Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Volunteer in Sierra Leone

We were volunteers because we had chosen to apply, and if selected, we would serve somewhere in the world where there was a need. The application process was somewhat tedious, with multiple forms to be filled out, copies of records and transcripts to be sent, and names of neighbors and friends as references. This all took time. Then, in your neighborhood, the FBI would show up to talk to your neighbors about what kind of a citizen you were. I remember neighbors talking about this – about an agent showing up at their door, and talking to them about their purpose and then, many times through a closed screen door, asking about what kind of a guy I was. I remember it being about a week that these FBI agents went door to door in the neighborhood where I lived asking about me. Where we lived it was unusual for visitors to be so well-dressed as these agents. I also remember how very unusual it was for investigations such as these to go on in my neighborhood. I suspect that some folks who agreed to comment about me felt that the FBI was investigating me for something that I had done. I was impressed by how very complete the FBI was in this process. Not only did they seek out almost every neighbor, they also went to references that I had given and spoke to each one. I guess the FBI did not find me suspect because by April 1968 – some two months before I was to leave for Sierra Leone and training – I received a phone call telling me that I was to be a new volunteer in Sierra Leone. Although I had certainly heard of the country I knew little of its history or location. Off I hustled to the family Encyclopedia Britannica to look it up and read about it. I remember being both excited and anxious. I also remember wondering what I had got myself into. The Britannica talked about the tropics, about malaria, about hardships, yet it also gave a history of the country and its people. I wondered if I could really live there. In the next month medical examinations and immunizations took place near Boston at the Chelsea Naval Station. Here, a Navy doctor went over my health record, examined me, and ordered the first shots of gamma globulin, tetanus booster, and other shots. Leaving the base I felt like a pin cushion, but I also felt proud that this organization was doing what seemed like a very careful job. In the mail, Peace Corps Washington sent me loads of information about the country, about what we would be doing there, and about what other things were expected of us before heading out. I remember May and June being quite busy. All of our friends knew of our choice and were excited for us. Our families were apprehensive.  By July 2 we were in Philadelphia being “staged” (additional immunizations were given), and by July 4 we were packed into a large plane for the cross-Atlantic journey to our host country.

No comments: