so. I started the project exploring a slightly different angle of the Peace Corps, and it became clear both during the pilot project and then during the data collection itself, that idealism and values were massively important factors in people’s experiences of service. Obviously not everyone who participates in a program feels the same way about it (in other words, there are always outliers even when there are also clear patterns) but there is overwhelming evidence that Peace Corps volunteers are idealistic—particularly so in the early years of the program. The first chapter of the book is dedicated to this question specifically.

There have been, from my accounting, about 70 memoirs written by RPCVs about their experience. Which ones do you remember as best telling the story of the experience?

I think it depends on what story people are looking for. Memoirs are one version of storytelling —one that emphasizes a personal experience, and personal learning. I enjoyed [Moritz] Thomsen’s Living Poor (and it’s cited a few times as well in my own book). But there is also other work on the Peace Corps — empirical studies that are designed to help us learn about the organization through social science, and there are some good pieces there, too. Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman [NRPCV–All You Need Is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s] published some work in that vein. So, there’s not a “best” in my perspective; there are different accounts that are talking about different dimensions of the organization and/or the experience.

In researching the history of the agency, where did you read where Volunteers were considered  — by them — as having been idealists when they joined the agency.

This comes from both the interview and quantitative data within my study. In other words, volunteers self-identify as idealists (qualitative and quantitative data on this can be found in Chapter 1). But staff (both historically and contemporarily) also sees them, idealists, as the data also shows. Check out the recruiting posters in chapter 1 as well, for the ways in which the PC’s formal documents reflect this orientation. Kennedy’s speech at Michigan Union is another instance of that. Here’s another example: www.michiganradio.org/post/kennedy-and-peace-corps-idealism-ground. They abound.

Would you judge the Peace Corps as a failure for not living up to its ambitions?

It is not my intention to evaluate the Peace Corps as a “good” organization or as a “bad” one; I don’t think that’s helpful. Rather, I am interested in using the experiences of volunteers to understand an ongoing social process that is larger than the agency itself, and that has implications for how American society sees and undertakes social change work, especially development. Additionally, the Peace Corps does not necessarily have a single set of ambitions — it has an explicit 3-pronged mission statement, but also answers to a set of less explicit state pressures (see chapter 2). It is shaped by the pressures of bureaucratization and rationalization, which is the focus of the book. In other words, something can only fail relative to a specific set of goals, and the Peace Corps has always had multiple sets of goals. So I don’t see that language of “failure” or “success” as helpful necessarily–to me, the interesting thing is trying to understand why the organization behaves as it does, and what the consequences are for its volunteers and for development and social change. The conclusion of the book takes up this question very directly.

Now that all Volunteers have been called home, would you suggest that the agency be dissolved for not having lived up to its expectations?

You seem to assume that I think the Peace Corps has not lived up to its expectations. That is not my point at all — see above.

It is estimated that former Volunteers have invested well over two million dollars in one form or another in continued to support individuals, villages, and programs in their host country. What do you think are the motives for these RPCVs to still be connected, some after as many as 50 years, in their Peace Corps country? Why would you think that has happened?

I would guess that it’s because they feel very deeply connected to their host communities, committed to them, and grateful for their Peace Corps experience. Almost all the volunteers in my study valued their Peace Corps experience very deeply from a personal level. They report that they grew a great deal as a result of service, so these numbers don’t surprise me at all.

You write on page 23–24 that someone you met worked for 18 years with the Peace Corps. It was Shriver’s idea not to create a bureaucracy. To keep the ‘agency’ young and new. Do you think Shriver’s idea failed, or was it worth trying to keep?

