Peace Corps Writers
A Writer Writes
Peace Corps Was
Dedicated to
Frank Farley
by Peg Clement (Tunisia 1975–77)
Read other short works about the Peace Corps experience

PEACE CORPS WAS two years of my young life, half my life ago. A time of long blonde braids, still-Printer friendly versionchubby cheeks, a hardy body withstanding weeks of tummy rumbles, pinkened skin before sunscreen became de rigueur. Quick reflexes, and a back hardened to floor sleeping. Easy laughs.
louage = long-distance taxi between cities, usually station wagons
     Peace Corps was unexpected, and unplanned for, fun. Many times, it just happened — someone arrives descending feet-first from the louage, at the doorstep, or someone shows up at a beach disco. Instant friends, mix and stir. A prepackaged community, insurance premium against the loneliness of the Sahelian plains.
brik à l’oeuf = a kind of tortilla pastry deep fried with an egg in it      Peace Corps was earnestness. Adults used the word altruistic. We tried to do good, and reached for change, big change — winds of change, like the sandstorm Khamseen winds. After supper, I concentrated hard on my lesson plans — taking each one seriously, debating its worthiness with roommates, substituting a different reading passage, reciting lines aloud in preparation by candlelight.
     Peace Corps was giddy love, or illusions of it (mirages, salt puddles shimmering as goats wander by), usually across cultures. American slept with Italian, American went with Tunisian, French were waiting in the wings, we tried them all. Anyone was possible and people were buff and looking good. I had three foreign boyfriends in two years. Two overlapped; it was heady and flattering and confusing stuff.
     Peace Corps was plump olives and squishy dates and juicy tangerines, Mediterranean food of colors and hot stings, pits and juices, warm tomatoes and lemons, big bread you ripped, layers of things, and the convivial brik à l’oeuf. I learned to eat bread, not drink water, when food is too spicy.
Tunsis = people from Tunisia, Tunisians (the word is Arabic)      Peace Corps was about men. Afterwards, I explained my hypersensitivity away, saying I had been a libber, fresh from a women-only ivy college — headstrong, principled, and consequently, immediately indignant. I stayed mad at Tunsis for both two years. There were always eyes, always leers, always hands, always them. I wonder why I am still single, 30 years on. I still feel eyes.
Bara idfin rowhic high. = Go bury yourself alive.

kelb = dog

souk = market

Titkallim il-Arabi? = Speak Arabic? Do you speak Arabic?

     Peace Corps was simple rooms. Here was the smoothness of the blue/white striped blanket on my double mattress, here was a pillow. No more, no less. There was a small icon sitting on a plank serving as a tabletop. Here were a few of my things puddled on the floor or on boards and bricks against the wall. There was a round low wooden table set between two thin floor mattresses as a living room. Simple was good.
     Peace Corps was marriages. Twosomes separated off and got hitched; maybe five or six couples. I was floored; so young? Some of our women stayed there in-country. The nurse married the Arabic teacher. Haffouz married Kairouan. Tunis Bourguiba married Tunis Bourguiba and are still together. They said PC was hard on marriages. Was it really?
     Peace Corps was a slower time. Each day was a bookmark, in hammocks, sofas, on floors. There was lots to write in journals and diaries. Lots, and nothing, happened each day.
     Peace Corps was Aimée’s roof-top apartment in Sousse — a weekend refuge. The pall of ocean humidity hung like sheets through the white-washed couple of tiny rooms. I fasted up there for three days, but gave up and went downstairs to the beach.
     Peace Corps was Arabic, with a vengeance (see Men, above). Heaves and swallows, gutteral gasps an throaty coughs, vowels from bowels, ballistic combinations of consonants, straining lips, mouth, tongue, stomach, throat. “Bara idfin rowhic high,” I hissed on the busses. Kelb came in very handy in the souks. I get calls even now for Iraq, for Oman — “Titkallim il-Arabi?”
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