...and a dead cat on the doorstep

My journal of our Peace Corp adventure from 1982 to 1984


What this represents is the journal I wrote while we were in the Peace Corps from October 25th, 1982 until December 1984.   Originally  I was just going to scan and present the actual written pages but after checking what the scanned PDF's would look like, I decided I would transcribe them for easier reading.  HOWEVER, my plan is to retain the misspellings, the poor grammar and syntax which might drive the real authors among you to squirm a bit, but I decided to stick with the plan as is.

[DISCLAIMER]  There are biased and racist views expressed here.  It was tough to go back and reflect on the mindset of myself as a mid-twenty-something.  I was from a white, middle class background and from a state that had few, if any, black people that I was in daily contact with.  I was, in short, a racist.  I don't like that.  I hope that I have grown more wise and measured in my views but this is my journey and journal in the Peace Corps.  There was a lot of growing up going on.  I hope I don't offend you but if I do, please forgive me.  The views here have been (mostly) outgrown.

I haven't enabled comments or ratings on the pages, but I might at some point do that.  

I knew this date was coming for years and always planned to transcribe and present the journal, but as most plans go, the date approached while I was busy with life.  I'll try to keep up going forward.

The beginning

We ended up in the Caribbean but the journey wasn't smooth

The beginning

Oct 26 1982

Just got back from the clinic. Funny how its been what I have dreaded and hoped for for these last 5 months. But it wasn’t bad at all. Typhoid, Diptheria, Tenanus, polio and (last, but certainly not the least) yellow fever innoculations this morning given to use by Barbara the Health rep from Washington, D.C. She’s a good lady who firmly told us that if we did not show up oon time, the useful life of the Yellow Fever innoculation would expire and someone (who did not make it on time) would also expire as a volunteer. She only had this one batch and after it was mixed she had one hour to innoculate all 77 of us. Deb and I were 3rd and 4th in line. We wanted to get it over with so we could get to the bank and cash our checks. I want to go on, but this journal should have been started 5 months ago. So I am going to back up and highlight some of the reasons and steps it took to join the Peace Corps.

Peace Corps was just another another option is a whole list of where do we go from here? Possibilities. Debbie and I were soon to graduate from the University of Utah and being newlyweds (6 mos) and childless we were anxious to explore those possibilities before getting tied down in the usual 9-5 workday life that most people expect and accept as ‘proper’. However, Deb & I felt most blessed by God in having those diplomas, good health, a house, two cars, etc. etc. We realized that there much more to the world than the Salt Lake Area could contribute and, that if we were ever to do something slightly adventurous in our need to share our blessings we’d darn well better do it now.

So, out of the other possibilities of Lutheran World Mission, traditional employment or just following Debbies Physical Therapy skills to wherever they would take us, the Peace Corps called us back. They were interested and they wanted to interview use as soon as possible. Problem was that Deb was in Indiana on a PT affiliation for 5 weeks. So I called the recruitment Rep (Dick Arent) and told him to give us a call the Monday after Deb got home.

He did call and after two hours of trying to generate sincere and well-thought-out answers, Deb and I were nominated to the Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean program. Whew! Step one was complete. Except one thing. We weren’t sure what we’d be doing. First I was considered the primary person in our placement. “Well, no we don’t really need personnel types but your background is technical so you can teach math”. Then Debbie’s Physical Therapy prevailed, as I knew it would, and I became the “non-matrixed spouse”. (They knew I was part of the package but didn’t know what to do with me.) But they’d have something for me by the time we got to the islands.

Step two was a bit more complex and about twenty times more frustrating than being nominated for a program. But, knowing that the U.S. Government thrives on paper and given the seemingly endless forms that needed to be filled outto just apply for the Peace Corps, I shouldn’t have been surprized at the paperwork which followed our nomination.

It began with our “medical kit” which followed the letter stating “you should have received your medical kit in the mail, if you have not…” A few phone calls and the kits were there within a week. We were “under the gun” though. Close of invitation (the date by which we had to have all of our information in) was Aug. We needed to get all the Medical and Dental exams completed by that date and if you’ve ever tried to get in to see a doctor for a non-emergency, routine physical exam in less than three weeks, you can imagine our apprehension. The dental exam was easier but much more expensive. Peace Corps pays for the exam and x-rays but will not pay for treatments. So $250 later we had our Dental clearance. The Physical was a bit more tricky to schedual, was cheaper but almost lost the invitation for us. Peace Corps pays for the exam and x-rays or you can go to a Gov’t military installation for free. We opted for the latter and anyone who has experienced the assembly line, de-humanizing physicals the army performs will identify with our Sunday morning ordeal. The biggest dissapointment they we had was that, upon inspecting the form, we found several important items could not be handled there. Most notably, uranalisis and pelvic exams (for Deb). With a vacation a day away and the deadline falling on a day on which we would be in Minnesota, Deb’s results were still somewhere in California and my “sample” was dropped off at a friends house (who happened to be a Med. Tech) My friend, Kay, would drop off my results to my pastor, who would pick up Debbies results at Planned Parenthood and put it all in the mail(in a $9.50 express package) which would immediately whisk it to Washington. With that done, Deb and I took off on our “tour” to see relatives we would not see for two years while in the P.C. and just to relax and wait to hear the “Big News”.