I think it was an interesting experiment — and to me a worthwhile one. Having turnover creates a different set of problems from not having a turnover. A number of volunteers reported (and some of this is in the book) that having people turn over so fast meant that the Peace Corps was constantly reinventing the wheel. Obviously, Shriver was responding to a different set of challenges–of ingrained habits and the like. Organizations are complex, and I’m not sure there’s a silver bullet answer, but I do think that experimenting with new organizational processes is worthwhile. For what it’s worth, there are also a lot of ways to get around the 5-year rule, at least contemporarily: you can be hired as “local staff” if you’re an American under certain conditions; you can leave and come back; etc.

You write: [The Peace Corps]  is shaped by the pressures of bureaucratization and rationalization, which is the focus of the book. In other words, something can only fail relative to a specific set of goals, and the Peace Corps has always had multiple sets of goals. How were the Volunteers’ “shaped?” Did you think that the agency limited their progress and success?

The Peace Corps has effects on its volunteers, but I wouldn’t say the agency “limited” anything. It, like any other organization, socializes people. Chapter 5 is all about people’s experiences when they come home–it parses their patterns in jobs/careers, political ideas, and feelings of patriotism and connection to the US. For me, a word like “limit” implies some sort of the desired goal for PCVs when they return. I don’t think there is any such goal; PCVs do show clear patterns about if they continue volunteering (yes, they do), where (in very local settings), where they work (very often in education and other helping professions), and what their political views are (generally liberal-centrist, though with some interesting variations on specific issues). Those patterns are not coincidences.

The real point is that pressures within society and government (rationalization and professionalization) shape the organization, causing changes within it. The structure and the practices of the organization, in turn, shape the volunteers, teaching them specific and enduring lessons about what development is, where power lies, and how social change happens. Volunteers carry those beliefs with them out into the world, and they inform where they work and how they spend their time, over the rest of their lives. Chapter 4 is the chapter that focuses most on those processes–it analyzes the experience of volunteers in the field.

You write in the book that you spoke to 140 people of the “nearly 250,000 returned Peace Corps volunteers.” And that you had a survey of about 2,800 RPCVS. Now I saw recently where the Peace Corps says that there have been 235,000 RPCVs. Either way, you are basing your results and opinions on approximately 1/2% of 1% of the total Peace Corps population. Do you think there are enough examples to prove your case?  

If you look at the methods section, you’ll see the sampling methodology and a discussion about what’s called “representativeness” within the sample. No data is perfect; mine certainly isn’t. But see page 240 on the representativeness of the survey data — this is basically the idea that one can extrapolate general patterns from a subsample. This is also why the book uses what we call a “mixed methods” approach — different kinds of data both replicate and triangulate results. In other words, survey data only tells you so much because it’s multiple-choice, even when you have several thousand responses. That’s where the interviews come in, which help provide detail and texture that survey data does not. The documentary analysis (materials from the archives at the JFK Presidential Library & Museum, among other places) is what helps paint a picture of the organization’s understanding of itself — the face it presents to the world. This documentary data includes the text of the laws, excerpts from letters ([Harris] Wofford’s among them!), and hundreds upon hundreds of Peace Corps publications, including handbooks, annual reports, and the like.

I’d like to end by acknowledging that it’s very challenging to read a critical perspective on an experience that is dear to one’s heart. I know; I’ve been there! But to return to my former point: I’m not interested in whether the Peace Corps is “successful” or “failed” or “good” or “bad”. It’s not about whether any individual person is “good” or “bad” for their work there — Peace Corps volunteers and staff, in my experience, are for the most part authentically motivated by a desire to help. They are sincere. Those desires don’t always map onto the outcomes that one would wish to see, and the goal of the book is to understand why that is. I’m interested in why all these patterns keep playing out over time, where they come from, and what consequences they have. What can we learn from this about how to run better organizations, about how to take better care of our volunteers and host communities, or about the ways in which much bigger systems affect our efforts?

Thank you, Doctor Kallman for your time.

16 Comments

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  • I never knew that ‘Idealism Development’ had a life. I always thought of it more as a virus.
    Is it the ‘death of anti-politics’ or just ‘anti-politics’? Wonder if it makes a difference.

