Even the Smallest Crab Has Teeth

Even the Smallest Crab Has Teeth

50 Years of Amazing Peace Corps Stories: Vol. 4: Asia and the Pacific $18.95
Edited by Jane Albritton
October 2011
ISBN 1-609520-02-5   352 pages
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Description
Introduction
Table of Contents
Sample Chapter
About the Author

Description


Even the Smallest Crab Has Teeth brings together stories from Volunteers who served in countries swept together for millennia by dreams of silk, spices, conquest, and transcendence. Societies here endlessly absorb pieces of what arrives on trade routes and trade winds. Then they make it their own. Since 1961, communities in this vast region have greeted Volunteers with both unconditional hospitality and paradox: vexing, humbling, and delicious.

These stories describe moments of unexpected danger and unintended hilarity. In Asia and the Pacific, Volunteers have chased down smallpox, taught by lantern light, built spillways in the jungle, and witnessed local rituals celebrating life and death. They have struggled to grasp one of the myriad local languages so they could listen clearly. For it is only after learning to hear that it feels exactly right to speak and say “I was there.”

This sweeping collection of stories—the last in a series of four—shares with readers the extraordinary power of America’s grassroots peace offering.

"These writings provide a record and a testament to the vision of those who created the Peace Corps and those who have made it such a success."
—Charles Greer, The Jason and Lucy Greer Foundation for the Arts

Introduction


by Jane Albritton

Let’s begin with a question: How is it possible to collect stories from countries that fit into a scalene triangle set on a map and marked at its angles by Afghanistan, China, and Samoa and then declare them representative of something called Asia and the Pacific? Quite possible, as it turns out. Drop the boundaries of the triangle and look again. Imagine instead that the “region,” with a center somewhere in the South China Sea, is defined by sweeping galactic arms of time and culture, arms that can pick up a spice or an idea and drop it—thousands of miles from home—to rest and root, reformed and new.

Over millennia, the trade routes and trade winds in this region have created a massive, gravitationally bound system that has swept together, mixed and re-sorted both the artifacts and living parts of human societies. This gyre that is Asia and the Pacific—starry with dreams of silk, spices, conquest, and transcendence—has forever pulled merchants, pilgrims, soldiers, and nomads into its embrace and sent them on another spiraling round. Peace Corps Volunteers who for the past 50 years have joined the motion could not and cannot help but be transformed in culturally specific ways.

The 54 individual stories in this volume speak for themselves as they recount the personal experiences of Volunteers in the field. But as I have read and reread them over the past four years, each new story adding another bit of light to this galaxy, I have become aware of three constellations that seem especially bright and clear. There are others, but I will speak for these three: language, memories of war, and freedom to operate outside the norms of an established cultural universe. While these same constellations can be spotted in the other regions where Volunteers have served, the view from Asia and the Pacific is uniquely conditioned by particular kinds of philosophical/religious drift, conflict, and cultural flexibility.

Volunteers learn from the first day of training that learning a local language marks the entry to understanding and acceptance. In Asia and the Pacific, most Volunteers do not study a language imposed on the local population by a colonial power (we already know English), but instead must grapple with Farsi, Hindi, Tamil, Thai, Korean, Tagalog, Malay, a Chinese language, or the creole Bislama among others. Unlike Spanish (in The Americas) or French (in West Africa), none of these languages is part of the typical high school curriculum in the U.S. And even in India where English is one of the sixteen languages printed on a rupee note, English-only in the countryside will just get you lost.

Reilly Ridgell directly addresses the need to learn the local language in “Of Love and Language.” Howard Daniel (“Earstaches and a Message from Chang Kai-Shek”) notes that a Hindi-speaking foreigner gets special access to big events in Central India, and Michael Schmicker is the Thai-speaking farang who gets his language lessons in the “Mosquito Bar” in Bangkok. Words in local languages—italicized to indicate their foreignness—pop up in these and many other stories because they are the translation-defying expressions that Volunteers used (and possibly still use) as they went about their daily work and social lives. As Kristine Alaniz points out in her story “Sloslo Nomo,” the words sloslo and lego may sound familiar, tied as they are to English pidgin, but they come to her packed with unexpected cultural information from Vanuatu.

The second constellation tells of armed conflict and the living memory of host country nationals. This region knows something of us by our wars: World War II (Pacific theater), the Korean War, the Vietnam War (aka, the American War).

