0:00

WILSON: Peace Corp Oral History Project, interview of Philip Curd on December 13th, 2004, interviewed by Jack Wilson. Phil, if you would give me your full name and where and when you were born?

CURD: Philip Richard Curd and I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, May 8th, 1941.

1:00

WILSON: And tell me if you also would a little bit about your family and your growing up in Louisville.

CURD: Okay, my parents were both from Louisville, urbanites from the West end of Louisville and dad was a, first went to the Speed School and was a, graduated as an engineer, did a little bit of work and then, decided he wanted to be dentist so he went back to dental school and became a dentist and went through dental school right after the Depression so he very, you know, I think he had to do janitorial work or something to pay his tuition for dental school. Mom was trained as a teacher and when they married, they decided they wanted to live 2:00out in the country so they bought some property way out which now all subdivision but back then, it was way out in the country ten miles from downtown Louisville and we grew up there. I had two other, two siblings, two sisters, one older, one younger. We grew up--church life was important to us and we were, went to a Presbyterian church, a little country church. I think that's probably relevant to Peace Corps because as a child in church, I became familiar with a missionary named Albert Schweitzer who was in Africa and I had actually thought that I was going to be a, a dentist when I grew up like my dad and then, 3:00I thought that, that I wanted to be a missionary but I thought well, you know, if you're a missionary, you have to be a doctor like Dr. Schweitzer. You couldn't, you couldn't be dentist because they don't have dental missionaries. Of course, that's not true but to the eight year old boy, that made a lot of sense and so I got, I think that's when I thought I would like maybe, maybe go to Africa when I grew up and so at some point and I, that at least got me to thinking about going to medical school and then, while I was in college, I heard about Peace Corps and I was, Peace Corps started in 1961. I started college 4:00in 1959 so I was a sophomore and, and I applied and so I was one of the early ones to apply.

WILSON: Okay, well, let's go back just a second.

CURD: Okay

WILSON: You, so you went through school in Jefferson County or--?

CURD: Yes, I went to public school in Jefferson County. I went to a grade school called Ballard School and then, went to Eastern High School in Middletown--

WILSON: And then, you went where to college?

CURD: I went to Hanover College for two years and then, I transferred to the University of Louisville and I graduated from the University of Louisville and got a BA degree with a science major.

WILSON: And that would have been in 19--?

CURD: I graduated from U of L in 1963--

5:00

WILSON: Okay

CURD: And by that time, I'd been accepted, actually, I was accepted in the Peace Corps to go to the Philippines at the end of my junior year in college and at the time I thought well, maybe I'll just quit college and join the Peace Corps and I decided to finish so I actually turned down that assignment.

WILSON: And that would have been in '62 then?

CURD: That would have, yeah, '62.

WILSON: Okay

CURD: Philippines in '62

WILSON: Did you, what do you remember about the application process and did you have any choice of countries? I mean, your, your--

CURD: Yeah, there was a choice and I think, I, probably had a, because 6:00of the Schweitzer story, I think I had the idea of Africa was my first choice and that may have been one reason why I didn't take the Philippines assignment also but yeah, the, I don't remember too much about the application process other than I really, I do remember that you had a choice and I didn't know how selective they would be. I didn't know how, by putting a choice down that that would--

WILSON: Limit your chances?

CURD: Limit my chances of being accepted.

WILSON: So you graduated from U of L or I guess it was--

CURD: U of L

WILSON: It was U of L?

CURD: Right

WILSON: Okay--

7:00

CURD: Liberal Arts

WILSON: In Liberal Arts and you went directly into the Peace Corps?

CURD: And well, yeah, by that time I had, I had actually two, two more assignments. I had an assignment for I think it was Gabon and I actually accepted that and then, I got a notice that they had canceled that project and that they were going to send me to Guinea instead and, and it seems like they were probably just throwing this together as the Peace Corps was prone to do in those early days because I had an acceptance date. By the time I finished my, graduated from college, I knew that I would be going into the Peace Corps and I knew also that I still wanted to be a doctor and my idea was well, I would go into the Peace Corps for two years and then, go to medical school so I--

8:00

WILSON: So this Schweitzer theme had sort of carried on through to the Peace Corps--

CURD: Well, I think so--

WILSON: And how did you see the relationship?

CURD: To be honest, I think I just wanted to go to Africa and I saw being a missionary as a ticket to Africa and I thought well, you don't have to be a missionary. You could be in the Peace Corps and you can still go to Africa. This is pretty good. Hahaha.

WILSON: So there was a little bit of the adventure and--

CURD: Adventure and it was, it was somewhat self serving I guess so, so yeah, by the time I graduated, I knew that I was going to be going to Africa and the, the thing about throwing it together. They gave us 9:00a date when we would start but when we all, at some point, they, they said well, we've got an opening in the training camp in Puerto Rico and so even though you guys are going to go to Africa and you're going to be in a country that speaks French, we'll send you to Puerto Rico where you can speak Spanish for two weeks and be involved in their somewhat upward bound experience. Did you go to training in Puerto Rico?

WILSON: Mm, mm

CURD: No, I guess not, going to Africa but of course, you, you actually were staff.

WILSON: Well, we were scheduled to go to Puerto Rico and they--

CURD: Oh

WILSON: Just the opposite happened. They didn't have--

CURD: An opening for you

WILSON: An opening there--

CURD: Yeah

WILSON: So--

CURD: Well, it was fun. It was two weeks of being together with the group which was mostly men that we were going to be with.

WILSON: How large a group?

CURD: Oh, about twenty-five

WILSON: Okay

CURD: It was an agricultural group and so that training was physical 10:00fitness and you know, pushing yourself past your limits doing swimming underwater for as long as you could stand it and going out to the ocean and learning, you know, survival underwater skills and rock climbing and you know, stuff I had never done before so it was fun. Taking us out in the, in the countryside and dropping us with a map and some food rations for two days and a four day track back to the camp.