  • I admire her spunk to travel to three foreign countries and interview volunteers and staff. The survey sample should include people from different eras if it is to be relevant. I’ll reserve comments about her book though until I’ve read it. Great interview on your part, John. Oh, Peace Corps Bibliography (2018) notes 341 published Peace Corps Volunteer memoir, journals and letters.

  • Not worthy of my attention. In over a dozen years’ experience as a PCV, Recruiter, HQ staff, Country Director in three different countries and Board Chair of the Nat’l Peace Corps Association the only consistent generalization I could comfortably accept is that every Peace Corps experience is substantially different. That is also its primary value and a singular strength.

  • I wonder if her book includes what kind of social impact she would have liked to have seen RPCVs do as a result of their service. And then, what would Peace Corps need to do better or different to foster that? Also, would have been a bit more credible for me if she had served herself as a PCV. Lastly, wonder if she included different age cohorts–my husband and I served very recently as late career adults. Guess I have to read the book!

    • The book is available on Amazon – hard copy is $110! I assume it is designed for college course reading lists and university libraries. There is a kindle version at about $16.00…reduced from when I bought it at $27.00….

      I never studied sociology and the book is very heavy on its theory and terminology. She talks a lot about the United States being a “weak state”….never defines it and I guess presumes we all know what she means. I have a lot of questions, from what I was able to understand.

  • I’m struggling to be neutral and unbiased because it would seem cliche to be a wounded RPCV and lash out, but this sounds a lot like another pro-corporate narrative aimed at getting NGOs out of “shit hole” countries so the global intelligence communities, their proxy warlords and multinational corporations can do whatever the hell they damn well please whenever/wherever to whoever they want. Do I sound as if Peace Corps stole my idealism?

    I just looked up anti-politics: it is a made-for-Fox News talking point that will confuse their already brainwashed listeners into believing Peace Corps-types of liberals created poverty around the Third World, accidentally mind you, by accepting corrupt leaders’ invitations to free teachers, heath care workers and technical support in remote, under-served areas of the world’s poorest countries. Do-gooders become pawns for dictators who stifle development. It’s laughable and outrageous at the same time. It’s as meaningless as other conservative follies such as “drain the swamp” or “the new plantation” (socialist slavery of welfare and food stamps).

    First of all, idealism has multiple senses that I believe non-Peace Corps folks cannot fully appreciate in a nuanced or meaningful way. For example, one sense of “idealism lost” is elucidated by Peace Corps training mantra, “Don’t expect to see results (overnight)” or the Peace Corps meme, “Don’t just do something; stand there.” In both of these ideas, most Peace Corps Volunteers lose unrealistic idealism from firsthand experience that a fresh-faced volunteer cannot change the Third World overnight with an abundance of love and spunk. If this is Kallman’s “death of idealism” that RPCVs are repeatedly bringing up, then this amounts to a “tiny death” of idealism; but even more so, it amounts to a maturing of idealism regarding a do-gooder’s patience and empathy for the will of the impoverished than any meaningful “death of idealism”. Geesh!

    Therefore, the author is falsely connecting our personal lessons to a much larger anti-do-gooder narrative called “anti-politics”.
    For this reason, everyone needs to discredit the relatively new political concept of anti-politics. It reminds me of Trump’s “drain the swamp” narrative that led him to cancel “pandemic preparedness and response programs right before Covid-19 arrived.

    The author disingenuously repeated, “I’m not saying Peace Corps has failed,” but if you look up the meaning of “anti-politics” that is exactly what it means. Because I taught school in Gabon’s rain forest village of Mimongo I inadvertantly extended Bongo’s legitimacy and created the corrupt cultural norm that Gabon’s development problems are technical issues that require outsiders to solve. Really? No assumptions therein. All the data checks out?