I called Pastor Paul on Tuesday. “Yes” he said “its all in the mail. I mailed it last night at 5pm. Should be in Washington this morning if the guarantee is true”. “Great!” I said. I’ll call them tomorrow (just to be on the safe side) that would be Wednesday and give them ‘til Sunday which would be plenty of time to evaluate us and clear us for an invitation. So Weds morning I called Washington. “No” the voice tolled “we don’t have it. Could be its stuck in the mail room” I explained to him that it was sent to the office direct by express mail and that it should circumvent the mail room. Besides, it was guaranteed. “Well” he replied “nothing was guaranteed”. He went on to explain that the mail, even if sent direct, usually got sent back to the mail room. So even if it did arrive on Tuesday, it wouldn’t escape the mail room until Thursday earliest. “Wonderful” I said and hung up. My $9.50 had bought me no time. I’d call ‘em on Thursday.

Thursday produced similar results but Friday the tardy package arrived. “Great” I yelled into the phone. “So we made it on time?” “Well,” the voice disinterestedly drolled “we’ve got it but we’re so backlogged that I really doubt we’ll get to see it. Maybe Monday” “But my close of invitation is on Sunday” I nearly screamed into the phone. “Sorry, it’s the best I can do”. The phone went dead and so did my dreams of becoming a volunteer.

By Tuesday of the next week they still hadn’t looked at it. We called them from a phone booth near Bismark, North Dakota. My recruiting rep couldn’t be reached. It was a long drive back to Salt Lake City.

Thursday I got a hold of Rick, my recruiter. He was sorry to put me through it all but he had made a mistake when he had told me the close of invitation date. We still had three weeks before our paperwork was due in. “The bright side of all of this” he explained “is that your stuff is in early so you’ll have an advantage over other nominees”. I didn’t know whether to kiss him or punch him in the face. Step two was done.

The day after close of invitation I called Washington. Yes they said they were happy to tell me that my wife and I were nominated to the Eastern Caribbean program and were to report for staging in Miami on Oct 25th. And so step three began.

We closed on the sale of our house (a risky two months before we even heard about our invitation. We had sold the house to close on Oct 1st) and moved the non-necessities into storage. Notices of our termination went to our employers and we moved in with my parents for the interim. Suddenly this Peace Corps thing was becoming real. We had a thousand things to complete in the three weeks before we left. Power of Attorney to grant, bills to pay, a car to sell, things to pack and store, mailing lists to update. It was nearly endless. The final two days were spent just packing & organizing and trying to be with my family as much as possible. An early Christmas was held and we were given more things to pack and after a very very tearful parting, we were on the plane for Chicago to spend an evening with more of my relatives before flying to Miami the next day.

When we arrived in Miami we began to notice those around us who had that “volunteer look”. Tired confused but happy and looking positive. Several busloads departed for the hotel where we were staying and we met several volunteers on our own very slow bus to hotel. The 20 min trip took an hour and a half and we arrived 15 minutes before the first meeting at 3pm. Barely enough time to check in and drop off our large volume of baggage.

The meeting was a revalation that I’m still trying to assimilate. I was surprized not only at the diversity of backgrounds (which I expected) but also the the ages of the volunteers. It ran from 22 to 78. With a larger number of couples (like Deb and I) than I imagined. Even a couple that had been married a week! But it was an interesting afternoon & evening. It calmed some fears & answered some questions. Exausted, we went to be at 9pm.

Which brings us back to date. My arm is sore from the shots and writing. More later.

The beginning

Oct 29, 1982

Things have been moving rather rapidly around here. The two additional days of comprehensive staging here have come and gone. Wednesday was filled with last minute paperwork. Legal hassels, even the most minor traffic violation or unpaid parking ticket, must be taken care of or you can’t go. Your NAC (National Agency Check) must be complete or you can’t go. If you use drugs you’re terminated. If you ride a motorcycle without a helmet, you’re terminated. Seems like either you can’t go or you will be terminated are the two most often used threats against a volunteer. Seems to work. All of us have been OK’d for Jamaica, save one. Mary.