World War II in the Pacific left a mark on the landscape and in the memories of the local people Volunteers came to know. The Escaler family, Dory Blobner’s hosts and friends, lived through the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in Bataan, a last stand of American and Filipino soldiers. The family walked on the edges of the Death March, which killed some 10,000 Filipino and 700 American prisoners of war. In “Families,” Dory’s Nanay rounds out the lore that has been chanted into our own documentaries: “We are the battling bastards of Bataan; no mamma, no papa, no Uncle Sam.”

In “Mending Tarawa,” Jim Russell recounts his experience of playing a softball game with Japanese construction workers on a makeshift field on the island of Tarawa: Bloody Tarawa, where 1,000 Marines and Sailors and 4,819 Japanese soldiers were killed in just three days. Against a backdrop of rusting Japanese big-gun placements, the former enemies played. Many Americans have visited the battlefields of Europe and our well-groomed cemetery in Normandy, France, but not so many can say “I was there” on the island battlefields of the Pacific.

In “Living in the Land of Morning Calm” Karen Boyle risks being shot by Korean policemen because she must go out after curfew to get to the village’s one phone to call a doctor. In that war, the effects of which still linger, two million Korean civilians died. No wonder that Boyle’s Korean friends feared for her life.

Volunteers who served in Thailand in the 1960s and ’70s got a close-up view of the R&R industry that flourished during the Vietnam War. GI’s wearing Aloha shirts strolling through the marketplace hand-in-hand with country girls were a common sight. Volunteers like James Jouppi (“A Spillway for Nong Bua”), assigned to engineering jobs in the countryside, experienced the same wariness as their local counterparts. It was hard to tell the difference between a rabbit snare and an explosive tripwire.

The third constellation that shows up in this collection represents the liberation from cultural expectations Volunteers experienced. A hint of this freedom first appears in the Table of Contents. Readers will notice that about the same number of women and men have told their stories here. That’s an interesting detail, one which corresponds to the larger reality of a historical balance between women and men Volunteers generally. But the real point is that in the context of the Peace Corps, gender roles lost their power, and Volunteers found the freedom to serve more fully. Jerr Boschee in “And the Light in Their Eyes Would Begin to Die” writes about the deep satisfaction he felt teaching in India. So does Brent Cromley in “A Letter to Sri Padmanabham.” As Volunteers, men were free to become superb teachers without their friends and families wondering when they were going to get real jobs.

Karen Dunne in “Her Fijian Father” describes going spear fishing. In Fiji, women do not spearfish (they get to reach into underwater crevices and pull out octopuses), but far out in the Pacific, her host let her try it all. Nor were female Volunteers “protected” from the hardships associated with their assignments. Afghanistan—with its complex social systems and unforgiving physical environment—tested both Frank Light (“Back to School”) and the all-female group of smallpox vaccinators (“Taking Out Smallpox”) in exactly the same ways: with exhausting work, no comforts, and vexing human interaction.

The breadth of detail recounted in these stories of the third constellation can be traced directly back to an idea that quickened when JFK and Sargent Shriver set up the Peace Corps as the very first U.S. government-sponsored equal opportunity adventure. They—and the others you will meet in John Coyne’s Introduction—created an organization that chose its members for their abilities and desire to serve and declined to use race, gender, sexual preference, and age as winnowing tools. We as Peace Corps Volunteers were set free to experience the worries, intestinal distress, little triumphs, and big understandings conditioned by the forces that have shaped Asia and the Pacific. We came home transformed in unique and enduring ways.

Shanti, shanti, shanti. Enjoy the stories.

Table of Contents


Series Preface
JANE ALBRITTON

Foreword
JOHN COYNE

Introduction

Part One
ON OUR WAY...AND BACK AGAIN

Bound for the Philippines
STEPHEN WELLS
Puerto Rico

Memories from a Battered Box
PAMELA COHELAN BENSON
Philippines

Back to School
FRANK LIGHT
Afghanistan

God, President Kennedy, and Me
TINA MARTIN
Tonga

Far Away Places
BONNIE HARRIS MCKENNA
Thailand

Visits with the Veterans
JAMES C. STEWART
Philippines

Stop Pig! Drop the Flip-Flop!
RICHARD G. PETERSON
Samoa

Return to the Land of the Morning Calm
KAREN BATCHELOR
Korea

A Letter to Sri Padmanabham
BRENT R. CROMLEY
India

The Fijian Father
KAREN DUNNE
Fiji

Mending Tarawa
JIM RUSSELL
Kiribati

Second Chances
ARNOLD SOLAMILLOS
Thailand

Part Two
WHY ARE WE HERE?

