Category Archives: Environment

Peggy Schaeffer in Yemen

Name: Peggy Schaeffer
Country of Service: Yemen
Place of Service: Taizz
Service Type: Librarian
Dates in Service: 1977-1979
Keywords: Business, Community Development, Education, Environment, Health, Information Technology, Libraries, Literacy, Urban Planning, Youth

Accession Date: October 21, 2020
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 1 linear foot

Document Types:

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Publications
  • Reports

Jim Hitter in Sierra Leone

Name: Jim Hitter
Country of Service: Sierra Leone
Place of Service: Kambia
Dates in Service: 1982-1984
Keywords: Agriculture, Community Development, Education, Environment, Health, Youth

Accession Date: March 5, 2020
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.25 linear feet

Document Types
• Photographs
• Diaries

A Serendipitous Encounter

Homraj Acharya is an anthropology student in Dr. Adrienne Pine’s Craft of Anthropology I course (ANTH-601). This blog post was written in fulfillment of a course assignment. Images are published with permission from Mike Rechlin.

What would be the expression to describe a situation when the characters of your childhood stories spring to life and you get to actually meet them? I grew up hearing stories of “Mr. Mike” and “Mr. Dog,” who came from America.

Our elders said that if we dug a hole deep enough we would get to America. We tried, but the problem was, if you dug deep into the earth, the first thing that appeared would be water, and we thought we would drown in the well. So we gave up this idea of finding Americans in the underworld.

But some of them had lived in our village and planted trees, wore boots and brimmed hats, spoke English that sounded like popcorn, used their rare and valuable cameras (that no one in the village owned) to take photographs of mundane things like cows and water buffaloes, and loved the same food as those buffaloes. One of them had wiped his bottom with nettle leaves and then said that Nepal is so rich we have electric currents in our plants.

I grew up listening to the stories about Mr. Mike and Mr. Dog—two Americans who had lived in our village in the 1960s, just before I was born. They were both described to us kids as tall and thin with brown hat and boots. A riddle that I grew up hearing poked gentle fun at their appearance: “It is from America, is like a stick, and wears a hat. What is it?” (In Nepali, अमेरिकाने देशको, टोपी लाउँछ छेस्को, के हो”) The answer was a matchstick. We were solving that riddle in the 1970s and 1980s.

On September 18, 2019 I came across one of the real-life characters of the riddle in “Memories and Meaning: A 50th Anniversary Report,” catalogued in the American University Archives.

As part of Anthropology graduate classwork, our professor, Dr. Adrienne Pine, had scheduled a tour of the archives. I asked the archivist if they had anything on Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) working in Nepal.

I was curious to see how Peace Corps volunteers write privately about their experiences. I wasn’t expecting to find my own village in the archives. But in the list of sites I found the name of my village in connection to PCV Mike Rechlin.

Mr. Mike turned out to be Mike Rechlin, who was in our village as part of “Group 17” Peace Corps volunteers in 1969. Mike had spelled out the name of my village alongside the District. Certain it was the same Mike, I asked Leslie Nellis, Associate Archivist for Digital Initiatives and Record Management at the American University Library, to help me get connected with Mike and the other PCV if they were alive and around. I had assumed they would be in their 80s, as is my father, who worked along with them.

Mr. Mike and Mr. Dog figured in my childhood stories as the Gora Sahibs (White Sahibs). This a colonial-era term used to describe white British colonial masters in India, but it continued to apply to white people after the formal end of colonization.

One of the stories was about my father, one of the Gora Sahibs, and pumpkin daal (Kabaliko Daal). Daal is our daily food, a legume sauce served over rice. It can be made from chickpeas, lentils, split peas, or other legumes. Supposedly my father cooked for them one day and he had no legumes around so he used pumpkin, which he also used when he cooked for our buffaloes, who ate large amounts of vegetables and preferred their pumpkin cooked.

For the Gora Sahib, he apparently put sugar in the daal, which is not how daal is actually made. But he liked to put sugar in everything. Later, when my dad had to cook during when my mother had her menstrual cycle (when women cannot cook or do housework), he made us “the American Daal.” We did not like it. It was not fully cooked, and it had sugar in it. Who would want to have sugary daal? So, we don’t know which one of these two guys were responsible for changing our household recipes, but for four days a month we were forced to endure the sugary daal recipe.

