|The infamous Peace Corps postcard|
|Marjorie Michelmore was a twenty-three-year-old magna cum laude graduate of Smith College when she became one of the first people to apply to the new Peace Corps. She was an attractive, funny, and smart woman who was selected to go to Nigeria. After seven weeks of training at Harvard, her group flew to Nigeria. There she was to complete the second phase of teacher training at University College at Ibadan, fifty miles north of the capital of Lagos. By all accounts, she was an outstanding Trainee.
Then on the evening of October 13, 1961, she wrote a postcard to a boyfriend in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here is what she had to say:
Dear Bobbo: Dont be furious at getting a postcard. I promise a letter next time. I wanted you to see the incredible and fascinating city we were in. With all the training we had, we really were not prepared for the squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions rampant both in the city and in the bush. We had no idea what underdeveloped meant. It really is a revelation and after we got over the initial horrified shock, a very rewarding experience. Everyone except us lives in the streets, cooks in the streets, sells in the streets, and even goes to the bathroom in the streets. Please write. Marge. P.S. We are excessively cut off from the rest of the world.
Never was mailed
|Murray Frank Remembers
The Postcard Affair began October 14, 1961. That was the day Peace Corps Nigeria almost came to an end . . . before it started. And I was in the middle of it all.
Nigeria I had arrived in Ibadan early in October. Volunteers were settling into dormitories at the University of Ibadan (then a part of the University of London and called University College of Ibadan) where they would continue the training started at Harvard.
I was the Western Region Peace Corps Representative. My family and I arrived in September, ahead of any other Regional Representatives and their families. Brent Ashabranner, who left AID to become Nigerias first Peace Corps Director, helped us get settled. We had a house in Bodija, a middle-class development between the center of Ibandan and the University. Residents included professionals and senior government officials not quite the Peace Corps mold but quite a comfortable area for a family with children aged two and four.
I had nothing to do with Volunteer training. My job was to arrange Volunteer assignments. I would visit a potential location, meet the principal and staff, establish that there was a position for the Volunteer to fill, and check out living conditions. I had not gotten very far by Friday, October 13. But, I was getting to know Volunteers as work assignments were developing.
Volunteers went to class and studied Monday through Saturday mornings. Friday night, October 13, PCV Marjorie Michelmore wrote some letters and picture postcards to folks back home. She mailed them on the way to class Saturday morning. One of the postcards described her first impressions.
When Volunteers arrived at dormitory dining halls for lunch Saturday, October 14, there was a copy, word for word, of that postcard at each place. Marjories comments described how the average Nigerian lived. While not inaccurate, her comments were not flattering, and to a Nigerian student especially one concerned about Western imperialism the comments seemed downright insulting.
God help me!