Of Love and Language
REILLY RIDGELL
Micronesia

An Indian Bus Journey
WALTER JAMES MURRAY
India

Sloslo Nomo
KRISTINE ALANIZ
Vanuatu

Families
DORY MEHDENHALL BLOBNER
Philippines

Taking Out Smallpox
MAGGIE ECCLES AND LYNNE LAFROTH FOR AFGHAN 15
Afghanistan

Earstaches and a Message from Chiang Kai-Shek
HOWARD E. DANIEL
India

The Great Upolu Rental Car Adventure
MIRIAM KRAUSE
Samoa

Digging for Fish
BLAINE COMEAUX
Thailand

Thanks to the Turkeys
ELAINE (CHRISTENSEN BAFFRY) GATES
Philippines

Willie and the Pathans
PAULINE BIRKY-KREUTZER
Pakistan

Durga Sadhu
JANE ALBRITTON
India

The Trick of the Megapode Egg
TAMARA BUSCH
Solomon Islands

Snow in Sawankholoke
BILL PRESTON
Thailand

Part Three
GETTING THROUGH THE DAYS

The Namesake
GLEN HELLER
Solomon Islands

The Archaeological Map
RUTH ALLIBAND
India

A Thai Interpretation of Hemingway’s “The Killers”
GERRY CHRISTMAS
Thailand

The Cultural Palace
THALIA KWOK
China

Amrikans Drink Their Water Hot
LOIS SCHNEIDER
India

A Day in My Life
PAM ANDERSON
Thailand

Living in the Land of Morning Calm
KAREN BOYLE
Korea

A Non-Matrix Spouse
SONDRA AND ROGER LEGRAND
India

Snapshots from the Graveyard of Empires
JOHN D. TOBIAS
Afghanistan

Planes, Trains, and Bullock Carts
JENNICE FISHBURN
East Pakistan (now Bangladesh)

Of Girls and Dogs and Cats
ARLENE B. LIPMAN
Philippines

Night Passages
RON BARBUR
India

Now the Eyes of My Eyes are Opened
KRISTINA ENGSTROM, PATRICIA G. MITTENDORFF, MARGERY AFFLECK, LYNN LAFROTH
Afghanistan

A Spillway for Nong Bua
JAMES JOUPPI
Thailand

Chasing Gulls, Chasing Dreams
LORI ENGELMANN ROBINSON
Kiribati

Part Four
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS

A Loss of Innocence
PETER ROSS
India

The Mosquito Bar
MICHAEL SCHMICKER
Thailand

At the Foot of Mount Yasur
USHA ALEXANDER
Vanuatu

Handsin’s Story
HAVARD BAUER
Kiribati

The Boarding House
FARRAR ATKINSON
Philippines

Parmesan and Politics
MICHAEL LEVY
China

The Week of the Jackal
MARSHA MARTIN WEST
India

A Different Kind of House Guest
LILI YOCOM
Samoa

The River at My Door
LELA LENTZ
Bangladesh

Foreigner! Forever
LISA MCCALLUM
China

A Latex Glove
CYNTHIA BROZE
Philippines

Zulia Tells a Funny Story
TERRANCE CLARKE
East Timor

Her American Sister
ADRIENNE BENSON SCHERGER
Nepal

Part Five
SUSTAINABLE PEACE

And the Light in Their Eyes Would Begin to Die
JERR BOSCHEE
India

Acknowledgments

About the Editor

Sample chapter


God, President Kennedy, and Me

by Tina Martin

Negotiating with God might work. But how? When? God only knows.

I remember what I was doing on November 22, 1963, not only at the time I heard that President Kennedy had been assassi-nated, but also in the days before it happened. Praying. Not just because I was chairman of Religious Emphasis Week at Columbia High School, but because there was a beauty con-test that night and, if it were God’s will, I was willing to win it. So I kept checking in with God, letting Him know that He was on my mind, and I sure hoped I was on His. I didn’t want Him to fix the contest. That wouldn’t be fair. I just wanted Him to help me do justice to whatever God-given beauty I might have so that I could honor the Future Teachers of America Club I was representing and serve as a good example for whoever needed one.