WILSON: And they, in fact, did give you some Spanish training when you were going to a French speaking country?

CURD: Well, we did. We had some Spanish training so we could get by in the countryside. I didn't, you know, in two weeks, you're not going to 11:00pick up too much Spanish but I think we did get some, you know, along the way.

WILSON: And then, after that two weeks, you went for further training some place else?

CURD: Then, we went to Vermont--

WILSON: Oh

CURD: Putney, Vermont, the School of International Living and we lived out in this, some what of an estate, in a big headquarters out in the countryside where we could go bicycling along the Vermont country roads and we had a lot lan-, we had a language lab and more language and a lot of cultural, political, world politics, African politics, African weather and you know, whatever we needed to know about Africa and the Peace Corps.

WILSON: And so this was the summer of 6---?

12:00

CURD: Summer of--

WILSON: 3?

CURD:'63, yeah

WILSON: Summer of '63. And the political component was mostly history of Africa or of Guinea?

CURD: Well, both

WILSON: American, American?

CURD: No, it was more African and Guinean history, you know? I know one of our text books was this little paperback that was put out by the Department of Defense I think that had the cover torn off it and we were told that we had to turn them back in although some of them smuggled them out because it was all of it, you know, it was, it, it was along the lines, well, if we ever have to fight a war in Guinea, what do we need to know about the place? So it was a very complete little book. How they managed to get that, I don't know but it was, 13:00it just, it was you know, about all of the tribal, different cultural diversity of the country, the language the, the agriculture, you know, who the political people in the community. It was amazing.

WILSON: And this would have been the first group of volunteers to go into Guinea?

CURD: We were, yeah, mm hmm

WILSON: Another interviewee indicated in those early days that there were sometimes as a part of the training component, a, I'm not sure this is the right term but I'll use it, a simulation of a conversation with a quote "Communist" that you were supposed to be able to then, 14:00sort of defend the United States. Do you remember anything like that?

CURD: No. I don't.

WILSON: Okay

CURD: It doesn't--

WILSON: Ring a bell?

CURD: It doesn't ring a bell. It doesn't strike a cord. Of course, it was very, politically, it was, I think they wanted us to represent the United States well because there was concern that Guinea was going Communist, because the Communists, the Russians and the Chinese, were giving aid only because the United States initially didn't give any aid when they got their independence in 1958 and so that's why I think our training was maybe longer than some of the other trainings at that 15:00time just to be sure we were well aware oriented to Africa, that our language skills were as good as could be, expected--

WILSON: And how long was the training at the Experiment?

CURD: It seemed like it was almost four months total.

WILSON: Oh really?

CURD: Yeah because let's say if we started in June, let's see, July, August, September, October, yeah because I don't think we shipped till November, early November but it was a good four months.

WILSON: And you did quite a bit of French, French language training language or what--?

CURD: French language training

WILSON: No local languages?

CURD: No, I don't think so. I don't know because it, it would depend on where we were going to be stationed which local language it would have been relevant--

WILSON: Mm hmm and then, did you have to pass a French language test of some sort?

CURD: I think they, we probably did. I, I think that that could have 16:00been part of the selection process that there was somebody who just wasn't getting it at all. They may, they may have been selected out. I'm not sure but I don't know that they actually had a test. I know there was very intensive because we at one time went to Montreal and lived with a French family for two weeks and let's see, we also spent two weeks at the University of Vermont in Burlington and that must have, I trying to remember why. Maybe that was more they, they had some more of the academic, political, maybe they had some of the, used, used the faculty there at the University of Vermont for our courses which, you know, it's amazing how much you can forget, hahaha, in--

17:00

WILSON: A few years

CURD: Forty years, yeah, plus one

WILSON: What about the selection process itself? Do you remember anything about that?

CURD: Well, I remember that we all had to have psychiatric, psychological interviews and there was a psychologist that we would have to meet and talk to and this guy was supposed to figure out who would be good and who wasn't and it is, it's interesting that one of the fellows in our group once we got to Guinea, he became acting stranger and stranger and, and actually, became psychotic and had to leave so the screening didn't--

WILSON: Didn't pick that up

CURD: Didn't pick that up in him and I think one or two others did also have to leave because of psychological maladjustment so it's--you know, 18:00one of the things I'm just pondering, one of the people that left was a woman who was African-American and, and I think probably maybe from a small town, had not had a lot of experiences and apparently, had trouble just maybe reconciling being black as she knew it with being black as, as Africans knew it but she, she had trouble making the adjustment.

WILSON: This is somebody who went in country and then left or was de---?

CURD: Oh, yeah, she went in country--

WILSON: Mm hmm

CURD: And then, after a while left.

WILSON: And so how many of the twenty-five left during training and went 19:00in country?

CURD: Oh, there maybe were, maybe two got selected out before we went to, in country and maybe, maybe two more, one or two more left after they got in country.

WILSON: Okay so you actually went to Guinea in November of '63?

CURD: Right

WILSON: And do you have any further training in Guinea or were you assigned right away?

CURD: I was assigned right away. It was already determined where I was going to go and I was lucky. Most of the, the people ended up staying in hostel, the Peace Corps hosted for months before they finally got an assignment but it just so happened with my background in Chemistry and 20:00a lot of the kids in our group and a lot of kids in our group were farm kids who hadn't been to college. Some hadn't started college yet and, but they had farming experience and it was an agricultural project so it wasn't like it was real clear what, you know, what skills they had and whereas I had a degree in Chemistry. They needed a chemist at the Fruit Research Station so they already had picked me for that.

WILSON: And what was the name of the research station?

CURD: It was IRF Institute for Research Fruitiere, it's a fruit research station that the French had established and then, with independence, the French left and the Guineans were running it.

WILSON: This was outside the--

CURD: Conakry, the capital, it was about seventy-five miles, fifty to seventy-five miles up in the little plateau above the, the coastal town.