    There was no mention of economic intervention and exploitation by oil, gas, mineral, lumber, or mining corporations of the wealthy nations. No mention of wealthy nation’s military or intelligence intervention in the developing world. There was no mention of unfavorable pressures by world banking megaliths that dissuade foreign investors from developing the most impoverished parts of the world. No mention of arms sales to dictators from wealthy countries. Nope. It’s the do-gooders’ fault for killing idealism one volunteer at a time.
    Or maybe it’s catchy and sells books, end of story.

  • The most important information, in my opinion, is her answer to John’s question. She worked in Bolivia with NGOs in with Co-ops. Then she worked as an English Teacher in the DR. These are my questions:

    1) What was her status in each country?
    2) Who funded her programs?
    3) What was her relationship with the US government?

    4) Did she know PCVs when she was working in either or both
    countries? In what capacity?

    5) Did she hear opinions about Peace Corps from HCNs…of all
    classes? What were they? IF not, how could she avoid hearing
    about Peace Corps in countries where Peace Corps has been
    for decades???

  • I glazed over about half way through this interview. Do I understand that her small sample of former volunteers
    tend to still be idealistic, if caught up in their daily lives? Nowhere that I can find does she mention one of the most important results and benefits for the USA of serving which is a cadre of people knowledgeable about and interested in other cultures. And did I miss, or did she discuss the life long contacts and friendships many
    volunteers have with people from their host countries.

  • I used to get upset when people would ask me if Peace Corps was a positive experience……….like as it if wasn’t, then they didn’t want to know anymore. As it if was as simple as that. I think PC was unique for each of us, and, in a way, I envied the TEFL volunteers (in Thailand) because they had structured jobs and a lot more group cohesion. I was a rural development volunteer at a time when, as I learned later, the American Ambassador to Thailand didn’t want volunteers our in the villages for fear of confrontations with insurgents. Soi we were urged by the Thais to falsify our forms. We had a choice to push back or go with the flow.

    I don’t know if other volunteers experienced that sort of dilemma or not (or even if they would have considered that sort of thing a dilemma) but I remember being disappointed that my group never had a countrywide meeting and that, after prepaying for the Peace Corps Directory in 1981 I think it was, being disappointed to see that the only volunteer from my group who was listed, aside from myself, was the rural development volunteer in the next province over, and he was probably in it because I’d submitted his name. . The Peace Corps Institute had made a great effort to list everyone who’d served, but they only got forty percent of the RPCVs who’d served as of that time, and I think the people who RPCVs studies in the 80s, and maybe even later, were taking their “random sample” from that directory. For example, In the late 1980s a husband/wife team did a study of RPCVs and determined that five years out of the Peace Corps they were making more money than former Fulbright scholars at a commensurate stage of their careers. If they’d had an actual random sample of RPCVs, I think they might have come to a different conclusion.

    So what is idealistic volunteer? The one who learns how to game the system? Or the one who butts his head against a wall and then is told he has to quit it for the benefit of everyone else? I guess I have to read her book. .Incidentally, I quit three months into my third Peace Corps year.

  • $110 is too much money to fool with politics. I’d rather talk with the other old farts in town at Tony’s garage on Friday mornings. Instead of paying, he offers free coffee and donuts. We can yell and wave our arms but we all come back the following week. I’m not sure what kind of high falutin’ politics that is.

    Oh, Joanne. I studied sociology as an undergraduate. My father, the salesman who had a tenth grade education, understood people better any PhD I’ve ever met.

  • Lawrence,
    I hope to see Tony’s garage in your next book!

    The truth be known, I had one chance to take an honor course and I choose One in Sociology….to my ever lasting regret. My dorm mates had to talk me down after each talk. I fled to the poli sci department..they were very understanding and accepted anyone into their department major courses
    ..I count myself lucky.

  • Actually, Tony is in my last book titled Neighbors: Oral History from Madera, California. Tony tells his interesting story of life in Mexico as well as Madera. So, by interviewing him, am I anti-politics or pro-politics or political or apolitical? Maybe pick-a-pack political?

