October 15, 1969 Glendora Press
He Kept His Eyes Open, and Ended Up in the Peace Corps
(Editors Note: For several issues the Glendora Press has carried articles by Glendora High School teacher Dwayne Hunn in which he describes his impressions as a Peace Corps worker in India. He now turns to other aspects of his Peace Corps experience, starting with his entrance and training.)
By DWAYNE HUNN
“Keep your eyes and ears open. Maybe you’ll learn something.”
Those words beam over my Peace Corps experience like a spotlight. They were given to me by a friend of the family that I once met and haven’t seen since. The more of the Peace Corps I experienced, the brighter and more often that thought lit my path.
During my sophomore year in college, due in part in the charisma President Kennedy conveyed, I decided I would like to apply and be ready for the Peace Corps upon graduation.
The years flew by, and I was faced with stepping outside of the gilded world of academia. By then I was toying with the idea of attending graduate school. Since I was in the studying mood, I feared leaving school might make it tough to return to. But I was also tired of vicariously learning things from books and wanted to taste some real life. It did not take much to convince me to follow the more exciting path. It might be said that it only took a pretty girl.
During my senior year in college one of my duties was to set up a schedule and guide the Peace Corps recruiter around campus. It happened that the recruiter was coming during the week of mid-term exams and that the recruiter was a she. I had received an 8xl0 photo along with some background information by the Peace Corps about her.
She, in her picture, was no raving beauty. So with some smooth talking, and on a predominantly male campus one does not need to be too smooth. I was able to gather a contingent of males to guide her through her two and one-half days on campus. I was relieved. Now I could catch up on some studying.
The morning she arrived I was in my grubby face and clothes — male campuses specialized in this attire — and happy to be going to an office to study. Happy, that is, until I saw what I had scheduled my first escort to escort. With poise to burn and looks that would have about 400 of our 1100 males take application blanks, she introduced herself.
Such a schedule I had ‘hustled’ to arrange! From that morning on I had nothing but volunteers to show her around, when I would have gladly handled the job myself.
She had two tremendous years in the Corps, and for my interest in government, teaching, and experiences she highly recommended it for me. Later I found out that part of her experience included engagement to the son at a Philippine Air Force general. Pressure from the general broke the engagement.
About 10 days after receiving my college diploma I found myself aboard a humid DC-3, then sitting through a winding, hour-long car drive into the hills of Vermont, and then looking on what was to be my new home, which consisted of three cabins, a barn and a house, for the next three months.
I bunked with six guys in a large room of one of the cabins, four were engineers, one was an economics major, and one had been a construction foreman. The foreman had a vocabulary as relevant to the construction industry as our college educations were to the dictionary industry. Big Red, otherwise known as sandpaper mouth, was a good man to have around — as long as beer was within walking distance.
Within six weeks we had about 175 hours of language training, and Bengali had replaced French as my second most communicable language. We had not done much practical building during the first six weeks but I and a few others had learned, for the others it was like a refresher course, theories of building with primitive materials and labor.
Excuse me, we did build one edifice during those weeks and that was a rock bridge to span the river below the hill we lived on. We built this not as a training project but for a very American reason. Without the bridge it was a 21/2 mile walk to the only beer joint in a 10 mile radius. Our finished effort would not have done the most underdeveloped nation in the world any credit.
Every minute of training seemed to be filled. When the last lecture-discussion group broke-up around 10 p.m. we had only 81/2 hours before Toby would welcome us to a new day. He would, to the clang if a triangle bell, beckon us out into the cold Vermont mornings.
Toby Tobias was quite a character. He was a Negro married to a white girl. Each morning he would greet us, with his muscles pooping on top of other muscles – all of which were majestic, in a different athletic outfit. He had sweat suits from the universities of Hawaii, West Virginia, Ohio State, Southern California, etc. Judging from his wardrobe you figured he had three trunks just to store his muscle outfits.
One day before our language table started I asked, “Toby, where are you from?” His answer was something like, “I started for West Virginia in football in 60, 61, 62; played guard on the basketball team in 61, 62; was All-American football in 61, 62; made the AAU team in wrestling and table tennis in 63.” I did not have the heart or the courage to repeat my question, and, anyway, it was a neat answer, Toby was a neat guy.
During our intensive training there was a great deal of comradeship developing, and the learning atmosphere seemed so much stronger than college. We felt we were a little special yet not so special that we thought we knew more of what he had to learn than our trainers, lecturers, returned volunteers. They openly admitted they couldn’t prepare us for what we might encounter, and we eagerly tried to soak in as much as we could for what we might encounter. They were open and frank with us, and we were likewise with them. If we wanted to probe a certain subject, they would pursue it with as much knowledge as they had or until we thought we understood.
Many of the foreign affairs and Asian experts ended their talks to us by expressing their envy. Most of what they spoke was hand-me-down knowledge. They envied, though some said they were not sure they could do it, us and our generation for having the opportunity to learn first-hand about some of the world.
The cold mornings and cold showers, Toby and his runs through the forest, the guys, the volleyball tournament, the give-and-take of discussion groups, the insights into a foreign culture, the top-notch lecturers, the experiences returned volunteers conveyed to us, the search for girls in the sleepy town of Brattleboro—it was a rich experience and my first taste of the Peace Corps.