21:00

WILSON: And what was your job there?

CURD: Well, I was a, I worked in the Chemistry lab and you know, the French had abandoned it. They weren't really doing anything and I found out the French had been trying to establish a technique of doing leaf analysis of the fruits that they were growing which was pineapple, citrus fruits primarily, I guess some banana and they were wanting to, they knew they wanted a chemist. I guess before the French had left and they thought well, we don't have a chemist now and so we want a chemist and so I thought well, I'll set up this laboratory to do leaf analysis because that's apparently what the French were up to and I didn't have any experience doing leaf analysis so I just had to spend a lot of time reading and getting this lab going again because it 22:00had been abandoned and not all the equipment worked and I, little by little, got it to where I could do leaf analysis but then, I realized the infrastructure wasn't there to take advantage of it. In other words, I was supposed to be training somebody that could take over you know and the people that they would send for me to work with really weren't the, with the material to take over. They weren't trained so after months, it became apparent that I was just, you know, not going to work out well so I talked to the Peace Corps staff about it. Said well, you know, I've got the lab set up. I can do leaf analysis but it's not going to go anywhere. They're not going to use it and they said well, we'll pull you out and so they did and I went to Conakry 23:00and taught then for the last of my, for the rest of my tour. I taught Physics and Chemistry so I was still doing something--

WILSON: Related

CURD: In my alley but it's interesting, you know Rachel Savane?

WILSON: Mm, mm

CURD: One of the reasons I left was because the director of this institute, I had trouble working with and, and--

WILSON: Who was Guinean?

CURD: He was Guinean, yeah and he didn't appreciate what I was doing and got my, my roommate, the other Peace Corps volunteer there was a mechanic and he could keep the director's car running and you know, so he thought he was great but he couldn't figure out what, what good I was and hahaha, so but the interesting thing is that when I, when met 24:00Rachel's husband who was Guinean and I forget his name right now. Do you remember his name?

WILSON: First name, no I don't

CURD: But it turns out that this director was his step-father--

WILSON: Oh!

CURD: And, and he's apparently, he told me that he had, he's dead now but the director apparently then divorced or left the woman that he was with when I knew him and then married Rachel's husband's mother--

WILSON: Interesting

CURD: So yeah, I thought that was just you know, an amazing thing to find out when I met him and talked to him a little bit.

WILSON: As an interviewer's footnote to this, Rachel Savane is also a returned Peace Corps volunteer who has been interviewed as a part of 25:00this oral history project. I'm sorry for that interruption.

CURD: No, that's fine.

WILSON: Go ahead

CURD: Well, so then I went to Conakry and I taught at the sixth or seventh grade level and that was, you know, that was probably one of the most eye opening experiences I've had. I was not trained as teacher. They, but they needed, they needed to put me somewhere and I guess they needed a teacher in this school in Conakry and so I, I just went in the first day and of course, this was all conducted in French. Had a lesson and I thought I'll have to explain this to these kids and so I got up and I started explaining the concept of whether it was Geometry or Chemistry, whatever it was, how to trisect an angle maybe and they just got this, I could see the look on these kids was 26:00so perplexing and I thought well, maybe my French isn't good enough and they started raising their hands and they were saying slower, slower and I realized they were writing every word I said. They were just writing it down because they didn't have any text books and, and so I didn't know what to do. I just, I just, may have talked to some of the other teachers and they said yeah, that's the way you teach and it is somewhat the French style of teaching--

WILSON: Hmm

CURD: But I just, then, from then on, I just had to get up and, and say the lesson and they would write it down. They would so I'm not sure how much real teaching I did but I did that till, till school was out that year and the only other thing that I remember about my school experience was that the principal was just a very, seemed to me like 27:00a very enlightened person, a very wonderful person, very energetic man and there's a long history to Guinea after the time that I left in terms of the politics and some of, of course you're aware of in terms of the dictatorships Sekou Toure and his paranoia and turning on the Americans and kicking the Peace Corps out once or twice but also turning on his fellow countrymen and being paranoid and concerned about the intellectuals and many intellectuals in the, in the Guinea were killed and put in prison and I found out and I forget how I found this out but this wonderful gentlemen who was my principal was apparently part of the purge of anybody that might be a threat to the dictator and I'm sure that he was probably killed because of that which is a, some of the, you know, the less fond memories I have of Guinea and what was 28:00going on there.

WILSON: And this was, so you taught there for, for the balance of the first year or the balance of your--?

CURD: My, of my tour

WILSON: Tour

CURD: Yeah

WILSON: Okay

CURD: Yeah, once school was out then, I think I was one of the first to leave in our group because most of them were doing their, you know, research and all.

WILSON: What were your, what were your living conditions like either at the experiment station or in Conakry?

CURD: Well, they were good. They were especially good at the experiment station because the, the French had a kind of a little subdivision of all these French villas which were nice houses with running water.

WILSON: Electricity?

CURD: Electricity most of the time and they had, you know, my roommate and I, we had separate bedrooms and each bedroom had a separate bath. It was cold water unless at night time. He would take his bath 29:00at night time because it would warm up because the heat of the day. There's a reservoir up in the ceiling, up in the upper attic where the water stay and then, when you used it, you know, it would be filling every so often but during the day it would warm up but we got used to taking cold showers and had, actually, the Peace Corps provided us with a refrigerator and kerosene stove so I mean, we were really living high on the hog.

WILSON: What about food? What did you eat? Did you cook for yourself?

CURD: We had a house boy that was expected that we would have a house boy and we had an allowance from the Peace Corps that would allow us to have somebody. The house boy would do, we, that was part of our training I do remember that we were told that we would be expected to have house boys and although that might initially go against our 30:00grain as a, you know, as Americans and libertarians of having somebody come and you know, essentially work as a house keeper that that would support the local economy and that's what they expected of us and that we should probably, you know, look into it so we did and it really was good because we got to know the people that were our house boys and interact with them, find out more about what their lives were like but they would keep the house clean and go to the market, buy food, cook it for us. We would generally have a meal in the evening and it would be mostly--

WILSON: And that would be of what?

