Category Archives: 2000s

Creating their Stamp Around the World: Postal Stamps of the PCCA

Stamps often feature flora, fauna, or an interesting image related to the country or region it’s created for. Also, Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) had the lucky chance to live and serve in countries all over the world. As a happy consequence, the two come together when PCVs send their mail home via exciting and new stamps from the countries they served. The Peace Corps Community Archive (PCCA) houses collections of correspondence between PCVs and their family and friends. These correspondences oftentimes include the envelopes each letter was sent in, which means the stamps are often intact. Much can be learned from these stamps, including, illustrations of native inhabitants, local flora and fauna, important technological advances, and much more. Not only do these stamps help carry connections back home for PCVs, but the stamps also share an insight into the exciting communities they served.

Charlotte Daigle-Berney served in Uganda from 1966-1968. On a postcard dated February 1967, she included these three stamps, which feature the local fauna of Uganda. The set of these stamps were released on October 9th, 1965. The stamps feature, from left to right, the Black Bee-Eater, the Narina Trogon, and the Ruwenzori Turaco. All three are native species to Uganda and represent the environmental climate of the country. These stamps offer insight into the vibrant fauna of the country in order to excite both visitors and locals to the nature around them.

 

In addition, Albert and Anne Briggs served in Malaysia from 1964-1966. Anne wrote a letter to her parents on January 5, 1967 and included these stamps. The stamp was released on November 15, 1965 and features the local flora of Malaysia, the Rhynchostylis retusa, also called the Foxtail Orchid. Below, it reads the name “Sarawak,” a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. By “reading” this stamp, one can connect the beautiful flora with a specific location in Malaysia and thereby gather important information about the stamp’s place of origin.

 

Lastly, Bobbe Seibert served in Honduras in the year 2000. Some of her communication with back home was through email, however, Seibert did send a multitude of letters. The first stamp features a nurse tending to a patient and the words, “Correos de Honduras” or “Post of Honduras.” The stamp celebrates Red Cross nurses and the care they have for their patients. The design for the stamp has gone through numerous designs but this stamp was released in 1999.

Another stamp features Ramón Valle, a Honduran olympian from the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Valle went to the Olympics in 1996 to represent Honduras in men’s swimming. “Translating” these stamps allows us insight into the perception of Honduras. First, the country values its medical care to those in need. Next, a successful Olympian is a symbol of Honduras and represents their country abroad and at home. Since Valle did not represent Honduras in 2000, but rather, represented the country in 1996, the stamp was possibly produced to encourage the country’s interest and support in the Olympic games. This is supported by the fact the stamp was produced on September 13, 2000 and the Olympic opening ceremony was on September 15, 2000.

All of these stamps share insight into the countries and regions they represent. While some PCVs didn’t notice which stamp they sent their mail home with, other stamp collectors reveal at the significance each stamp offers.

 

For more information, please visit the Peace Corps Community Archive website. To use the collections or make a donation, please contact the AU Archives at archives [at] american.edu.

Experiencing a New Culture through Food

In the collection of Alan Crew, who served in Nigeria from 1965-1966, is a copy of “The West African Gourmet” by Bill and Bee Welmers in which they advised, “As any shrink can tell you, the sine qua non of relating to a strange diet is flexibility, sensitivity, happy anticipation.” Peace Corps Volunteers had to adjust to various diets and delicacies during their time abroad. PCVs learned and adapted many local recipes and resources to fit their American taste-buds.

Holly Reed served in Senegal from 1979-1982. Like all PCVs, she could sometimes find familiar foods, but she also had to adjust to new ones.

The Welmers compiled a list of tips and tricks for anyone visiting or staying in Western Africa. Their humorous anecdotes shed light on the differences in food selection and preparation. From mangoes to mushrooms, the Welmers detail all types of food available for consumption. For example, there are three different types of Guavas, each tasting like strawberry, peach, or pear. They also offer tips and tricks to keeping and storing food. Upon finding ants in one’s food, the Welmers advise, “Putting the food, dish and all, on a warm stove will give the ants a hotfoot; but don’t overheat or you’ll have fried ants.”