Leslie connected me to Mike within a few days. I talked to him and it turned out he lives in West Virginia, only about three hours from Washington, DC, near a place where I have gone camping. We met and he shared some of the amazing photos, included below, from the late 60s

A few weeks later, I talked to my dad on a cell phone, which in itself is amazing. When I was growing up, I never even saw a telephone until I was 15, and at first, I spoke into the wrong end. But now we can call from America to fields in Nepal. I told my father that I met Mr. Mike and had dinner with him. He was thrilled to hear it. He extended his regards and namaste to Mike. There are very few people in the village who are still alive who would remember Mike and the other PCV in person.

Here are a few pictures of my village I received from Mike:

Two men (father and son) crouch next to freshly made, upside-down water pots in Nepal.

I recognize that this is my neighbor Maila Kumal on the left (still alive but old) and his father (now dead). This was pretty much how we dressed in the summer and how I grew up. They are of the pottery making Kumal caste. They still make this pottery. Here they are clearly posing for the camera with their freshly made water pots. We stored our drinking water in these pots. As it is very hot in the Terai region of Nepal in the summer, we would dig a pit in the ground of our kitchen to keep the pots cool. We lived in a thatched house like everyone else and our kitchen was an outbuilding with a thatched roof and mud walls, so the floor was also of dirt. Sometimes these clay pots are used for storing grains.

Landscape in Nepal of a muddy field. Two oxen plow the field led by a man from the village.

This brings back my own memories of plowing our land and leveling the field. In the picture above the land, according to Mike, is being leveled to prepare for planting trees like teaks and eucalyptus—part of the Australian forestry project that Mike was connected to. Leveling is fun for a kid because you get to ride on the leveler, which is that flat piece of wood behind the oxen. Sometimes a kid can sit between the legs of the plowing man just to have fun. We did that all the time. The boundary of work and play seldom exists. Work for adults can be part of the play for the kids. In fact, it helps the adults to have a little heavier pressure on the leveler and sometimes they would even call for kids to come and ride. This guy, who is now old, lives a couple hundred meters from our house. The place is called Sano Deuri.

A man rides through village carrying grain on an ox cart, led by two oxes, as a child looks on from a walkway between the houses.

I recognize that this is Nandu Tharu, and he seems to be bringing a grain storage container (deheri) that his wife made to one of the neighbor’s houses. This is how we transported things. This lariya (ox cart) was a multi-purpose vehicle for transporting sand from the rivers, harvested rice from the field, taking oilseeds to the oilseed press, bringing hay and logs from the jungle, and bringing brides after the wedding. Lariya are not as ubiquitous now because mostly they are replaced by tractors, but they are still around. These clay deheri in the cart are built in several segments of clay, rice husk, straw and cow dung so that different pieces can be assembled inside the home after they are complete.

Three women collect water in pots from village well. One woman looks down the well and another faces the camera.

This is a common community well for drinking water. The well is still there and the house in the background belongs to a family that weaves excellent baskets. I have some of their baskets in my house in Silver Spring. These women are using the same type of water pot from our earlier photo of the potters. In the background can be seen deheri (large storage pots) like the one being brought on the lariya, but they are decommissioned or they wouldn’t be outside. It seems they are being used just for firewood storage.

There is an inscription on the side of the well that has the sign of Om and then says 2022 Sukhadram. So the well was renovated 54 years ago (in 2022 BS / 1965 CE) and the renovation must have been sponsored by Sukhadram. It is interesting that somebody made the om sign left side right. It should be facing the other way. These women are Tharu, from the community indigenous to the area, and are wearing beautiful traditional dresses, which are now uncommon as the women in the village mostly wear Bollywood style saris and blouses today. Their armlets are made of pure silver and also have mostly gone out of usage.

Tharu women fish in a local pond during a community fishing event.

These Tharu women are fishing in the local ponds with their hiluka (small nets with rounded frames) and ghanghi (large nets with more triangular shapes), and deli (or perungo) on the west to catch minnows. This is a community fishing event. People are not allowed to fish in these community ponds as and when they please; there is a particular day as decided by village Badhghar (a village chief, elder) that the members of the community (usually women from village) can go and fish, so that everyone has an equal opportunity to catch fish. Sometimes they will catch fish and then collect and divide.

A line of Tharu women fish with nets in a local lake.