  • Your books are full of interesting people whom you find and like and write beautifully about them. What made you decide to do an oral history of Madera and include Tony?

    Poli sci, back in the olden days, when I was studying, poli sci was not about boxing people up and labeling them or, god forbid, data. It really was about history and understanding how people organized around power or how to get power or how to keep power. I am army brat and my high school was Nurnberg American High. I really needed to know how did Hitler happen and how could we keep it from happening again. I had great professors, WWII veterans who had gotten their education on the G.I.Bill. I was lucky.

  • I’m giving a voice to the voiceless. Today I interviewed a man who has lived in Madera, homeless, for the past eighteen years.

    I was out of the L.A. area (Los Angeles) by the time I was eight years old. I don’t have a lot of memories. It wasn’t that great and I’ve blocked a lot out. My mother was a bi-polar prostitute in Watts. Her and my dad were fighting all the time. My dad would take me out of school and he would drive to a building and say, “Wait here.” Then, he’d come out with an application for a job. I’d read it to him and he’d tell me what to fill out. It was crazy. So, I had to stay with my grandparents. Then, I’d be with dad for a while. Then mom. Back to grandma and grandpa. It was a mess.

    My grandparents were the best. Leroy and Emilia, my dad’s parents, they were awesome. They’re the ones who really raised me. They had twenty acres up in Ahwanee. They lived in a single-wide trailer. There were three adults and three of us kids. I slept in our bunkhouse because the trailer was crowded. My grandpa Leroy owned a welding shop in Ahwanee. I could weld by ten, eleven years old.

    I went to Wasuma grammar school. It was kindergarten through the seventh or eighth grade all in one building. We three of four grades in the class. I really liked that. There weren’t all that many kids who went there.

    Living up in the mountains, my grandpa taught me to shoot guns. I had my first gun when I was nine years old. It was an over and under: twenty-two on top, 410 shotgun on the bottom. You just clicked which one you wanted to shoot. I had to ask grandma or grandpa for the shells. They’d dole me out five shotgun shells and maybe ten twenty-to shells. You know, they didn’t have a lot of money.

    I hunted quail, squirrel, an occasional blue jay. My grandpa told me, “If you kill it, you got to eat it.” We made field stew: anything you hunted that day. It took five minutes at the most to skin a squirrel. From dead to clean meat hanging, maybe ten minutes. Now it’d probably take me twenty because I’m old. Back then, we always carried pocket knives even at school. Now I guess the kids can’t do that.

    I had been in Ahwanee for about a year when my grandpa Leroy and I were at Western Auto and my maternal grandfather walked in. He still lived in L.A. I was thinking, “What the hell is grandpa Melvin doing up here?” He went right up to my other grandpa and they were talking quietly. My grandpa Leroy started crying. He had just got the news. Grandpa Melvin came over and gave me a little hug without saying anything and I was smart enough not to ask.

    Grandpa Leroy had a chair under an oak tree where he smoked. Later that day, he took me out there to tell me. He did it real kind and I hope if I ever had to talk to somebody about that I could do it as good as he did. My mother killed herself. She was only twenty-eight.

    A few years later, my dad moved to Fresno and married another woman. She was the greatest step-mom ever. She’s passed now. So has my dad. They took me away from my grandparents and I moved to Fresno with them which was a real hard adjustment. I knew my grandma and grandpa better than my father. My stepmom had kids so I had a step brother and sister.

    I went to Hamilton Junior High School and Fresno High School. I didn’t like school. I thought, “How much education do you need?” I am the first male in my family who can read. My dad, my grandpa Leroy, they were illiterate. I quit the year I should have graduated. I went to continuation school but never finished. It was a bonehead mistake.

    I got married. I was still seventeen and my first wife was eighteen. I can’t believe my dad let me. My parents were Jehovah Witnesses and they drove me insane. They were real strict on us but they’d get drunk and my dad would beat my step mom.