CURD: It would be usually a rice and a sauce but it could be something like fried eggplant. They had a lot of okra. It was a you know, some dish made out of okra. Meat, you could get meat at the market fresh 31:00off the hoof--

WILSON: Mm hmm

CURD: You know, in the marker they would, they would herd the cattle to market and then, they'd have a butcher would string them up, slaughter them, string them up. You go down there and you and your house boy would point to the part that you wanted and they'd cut it off. If you were standing too close, you know, you get splattered with bone chips--

WILSON: Hahaha

CURD: But yeah, the meat was good. It was tough but it had a lot of flavor but we didn't, you know we did not--then, at one point, I had, I had a an agricultural consultant come and stay with us and this may have been after my roommate had been assigned to something else so I 32:00had an extra bedroom and this fellow was with United States AID and he was going to help them do a trial of sugar cane and he stayed with me and he loved to cook and he had the access to, to the commissary, the embassy commissary in Conakry so he would go get all this stuff and he'd come back and then he would cook every night and just make these wonderful meals so except for that, I was living off of the, the local there but--

WILSON: What about the situation in Conakry?

CURD: You mean if you were, when I was a volunteer?

WILSON: Yeah, yeah

CURD: My living quarters there were nice. It was like a teacher's apartment so that, you know, it had again--

WILSON: At the school or--?

CURD: Yeah it was, it was an apartment away from, it wasn't right at the 33:00school but it was at a school--

WILSON: Ha

CURD: And anyway, that's where they found me lodging and I, at that point I had another roommate who was in the teaching group, a volunteer and, but it was a two bedroom apartment and it was fine and then for transportation, I had a little velosolex which was a bicycle with a motor on the front wheel. It was fine for just getting around in the city. For food, I don't remember as much about eating there. I suspect that if we had a house boy, then, I don't remember it and there maybe have been more of cooking our your own food. I just don't remember that much about it.

WILSON: How did you become acclimated in Guinea or maybe another way to 34:00ask the question is or related is what was the most difficult part of the adjusting to living there?

CURD: I really don't think of it as hard to acclimate. I can remember maybe two things. One is we, we'd got so much in our orientation about these poisonous snakes, the mambas and the green mambas and the black mambas and yeah, I had the sense of you know that this was the jungle even though it really wasn't a jungle but I had a sense of it, that even when, in this villa that we were in, it had a little yard around it and then, there was a, a bush and I had this sense of you know, just, at first of not even wanting to venture outside the house that 35:00there would be snakes out in the yard. They were going to bite me or spiders or you know, poisonous lizards. I'm not sure what it was but at some point it occurred to me well, this is really ridiculous and I think it's just, you know, the unknown and we would go hiking up into the mountains around. We'd have wonderful hikes. We would go, my roommate and I would go with two friends who were British volunteers in the town of Kindia where we were living outside of that town and we would go hiking up into the mountains around it and really just have a great time so that initially though, just as I did it was this terrible place as far as you know, being hostile, hostile environment and the only other difficultly that I can remember having was I mentioned you 36:00know, just dealing with the rector of the, of the institute and just a matter of, of not you know having to work for somebody if you didn't enjoy working with or he was giving you a hard time about what you were doing and--

WILSON: What, what would you say you were best prepared for and what weren't you sort of prepared for?

CURD: Well, I think the, just having an open assignment like well, go to this fruit research station and find something to do. Just having, having to figure it all out, having to go there and figure out what I was supposed to be doing and then, how to do it and I was doing chemical analysis that I was essentially you know, some I had 37:00done during my training but I was essentially cook booking this. I had to figure out with the resources I had and the equipment I had what, what I could do, whether or not I could do the analysis and what particular analysis to use to get the results I want so there was a lot of just having to figure it out and I don't, you know, I, I think I was prepared because we were told well, this is the Peace Corps and that's, you know, that's part of being in the Peace Corps, you have to figure things out, you know, so that was one aspect of it. I think as far as, as being well prepared I think we had a pretty good grasp of the local mores and customs. I remember being training that, that when you one of the things that kind of freaks the American males out in Africa, parts of Africa, is where the other males hold hands and that 38:00you, you know, that if you're walking down the road with a friend of yours that he'll reach over and take your hand and you know, that, that doesn't mean that he's putting the make on you or that it's anything you might assume it would be in the United States. That's just, that is what's done and I think that happened to me, you know, and, and so it was just something that you were going to expect to happen so you were well prepared for it. You didn't offend the person by jerking your hand away so I think our cultural preparation was real good and then, the language. Certainly, we had language labs and we had tapes that we listened to so there was a lot of effort put into our, us to our French was good. It wasn't, it wasn't--there were still times when it was difficult with the language but especially at first but that part was good. I mentioned the thing about the house boy, you know, 39:00this idea of integrating into the local culture by having a house boy and as opposed to not having one when it's expected of you to have one so I think that's--you know I felt like we were well prepared.

WILSON: What would a typical day have been like for you?

CURD: Yeah, when I was in at the fruit research station, I would get up probably a light breakfast. Then, I would go to, I would walk to the laboratory. This was all kind of like a campus so I'd walk to the lab, the building and then, I would just spend the day doing paperwork, reading, going through files. I spent maybe a week just going through 40:00the library that was there to find out what books were available that I might need. At one point, I had assigned to me a helper, you know, like a lab assistant and I would have to spend time training that person. We also would sometimes go into the market to do shopping. I don't know if we just did that on weekends or whether we might do that during the week day. Then, we'd come home from work, we'd probably eat our meal fairly early so that our house boy could go home and then, we'd spend the evening reading mostly. Sometimes, we'd go into town and look at a, go to a movie which was a lot of old films like Hercules 41:00and--

WILSON: Dubbed in French? English?