“Dear God,” I whispered, “tonight’s the night. If it be Thy will for me to wear the crown of Miss Columbian, Thy will be done, and”—I added with special emphasis—“I’ll give my first summer paycheck to CARE and the NAACP.”

Living in the South in 1964, I was (1) in the habit of praying in and out of school, and (2) in—and out of—beauty contests. We had them for everything, and at the urging of my prettier and older sister, Dana, who won the Miss Columbian Contest when she was only a sophomore, I’d decided to work on being prettier than me, if not prettier than her, and carrying on the family tradition of winning, even though it couldn’t be in my sophomore year. I was a senior. Last chance.

People sometimes told me that I looked like Natalie Wood, but Dana looked like Elizabeth Taylor. She had the same oval face, perfect nose and teeth, same-shaped eyebrows. Dana’s hair was really medium brown, but she was not about to be medium anything, so she’d started dying it jet black like Elizabeth Taylor in Raintree County in 1957, the year people started no-ticing the similarity. She’d also been dressing pretty much like Elizabeth Taylor in Raintree County. Not that she wore bonnets or anything. But when other girls were wearing match-ing cashmere sweaters and straight skirts, she was wearing full skirts and lots of crinolines more reminiscent of the War Be-tween the States, as Southerners called the Civil War back then.

In our family, we called the War Between the States the Civil War because, as my friend Sara cautioned people when she in-troduced me, “Tina’s not from here.” That’s why I was bribing God with my summer wages, promising to give my first pay-check to CARE and NAACP, which my Southern friends dis-missed as Communist and against State’s Rights. I thought my parents knew better than my peers because they were much older, closer to God’s age.

To help along bribe-induced divine intervention, Dana was going to come back to Columbia from Winthrop College in Greenville to help me win the contest. She knew just how to get my hair to look like Jackie Kennedy’s, and I knew I was lucky that she was doing this for me. But I wasn’t counting on luck or Dana. I was counting on God, which was why I was praying more than usual that day.

“Please, dear God, if it be Thy will.” The minimum wage had gone up to $1.15 an hour, and I would give all my first pay-check to these good causes if God would support my cause and let me win the crown. Of course, other girls prayed. This was the South, after all. But their prayers were shallow. Mine had depth because I had a social conscience. That was one of my advantages in the beauty contest. I had a better idea, I thought, of what God wanted, though it never occurred to me that He would want Negroes in the contest. Of course, there weren’t any Negroes at our school.

“It’s been a decade since Brown vs. Kansas,” my mother would say, “and there’s not a face that isn’t white at that school.”

“Or at any other,” I’d say. I knew that Columbia High School was no more prejudiced than any of the others. Most southerners thought the Supreme Court had been infiltrated by communists, and the government was going to take over and destroy our way of life. People in South Carolina were saying that President Kennedy and his brother had already gone to Mississippi and Alabama totally disregarding State’s Rights, and they’d probably be coming here, but until they did, it was going to be Separate But Equal. Separate water fountains. Sepa-rate parts of the bus. Separate schools and, of course, separate beauty contests for the whites and the coloreds, if they had beauty contests.

I knew even back then that “whites and coloreds” sounded like socks. Black was not yet beautiful. But that night I would try to be. Though I occasionally tried to rise above such petty aspirations, that night, with God’s help, I would achieve them. Once I’d gotten being beautiful out of my system, I assured God and myself, I could spend my time praying for the outcast. I knew beauty was but skin deep, but tonight skin deep got crowned. Skin deep got a dozen long-stemmed roses. And most importantly, skin deep got two full pages in our high school yearbook.

I realize now that I didn’t really have to win that contest to take up more than my share of space in the high school year-book. Since entering high school I had excelled. I’d been a dis-mal failure in junior high school, where I’d gotten a bad reputa-tion for wearing red lipstick the first semester of seventh grade when all the good girls waited till the second semester and started with pink, not red. But Dana had told me that I needed color, so my bad reputation was her fault, and maybe also the fault of Nancy Todd, whose brother I’d let kiss me when I was working on a science project at her house, and she’d told people that I’d kissed back! People thought I was fast and cheap, but I never “went all the way” or even half of the way with Greg. We never even went steady. Greg was a local boy, and I was holding out for a foreigner, like Jean-Paul, the French exchange student at Dreher High. Foreigners were my idols. I regarded them as celebrities.

