Peace Corps Writers
A letter from Somalia
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These “letters” were read by Kitty Thuermer (Mali 1977–79) at the National Peace Corps Association’s Peace Vigil held at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on September 22.

Dear Amy Bhaba,
      Forty-six years ago you were a young and beautiful Parsi doctor working in a Bombay hospital that had never conducted an RH transfusion. When I was born, you knew I would die within hours, and that the Hindu nurses could not give blood. Yet you rolled up your sleeves, rallied the other docs, and — for the next 24 hours — dared to save my life. I guess there’s no language in the world in which to thank you, Dr. Amy Bhaba.

P.S. We know that RH stands for the rhesus monkey that pioneered this operation. Forty-six years later, will you please tell my brother that I do not — repeat not — have monkey blood in me.

Dear Paul Boateng,
God, you were an obnoxious kid. Loud, rude, and with a mop of tangled hair, you used to delight in opening your milk carton with a gillotine slice of the paper cutter, sending your third grade classmates at the Ghana International School shrieking for cover. But few knew that your Ghanaian father was in prison and that soon your British mother would spirit you back to England.
     And thirty-nine years later, as Tim Carroll squired you around the Justice Department, you laughed about the milk incident even as I marveled at your contribution as Great Britain’s first black Member of Parliament.

Dear Tony Movasaggi,
     Tony, Tony, Tony — I don’t know what a gorgeous Iranian hunk like you — a Junior, no less — was doing slumming in my seventh grade German class at Munich American High, but thank God — Gott Sei Dank — you needed remedial help. And overlooked my geeky gawkiness as I drilled you in the dreaded verb declentions: ich bin gewesen, du bist gewesen, wir sind gewesen, und so weiter. And imagine my thrill when Mom invited you and your family for Thanksgiving, and you told her that her Persian rice and stuffed grape leaves were as good as your mothers.
     Many Iranian revolutions later, Tony, I don’t know what’s happened to you and I hope you are safe, but I gotta thank you because to this day, whenever I hear a German verb, I get a frisson — with your name on it — shooting up and down my spine.

Dear Anita Khilnani,
     Fast Times at Hindi High: New Delhi in the late 60’s.
     You could tell the Indian students by their Western clothes, and us Amrikans by our kurtas, Nehru jackets, bangles, and genuine water buffalo chappals. Why not? You and I were thick as thieves, plotting to save a parched Rajasthan from drought. We tried to overthrow the Junior Prom and abscond with the money for a much needed desert tube-well. Net result? Zero rupees and no date for the prom.

Dear Lukwezi Kingolo,
     You were my first Angolan friend — a refugee who fled the war and landed in my sister’s English class in Peace Corps/Zaire. You wanted an American pen pal and my sister knew I’d earned a Girl Scout badge — not in life saving, but in letter writing. I’ll never forget your first letter, in which you told me about your life, then instructed me to remove the colorful Zairian stamp, which you’d carefully soaped so that the postal mark wasn’t fixed. I ran it under water, patted it dry and sent it back to you, because you could not afford to write me again unless I did so. The price of our international friendship, therefore, teetered over a 25 cent square inch piece of paper.

Dear Kgati Sateghe,
     You taught me the difference between frontline anti-apartheid freedom fighting and the safe campaigns conducted from the campuses of America. That difference landed both of us on the fourth floor mental ward of an East Lansing hospital — you as patient, me as visitor.
     You, from the Soweto class of ’76, who returned automatic gunfire with rocks. You who lost your friends, your youth, your education and your country as you fled, barefoot and bleeding, overland to Mozambique. You never dreamed it could happen in your lifetime, but your fight for freedom was not in vain. I hope to visit you someday in Jo-burg, Kgati, as you build your new family along with your new country.

Dr. Amy Bhaba, Paul Boateng, Tony Movasaggi, Anita Khilnani, Lukwezi Kingolo, Kgati Sateghe —these are my friends. So if you smoke them out of their caves — dead or alive — you’re smoking me out, too. Because they have made me who I am.

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