Peace Corps Writers
Young, Scared and Gay in 1969
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Young, Scared and Gay in 1969
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     Meantime, back home in DC, my mother had gone to work — unbeknownst to me. Even she thought it was unfair that I should still be subject to the draft after I had already served the country for 27 months. She phoned the draft board and by sheer grace happened to speak to the same sainted lady who had erased my name from the June, 1969 call. She advised my mother that I should appeal my 1-A classification. The appeal had to be done in person, but if I returned to Ghana afterwards, I would be regarded as an overseas resident. It took 60 days to process an overseas appeal, during which time I would reach the magic age of 26.
     I went back to the office in Accra and explained this new wrinkle. The Peace Corps had granted my extension and allowed me to use leave for the trip home, but refused to finance the trip for this purpose. Like all Volunteers, I had a few hundred dollars saved up in my Peace Corps readjustment allowance ($75 a month in 1971). Volunteers could be given one-third of those accrued funds while still in-country at the end of their service so they could add it to the value of their Peace Corps-purchased return ticket to the States and take a slow trip home if they wanted. Much as I would have loved to meander when the time came, I used my one-third to go home and present my appeal.
     I landed at Dulles airport on a rainy September evening. It was my first experience of the States in over two years, and, like all Peace Corps Volunteers fresh from their service, I was agog, my closest points of emotional reference still a continent away. As soon as my parents and I were settled in the car, my mother turned to me and said, “You must have been really glad to get that letter.” I was overwhelmed and jet-lagged, but I was sure I didn’t know what she was talking about. “What letter?” I asked. “The letter from the draft board,” my mother said. “Didn’t you get it?”      The board had decided to honor the extension of my Peace Corps service and continue my deferment. A letter to this effect arrived in my mailbox at my work site in Kumasi while I was in Accra waiting for my flight home. I had geared myself up for a harrowing personal appearance before my draft board, and spent the precious one-third of my readjustment allowance, for nothing. I sat there in the back seat of the car, sensing relief, incredulity, and total dislocation. “Anticlimax” hardly does justice. I ended up staying home for a few weeks “vacationing,” and then returning to Ghana to stay until my 26th birthday. That means, essentially, that I read the letter, finished up my job with Fred Bampoe, and then left that sweet country for good.
     A year or so passed. I had all this freedom to do as I pleased and no draft board to weigh in. I moved to Boston to try my hand at the professional singing career I had promised myself was the next thing. That didn’t click, though, and soon I found myself at very loose ends, full of the experience of the previous two years but always thinking there must be something else for me to do, even though Ghana and the Peace Corps were practically all I talked about. People kept telling me I should be recruiting new people for it. I resisted.
     In April 1973, I escaped a dreary, still wintry Boston for a few days to visit Dick Kimmins, my old dorm buddy and Joe’s brother, in Kentucky. Spring there was in full bloom, and nothing is more delicious than a Kentucky springtime. Dick and I drove to Churchill Downs in Louisville, the first time I had ever been there. We made our way to the infield on that fragrant morning and lay on our backs, catching up, luxuriating in the brilliant sky above us and the bluegrass carpet beneath. Totally at peace, I finally allowed myself the question: “Why aren’t you recruiting for the Peace Corps?”

I retired from the Peace Corps in August 2003, after more than 28 years of service. By yet another quirk of fate I was one of about 45 people in the Peace Corps’ history who were not forced to leave after five years of employment, as is normally required by the famous “in, up and out” rule insisted upon by Sarge Shriver, and written into the Peace Corps’ enabling legislation. Life after the Peace Corps? I needn’t have worried. Luck? Design? Who knows? I’m still asking no questions.

  
Ralph Cherry is currently spending his well-earned retirement with Steve Hopkins, his partner of 26 years, in Arlington, Virginia and Delaware.
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