Back in the early 1990s, just after finishing college, I was shipped off to the Central African Republic (CAR) with the Peace Corps as a math teacher. The first few weeks of training were spent in a village in Cameroon called Batié. I remember landing at the Douala International Airport on a balmy June evening hoping to see elephants and giraffes roaming around in the distance. Ah, the naïveté.
I ended up spending two years in the CAR followed by another two years in Nepal, with a few months in the U.S. between the two. It was always a challenge to know how to answer questions like "So how was Africa?" or "What was Nepal like?"
Both experiences were amazing and wonderful and some of the "stories" that stick out include:
- I found a snake coiled up under my pillow one night during training in Cameroon. I thought it was my belt and I grabbed it to toss it on the floor. I should've known by the bright green color that it was not my belt. That's about all I remember about that.
- After seeing a falling star, everyone in my village (M'baiki CAR) would start banging their pots and pans to keep the spirit from entering their home. The banging would begin sort of quietly and then spread around the whole village until it pretty much drowned out everything. I loved it.
- During the 1992 U.S. Presidential election, I stayed up all night listening to the Voice of America hoping for a Clinton victory (I spent my teen and college years in Arkansas and he was putting us on the map). Excited and exhausted the next morning, I had to explain to a few people that Bill Clinton was not going to kill George Bush.
- My village in Nepal (Mellekh) was a 1.5 hour flight from Kathmandu followed by a 6 hour walk uphill. The nearest phone was about a day's walk away. It was a beautiful little village with great people and a tiny view of the snow-capped Himalayas. I always found it so interesting and ironic during the '94 Winter Olympics when my friends would see pictures of downhill skiers in Newsweek and wonder what they were doing.
- Hillary Clinton and Chelsea visited South Asia the summer of 1995. She came to Kathmandu where she had a brief meeting with Peace Corps volunteers. As it was finishing up and she started on her way out, I stuck out my hand and said "Hi, I'm Frank from Arkansas!" She smiled, shook my hand, and said something about the Razorbacks - "Woooooooooo, Pig! Sooie!"!
Over the years, the Peace Corps has published collections of essays and short stories written by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Some include additional pieces written by such well-known people as Sargent Shriver, Jimmy Carter, Bill Moyers, Madeleine Albright, Leon Panetta, and Donna Shalala.
So pick up any one of these great collections of essays and stories and transport yourself to another time and place through the eyes of the Peace Corps.
Good stories. My brother served in Liberia during one of the government overthrows and also had interesting stories. I still have all his letters which are sometimes a mix of English and Bassa, one of the Liberian languages.
My mother kept every one of my letters home - she gave them all to me a few years back. It's about 4+ years' worth of writing! In CAR we often spoke a mix of English, French and Sango (Central African language). An example - My cabinet is booba'd - meaning my outhouse is broken!
Great stories Frank. You sound like you have enough material for a small book.
"Excited and exhausted the next morning, I had to explain to a few people that Bill Clinton was not going to kill George Bush."
Thank you for a genuine laugh out loud moment. Nice blog, Frank!
Thanks for sharing your experiences - what amazing memories you must have. It's great to be able to live others' exciting and far flung adventures vicariously through their stories!