Only part of my job as a PCV is to be an English teacher. Its really not that important, in my eyes, whether some child learns English. What is important is that I am here and that the children and adults of Afyon realize that there is a world beyond Afyon and Turkey. And that they learn that that world is different from Turkey. To me that is my most important reason for being here. I may or may not see any result from my teaching and other projects, but just by being here for two years I shall have accomplished something which in the long run may be more important to Turkey than whether a 13 year old can say Good Morning, how are you? in English.
Turkey is overflowing with soldiers and the accoutrements of a military establishment. Its such a pity. I keep thinking of all the more useful things that the money that is spent on the soldiers could do. But then I realize that all the money in the world is not going to help. The people have to change their outlook on life, their traditions, their basic way of living before they are going to emerge from the village. If you give them money now theyd only spend it on more veils, pantaloons, gold bracelets, and horse carts. They must shed their veils before they will be ready to meet the modern world.
On the bus from Izmir to Afyon I see the scenery change from the green fertileness, gentle hills and trees of the coast to the rocky hills brushed lightly with green and yellow to the brown rolling hills until the land finally becomes plain, flat and brown. No trees, no mountains, no nothing, just barren and void. Occasionally we pass a compound of a few houses. And we see weathered women in brightly colored baggy pants and veils carrying a load of wood on their back or washing clothes at the village fountain. There are drab, mud-brick, one-room houses in the background. Little children with runny noses and dirty faces, some of the girls already wearing veils, play on the hard, brown dirt. You see the monotony of the life cycle: birth, childhood, marriage, children, old-age, death, as it has been going on for ages, no different today than it was 500 years ago. And for the millionth time, I wonder, Why? What is the purpose of a life like that?
So much of this primitiveness and poverty is old hat to us now because we live with it and witness it ever day. And although Im still not used to it, Im no longer shocked by it as I was at first. I accept it as the way things are. Any change is going to be a long hard pull for the way of life is deeply imbedded in the villagers. Changing centuries of habit is a long, slow process.
Its begun to bother me that I know so little about my own country. I have lived such a sheltered life. I moved in one economic level and never bother to look around me to see how others lived. I never saw poverty with my own eyes in the States. Consequently, my image of America is one of middle class affluence. But there must be another sided of America or why the war on poverty? Do the people of Appalachia live like this no water, no electricity, no heat, no clothes? I know so much more about Turkey than I do about America. Over here Ive been exposed to every economic circle and social level from cultured, wealthy, multi-lingual Istanbul Turks to average middle class Afyon Anatolian Turks to the poorest villager. Yet the more I learn about Turkey, the less I seem to know about the US. I feel so ignorant about the things that are important to the people I deal with. They couldnt care less that Ive seen opera, love ballet, adore the theatre. Thats my experience and its beyond the realm of their reality. How can I use that experience to help them?
Comments on the presentation of the Beyond War Award [presented to 20,000 current and returned Peace Corps Volunteers.]
The thing about the Peace Corps is that it doesnt end after two years. It lasts a lifetime. Peace Corps Volunteers are the sons and daughters of America, but we are also the sons and daughters of a thousand towns and villages scattered around the world. We are the repository of a unique shared history with those towns and villages and we have a special responsibility to serve our country as a bridge between it and the rest of the world.
I want and need to say thank you to the Peace Corps and to those who, by nurturing it into being, gave all of us an opportunity to live our idealism and to commit ourselves to the service of others. So, thank you Jack, Sarge, Harris, Bill and all the rest.