CURD: Dubbed in French, yeah and, and Indian, you know, from Indian movies.

WILSON: What, that makes me think what else did you do for recreation?

CURD: Well, I mentioned we would visit with some of the, visit with our, our friends. Primarily, I think we had these, these two fellows who were a little bit younger than us but they were British VSO so volunteers who were teaching and we would go visit with them. Sometimes, we would take--then, we would go hiking with them. Sometimes, we would go out and see, it was kind of like my roommate, 42:00the mechanic had an assignment to go around with a truck and deliver supplies. One time, I took time off and went with him and that was fun to visit some of the other volunteers. Then, I had a vacation where I took a trip down the, I actually had thought I would go and try to visit Schweitzer's compound and but then when I had my vacation and I went as far as Nigeria but didn't, decided not to take the time to go see Schweitzer's and of course, you may know he's the guy in Berea of our group, John Skeese? Do you know, have you met John?

WILSON: Yes

CURD: John actually did spend about six months working with Schweitzer.

WILSON: No, I did not know that.

CURD: Yeah, he's got some good stories to tell about that so anyway, I 43:00just went down the coast on a, on a French pack boat and went down to Nigeria and then, I think I flew back.

WILSON: Did you travel within Nigeria?

CURD: I did some. I went up, stayed at the Peace Corps hostel and then, I went, what is the city that is--

WILSON: Jos or--

CURD: No

WILSON: Kaduna? A little far into the North--

CURD: It was, it was like several hours drive up from Lagos-- Yeah and I think I just stayed a day or two there and then, came back so but that, 44:00you know, again, I think that pretty much exhausted our, what we did for recreation.

WILSON: And was that the only leave time that you took? That one trip?

CURD: Yeah, I think so. Now, I had to make a trip into Freetown to get supplies.

WILSON: Into Sierra Leone?

CURD: Yeah, right, yeah those were the only trips I took.

WILSON: Other places in Guinea that you traveled?

CURD: Well, just that, I think one time, let's see, separate, maybe it was the British people, we took a train and went up to Kankan which was on the other side of the country. We did that just, I think just for the fun of it and that was fun, taking the train and seeing all the villages and so forth but then, again, the only other time I did much 45:00traveling in country was either we'd go down to Conakry for the weekend or something or we would go to a trip, supply trip where we went around but that just happened one time. We went and went around to see all the volunteers and give them, take supplies to them.

WILSON: What, what were your interactions with the host country nationals like beyond the, the obvious difficult one with the--

CURD: No, yeah, well, they were real positive. I mean, we had positive interactions with our house boys and at the laboratory, there was a Guinean that worked there who had, that lived right near us in that same compound and we became real close to him and we'd teach him English and spent a lot of time with him actually, really enjoyed him. There 46:00was another Guinean that worked with me or worked at the fruit research station and he played the guitar and he would teach me to play guitar, try to teach me, hahaha, some of the old tradition, you know, some of the songs that, one song that he taught me wasn't so much traditional Guinean, it was more of a little French folk song that he taught me--

So there were you know, we had friends and that we, a small group of people that we got to know and spent time with--

[Tape one, side one ends; tape one side two begins.]

WILSON: Side two, tape one of interview with the, Phil Curd for the Peace Corp Oral History Project, December 13th, 2004. Phil, I think we were 47:00or you were talking a little bit about relationships with other host country nationals. I don't know whether you finished with that or not.

CURD: I forget exactly where we were but yeah, I think so we had several people. We also had some, made some friends with the, there were some French people there. For example, there was a mechanic that my roommate worked with who was a Frenchmen, Pierre Edward and we, you know, spent some time with him and then, we also got to meet some of the probably Lebanese. There was a fairly large Lebanese population and then, there was some missionaries also and that, because I went to the Protestant 48:00mission in town. My roommate went to the Catholic church in town but and so we had some interaction with other Americans in that regard.

WILSON: And you mentioned the VSOs--

CURD: The VSOs

WILSON: Those, what about other Peace Corps volunteers?

CURD: Well, just when we'd go to Conakry and get together for whatever reason, there were none in our, in our vicinity. There were none in our town so --

WILSON: And were you the, were you then the only volunteer, Peace Corps volunteer who was, was teaching out of your group? Were all the rest in agriculture?

49:00

CURD: They were all in agriculture, yeah

WILSON: Okay so--

CURD: Yeah, now, they, some of the--one of the things they did, they set up a school, an agricultural school and so they did end up teaching at that school some of them.

WILSON: Are there any particularly meaningful stories or experiences from your experience that you'd like to pass on?

CURD: Well, let's see, I think one thing that I was thinking about actually before we turned the tape over and it's a little, very little 50:00vignette but it was, it stuck with me and that was I mentioned we had a friend who worked in the chemistry lab with me--

And we would visit with him and I remember one time walking with him somewhere and, and he offered this statement about my roommate and I. He said, you know, you all are different and, and it was, you know, it certainly wasn't something that we were pumping him more or looking for. I don't know how we got in the conversation but the point is, he felt like that, that we were open and you know, somebody, we were not, we were not aloof as maybe some of the other foreigners that 51:00they've interacted with were. We very much were interested in them and their lives and, and I just forget how he said it but at least, I carried away the message was that, that something about being a Peace Corps volunteer which we, is as much as it's intangible maybe even in terms of this whole idea about well, let's send some America to these countries and it was very presumptuous that we, we would have something to offer but still, beyond that there was a sense of kinship that the volunteers had with the people we were working with and certainly, it may be a lack of any ulterior motive in terms of an agenda to either had some commercial advantage because of what we were doing or you know, political agenda as far as what was happening with the local 52:00political agenda as far as what was happening with the politics of the country and what we would want to happen but just simply that we were dealing with these people on a you know, one human to another and I, I really do think that's what he was saying and I forget exactly the words that he said but I remember hearing him saying that and I thought well, you know, good. I mean, if you're going to be living in a country with other people that's what we would hope they would think about us is that we, you know, that they are, that we are different perhaps and different in a good way. Maybe different in, that wasn't too long after the book The Ugly American had been written and so maybe, you know, maybe different in a way that was different from what was depicted by The Ugly American.