Many PCVs would taste authentic meals prepared by the locals they worked alongside. Picture by Holly Reed.

Peace Corps Volunteers newsletters could include native recipes for PCVs to try. Alanna Randall served in Belize from 2001-2003 and received the Toucan Times, the Peace Corps Belize newsletter, during her service. The Toucan Times contained everything from crosswords to articles. Jill Hepp, a fellow PCV, created four recipes to share in the Toucan Times‘ Winter 2001 edition. Hepp’s recipes range from “The-You-May-Nevah-Go-Back-To-Salsa-Casera-Salsa” to “Fresh Ginger Muffins.” All of her recipes feature local ingredients. The recipe for Polenta includes adjustments to turn it into a pizza.

PCVs could also learn new ways to prep and serve food. Pictured here, local women use mortars and pestles to grind ingredients. Picture by Holly Reed.

Even after PCVs finish their service, the food they consumed leaves a lasting impression. BarbaraLee Toneatti Purcell served in Nigeria from 1962-1964 and included a recipe for Groundnut Stew in her memoir. She made adjustments to the list of ingredients to replicate the methods her local cook used.  Both immediately after serving and many years later, PCVs can look back at the meals they ate and remember the different tastes of culture they experienced.

 

For more information, please visit the Peace Corps Community Archive website. To use the collections or make a donation, please contact the AU Archives at archives [at] american.edu.

Peace Corps Volunteers as Artists

Whether it’s a letter home or a diary entry, Peace Corps Volunteers frequently document the varied images they see during their service. While abroad, Peace Corps Volunteers are often immersed in a stimulating and beautiful new environment. Many volunteers therefore wish to tell their family and friends back home about their new adventures, or find a way to memorialize their surroundings so they can revisit them in the future.

While some PCVs have chosen to photograph their travels, some PCVs have documented their different surroundings through their artistic abilities. In letters, a quick sketch will assist to visually explain complex designs in architecture or costumes. Detailed drawings in a diary entry encourage reflection when PCVs have a moment to themselves.

David Day served in Kenya and India from 1965-1967. He sent regular letters to his parents and included quick sketches of what he saw during his travels. His drawings vary from a scooter driver to a detail of an Indian street. He even drew a few of the homes he stayed in to explain the varying architectural designs to his parents.

David Day quickly sketched a typical Shamata house from his time in Kenya. He sent the letter to his parents to update them on his experiences in the Peace Corps.

David Day quickly sketched a typical Shamata house from his time in Kenya. He sent the letter to his parents to update them on his experiences in the Peace Corps.

 

Day illustrated his home in India to his parents and detailed the differences between his home and the rest of the village.

Day illustrated his home in India to his parents and detailed the differences between his home and the rest of the village.

Bobbie Seibert volunteered in 2000 in Honduras. Seibert spent her free time sketching and would detail the various scenes before her. She captured a variety of locations, from still lifes to landscapes. On one drawing, she notes she was waiting for someone to fix her chimney but gave up after two hours.

 

Bobbie Seibert artistically sketched this landscape of Azacualpa, Honduras.

Bobbie Seibert artistically sketched this landscape of Azacualpa, Honduras.

 

Seibert sketched the corner of her temporary apartment as she waited for her site to become available.

Seibert sketched the corner of her temporary apartment as she waited for her site to become available.

 

For more information, please visit the Peace Corps Community Archive website. To use the collections or make a donation, please contact the AU Archives at archives [at] american.edu.

Sharon Keld in Morocco

Country of Service: Morocco
Service Type: Community Development
Dates in Service: 2006 – 2008
Keywords: Language

Accession Date: March 30, 2016
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.5 linear feet

Document Types

  • Notebooks containing language lessons and practice, training notes, and meeting and work related notes.
  • Dictionary (2v)
  • Training materials
  • Photograph

 

Adjusting to New Worlds

When browsing the collections of the Peace Corps Community Archive it is difficult to miss material that demonstrates excitement, fatigue, curiosity, or frustration surrounding issues of adjustment to life in a foreign country.

