Peace Corps Writers
A Writer Writes
I Returned
   by Jac Conaway (St. Lucia 1961–63)
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I returned and it was like this.
     My son’s mother died suddenly. I hadn’t seen her for 22 years. It was strange to think of her dead or even to think of her as 44 years old. We were kids in so many ways. Now we are “old” and our son is “my” age.

HOURS AFTER I HEARD of the Peace Corps IPrinter friendly version joined, in the spring of 1961. I had just returned from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) where I had my world turned upside down and my eyes opened so wide I couldn’t grasp what I was seeing. In six profound months as a foreign exchange student, I was so astonishingly different that I thought I could never return to my small rural southern farm community. I was wrong about that but I wouldn’t realize it for some years. I just had to keep going.
     My thoughts were tinged with idealism, and some concern (even determination) about avoiding Vietnam but mostly I felt that I had no choice. I had to go.
     I went.
     I went to St. Lucia, West Indies as an agricultural extension specialist. St. Lucia wasn’t ready. It had all happened too fast for everyone really, but I was in such a hurry I didn’t see that until much later either. Our housing was not ready, no one knew how to pay us or find us transportation. I was told a lot about tropical and St. Lucian agriculture but almost nothing about what was expected of me. I loved it!
     It took me about a month to grasp all of this and I made my move. I rented a shack (for $2 EC/mo) with an all purpose room and a “kitchen” outside the back door and I moved to my community of Desruisseaux.
     I worked and played and sang and walked dozens of miles a day and drank SO much beer and rum, — and the women — the St. Lucian women were wonderful. Two years later as I was leaving in June of 1963 I was told by a man in my community (what do I call such earthy people that live in the countryside? They tilled a bit of soil but they weren’t really farmers, they caught a few fish every now and then but even they wouldn’t call themselves fishermen. Peasant is surely not the right flavor even though they were all pretty {materially} poor. Who knows?) that I had arrived as a boy and was leaving a man. I cried at the feeling that passed between us in that moment. His name was Palton Joseph. He almost never wore shoes. He is a rich man.


Jac, the ag extension specialist
     But, I’m ahead of myself. It is so hard to write an organized set of thoughts. EVERYTHING I say about my daily life in St. Lucia sets off so many musings. The Caribbean climate. “Another Goddamn beautiful day!” Sweat by the buckets till it wasn’t even noteworthy. The occasional reporter or PC checker upper was a novelty to be endured. Learning to swear or “date” in the local Patois. Trying to figure out what would work and what wouldn’t. Taking care of the baby pigs and chickens that were sent down by the Heifer Project until they could be placed in somewhat trained hands. The days went on and on and I was content with my life and seemed to be an integral part of my community.

Jac on his motorcycle
     And then my son was born.
     How did this happen? I couldn’t fathom it! All of that rum and warm, summer like breezes in the evening and Calypso beats and rustling banana leaves and the women — the St. Lucian women were wonderful. But a child? I grew up fast.
     It was seven months since I had seen her and now I was hearing from my friends that she was saying she was carrying my child. I could not compute it. I kept asking my buddy (the head master of the local school who showed me all of the ropes in that small community) the same questions. And the answers all came down to two things. Women know about these things and I had better go and “speak” with her father (whatever that meant). I grew faster.
     I went and talked and time passed and I talked some more and my son was born and he was beautiful. I was in a dream world. I was a hero (“The first Peace Corps baby.” A distinction I was not all that attracted to.) and everyone wanted to buy me a beer and fix me food and congratulate me.
     I regressed!
  
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