In fact, I had a fantasy of marrying three foreigners—a Chi-naman, a Frenchman, and a Mexican—and having a baby with each one. Then the children and I would travel around and spend four months in China learning Chinese and the Chinese culture, four months in France learning French and the French culture, and four months in Mexico, et cetera. That had been my fantasy until President Kennedy introduced the idea of the Peace Corps, a cross-culture dream that could come true.

The point, though, is that I had a bad reputation in junior high, so in high school I’d over-compensated. I’d learned that success consisted of being like everybody else, only better, and God willing, prettier. I’d learned how not to be weird, not to look too eager. I’d learned how not to dress. I’d learned when to help others and when to help my-self. I’d read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and In-fluence People at Myrtle Beach the summer before I began high school, and I’d begun my negotiations with God.

Gradually I’d become socially acceptable—even decent. I was DAR Girl and Chairman of Religious Emphasis Week. I’d accumulated awards and been elected to school offices. Now I was a member of Executive Council and the Editor of the liter-ary yearbook, The Rebel. This was a big turn-about for a girl who’d been nominated for an office only once in junior high school, and that for Homeroom Coupon Chairman. I’d lost.

But now in my senior year of high school, I was president of two clubs, including Future Teachers of America, which was sponsoring me in the beauty contest that night. If I won, it would be a boon to American education. But I have to admit: it wasn’t just for that that I wanted to win. I wanted to win so that I’d have a permanent record of how I was before I started to grow old. Dana always said that from the age of sixteen, we start to die a little bit every year. I wanted a two-page spread of how I was before I started to wither and wilt.

Before I left for school that morning, I caught my mom read-ing when she was supposed to be working on my dress.

“What’s the Feminine Mystic about?” I’d asked her.

“It’s Feminine Mystique,” she’d corrected me. “It’s all about the sacred feminine ideal.”

I’d nodded. I had a sacred feminine ideal: God willing, I’d be the prettiest girl of all—please, dear God, just for one night. If mother ever finished the dress! Mother put down her book and told me to try on what she’d done so far.

My gown was long and straight—something like the one Jackie had worn when she’d gone to France with President Kennedy and he’d introduced himself as “the man who accom-panied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.” Jackie had spoken French with DeGaulle. Someday I’d know French, too. I’d join the Peace Corps right after I finished college, and I’d go to some French-speaking country and learn French while I did good deeds.

“Are you sure this is going to be ready by tonight?” I asked her.

“Don’t worry. It’ll be ready,” Mother said through the pins between her front teeth.

“Please God, please,” I prayed silently. “Let it be ready by tonight. Help Mother focus.”

There were few occasions when I didn’t turn to God, and I prayed silently all the way to school. After our classroom prayer during homeroom period, I added my own silent P.S. “If it be Thy will…”

People came by me at my hall monitor post, and a lot of them said, “Good luck tonight.” I looked back at them quizzi-cally, as if the beauty contest were the furthest thing from my mind.

“Why don’t you get your hair fixed like Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show?” someone asked. “You al-ready look a little bit like her.”

“But it wouldn’t be right to copy her,” I said, and I shrugged. “I just have to be myself.”

And my self was going to be Jackie Kennedy. Dick Van Dyke was cute, but I wasn’t settling for him. I was going to be the President’s Wife.

I walked by the auditorium where we’d be having the contest in just a few more hours. Tonight we’d hold crescent-shaped cards bearing our numbers, and “Moon River” would play as we walked across the stage—the same stage where Strom Thur-mond had stood while getting a standing ovation earlier in my high school career. I had stood and applauded, too, because even though I disagreed with everything Strom Thurmond stood for, I didn’t want to stand out by not standing. I knew I would proba-bly not have made President Kennedy’s Profiles in Cour-age, but how many of the men in that book had been re-jected for Homeroom Coupon Chairman? I didn’t want to alien-ate my Southern friends, and I knew their fears.

I don’t remember any of my morning classes; I assume I prayed my way through them. But I do remember Miss Pearl-stine’s Problems of American Democracy class after lunch that day because that was when the news came.

Miss Pearlstine was my favorite teacher. She was the sponsor of the International Relations Club, of which I was president. She was one of the few people outside my family who was en-thusiastic about my plans to join the Peace Corps as soon as I finished college, culminating a five-year plan that only began with tonight’s beauty contest.

