Peace Corps Writers
From Peace Corps to Warlords (page 3)
From Peace Corps to Warlords
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     So, poignant as the history of Somalis has been, they are not the only ones who have lost something. And we reunite, it now dawns on me, to find each other because we know what we can never again find. Carole says we were all innocents back then. And surely, if anyone can still imagine a world before Oswald, before Kent State, before Watergate, before semen-stained dresses, before bin Laden, it would be hard to disagree. Yet, John and Paul’s biographies cut more specifically and deeply than that. Theirs are the stories of two exemplary teachers, each who would eventually find himself so unsuited to the academic world of America that they make any of us who have ever had any inclinations in that direction shudder, knowing that one errant step, one errant sperm, one errant remark in the classroom or boardroom or men’s room and there but for the grace of God go forty years of I.

Above the clouds at the escarpment
     So there we have some of it. What these reunions bring to mind is that our Peace Corps stint, if not the most important or unusual chapter of our lives (which it clearly was to some), was certainly the one that psychologically or politically has proved the most defining. And one that has continually to be reread. For if it’s about the loss of innocence, it’s also about birth and death and the people with whom, as much by chance as by design, we end up spending the interim (Of the nine single women in our original group, seven married fellow Volunteers). It’s about success and failure and those, as much by the shifting desert winds as by talent or effort, who get to wear the badges of each (In addition to the cases already cited, our two award-winning trainees, voted by staff most likely to succeed, were the first to go home). It’s about militant authority and righteous rebellion (Five of our most devoted Volunteers were terminated by a psychotic administrator for defying his arbitrary and trivial rules, and while each subsequently was exonerated, the effects were irremediable). It’s about a group that had been described by the Washington authorities as complaining, depressed, even hateful of their host country, and by their hosts as devoted, honest and eminently competent in their work. It’s about those seven couples who found each other within our group, all of whose marriages were intact thirty years later, but a significant number of whose kids had wandered not just to Africa but off the map of normalcy. It was about whether our individual lives during the last generation of the second millennium were as idiosyncratic as our Peace Corps group’s or terribly typical.

Our next reunion
And when we next meet, what will also be clear is we will not be there to dwell on these matters. Rather will we share beers and slides and reminiscences of the pleasantly ridiculous. And have fun playing the Who-Remembers-His-Name? Game. The Indian teacher’s houseboy who bolted from the “long-drop,” pants around his ankles, screaming and gesticulating, when a wart hog ambled into his sanctuary. The British teacher who would roll off his chair during faculty meetings, having chewed “qat” all night in an effort to get to know his students better. The poor Volunteer in Brazil, pictured in one PR release reading by a kerosene lamp because the electricity in his village would go off at 7 PM. We — who had to wait until noon for any kind of spritzbath since only then might our one water pipe have sufficiently been warmed by the sun to make the temperature bearable — had certainly gotten a kick out of our compatriot’s suffering. Electricity? Would your air-conditioning or delivery of cold Heinekens occasionally fail too? But Marty, our historian, or Anne, our librarian, or George, our journalist, would remember his name, this newsletter PCV whom no one would ever meet, but who would become the prototypical characterization of our estrangement and togetherness. It was George Croon. Are you still out there, George? Are you rocking on your porch in suburbia telling war stories to your progeny? Croon another for us, will you, George? Show us how to shed some kerosene light on all this.

  

Ethan Gologor served as a math teacher in the first Somalia group. Encouraged by the psychologist assigned to his training group, John Sullivan, he went on to become one himself, teaching (and serving as chairman of his department) at CUNY, practicing in Manhattan (till he gets it right) and occasionally surfacing as a sports psychologist (Psychodynamic Tennis [Wm. Morrow]; this year's “Psyching Team” captain for the medical division of volunteers at this year’s New York Marathon).

Editor’s Note:
Somalia I trained at New York University, starting on April 23, 1962 and lived at the old Van Renssalaer Hotel. Training was for eight weeks, but, when the eight weeks was completed, Somalia “wasn't quite ready” for them so they spent another two weeks at a “camp” in Connecticut that Columbia operated. They spent the days learning how to climb flagpoles and rappel down mountains — vital skills in the deserts of Somalia. Fifty Trainees started in April, forty-five went overseas, and twenty-seven completed service two years later.
     A longer version of this article was originally published in the Summer 2003 issue of
Bibliophilos, Vol. VIII, No. 2. A special subscription is available for RPCVs who would like to subscribe to this unique publication. The address is: The Bibliophile, 200 Security Building, Fairmont, West Virginia 26554.
     Thanks go to Bob Blackburn (Peace Corps Deputy Director, Somalia 1964–66) who brought this essay to my attention.

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