People often ask to see pics of me as a Peace Corps volunteer, and I honestly don’t have many. Someone just posted this one on Facebook, and my sister Wendy was able to extract it in a way that I could upload, even though I’m not on Facebook myself.
Clearly we had just arrived in Panama City, as I’m wearing the loafers that sprouted mold like Chia pets once I arrived in the village. We arrived in-country in October, which is the rainiest month of the rainy season, despite the sunny day you see here. And we are all wearing dresses, which befits the era. If you saw the Burns and Novick documentary on VietNam, there was a shot of a very early group of PCV’s boarding their plane. They were all dressed this way too, some of the guys even wearing button shirts and ties.
My friend Carla is next to me. She was posted in a place called Sagreja, which was four hours from the district capitol of Penonome, across a couple of rivers that were forded in four wheeled trucks carrying passengers in the back. When the rivers were running high, no one crossed until the water levels came down. I visited Carla there once, and thought it was the most godforsaken place I’d ever seen. She didn’t last a full year there, asking for reassignment someplace closer to Penonome where she might have a better chance of getting something going. PCV’s were not, after all, invincible.
Next to Carla, in the middle of the pic, is Vi LaMont. Vi was a secretary who’d signed on; she became the secretary in the Peace Corps office in Panama City. She was 50, which we probably didn’t know; we simply thought she was ancient. Thirty years later we Panama PCV’s gathered for a rare reunion in Washington, D.C — many early volunteers were an iconoclastic lot and highly resistant to being organized into anything like a reunion. Vi came, and we were all astonished. She was 80 and still going strong at the reunion, and we were older too and realized how ridiculous we’d been in thinking her an old lady when we’d all served together.
I don’t know who the other two are. There were 100 in our training group, although I have no idea how many of us survived the three months and actually went to Panama. We were replacing three groups that had preceded us in serving.
Vi and Carla and I all survived until the end of our two year commitment; no idea about the other two. I’ve seen Carla a few times since, and we are in touch at the holidays. I think we all consider those two years as one of the most significant periods of our lives. In our own minds, we’ll proudly be former PCV’s, just post-Kennedy era, until the day we die.