War and Peace Corps

Amoebas and Me

by Charlie Ipcar (Ethiopia 1965–68)

I WENT TO ETHIOPIA in the fall of 1965, at the height of the Vietnam War, and taught general science for two years at the Technical School in Addis Ababa. I also coordinated two summer projects near Dira Dawa, teaching reconnaissance geology techniques to university students who were planning to work for the Ministry of Mines. I was a good Volunteer and asked to extend my Peace Corps tour for a 3rd year. The Peace Corps initially turned down my request for a 3rd year, I believe because I had seriously annoyed some of the staff who had only heard from me when I had a complaint, but the Country Director, Dave Berlew, was willing to review my case and I was granted a third year.
     Then I was flown home that summer to Maine where my draft board insisted that I be given a pre-induction physical. Fortunately for me the center’s medical director agreed to defer me for six months because of my on-going treatment for amoebic dysentery. A follow-up physical was to be in northern Italy and when I returned to Ethiopia, I was given a round-trip commercial airline ticket to Pisa. On that trip, when I landed, I saw two soldiers jump into a jeep, start it up, and plow into the wall in front of them. From that point on I figured it would be fun to go with the flow and jumped on a bus waiting to take me to Camp Darvy, in Livornio, northern Italy.
    It was the summer of 1967, and I was one of a number of PCVs from East Africa who had been called for follow-up physicals at Camp Darvy. If we were physically fit, we could head for the war raging in Southeast Asia.
     I was 25 at the time and my draft board back in Maine was well aware that if I continued for another year teaching geography in Ethiopia I would inevitably become 26 and beyond draftable age, a major coming of age at that time in our nation’s history. However, there was a problem for my draft board, one unrelated to the merit of my current service which they had summarily dismissed six months before. I was still undergoing treatment for amoebic dysentery.
     When I was ushered into the examination room at Camp Darvy, I was provided a cup and a small flat stick and was instructed to produce a stool specimen which I was willing and able to do and there was more waiting, while they analyzed the results. Finally I was called into a doctor’s office and the young man smiled, and told me I was perfectly healthy, which was a surprise to me given that I had confirmed my amoebas’ vitality with the Peace Corps medical people before leaving Addis Ababa.
     I showed him their medical report and he decided to take another look. (This was a year after Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice's Restaurant,” so I had come prepared, no glossy photos, but official Peace Corps medical documents.) The young doctor returned and now he looked sad and said my amoebas could well be chronic and he would defer me for another six months.
     Free from the draft, I was reunited with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers who were also being examined, and while we were waiting for bus transport back to the barracks, a big American car pulled up and the lady inside asked us if we wanted a lift back to the base and we all gratefully piled in. As she drove along she told us how pleased she was that young American boys like us were volunteering for the service, and we lost little time in dissuading her from that illusion. Well, she got all huffy and the next thing we knew we were delivered to the military police headquarters where the gentlemen there were told by the Commandant’s wife to take proper care of us, which they promised to do.
      After she spun off they delivered us back to the barracks where we’d spent the previous night. The MP’s did look somewhat embarrassed as they were also some of the guys in the barracks whom we’d been singing protests songs with the previous night.
      Again, the barracks crew sneaked us out that night for a compensatory night on the town, and years later I must confess that I still get occasional flashes of bar scenes and that seaside restaurant where we were delivered an octopus nestled on top of the pasta in a pool of tomato sauce.
      What joy!

Charlie Ipcar, who recovered from his chronic amoebas, spent his third year in the remote village of Emdeber in the Gurage country of Ethiopia where he taught geography, chemistry and general science. Finishing up, he traveled through Eastern Europe and arrived back in the states in August for his 26th birthday, and in time to watch on television the rioting at the Democratic Convention in Chicago.
     Today, Dr. Ipcar is engaged in buying and renovating several buildings. He has also worked coordinating two statewide referendum campaigns on the issues of nuclear power and nuclear waste, and was a full-time staff member on a U.S. Senate campaign. In his spare time, he helped reorganize the Portland Folk Club, and formed a folk group called Roll & Go. Last year, he released his first personal CD, Uncommon Sailor Songs, which primarily includes songs he composed or adapted from poems. Information and MP3 samples of this CD may be accessed from his personal website: http://home.gwi.net/~ipbar/. He lives with his wife in Richmond, Maine, a quiet river town some twenty miles up the Kennebec River from the coast. They share their household with two cats and a mouse.