This is a major lake of our village. It is known as Buddhi Lake. Tharu women are fishing with hiluka nets. The official area of the two lakes combined now is 47 acres. When Mike was in Buddhi, these lakes were divided into two lakes, one for the community and one for generating revenue for the village council. In recent years, both lakes have been combined and redesigned and contracted out for 5 to 10 years to the highest bidder. Last cycle the winning bid was for 4.2 million Rupees—equivalent to $40,000 USD.

Three women husk rice inside of a building. Two women pull on rope over their heads as another crouches in the foreground.

These women are husking rice in a dhiki, a large wooden beam that is pumped by foot and drops onto the rice, separating the husk and kernel of the rice. That was one of the tasks I had to do regularly as a child. I would come home from school and have to husk the rice with the dhiki and feed the husks mixed with pumpkin to the buffaloes and cows. We used to be in a hurry to do something else, like go out and play, so the idea was to finish as quickly as possible and pump it really fast. But that actually breaks the rice into smaller pieces and you get yelled at.

Landscape of Nepalese village. Dirt road is flanked by wooden carts and a woodpile leading up to thatched roof houses.

I grew up in a similar house until about 7 years of age. Every year in the winter I had to go to the jungle to cut fresh thatch for the house and also for the kitchen and barn. Then we built a house made of mud bricks that we made by hand, though even today a portion of the cowshed is thatch. Many of these houses have changed, with walling material mostly of bricks and roofs replaced by corrugated tin sheets or RCC (rod, concrete and cement) for those who can afford it.

Agricultural map reads "Operation Cum Stock Map," and outlines trees, water sources, and topographical landmarks.

This is the map of the village showing how much was forested at the time. I had actually never seen a map of my village before seeing this one. The river on the far left is where I learned to swim. It is now often low or even fully dried so that you can cross the river without taking your shoes off. This is the result of a combination of climate change, deforestation and silting from erosion upstream.

On the bottom right is a jamun (black plum) grove where we used to go in July and August to pick them in the forest. Sadly, there has been much deforestation and the area identified with jamun isn’t there anymore as a forest. The sal trees were also essentially all felled during the political transition of the 1990s. Some of the teak and eucalyptus trees (Mike’s project) are still there but most have been cut down. The Kusum trees which are identified in the map have also been cut down, and the mango and Seemal trees are almost all gone now. I am curious why it says “unpromising Sal trees,” as I recall many Sal trees in this area highly valued as hardwood. There is a saying in the village that a Sal tree lasts for 3,000 years – standing for 1,000 years, on the ground for 1,000 years, and another 1,000 to completely decay.

AU’s Peace Corps Archive contains historical treasures that have serendipitously re-connected me in entirely new ways to my childhood stories, creating the potential for new, richer interpretations of my own village’s history. These new interpretations will help us better understand the processes that have led us to where we are today, and will also provide insights into the broader, long-term impacts of the Peace Corps in societies like my own.

Sara Miller in Panama

Name: Sara Miller
Country of Service: Panama
Place of Service: Los Santos
Service Project Title: Community Environmental Conservation
Dates in Service: 2016-2019
Keywords: Agriculture, Community Development, Environment

Accession Date: October 6, 2019
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 1 digital file

Document Types

Gene Carl Feldman in Western Samoa

Name: Gene Carl Feldman
Country of Service: Western Samoa
Place of Service: Upolu, Savai’i, and Manono
Service Type: Village Fisheries Development Project and Sea Turtle Conservation Project
Dates in Service: 1974-1977
Keywords: Agriculture, Architecture, Environment, Community Development

Accession Date: September 30, 2019
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 20 digital files

Document Types

  • Photographs
  • Reports
  • Publications
  • Memoirs

A. Michael Marzolla in Guatemala and El Salvador

Name: A. Michael Marzolla
Country of Service: Guatemala and El Salvador
Place of Service: Mixco and El Tigre
Service Project Title: Regional Agriculture Cooperatives Volunteer
Dates in Service: 1973-1974, 1976-1977
Keywords: Agriculture, Community Development, Education, Environment, Health

Accession Date: April 25, 2019
Access: No Restrictions
Collection Size: 0.5 linear feet

Document Types

  • Photographs
  • Artwork
  • Reports
  • Publications
  • Sound (Cassette Tapes)

Rebecca Cors in China

Name: Rebecca Cors
Country of Service: China
Place of Service: Zigong, Sicuan Province
Service Project Title: Environmental Educator Volunteer
Dates in Service: 2004-2006
Keywords:  Agriculture, Education, Environment

Accession Date: March 29, 2019
Access: No Restrictions
Collection Size: 1 digital item

Document Types

  • Photographs
  • Memoirs

Digital Surrogates

Add tags for country; type of service; primary document type

Odd Jobs in the Peace Corps

Most Peace Corps Volunteers spend their service as educators, working in community development, or in public health.

