The Summer of 63
In 1963 the instructors and professors at Columbia informed us during Peace Corps training for Nigeria that we were going to the one country that was the great hope for Western-style parliamentary democracy in Africa. It also happened to be the most important country in Africa since every fifth person on the continent lived there. It was heady stuff.
When our group arrived in-country, the Emir of the North the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alahji Sir Ahmadu Bello personally greeted those of us from Nigeria VII who had been assigned to teach in the North, and invited us to his gracefully domed desert palace in Kaduna. His greeting was special, though I did not fully realize it at the time, because he was undisputedly the most powerful political and religious leader in the entire country. He was more powerful than Prime Minister Alhadji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Beleway, more powerful than even President Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe.
Armed troops stood guard outside his palace near the Nigeria-green and white Rolls Royce. He was a big man wearing a long white robe and a turban, in what I would learn, was the simple tradition of Usman who led an early 19th Century Jihad that conquered part of the Western Sudan that became Northern Nigeria. Ahmado Bello was most gracious in his greeting and presented each of us with a Nigerian-green ostrich-feathered fan.
He ended his welcome with a comment, or was it a warning: We want progress, but we want it slowly.
Classrooms of students with respect and motivation
I taught at the Government Technical Training School in Bukuru, Northern Nigeria, a school near the center of the Fulani/Hausa/Islamic rule not only of the North, but also of the country. The students at my school had been drilled in the Islamic tradition to respect authority especially their teachers. There was never a question of a discipline problem in the classroom.
I was the first American at the school that was administered by the British. The first day when I introduced myself to my 10 classes of 36 students each, I mentioned that I was a university graduate; each class spontaneously burst into applause. It came as a surprise and was a bit awkward for me. When I asked why they clapped, one student raised his hand stood and said: Sir, we clap because we think that you are the most educated of all of our teachers.
My challenge was to prepare these 360 students for the O Level English exam. An exam that we PCV university graduates took during training at Columbia, and many failed.
All of my students were motivated to learn English American English that I taught.
Sir, what is a guy?
It was 1964, and the dogs of war were nipping at my heels, like the bush dogs that chased me as I rode my Honda through the village near the school.
When I joined the Peace Corps in 1963 Vietnam was not even an issue except perhaps to a few planners in the Pentagon. By 1965, my Draft Board in Spokane, Washington had become willing agents of those Pentagon planners.
Toward the end of my Peace Corps service in June of 1965, I received a post card at my school that I had 14 days to return to the United States because I had been reclassified as 1-A.
Now I had to return to the U.S. to an uncertain bugle call. So I played the one political card in the family deck. I prevailed upon my cousin, who was a Prosecuting Attorney in Tacoma, Washington, and he arranged for me to have an interview for a teaching job that would give me a draft deferment. It was July late in the season for hiring teachers.