Often, volunteers expressed these sentiments through letters, diary entries, and artwork. In some cases, notation of adjustment can even be found in the official Peace Corps paperwork.

In this post, we’ll explore the materials of three new collections to illustrate how volunteers adapted: Gage Skinner (Chile, 1964 – 1966), Susan Shepler (Sierra Leone, 1987 – 1989), and Bobbe Seibert (Honduras, 2000).

Gage Skinner, an anthropologist by training, joined the Peace Corps in 1964. As one of the first groups of Peace Corps volunteers, Skinner used his time in Chile to teach Mapuche Indians the practice of beekeeping. But he was unaccustomed to the long hours spent traveling by foot around rural Chile, so Skinner inquired about horses for sale in nearby towns.

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Sunday, February 14, 1964, Skinner wrote about walking four hours “back into the hills” to see a horse “offered for sale.” PCCA.

Skinner purchased a horse in late April 1964. To document the event, he glued this picture drawn by his little brother Greg into his journal.

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This drawing by Greg of Skinner’s horse appears in Skinner’s personal journal. PCCA.

In an earlier entry, dated January 13th, 1964, Skinner journals about how difficult it could be for volunteers to acclimate to their housing. As seen on the page below, he bemoans the uncomfortable living conditions in his first home in Chile:

“There are chickens and cats in the kitchen. They are flea-ridden. They defecate on the floors. There are flies in the kitchen.”

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Wednesday, January 13th, 1964, Skinner described his housing situation in rural Chile.  PCCA.

Susan Shepler, who taught mathematics in Sierra Leone in the late 1980s, offers little in her notes about discomfort. In fact, a survey she filled out in the April 1989 issue of Di News De, a local newsletter produced by the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, reveals Shepler’s openness to the new cuisine and customs.

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This is the second page of a “Volunteer Survey” filled in by Susan Shepler from the April 1989 issue of Di News De. PCCA.

In this same issue of Di News De, however, researchers will encounter comics, short stories, and other creative expressions that indicate some of the challenges many volunteers faced. Two examples include a bus ride gone awry and a recipe to recreate familiar food.

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April 1989 issue of Di News De. Susan Shepler collection. PCCA.

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April 1989 issue of Di News De. Susan Shepler collection. PCCA.

Unlike Shepler, Bobbe Seibert described distaste for some local foods and created her own recipes abroad. Seibert, who joined the Peace Corps later in her adult life, detailed her cooking practices in a letter to her father and stepmother, Jean.

On October 17, 2000, Seibert wrote to her parents to explain how she used corn to make a “wonderfully hot, smooth, and comforting” cream soup because she was “not particularly fond of” the homemade tortillas.

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Letter from Seibert to her father and stepmother on October 17, 2000. PCCA.

In the same letter, Seibert  enclosed a photograph of her house. On the back of the image she cautions her parents about visiting, noting “Honduras is not a comfortable country.”

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Photograph from a letter to Seibert’s father and stepmother dated October 17, 2000. PCCA.

Seibert served on an agricultural team in Honduras in 2000 until a family emergency brought her back home to Alaska. Yet, her time as a volunteer is well chronicled in her journals, artwork, and correspondence.

In a letter to her husband John, for example, Seibert expresses excitement regarding her new host family and housing:

“My family is perfect.”

“Dona Marlen is a housekeer – not a maid, and they have two wonderful kids, Marleny – she’s eight years old and we go everywhere together and Edward who is two years old and mostly just smiles all the time.”

“The roof is corrugated but of very good quality it sounds wonderful when it rains as it did last night – quite hard.”

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This letter from Seibert to John on February 6, 2000, offers a positive reaction to a new housing arrangement. PCCA.

Celebrating or overcoming adjustments is part of the Peace Corps volunteer experience. By carefully studying the collections in the Peace Corps Community Archive, researchers can build an enriched understanding of a volunteer’s daily life, including the joys and struggles associated with adjusting to a new world.