WILSON: Along that line or in that context what, what do you think the 53:00impact of, of your Peace Corps service was on Guinea?

CURD: Yeah, I think it was that. I think it just, the, you know, the, for the Guineans to get to know Americans and, and have, have that as opposed to what they might be getting about and certainly what they might be getting from the Americans from the Communist that were in the country but I think for us, also, to get that experience and probably more important for Americans to see how other people live and to understand a little bit more about the world and how it works and what, what's happening in little countries like Guinea and all which there are many in the world. I think that we then came back to the 54:00United States with a little bit different perspective on the world and I think especially West Africa which is kind of laid back as you know and just the sense of well, maybe all these things that we think are important in life just really aren't; that you can have a good life and you don't, whether it be material or even, even ideology about how things need to be this way or I need to be that way but in, in I think we learned in living in West Africa that well, you know, maybe that's important, maybe it's not, hahaha. It's only important if you want to believe it is. So I think that, that made a big difference. I, I'm sure we both have heard this because it's been in the news recently about how in, how much the our nation government seems to be less 55:00oriented toward the, the rest of the world and it's only a very small percentage of, of the Senators or the House of Representatives actually have passports or had actually traveled abroad and so it's kind of, at least those of us who have been abroad realize that there is some value to it and we think it's a shame that we don't have more of our leaders experiencing that.

WILSON: Hold on one second

CURD: Go ahead

WILSON: We're talking about the impact of the Peace Corps on Guinea and, and then, you were talking about the, I guess the reverse, the impact on your self. Anything further you'd like to add to that?

CURD: Well, I think that the, yeah, the experience of, of living in 56:00West Africa and just that nonchalance or the, it's really hard for me to describe. I probably can describe it better by just how I, how it translated in my life and the one thing I remember is going into medical school then after the Peace Corps. Left the Peace Corps, traveled around, went back to Lexington, started, went home to Louisville had about a week and then, came to Lexington started medical school and just my whole attitude was well, you know, that life goes on. You might be in medical school and you might have to spend a lot of time studying but it's still life. It's not like you put your life on hold for four years while you're doing medical school and it's a subtlety that I think I had that attitude and it was even about grades. 57:00I mean, I, I, you know, you like to do well in medical school but, but it's like okay, you know, getting As is not that important, that it's important you have some balance to your life. It's important that you, you know, ever so often, instead of studying, you take time to go over to campus to listen to somebody who's reading poetry or you know, what have you, some, something that's you know, that's different. In my mind, I see that as something that probably an attitude that I had that I wouldn't have had if I hadn't lived in West Africa for, for two years.

WILSON: What about that coming home? What was, what was that like? You said you were probably the first one out of your group back?

CURD: Yeah

WILSON: Did you come directly back to the States?

CURD: No, I didn't, no. I went to Italy and bought a motorcycle.

58:00

WILSON: Oh, yeah? Tell me about that.

CURD: Ah ha, well, I, I had, one of the fellows in our group or in the teaching group that came after us was from Italy and I had it in my mind that I was going to buy a motorcycle and I talked to him and he said oh, you want to get a Moto Guzzi and so I rode off and had this material and kind of had it figured out what I was going to buy and where and I went to, I left Africa and flew to the Canary Islands and spent a day or two there and then, I flew to Tunisia and spent a day or two there and then, I took the ferry across from, I went to Algiers and by the time they were having civil war in Algiers when I was there and that was interesting and then, I went to from Algeria, I went to 59:00Tunisia and then, stayed a few days there and then, went across, took the ferry across to Sicily and went to the, what, Palermo wherever the, the, wherever the ferry took me and was going to buy a motorcycle. They didn't have the one I wanted there so I hitchhiked across Sicily to the other town that's closest to the, to the tip of the boot of Italy and buy the motorcycle and then, drove it across to Italy and stayed in a Peace Corps, no, not a Peace Corps but a youth hostel and essentially then, this, with this motorcycle and me just going across Sicily or across Italy to, then took the ferry to Greece spend some time--

WILSON: Took the ferry from Brindisi?

CURD: Brindisi, yeah, took the ferry from Brindisi across to Corfu 60:00and then, down into Athens on the motorcycle and then, I was in, they were having civil war in Athens and Greece at the time, there were demonstrations that happened and tear gas and so--

WILSON: This would have been what?

CURD: '65

WILSON: '65

CURD: Yeah and then, I drove through Italy into France and across from France into England, went to Scotland, went to visit the, the volunteer, one of the volunteers that, that--

WILSON: Oh, one of the VSOs?

CURD: Yeah, ah huh and then, so that was most of the summer. It was 61:00really wonderful traveling around and--

WILSON: So you left Guinea in--

CURD: June let's say--

WILSON: June, okay

CURD: And then, I guess medical school, school back then started in September so just in time, I, I flew and I shipped the motorcycle and then, I flew to, back to Louisville and just had time to stay there for a little while and then, get back into, back to Lexington and time to start classes so that was probably more of an adjustment than anything else after you know, adjusting to medical school.

WILSON: And starting, you mean, adjusting to class, to--?

CURD: Yeah, I was just adjusting to being back in the United States--

WILSON: Yeah

CURD: Adjusting to being a medical student, adjusting to school after having been away from school for two years.

62:00

WILSON: What was difficult about that?

CURD: Oh, I think that, you mean just about, about what?

WILSON: That adjustment, what--?