But some volunteers spend their two years serving in very different jobs. For example, Avram Primack worked with marine fisheries in the Philippines from 1987-1989 and Terry Kennedy and James Kolb worked on the Peace Corps Educational TV Project in Colombia from 1964-1966 and 1963-1965, respectively.

Take a look at three more odd jobs we have in the collection.

 

While serving in Colombia from 1964-1966 Howard Ellegant worked as an architect. Ellegant drew out plans for multiple schools, a house, and a church.

Howard Ellegant, Colombia, 1964-1966. “Iglesia de Troncocito” October 5, 1965 (Truncated Church)

 

Meghan Keith-Hynes (Haiti, 1986) and Richard Burns (Dominican Republic, 1962-1964) both worked in Forestry. Burns notes that his group was trained in fire suppression and aiding the Dominican Republic government to establish their own forest service. Meghan worked on starting a community nursery independent of the government.

Meghan Keith-Hynes, Haiti, 1986

Richard Burns, Dominican Republic, 1962-1964, “Planting trees”

 

Steven Bossi served in India from 1966-1968 and worked on the Andhra Pradesh Science Workshop, which worked with local science teachers. The workshop focused on two things: aspects of science teaching that are crucial for a firm understanding of the principles of high school science and aspects that can easily be implemented in the classroom.

Steven Bossi, India, 1966-1968, “Demonstrating folding microscope”

 

While most volunteers work in the same three types of jobs, there are a few out of the ordinary jobs volunteers do around the world.

Experiencing Hurricanes While in the Peace Corps

Because Peace Corps volunteers serve in areas of the world that can have dangerous weather, they have to be prepared. Current volunteers in the Caribbean, particularly the Dominican Republic, were gathered at the capital for protection, but not evacuated, because of Hurricane Irma in early September, 2017 (according to a Peace Corps volunteer forum).

In October, 2001, Hurricane Iris hit Belize. Iris was a category 4 major hurricane, cost $250 million worth of damage, caused 36 fatalities, and was the most destructive hurricane in Belize since Hurricane Hattie in 1961. The hurricane inflicted the most damage on the Toledo and Stanley Creek districts of Belize. On the outskirts of this area, in Placencia, six weeks into her two year service was Alanna Randall.

Swearing in, Belize 2001. PCVs Erin McCool, Alanna Randall, and Jessica Walus with APCD Ken Goodson at the PC office in Belize City.

Alanna was in Belize from 2001-2003 as an Environmental Education Coordinator. Before the hurricane she was in Placencia working for Friends of Laughing Bird Caye National Park. However, when Iris hit Belize on October 8th everyone left. She details her return 2 days later in a collection of Peace Corps stories.*

“I barely recognized the village I called home. I almost didn’t recognize the place where my house once stood. Then it hit me. My house is gone! I saw faces numb with disbelief and hopelessness, but I also saw smiles on their faces despite the debris piled high around them.”

PCTs during training in Belize, 2001. San Narciso Village, Corozal, worked on a garden project with school.

Two months later, the Peace Corps magazine of Belize, “Toucan Times,” published a four page spread explaining hurricanes. Two pages detail how hurricanes are formed and facts about them. Two other pages detail hurricanes that had hit Belize in the past, from 0304 in 1931 and Janet in 1955 to Mitch in 1998.

Toucan Times, Oct.Nov.Dec. edition.

The name Iris was retired and will never be used again for a hurricane, Belize rebuilt, and Alanna found herself a new house on a hillside, “far away from the coast and the threat of another hurricane.”

PCV Alanna Randall at home in Cristo Rey Village, Cayo, Belize 2002.

 

*Alter, Bernie and Pat. “Gather the Fruit One by One: 50 Years of Amazing Peace Corps Stories.” Jane Albritton. 2011.

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.