Peace Corps Writers
Making David Schickele’s Peace Corps Film (cont.)

Making David Schickele's Peace Corps Film
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Give Me A Riddle
As for the film itself, Give Me A Riddle — named after a scene about Ibo proverbs and riddles — lives on, especially with Nigeria RPCVs.
     It was utilized a bit in Peace Corps recruiting, although the agency was never comfortable with the “behind the scenes” look at the Peace Corps. By the time the rough-cut was prepared from over 25 hours of footage, Shriver was gone. The new Peace Corps director, Jack Hood Vaughn, told David that scenes showing bearded PCVs drinking with their Nigerian hosts would have to go because this “image” made it too hard to defend the Peace Corps on Capitol Hill. It turned out that President Johnson had called Vaughn to complain about PCVs. For years, David quoted with relish Vaughn’s account of the phone call: "Gawddammit Jack, here’s another picture of a Volunteer with a gawddamn beard. What you got over there, a bunch of gawddamn hippies?"
     The Peace Corps banned showings of the film in southern states out of concern that it would inflame race relations — which probably meant offend southern politicians. The Peace Corps leadership feared the American south in the 60s — probably for good reasons. There was a Shriver policy that PCVs could not be trained where they might face racial discrimination, which eliminated southern colleges and universities. As a program officer for training, I arranged the first training program at a black college — Morehouse in Atlanta. The Morehouse president and I had to promise Shriver that there would be no trouble. Then a carload of trainees, training staff, Nigerians and I were mistaken for civil rights workers, and arrested and jailed on phony charges in the small town of Roberta, Georgia. It was Morehouse and the Nigerian Embassy that got us released, not the Peace Corps. David would have loved to film that.
     Today, when I see Give Me A Riddle, I am always a little surprised by how bold we were in those early years of Peace Corps. It is an emotional experience to see again how generous our Nigerian friends really were and to revisit David’s take on the Peace Corps. At one level, Riddle is about friendships, talks, trips and a sense of place. It is true to those dimensions of the Peace Corps. David prized the film as a historical document capturing the spirit of Nigeria in that halcyon time between independence and civil war. With David’s death, from a brain tumor, Riddle has become infused — at least for me — with his sense of spiritual journey and of finding delight in unexpected places.
     The film is long forgotten by the Peace Corps but is sometimes shown at RPCV conferences. I hear about it fairly often. Harris Wofford called a few months back after showing it on video to the founder of City Year, who wanted to talk about it. A few weeks ago some Peace Corps friends of mine insisted on seeing it. Parts of the film were shown at the Memorial Service for David in San Francisco in November 1999. The RPCV group Friends of Nigeria has asked to show it during their gathering at the 40th anniversary conference. David took the film back to Nigeria for a showing in 1972.
     Unfortunately, the Peace Corps doesn’t make films like this anymore, but RPCVs still tell their stories in books and in other ways. When I meet young people who I think have the right stuff to join the Peace Corps, I always shown them the film. They usually sign up and, I am happy to report, usually have very similar experiences in places as distant from Nigeria as Hungary and Ecuador.
After the Peace Corps, Roger Landrum founded and directed three nonprofit organizations. The Teachers Inc. recruited, trained and supported a corps of teachers for inner-city public schools in New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Atlanta. Youth Service America, by leading a nation-wide expansion of youth volunteer programs in schools and higher education and youth corps in states and cities, laid the program and policy foundation for the federal National and Community Service Acts of 1990 and 1993. Youth Service International, is developing service programs for young people in Central and Eastern Europe. Landrum served as volunteer president of the group RPCV/Washington and the National Peace Corps Association, and organized and chaired the RPCV Coalition that created the 25th Peace Corps Anniversary Celebration in Washington, D.C. in 1986. Landrum lives in Washington, DC.
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