CURD: I think it was just, the biggest adjustment to me was, was just being in medical school and it being a real challenge and you know, will I be able to make it and you know, more along the--

WILSON: The academic--

CURD: Yeah

WILSON: Challenge

CURD: Yeah

WILSON: Okay and so you went to the University of Kentucky to medical school and graduated--

CURD: Graduated in four years

WILSON: Okay, so '69?

CURD:'69, graduated in '69, did a year of internship at Evanston 63:00Hospital, lived in Chicago. Spent the summer after I finished the internship doing immunization, public health work in Chicago and then, in the fall, moved to Hawaii. I got married while I was doing the internship and then, we went to Hawaii stayed two years there doing general practice just for fun. Hahaha.

WILSON: So that would have been like '6-?

CURD:'70, '71, came back to Kentucky in '72 set up a non-profit corporation--

WILSON: Can you say what brought you back to Kentucky?

CURD: Oh, just I think during medical school, thinking I'd like to work in a rural area in Kentucky--and so I wasn't sure what rural area so I came back and looked around for a while and decided to go into Jackson 64:00County. There was a big need there, set up the Whitehouse Clinic and then--

WILSON: Yeah, tell me, tell me about that experience and what's been going on since.

CURD: Okay, well, let's see set up the Whitehouse Clinic as a non-profit corporation to be more or less of a community health center for a long time, I was the only doctor in a, in McKee, a rural town. Over the years, developing that to a larger entity, had Ted Kay came who was a Peace Corps volunteer to maintain, continue to Peace Corps connection as an administrator and then, at some point during that process of 65:00living in Kentucky and had totally really forgotten about having been in the Peace Corps. I mean, that just wasn't relevant to my life at that point in time and I think you know, having gone through medical school and, and really hadn't had any connections with the Peace Corps. It was kind of like well, yeah, I did that but that was back in my past and then, with the clinic and the fact that Lowell Wagner was in Jackson County, another returned Peace Corps volunteer as an extension agent and then, Tom Boyd was in Berea as a professor and at least the four of us having been in the Peace Corps began to relate to the fact that we had been in the Peace Corps and, and reconnect with that. At least for me, it was like that, I was reconnecting with something that had happened twenty years before and, and I think out of that then 66:00the more of a connection with other people in Kentucky who had been in the Peace Corps and then, realizing how much fun it is to be with people who'd been in the Peace Corps, how, how satisfying it is just to get together and you know and talk about what we've done. Just, just generally people who'd been in the Peace Corps are a bit less materialistic because they volunteer two years of their life and are more, I think we just, you find that we innately have things in common, our values of life in many cases and we just enjoy being together and doing things. At least, that's been, that's been my experience.

WILSON: And the, the clinic served McKee and much of Jackson County?

67:00

CURD: The clinic served, that's right, a large portion of Jackson County primarily in the early days, yeah and then, eventually, we got funding, federal funding that allowed us to provide a discount and, and serve a population that wasn't being served or that was less served for medical care.

WILSON: And I believe I'm also correct that you were recognized by the National Peace Corp Association for your service.

CURD: For Humanitarian Service, the Shiver Award, yeah, that was wonderful. That was a very good experience and oh, that was when? 68:001970, 1980, that was '93 or 4, something like that.

WILSON: Mm hmm and this was as a part of the third goal of the, the sense of the third goal of the Peace Corps of returning or--

CURD: Of returning home and the idea behind the Peace Corps being it's you know, the service side of it that it's a volunteer organization. We go and we, we serve and so the idea is that when we come back, we may wish to continue serving. We may just bring back our experiences and share them with other Americans but in my case, I think it was certainly the idea of setting up, meeting a need in the community, providing health care where there wasn't as much health care.

69:00

WILSON: So you think the Peace Corps service in some way lead you to establish that clinic in Eastern Kentucky or something else?

CURD: Well, I don't know. I think certainly the Peace Corps allowed me to doing volunteer work, it leads to, to not going into some other direction, not you know, not feel like I had to go right into medical school and then, had to go right out of medical school getting a job making a lot of money to pay off medical school debts or what, what have you. It's not real clear what the connection was but certainly there was a consistency. Also, a lot of what we were doing, trained to do in the Peace Corps was community development and that was a big part of our training is to understand what is community development? 70:00How do you do community development? How do you go into a community? How do you do a needs assessment? How do you, how do you find out who the decision makers are in a community and how do you get support for your ideas about community change and so I think all of that probably really relates to what I was doing in Jackson County in going into a community. In many ways, a third world community as far as being economically depressed and not having as many and compared to what's available in many, back in that time, many Kentucky communities not having the resources that were available and so I think that I went into that community thinking not only from my Peace Corps training but then, when I got into medical school which was also uniquely for medical schools. At Kentucky we had a department of Community 71:00Medicine so we got more of that medical school about well, how do you analyze a community for its, for its health services, for it's the, the structures and then, the way health care is provided so I went into Jackson County with, with that just kind of a given and that's what I would do. I would think in terms of the community's health needs. One of the first things I did was just have a community meeting and, and we went to the high school and said you know, I'm interesting in doing health care here and what do you all think about that? And it was really wonderful. There was over a hundred people there and so it built, it built some enthusiasm for, for our having a community health center and so yeah, I think there was a real continuum in terms of the, the Whitehouse Clinic as it became to be known and what it does 72:00and still does in the community and the, the way that it got started probably did relate back to some of my Peace Corps experience but I think more training than what I actually did.

WILSON: I guess we've talked about the Peace Corps experience in terms of your career path and so forth. What about the impact if any on your, your family, the fact that you joined the Peace Corps?