    I went to work at a welding shop. I had to start grinding and all that stuff. Eventually I took some courses at Fresno City College, got my certification and worked up into a good job. I opened my own welding shop near Marks and Dudley when I was about twenty-four. It was country then. The land was zoned commercial. It had a little house and garage, ghetto really. I built a little lean-two for my shop and supported us all. Once our youngest was in kindergarten, my wife found a part-job at their school working in the cafeteria. She saw the kids off on their bus, went to work and got home before them. It was perfect.

    We were married thirteen years and ended up getting a divorce. Now she lives in Washington state. Our kids are grown and they live in Washington state as well. I lived up there for about three years. Being homeless here is kind of rough and they felt bad for me, so I moved in with my youngest son. Then, my son got a divorce and his wife left.

    I moved back. In 1989, I met my second wife. I was an hour and half late for our first date because I was working. It was a Friday and the job had to be done, so our boss said, “Let’s finish it up!” I was there a couple of hours extra. She waited for me. We became inseparable. Eventually I gave up my Fresno apartment.

    She had a fledging janitorial business in Madera. I didn’t have my welding shop anymore. The divorce took all that. I had a job in Fresno working for the man. I worked on the dam, making big money. I was up there living in a bunkhouse for four days and then Friday, Saturday and Sunday I’d be off. My second wife hated that because I was never home. Let’s say her car breaks down. Well, where’s Buz? She wanted me to quit my job.

    “We can make it on my business,” she told me.

    I started going with her on her jobs at night. It didn’t take long, maybe two or three hours a night. I thought, “Damn. This is easy.” I started building up her accounts. We were married thirteen years too. She was wonderful. Towards the end, we had a problem. We gave it six months to try and rekindle. We tried but it didn’t work.

    It must be a curse: I can’t get over that thirteen-year hump. A bad phase in my life started. As I was driving away, every cop in town surrounded me. They threw me on the ground and searched me. They found some dope. I fought it and they dropped it down to probation.

    If you’re on parole or probation and homeless, you ain’t going to stay out of jail, dude. Any contact with the police and they take you. Every time I broke the restraining order to visit her and proclaim my love, they’d give me time. I was in and out of jail for a couple of years. She was the love of my life. I slept mostly in my old van which I parked in front of friends’ houses. It took a couple of years to get over it but we’re friends now. I seen her yesterday. When restaurants are open, I take her to lunch.

    Everybody needs insurance. Years ago, I walked into Curtis’s office and he signed me up. I knew him when I was still married to the second wife. We hit it off and became great friends. My van got impounded, then burnt up on the freeway.

    One day I showed up to visit and Curtis said, “Man, you look like hell.”

    I told him, “It’s hard to sleep when you’re just laying in the park.”

    “I’ll give you a key. You can come in at night.”

    It’s been almost two years. I’ve got to get a place of my own but on social security…I put in an application at the old folks place and have been on a waiting list for two years. I’ve got to go see the lawyer, Steve Geringer. He’s a good guy. I used to clean his office and he’s been helping me for free. I don’t know if I can make it much longer on this bicycle. I huff and puff. On the other hand, the exercise might be keeping me alive.

  • His story is powerful. Listening to a person is validating and a gift. You did not comment, but rather let his voice be heard. To bring it back to Kallman, she did listen to PCVs, RPCVs and staff. She interviewed over 140 people, but she excerpted pieces of the interviews to validate a point she wanted to make.

    Kallman recommended Peace Corps give Volunteers “space” to meet with their coherts and discuss and examine
    their experiences. I think the idea of “space” is a good one. So often in reading her book, the little I could understand, she treats Volunteers as if they were her college students. I think such an opportunity should be used for Volunteers to share what they learned about the work and what was successful and what was not. It should be shared with Peace Corps staff and outside professionals..such as anthropologists or doctors, dependeing on the project.

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