Miss Pearlstine was the only Jew at our school. As chairman of Religious Emphasis Week, I thought of her and suggested that we drop the “in Jesus Christ we pray” part of our prayers so she wouldn’t feel left out. But Miss Webb, the sponsor of Religious Emphasis Week, said, “I’m sure she doesn’t mind if we pray our way when there are so many of us and so few of her.”

Close to the beginning of our 1:15 class, Mrs. Lindler, a math teacher who had an Algebra by TV class, came to the door.

“You know what?” she said. “They interrupted our Algebra lesson for a news bulletin. There’s been some shooting around President Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas.”

“Oh, how awful!” Miss Pearlstine said. “I hope nobody’s been hurt.”

I dropped God a quick line.

“Dear God, let everyone be all right.”

But I felt sure that no one had been hurt—not seriously, if at all. I was so certain that President Kennedy was all right that I felt foolish wasting my prayers—prayers that should be directed towards the less certain outcome of the night’s beauty pag-eant.

We went back to our lesson about voting precincts. And then the principal came over the PA system.

“President Kennedy has been shot,” he said. “We have not yet received word on whether or not the shot was fatal.”

Fatal? Of course the shot hadn’t been fatal. Why was Mr. Kirkley being so melodramatic? Presidents didn’t get assassi-nated. Not in our country. Maybe he’d been shot at. I could picture him in a Dallas clinic now, charming the staff as nurses bandaged a nicked shoulder.

“I had hoped for a twenty-gun salute,” he might say, “but not directed at me.”

That night I was going to look like his wife. The time he took her to Paris.

A few minutes later Mr. Kirkely came over the PA system again.

“May I have your attention please?”

He had our attention.

“President Kennedy is dead.”

There were cries and gasps of disbelief. Jeanne Thigpen be-gan to cry. I turned to her.

“It’s not true,” I told her. “I know it’s not true.”

A couple of students cheered.

“He asked for it,” Sam Davidson said. “He was practically becoming a dictator.”

“I think he was a good president,” Miss Pearlstine and I said in unison. Was?

“This proves that God didn’t want a Catholic president,” Sam continued.

“Oh, shut up!” I said. And then I remembered my responsibil-ity as a possible future Miss Columbian, and I added, “Please.”

I still couldn’t believe that President Kennedy was dead. Re-porters made mistakes. They were almost always wrong about the weather.

“Dear God,” I prayed silently. “Let President Kennedy really be alive. Make this news a false report, and I will give up being Miss Columbian.”

I paused for a moment. I knew I had to go further still.

“I’ll even give up being among the finalists,” I added si-lently.

In sync with my prayers, Mr. Kirkley continued.

“There have been some questions about tonight’s beauty contest. If this were a frivolous affair, we would cancel it. But it’s been planned for a long time, and the publication of the yearbook depends on the money we raise tonight. So the contest will go on as planned.”

I convinced myself—sort of—that since I was representing the Future Teachers of America Club, it was my duty to partici-pate in the contest. I decided I would go on, but I wouldn’t smile—not unless the news was false and Kennedy was really still alive. Then I would go on and I would smile but, in keeping with my vow to God, I wouldn’t win. I wouldn’t even be among the finalists.

It was while Dana was teasing my hair to make it look like Jackie’s that we received a phone call from the school secretary.

“Some of the judges don’t feel like coming,” the secretary said. “So the beauty contest will have to be postponed.”

Mother stopped working on my dress, and Dana stopped working on my hair, and we all sat down in front of the TV and watched a disheveled Jacqueline Kennedy stand beside Lyndon Johnson as he was sworn in as our next president. She had a dark smear on her dress, and even though we didn’t have a col-ored television, we knew it was blood. She’d taken his head in her lap, and then she’d crawled over the open limousine to get help.

“Now you look more like her than she does,” Dana told me.

We spent the weekend right there in the living room, watch-ing all the Kennedys. Caroline, who’d once come to her father’s press conference in her mother’s high-heeled shoes, was now crying as she held her mother’s hand. John John, sometimes photographed romping around in his father’s office, was now saluting our dead president’s flag-draped coffin. But the biggest change was in what they were saying about Jacqueline Ken-nedy. No one was talking about her sable underwear or who had designed the dress she was wearing or how much it had cost. All anyone noticed about her dress was that it wasn’t the pink suit with the bloodstains on it. It was all black. A black mantilla replaced the pillbox hat. They were using words like courage and dignity. Everything had changed, and I knew I had, too.

