Peace Corps Writers
A Writer Writes
The Loneliness of a Peace Corps Volunteer
  by Bill Coolidge (Bolivia 1966–68)

About Bolivia

“RAP, RAP, RAP, RAP!” I thought it was a campesino, filled up on a Saturday night with sheep brains and homemade chitcha beer wanting a respite from the cold wind swirling along the dirt streets.
     Cathy and I were in bed, dressed in quilted long underwear. The heavy Bolivian blankets pressed down on our cold bodies. Our one room adobe apartment smelled of oil. It was our first winter as Peace Corps VolunteersPrinter friendly version in Oruro on the Altiplano, about 200 miles south of LaPaz, the capital.
     "Rap, rap, rap, rap, rap!" Insistant. I was tired after working all day at the orphanage with the sons of tin miners. These miners died at the age of 30, their wives too poor to care for their children handed them over to the Hogar para ninos. We played fobito after dinner — a small size soccer match — back and forth we ran along the hard packed dirt court. I dragged home, still adjusting to the 12,000 feet above sea level and shivering. The biting cold of a Bolivian winter in this desert was already taking away my youthful enthusiasm. I didn’t want to open the door.

     Being of draft age in the mid-1960s was like living in a pot slowly simmering. I had signed up for both the Navy and the Peace Corps. I always liked to have options. In a downtown Detroit armory, I shucked my pants, pulled my jockey shorts down to my ankles, along with a few hundred other recruits. First the physical examination, then a “gung ho” lecture and demonstration by a second lieutenant on his way to “Nam.”
     That weekend, I purchased a diamond ring, gave it to Cathy. I told her of my terror. Innocents, we agreed to have commitments now rather than to wait. Wait and see seemed like a deadly option. The television already had pictures of body bags flown back to the United States.
     My draft board surprised me. “If you are married and join Peace Corps, we will count that as service to your country.” The letter of acceptance came in February and I was assigned to what is now Tanzania. A second letter came in March signed by the Director of Peace Corps, Jack Vaughn. “You are reassigned to a new project, Bolivia Mines, training begins in six weeks. The government of Tanzania will no longer be a site for Peace Corps Volunteers.” “Bolivia? Was it in Central or South America?” I picked up my atlas and looked it up.

     “Wham, wham, wham! Hey Bill, open up will ya, it’s Gary, let me in!”

     Forty-five of us who had been invited to be in the project had arrived in Seattle; thirty of us completed the cross-cultural and Spanish language training and were flown to LaPaz. I celebrated my ninth month wedding anniversary stuck in the Panama airport. A few of us were married, most were single, and we were all in our mid-twenties. Our in-country assignments had us scattered up and down the Altiplano, often separated by hundreds of miles.

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