Peace Corps Writers
From Peace Corps to Warlords (page 2)
From Peace Corps to Warlord
page 1
page 2
page 3

     Warlords? These were hardly the machine-gun toting gangsters, displaying the bodies of “Special Ops” on the streets of Mogadiscio or storming wounded Rangers as depicted in “Blackhawk.” These were people who, hoping we could do something, came to us with an infected eye or scorpion bite or carrying a goat that had been mauled by a cheetah. And often, though our expertise was limited to the supplies available in our first-aid kit, we were, with a little common sense, able to do some repairing, and word of our miraculous healing powers spread throughout the land.

Somali students
     Revolutionaries? These were students who apologized for a classmate, if one had the effrontery to question our assignments or methods. Who stood when we entered the classroom. Who, when Mike got peeved at them for not being responsive enough and reminded them they should be doing more “outside” reading, in unison picked up their chairs and walked outside. Flag-burners? These were people who offered us their protection when the occasional protest march against some biased British policy caused a little anxiety among expatriates or the Peace Corps staff back in Washington. These were people who would insist we take the only seat in the cab of the trade truck, rather than stand in the open back and get assailed by the vicissitudes of the weather.

Mosque in Sheikh
, Somalia
     Nor were these Moslem believers zealots devoted to anti-Semitic diatribes. On discovering that a few others and I were indeed “Jehudis,” most became intensely curious. How many times a day must you pray? (“Ahh, we must do five.”) Can you go to heaven if you don’t? Do you kneel and face always in the same direction? I know of only one couple who allegedly suffered any discrimination (some of their religious jewelry was stolen), but they, having given up any real sense of worship in adolescence, tended to wear their stars of David on their sleeve. In a few weeks after arrival, most students would forget we were Jews, identifying us only as Mort, the science teacher who was so good at “football,” or David, the maths teacher who was so bad at football.
     No, these were hardly the politicians, the strategists, the Machiavellians playing one nation or authority against another. These were people, in towns or villages with a movie house, who talked back to the screen, who oohed and aahed whenever a love scene came on (and we’re talking Doris Day, not Nicole Kidman). These were people who wanted to know where our cowboy hats were or whether anybody could safely walk the streets of Chicago without being mowed down by a mobster.
     Upon completing our tour, the authorities gave us a card to keep in our wallets, should we suddenly collapse on the streets of Paris or Indianapolis without warning. Doctors, be alert. The bearer has been exposed to amebiasis, brucellosis, Dengue Fever, loa loa, schistosomiasis. If I now break into a rash on seeing movies like “Blackhawk Down” or clips of the latest Marine invasion on CNN, doctors be mindful that I’ve been exposed, as have only a handful of others in this world, to Somalia’s innocence and I become feverish thinking of what happened to it.
     Or to our own.

The Volunteers
“What do you hope to accomplish by serving two years in the Peace Corps?” read the last question on the initial application. “Attach additional pages if necessary.” One Volunteer, according to newspaper accounts, “ingenuously responded with but a single word, ‘Peace’” (one whom I immodestly confess I happened to know intimately).
     Two other members of our group, Paul and John could have doubtless made the short list of Papal nominees (Innocent VIII and IX?). Paul, ruddy-cheeked and pot-bellied, played Santa Claus to the country, accommodating every stray dog and “dick-dick” (miniature versions of Bambi) that wandered into his yard, and donating his free time to teach extra English classes to the families of students. On his arrival back home in Seattle, he enrolled in veterinarian school, got into a dispute his last term with an advisor, wasn’t savvy enough to find an alternative, and spent the next thirty years being a house painter and bead salesman. John, former forest ranger, naturalist, environmentalist, who could fix anything (from a blocked latrine to a short-wave radio to a kerosene lantern) spent his free Somalia time collecting and cataloguing what looked to everyone else like identical African beetles, and returned to Washington with two dozen boxes of these carefully preserved specimens as well as with pregnant Emilie. But supporting a family while struggling with a geology Ph.D. dissertation and worrying about piling up loans proved a bit much, and he ended up becoming a home-building inspector for the last quarter-century. (“People about to buy a house call me in to tell them whether it’s going to fall down anytime soon.”) And both Paul and John, not unlike a number of other parents in the group, have seen one of their sons not only follow in their aborted career footsteps, but engage in a major drug or sociopathic episode, so powerful apparently is the tragic model of life that each has bequeathed.


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