The Making of a Peace Corps Volunteer:
From Maine to Thailand
This is a different book about the Peace Corps experience. It shows how the author’s growing up in Acadian French-Speaking Maine prepared him for service as one of the very first volunteers in Thailand. His unique background in the Acadian French culture of Northern Maine helped him to work effectively in Udorn, Thailand, and thereby helped to shape the Peace Corps in the vibrant organization it is today.
Enjoy these excerpts from Selected Chapter Titles
“What’s a Peace Corps Volunteer?”
No one knew for sure the qualities, the personality or the makeup of the ideal volunteer. There were only a few hundred volunteers in the field, and they had been in their assignments only weeks or months; there was little experience to draw on. My idea of a successful Peace Corps volunteer was probably as legitimate as that of the program director and the trainers – maybe even more so. I thought a successful Peace Corps volunteer would be one who lived modestly, provided needed skills, knew the local language, was respectful of the culture, and did not try to impose “our way of life” on the people.
“Wild Ride in a Helicopter with Sargent Shriver”.
I was in a helicopter with Sargent Shriver to visit volunteers in Khorat, about a one-hour ride from Udorn. It was an American-made helicopter, maybe a precursor of the ubiquitous Hueys of the Vietnam War – I’m not sure of the make or model. I sat on a bench facing Sargent Shriver and a couple of his assistants, and next to me were Art and Jack, volunteers at the Udorn Teacher Training College, and Dave, another volunteer whom Shriver had invited for the ride. We strapped ourselves into our seats and, at Sargent Shriver’s suggestion, the door was left wide-open to let cool air rush past our faces as we were lifted above Udorn. I hadn’t felt air this cool since I had left Maine eight months earlier in October, 1961.
“Cussing Sister Simeon in French”
Sister Simeon’s hearing was very good; she over-heard my words and asked in a gruff voice, “What did you say?” I did not answer knowing my life was in danger. I didn’t understand the full implications of my words, but I knew from her tone that I had spoken badly. She had heard, and she punished me by tying me to her apron strings.
“We Cannot Make Trucks and Trains, But We Can Make Babies”
My two years in Thailand taught me about the value a society puts on human life when human life is abundant and cheap, and trucks and trains are scarce and expensive. I learned how my values had been conditioned and determined to a large extent by my society and culture and education. I learned I was a prisoner of my culture, and that it was a challenge to escape that prison.
“The Sisters Pray for Me”
Everyone in Lille believed my cure was a miracle. I believe it was a miracle too, but not in the traditional sense of the word. I believe in prayer, I believe in community prayer, I believe all people are connected across geography and across time, and I believe we’re all joined to powers we don’t know and don’t understand. When we pray, when we beseech these unknown powers, we draw on their strength, and they respond to us. We may call these powers God and we may call their responses miracles, but miracles are what happen when we pray and work together for good causes.
“Too Drunk to Ride My Bike”
I had been warned that drinking alcoholic drinks in very hot weather could get one drunk faster than drinking the same amount in a cold clime. I had never been a heavy drinker, and didn’t even know my limits in cold Northern Maine. Anyway, what are warnings for if not to be forgotten at the exact time one should not?
“Spirituality in a Hammock”
This bucolic and tranquil scenery was unremarkable to me. What was remarkable that day was a growing feeling that I was part of this land in a way I had never experienced. My body, mind, and spirit seemed intimately connected, suffused, and intermingled with everything: the hammock, the grass, the trees, the river, the blossoms, the sky, and the cows nearby. Instead of observing, I was part of my surroundings, and peace flowed through me and around me.
I was dejected no more and did not feel sorry for myself. I felt happy in a way that had nothing to do with things or with a girlfriend I wanted or with a car I wished for. The peacefulness and sense of oneness with my surroundings and beyond were exhilarating, calming, reassuring.
These stories are suggestive of my growth and development from a nascent sense of self and consciousness embedded at birth to the end of my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand 1, 1961 to 1963.