Mary was a true, strong-willed, stubborn, chain smoking Californian. She must have be about 60 plus years old (although certainly not the eldest). Apparently she was an art major and potter. She had been brought on board because she was to teach pottery skills to locals on the islands. We were having a discussion on culture and, in particular, on local dress when Mary brought up a question on wearing pants. “Well, yes, pants were permissable on women in certain situations” but she could be required to wear a skirt or dress n other circumstances. Apparently Mary’s sense of personal freedom was offended and she was agast at the possibility of wearing a dress, for the next day she was no longer attending our meetings. Mary was gone back to California. Flexibility and willingness to adapt to local custom being key traits of a successful volunteer.

Mary’s reluctance to give up some of her freedom really pointed up our eager pursuit of bondage. We would give up some of our 1st Amendment rights. Rights to talk politics and religion, with the intent of conversion at least. We always had to provide a disclaimer that it was our opinion and not that of the U.S. Government. We could not involve ourselves in local politics for fear of being interpreted as U.S. foreign policy. We were all required to give up something. Mary was an extreme in inflexibility but a valuable lesson to us all…

With paranoia at going the ‘way of Mary’, we boarded the plane to Jamaica with as open and flexible attitude as we could muster.

The beginning

Oct 31 1982

Jamaica was at first, just what I knew it would be: Hot, humid and sunny with showers off and on. Island paradise… actually on the surface it was all I knew it would be. I was anxious about what the below-the-surface look would reveal.

My first peek as an eye opener. What it revealed was an obsession with the U.S. currency. The person to approach me first was a lanky Jamaican with an enormous hat on his head. (rostahfarian) He was offering 2:1 for U.S. dollars. Another volunteer was offered 3:1. Our trainers, after giving us a talk on black market tactics and cautions proceeded to offer us 2:1. U.S. currency is very precious to Jamaicans who wish to travel or purchase goods in the U.S.


The beginning

Nov 1

I was talking about money & currency because I didn’t have the energy. Energy is hard to come by also. Whether it be personal energy or public energy. The heat seems to sap you of all strength. It also prevents me from moving because to move generates discomfort. I’ve been uncomfortable alot lately. The mosquitos seem to come in clouds, the humidity must be 90% and the dogs bark continuously after sundown. Of those things most often mentioned by volunteers it must be the mosquitos, dogs and heat. The heat is an expectation. The humidity also, but the mosquitos are much more fierce than anticipated and the constantly barking dogs are a true surprize. The family that Deb & I stay with has 6 dogs and the probability that one or more of six dogs will bark for 10 mins at least once an hour must be close to 100%. Of all the nights spent here in Jamaica, not one has been without a barking dog or 10. Seems to me that they should eat dogs. It would cut down on the noise and increase the meat supply.

The beginning

Nov 2

Dogs and more dogs. And things are mellowing a bit. I should say something about our ‘host’ family. Joan is the head of the household and has a daughter Qun (Kwan). Qun is sixteen. Joan also has a sister who lives in. Her name is Angela. Now, of all of them, Angela is the most open & friendly (at least initially) Deb & I went to church last Sunday with Joan and Qun (Angela doesn’t go, she is kind of a renegade). Anyway, Joan had said that the service was loud and long. The church’s name was “Miracle Church of God” The miracle was that we survived.

Initially it was just the discomfort of being the only white faces in a sea of black. The songs were different and sung in the style of “Southern Baptist” tradition of loud, hand clappin, foot stompin’ music. However, as time went on, Deb and I realized that there was more to this church than it’s music. People were soon jumping and yelling. Speaking in tongues and rolling on the floor It was really quite a display. The service ended two and a half hours after its beginning. We’ll try the community church next week. It, at least, sounds safer.

The training in Sligoville is OK. Not great, just OK. There is a great deal of morale problem. The objectives are not real clear. The presentation is a bit too cold and mechanical. A lot of attention is paid to process but on a rather superficial level. The morale problem should have surfaced by now but the trainers are either unaware or not interested. I don’t know. But there is a lot of talk of dropping a “bomb” on them.

11-82 Community meeting - Sligoville.JPG

All the trainers are quite friendly and for the most part understandable (I find most Jamaicans unintelligible but I’m getting better). Rudy is the most interesting character. He’s the only American (though he’s black) and I’m glad to listen to him speak with a rather thick American accent. With a full beard and graying afro he is supposedly the most “radical” looking of the bunch. Sensitive and direct, Rudy is my most favorite trainer though he rarely deals with us directly. Winston is the eldest of the staff and his “Queens English” impeccable. Winston used to work for the Ministry of Agriculture before joining CHP. He is a wise, gentle man whos words carry great weight. Especially among “hard core” AG’s. Wish I was involved with agriculture projects. I may yet be.

The beginning

Nov 7th

Went to church today at the Anglican church. 7Am is a bit early to be wanderin around Spanish Town but the service was familiar enough to be worth it. It was nothing like last Sunday.