For more information, please visit the Peace Corps Community Archive website. To use the collections or make a donation, please contact the AU Archives at archives [at] american.edu

 

Bobbe Seibert in Honduras

Bobbe Seibert

Country of Service: Honduras
Service Project Title: Hillside Farming Extension
Dates in Service: 2000
Keywords: Agriculture, Business, Community Development

Accession Date: July 29, 2015
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.5 linear feet

Document Types

    • Correspondence
    • Photographs
    • Reports
    • Diaries
    • Training Materials
    • Artwork
    • Memorabilia

The Peace Corps, Disaster, and the Written Word

"Toucan Times: July, August, September 2002"

“Toucan Times: July, August, September 2002”

One of the official goals of the Peace Corps is to “help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” Peace Corps volunteers achieve this goal through immersion within their respective communities. Peace Corps volunteers also form and maintain relationships and bonds with each other. Unofficial newspapers created by Peace Corps volunteers help foster community bonds between volunteers. These newsletters contain editorials, poetry, recipes, book reviews, and announcements relevant to volunteers.

One such magazine, the Toucan Times, documented PCVs serving in Belize. In 2001 and 2002, the Toucan Times devoted much space to how PCVs dealt with the effects of Hurricane Iris. Hurricane Iris hit Belize in early October of 2001. The disaster caused approximately 250 million dollars worth of damage and left thousands homeless. Several Peace Corps volunteers, including Alanna Randall, relocated to new homes. Alanna Randall, an environmental education and community development volunteer and one of the editors of the Toucan Times, expressed her emotional turmoil via a newspaper article. She wrote how, “many of the familiar landmarks were missing or moved, I almost didn’t even recognize where I lived…Stepping carefully around scattered pieces of plywood, I spotted my fan lying near a gravesite. Feeling numb and disbelieving, I sifted through the rubble. Random items were unearthed until I felt satisfied that all that could be was recovered.”

"In the rubble of my house"

“In the Rubble of my House”, Toucan Times, April/May/June 2002. 

In a message home, Randall wrote, “I’m officially a refugee of Hurricane
Iris. My peace corps family is sheltering me and searching for funds to get me started again…I’m doing fine. Anyway,”there’s nothing left to
do, but smile, smile, smile.”

The Peace Corps assisted with Alanna’s move to Cristo Rey Village and later San Ignacio. This story highlights the resilience of Peace Corps volunteers in the face of unpredictable hardships. Alanna’s hardships also show how Peace Corps newsletters like the Toucan Times provide volunteers with creative space to express and share their Peace Corps experiences.

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Northeastern New York

RPCV Northeastern New York
Date of Materials: 1986-2004

Accession Date: October 9, 2014
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.5 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Membership lists
  • Minutes
  • Newsletters
  • Newsletters from other RPCV groups

“Weevils and Beetles”: An Amusing Peace Corps Anecdote

Brian Adler and Cynthia Elliott, a married couple, served together in the Peace Corps in Suriname (2002-2004). His extensive diary records the daily life of a Peace Corps volunteer. In addition to assisting in community projects, Brian and Cynthia also found time to travel the countryside. In doing so, Peace Corp volunteers not only adapt to different and local cultures, but also to the environment as well. This amusing anecdote, taken from Brian’s diary, shows how volunteers, placed in new locations, cope with the forces of Mother Nature.

Harlequin Beetle in Hand, Brian Adler, American University Peace Corps Community Archive

Harlequin Beetle in Hand, Brian Adler, American University Peace Corps Community Archive

“The bugs have gotten better and braver at night. This hasn’t pleased Cindy, She woke me up with a start the other night scared out of her wits. I think it was the Mephoquin. We both heard buzzing in the walls and at 3:30 in the morning I could care less so I quickly took to some light hearted joking by naming the insect “The Wood Weevel.”

Cindy was unimpressed. She made me get up several times to look for it, turn on the lantern, turn off the lantern because it smelled, etc. I never did get back to sleep because she would violently shake her bug netting every 20 minutes. I finally got up and told the jungle to stop it but I don’t think it listened.”