CURD: Yeah, well, I think first, especially when I was going to drop out of college to go into the Peace Corps, my father was against that and, and he said you know that, that you'll never, if you do this, if you don't stay in school, college had just kind of become pointless to me and, and he said if you don't stay in school even if it is pointless, 73:00just stick in there and do it because if you don't do it now, you're unlikely to come back and do it later so I thought well maybe he's right so I did finish. I think other than that, they were supportive, my parents, of going into the Peace Corps. They, I can't recall that they had any objection to it. My mom had, had more than dad, mom had been a, I guess you'd say a service oriented type of person that she, I think instilled in us that that's a value to help other people and so I think they were fine with it. I think dad probably, it took him a while just to kind of, he's less expressive and I can remember sending, him sending me a letter while I was in the Peace Corps, telling me that 74:00he was proud of me and that meant a lot to me because dad never, you know, was not a real expressive person so I think they were supportive, my family. Had a cousin who would, would, almost went into, was very seriously considering going into the Peace Corp and I think he got married instead but they were supportive.

WILSON: What about international experience that you've had since your days in Guinea? Any?

CURD: Not, not really. No I haven't. We've talked about, every once in a while, we'll talk about going back to Guinea but we haven't done it. I think you know Tom O'Toole. Angene mentioned that she knew him and he, he had gone back as a, and recently, as a Fulbright scholar, 75:00I think and found that the things were just so poorly organized and that, that he left so I think ----------(??) our thoughts about going back to Guinea are on hold for right now but I haven't other than the work I did in Hawaii, I really haven't done much international work. I actually put out some feelers for doing some international consulting several years ago and that didn't go anywhere so--

WILSON: You're retired now or semi-retired, is that right?

CURD: Um--

WILSON: What I'm getting to is do you see yourself doing some travel?

CURD: Not, I don't specifically know, no I don't because I'm not, I'm less semi-retired than you might think.

WILSON: Oh, okay

CURD: Hahaha, I'm part time with the university but that may, maybe 76:00changing. I'm still putting in a lot of time with the university.

WILSON: Okay, at the med school?

CURD: Yeah

WILSON: Yeah

CURD: Right

WILSON: Okay, okay, well I'm sorry. Would, what would you say your Peace Corps experience had, if any impact on the way you look at the rest of the world?

CURD: Well, I think it has a lot because mostly what I think about the rest of the world, especially the undeveloped part of the world is, is the experience I had in Guinea and in somewhat in Puerto Rico during our training but I, I think that it's, it influences it to the extent that I believe that we should have more foreign aid, that I believe that we can't just paint the rest of the world with one or two brush strokes, 77:00that there is and could be a lot of good will towards the United States and I think that many people in the developing world would like to like the United States but some of the behavior of, of we, our international policies are, are such that we make it hard for them to like us. I think that there are reasons why other counties and other people behave the way they do and we need to understand those reasons. Sometimes, it's not easy but I think we first have to under-, have to begin with an assumption well, there must be some reason why they're doing this 78:00or why they're behaving that way and rather than number one not liking Americans or wanting to be difficult or you know, or being greedy or whatever so yeah, I think that, that it does make a difference.

WILSON: What do you think the overall impact of Peace Corps has been?

CURD: The overall impact in the United States, I think certainly it's, it's generated large numbers of people who, who are now either voting or making decisions or influencing how the United States is whether it's locally or on the national scale. I think it's had that impact. I think in the world, we've had impacts in the communities where we've 79:00gone and to the extent that people have had the experience like the one that I had with our friend who said that you all are different and I took that in a positive way that they, they then have that image of at least some Americans and they have to reconcile that with whatever else they're hearing and whatever else the United States is, is doing. I think it's given us a better idea about what, what aid should be because I think most of us that went across in the early days of the Peace Corps with just this idea that you know, we could somehow make a difference or that we could be useful in these communities were somewhat presumptuous of us and yet, you know, we've been, thought some about well, what is foreign aid and how can you really help people and perhaps there is more enlightened aid to some extent because of 80:00that than there might have been if we hadn't gone over there in these countries.

WILSON: What do you think the role of Peace Corps ought to be today?

CURD: Well, I think that if nothing else, if you can just get Americans to go live in other countries that that would be doing a lot. To the extent that we actually can go and, and help communities do what they want to do and to develop, I mean, I think that's fine. I think that can still be a goal. I, I, it's not something I've thought a lot about Jack. I'm not sure that I'm--

WILSON: But that just going and living in another culture does what in 81:00your estimation?

CURD: Well, I think that it, it promotes understanding. It promotes people, then, have to look for a commonality for what, what keeps, what, what they have in common, what holds, what, that, that people just because they are living some place else are not all that much different on a personal level when you interact with them and I think that's useful. I mean, at one extreme, it's hard to kill somebody if you're looking at the causes of, of we were talking about the Peace Corps and if you look at the absence of peace which is where people kill each other and hurt each other, if you are living with someone and interacting with them and understanding why they think the way they 82:00do and why they live their lives such as they do and what their values are, then, it's hard to draw distinctions and think well, this is somebody that we don't want in the world and we're going to kill this person, we're going to hurt this person. We're going to put sanctions on this person. We're going to take away from this person. We're going to limit their, their opportunities for happiness in their lives so I think that's what the value, I think that's still very valuable in a subtle way, you know, in a somewhat intangible way.

WILSON: So you would think the Peace Corps is something that ought to continue for some period time?

CURD: Yeah, I mean, I can't see any reason for it not to continue. I don't think it's that expensive. I mean, where else can you get people to volunteer two years of their life and you know, for whatever it's worth.

WILSON: Okay, that's, that's all the sort of structured questions I have 83:00but what have I, what have I missed--

CURD: What have you missed, hahaha

WILSON: That you, that you would like to share either in the way of an anecdote or a story or a reflection in general on your experience or?

CURD: I don't think you've missed much. You've probably pulled more out of me than, than anybody that has gotten for a while. No, I think you've done good and I appreciate it, just the chance to think about it. It was obviously a very positive stage in my life and it was a time of personal growth and it, it, it was fun.

WILSON: Good, thank you for your time.

[End of interview.]

84:00
Search This Transcript
SearchClear