Peace Corps
Thai 27
Lucia’s stream-of-consciousness memories of Hawaii

-When I was “investigated” (who did that? FBI?) previous to joining the PC, I had to explain to people where Thailand was. In 1968, I would begin by asking if they knew where Vietnam was, and was shocked to discover that most people did not. But people came through for me: one of my friends told me she told them (you can believe this or not; I just like it) that I brushed my teeth with red, white, and blue toothpaste!
- There was a humungous snowstorm on the East Coast, and we drove like idiots for many scary hours from MA to NYC, only to discover that the airport was closed! What will become of me? Oddly, I had had a good-bye dinner at a Chinese restaurant, where my fortune cookie contained no fortune. Since I was embarking on a big adventure, I actually asked for another one: it was also empty! I guess I should have known I had no future in the PC. . .

- Ah, Escondido, meaning hidden away. Again, perhaps I should have known . . .

- First phrases I learned in Thai: Got a cigarette? Where’s the bathroom? And (forgive the transliteration) bai tio, which, as I recall, was described to us on the order of “I’m getting the hell out of here and I don’t really know where I’m going, but I wouldn’t tell you even if I knew.” I also learned sign language hand spelling, which we needed as not to have everything we said in our cubicle (cardboard walls not meeting the ceilings by 2 feet or so) overheard by everyone. We discovered this when about 12 people snickered at a whispered dirty joke!

- It did not take me long to realize that my friend’s father was right when he said that the PC was like the military, only slightly milder. I thought he was just trying to discourage me (as in, what’s a nice girl like you . . .), but he was certainly right about mind-control and attempting to tear us down to rebuild us as Stepford-wives representatives of the US. Aside from having almost every minute scheduled, does anyone remember things we were not allowed to discuss? I’m thinking of a book by Louis Lomax (yellow journalism at its best, to be sure) whose title I can’t remember, along with any conversation about US policy in SE Asia: war? What war? Oh, we have nothing to do with that . . .

- During this time, I did not read a single book, and I was shocked that it took me a week to know simple things like the fact that Eisenhower had died.

- And, like the military, was mail from family and friends as important to everyone else as it was to me? I AM a person; I DO have a history; there is an anchor in the real world.

- So, the bai tio from Sat afternoon through Sun was incredibly impression-making and beautiful. After a while, you could match your mood to the environment – I had no idea Hawaii was so diverse, and learned a lot about the geology, flora and fauna. Wow. I was also bowled over by how generous islanders were (giving us rides, feeding us, taking us to special places, sharing their lives) to us haolie (sp?) farong.

- Okay. It rained so much that those of us with ridiculous cabin-fever played football in the rain, and anyone who was tackled slid for 30 yards or so.

- Okay. It rained so much that some genius compared getting into bed at night to climbing into a tuna fish sandwich. I recently returned from a Thoreau-type cabin in the woods where it rained very heavily for four days, and the phrase was right there in my mind. Photographs I took in Hawaii were so curled that their edges touched, and they never straightened out! So, I didn’t send you any, Ernie; I discovered that they were mostly scenery and not people that you would probably be more interested in. I cannot seem to locate the slides I took.

- Okay. It rained so much you couldn’t hear anything but pounding on corrugated roof.

- Earwigs fell from these roofs. Some people freaked; others just flicked them off. This seemed to me to be some indicator of how one might get along in a foreign country!

- Kathy Fukao insisted on lending me her white gloves, which she had packed in case she met the queen (no kidding), so I could climb Mauna Loa with a bunch of guys from another group (I think we called them "Pigs and Chickens"). She was right; I was unable to return them as they were ripped to shreds. But what a great climb!

- One of my roommates, whose name I can’t remember, joined to PC so her boyfriend would miss her and come to his senses. Sure enough, he proposed, and she left within weeks. I was most disappointed.

- I considered it a riot to be psychologically “judged” by some guy with a bachelors in something from Texas A & M. Had not so much been riding on it, I would also have been amused by our “peer” review, where it was announced that if you didn’t know who the person was, you could come up and look at their picture! Five of us from the same city, who I considered to be radically different, were judged “too New Yorkish.” Huh? Quiz: who were we? What does it mean?

- I spent a lot of time on the cliffs behind our “compound”, where I saw my first “Hawaiian Rainbow”: sun filtering through rain falling from cloud to ocean. How can such an amazing thing exist? I continue to by three-fold grass mats I was introduced to there.

- Learning Thai was frustrating and fascinating. I took the wonderful techniques we learned and applied them to my bilingual classrooms in Montreal and in Somerville/Cambridge. I am truly grateful for that mind-expanding experience, and loved the Thai teachers we had, who were also under the same constraints that we were.

- We made candle-lit flowered little boats, I think for New Year, and floated them out in the ocean until the candle went out (not such good luck) or you couldn’t see it any more. What a lovely ritual.

- I bought a white suit, in a vain attempt to fit expectations. Even though I knew at that point that I would not go to Thailand under the auspices of the US govt, I wanted the decision to be mine rather than the PC’s. Someone pointed out to me that the returned volunteers who were the trainers were people who had nothing else to do with their lives! With personal irony, I wore this suit when I immigrated to Quebec.

I write this stuff out for you in case it sparks some memories and because it’s great fun for me. As you can see, those three months had a continuing influence on my life. I can only wonder (the road not taken . . . ) what would have happened if I had taken two of the Thai teacher’s individual offers to come to Thailand anyway; they would find me a job. No money, no guts, and then there’s that thing about being an American in SE Asia at that time. I can’t come to the reunion, but I think it’s such a terrific thing. Wow. Someone (or many ones?) will write up their impressions for the website, where I have been visiting with much interest. Have a great time!