As Dana was getting ready to drive back to Winthrop, she said, “I came home for nothing.”

“Well, you were here to watch President Kennedy’s funeral with us,” I said.

“But that’s not something only I could do,” she replied, as if she were a fairy godmother without a mission. “Well, when they reschedule the beauty contest, let me know the new date, and I’ll see if I can come up.”

“Thank you, Dana,” I said, “But I’m not sure I have my heart in things like beauty contests anymore.”

“Oh, that’s right. Now all you care about is the Highest Pos-sible Moral Standards Award.”

On Monday morning, Mr. Kirkely came over the PA system once again. He gave us the new date for the beauty contest.

“And now, let’s have a moment of silent prayer,” he said, “for our country and in memory of President Kennedy.”

That’s when I realized that in spite of what had happened, I still cared about the contest, and even though my silent prayer was all about Kennedy and his family and the nation (I was, af-ter all, DAR Girl), I had to add a little P.S. about the contest. I was too ashamed to ask God to help me win it, with President Kennedy up there within earshot. Still, I had to ask God for something. It was my tradition.

“Dear God,” I told Him silently, “I guess, the way we left it, I could ask You to help me win this contest because I only of-fered not to win if Kennedy didn’t die. But, even though we’re back where we began, I’d like to move forward and do some-thing to honor Kennedy.” I didn’t mention anything about meet-ing foreign men and seeing foreign lands and learning foreign languages. I didn’t want God to think I had ulterior motives.

“When the time comes and I’ve finished Winthrop College and have my B.A. in English, could you and President Kennedy help me get into the Peace Corps?”

When the time came, God and President Kennedy got me in.

* * *

Tina Martin (Tonga 1969-71) applied to the Peace Corps, specifying any French- or Spanish-speaking country, and was sent to Tonga, where they speak a Polynesian language in no way re-lated to French or Spanish. She teaches ESL students at City Col-lege of San Francisco. Her other writings include 28 Peace Corps journals, three plays, three novels, and numerous short stories which she keeps in a trunk for her son to inherit. Two stories “Crash Course in Spanish: Getting Robbed in Chile” and “An Algerian Wedding” appear in I Should Have Just Stayed Home and I Should Have Gone Home.

About the Author


Jane Albritton, award-winning journalist and teacher, signed up for Peace Corps training not because she thought she might save the world, but because she was a Texan who had been a Girl Scout. She felt confident that as someone who viewed both talk-ing and camping as excellent pastimes, she would be good at working with others to solve problems and be O.K. living with-out modern amenities. Indeed, as an Applied Nutrition Volun-teer in rural India (1967-1969), she found that her native incli-nation to strike up a conversation with anyone about anything at all—kitchen gardens, cures for lice, sari cloth, train schedules—as well as the outdoor skills she had learned as a Scout served her well.

After returning to Dallas, she earned a master’s degree in English, taught freshmen composition at Southern Methodist University, and served as the writing specialist for the SMU School of Law. She also created Tiger Enterprises, a company for writing, editing, and instruction. Fifteen years later, she fol-lowed her partner Kate Browne, professor of anthropology, to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. There she has taught in the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication, and it was there she met Peace Corps pioneers Maury Albertson, professor emeritus of engineering, and his longtime associate and friend Pauline Birky-Kreutzer. Both are now gone, but they staked a claim on the origins of the Peace Corps that remains firmly fixed in the collective memory of Northern Colorado.

In 2007, having recently passed 60 and noting that the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps would soon arrive, she decided the time was right to collect stories from Returned Volunteers and with them create four books of stories from the four regions where Volunteers have served. With an amazing team of col-laborators and supporters, she has now completed the second big volunteer project of her life. It, too, is good.

When not writing, editing, teaching, or herding Peace Corps stories into print, she writes about travel, art, and food. Her sto-ries have appeared in the Northern Colorado Business Re-port, Edible Front Range Magazine, American Way Magazine, Southwest Art, and Travelers’ Tales Hawaii. And when not working, she can be found riding her horse Paniolo in the foothills of the Rockies or working out the fingering for a blues melody on her guitar. She is profoundly grateful for the life she has been given and for the opportunity to celebrate what she sees as her country’s best initiative for peace.

Jane Albritton lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

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