In September 2011, the U.S. Peace Corps celebrated its 50th anniversary. Thousands of volunteers came to Washington, D.C., to reconnect with old friends and participate in anniversary events on the National Mall.
Having served with my wife, Karen, as Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in Turkey in the mid-1960s, we joined more than 30 members of our group (Turkey-12) at this global reunion. There, we caught up and reflected on how this experience influenced our lives.
Peace Corps Training
Training is the first major step in a Peace Corps journey. Ours began in the summer of 1965, when the Turkish government requested volunteers to work at a central medical center and in the squatter settlements (gecekondu) ringing Turkey's capital, Ankara. In response, the agency brought together 114 trainees at Portland State College. All but eight were in their early-to mid-20s; most were just out of college. We split exactly down the middle by gender, and hailed from 33 states and all regions of the country. While we were a diverse group in terms of gender, regional geography, college majors, and even age (with five trainees ranging from 52 to 70), we included only two African-Americans and nary a single Asian-, Hispanic-or Native American.
Almost all of us found training both stimulating and helpful--stimulating because it exposed us to wonderful people from across the United States and helpful in that the substantive training, including a daily physical fitness regimen, turned out to be indispensible: Turkish language instruction (360 hours); area studies in Islamic civilization and Turkish history (70 hours); and American studies, world affairs, and communism (75 hours).
After more than two months of training in urban community development (UCD), we learned that the program had been scrapped and that we would now train another month or so for a tuberculosis (TB) control assignment. By January 1966, we were in Turkey.
Living and Working in Turkey
When we arrived in Ankara for in-country Peace Corps orientation, it was the dead of winter. Snow surrounded us as did the pungent odor of coal ash wafting across the capital's long, semiarid basin and the gecekondu neighborhoods. Within a week or so, many of us took off in different directions. All but a small cluster of medical professionals who stayed behind in Ankara would be assigned to TB programs in impoverished areas ringing the major cities of Istanbul and Izmir (in the west) and Adana (down south).
A Ground-level View
Karen and I were assigned to Ceyhan, a town of 40,000 and one of 11 provincial sub-districts of Adana, with 20 villages scattered throughout the nearby Taurus Mountains. Every weekday morning our daily commute by foot took us through largely unpaved, residential streets and light commercial neighborhoods-oftentimes with entertainment provided by colorful passersby and the piercing calls of itinerant peddlers.
Rural TB Control in Adana Province
Once settled in at the TB dispensary, Karen and I sorted out how we could add value to the project's...