WILSON: October 17, 2005 I am Angene Wilson and I am interviewing Sarah Wright as part of the Peace Corps Oral History Project. Sarah, what is your full name and where and when were you born?

WRIGHT: My full name is Sarah Payne Wright and I was born as Sarah Lynne Payne in Stanford, Connecticut on October 31st of 1966.

WILSON: Can you tell me something about your family and something about growing up?

WRIGHT: Well when I was four my family moved to North Carolina from Connecticut. My father had brought us down there on vacation to the beach and bought a business while he was down there, so we never went back. My mom went back and packed up the house on her own and moved us down there, and I grew up in North Carolina.

WILSON: Where in North Carolina?

WRIGHT: Winston-Salem.

WILSON: Oh okay.

WRIGHT: North Carolina, and my mother was a nurse and my father had a 1:00plastics company. If you remember, do you remember those plastics eggs that L'Eggs that hose used to come in?

WILSON: Of course.

WRIGHT: L'Eggs, my father made those.

WILSON: Okay, important thing. Did he make the Easter?

WRIGHT: He did not make the Easter eggs but he made the Legs eggs and he made a plastic jacks and then he also made hospital trays, etc. But as a child I thought the eggs and the jacks was what was fun.

WILSON: Right, right. Did you have brothers and sisters?

WRIGHT: I did, there were four of us. I was the youngest. My sister Martha is nine years older than me then it's my brother Buddy; his full name is Roy. He was named after my father. And then the brother that's closest to me is four years older and his name is David.

WILSON: Okay, and where and when did you go to college and what did you study there?

WRIGHT: I went to college. You're testing my memory in years from 1984 to 1988 at Davidson College in North Carolina. It's a liberal arts school and I couldn't decide what I wanted to major in. But by the 2:00time I turned a junior they made me decide and I chose economics, but I was really torn between economics and psychology. And Davidson at the time did not have minors, so I could take more of the upper level classes that I wanted to if I majored in economics, so that's what drove the decision.

WILSON: Okay, and what did you do after you graduated?

WRIGHT: Well I applied for the Peace Corps while I was still in college. And if anyone is researching Peace Corps you know that application process can tend to take a while, so I bartended for about six months after college because I didn't want to take a real job because if I got called away I knew that I would quit. So I bartended for six to eight months after college and had pretty much decided that I wasn't going to wait anymore. I was going to move to Kentucky, which is where my boyfriend was living at the time. And just give up on Peace Corps and I'd come back; come to here, maybe I'd get a job in social work. 3:00I had no idea what I was going to do because a liberal arts degree in economics and psychology prepares you for so many practical careers. And then I decided I was going to move, and about two weeks before I moved I got a phone call from Peace Corps saying that you know what we found a position for you. And it was in The Gambia and while they were talking to me I was sitting on my twin bed at home. I was still living at home, which is very hard to do after college, and I'm talking on the phone and reaching for my atlas at the same time because I had no idea where The Gambia was! And so I'm going to the index, I'm looking up G and I couldn't find it. So it was a long six to nine months after college before I finally got the offer, but it was worth it.

WILSON: Okay, why did you, how did you find out about Peace Corps and why did you want to do this? Had you done other things that were related to international and?

WRIGHT: I had studied abroad for two different trips during college. One was my sophomore year and I spent a semester in Mexico. And while 4:00we were there, we were there for about 10 weeks or 12 weeks. We were on a trimester system and I had just gotten to the point to where I could understand what my family was saying to me and it was time to leave. And so I knew that you know I wanted to be overseas again. I loved taking pictures while I was overseas, I loved learning from the different cultures, but 10 weeks is too long because my language skills are very dull and it takes me a while to kind of figure out what's going on.

WILSON: Too short?

WRIGHT: Yeah, it was too short. 10 weeks was too short. And then my junior year I went on another trip to Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. And again that two week trip was way too short. So I knew I wanted international travel, I knew I wanted some type of service component, and Peace Corps was one of the few organizations that didn't have a real religious component to it, because I didn't want to be pushing my religion on other people. And it only had a two year commitment as opposed to three year commitment which for some reason at 5:00that point in my life I thought that was important.

WILSON: What about the fact that you already had Spanish and you had experience in Latin America? Did you say that you were interested in a particular part of the world or what?

WRIGHT: I said that someplace where I could use my Spanish would be my first choice, not that my Spanish was ever really that good if they had tested it. But I could communicate, not grammatically correct, but I could make myself understood. And I had been told not to put that you don't want to go anywhere. But really Africa was last on my list because my mother was a nurse and she was terrified of me getting in a car accident and getting AIDS. And so she really wanted me to go to Latin America; she didn't want me to actually leave the country, but if I was going to have to go someplace Latin America in her book was somewhat better.

WILSON: And so here you were at home finding out that you had been accepted for Gambia and so how did your parents take that?

WRIGHT: Oh my parents were divorced at the time.


WILSON: Oh okay.

WRIGHT: So but my father just kind of heard the decision and didn't really have a choice but to roll with it. And my mother also knew that I was headstrong enough that she might as well just support it because I was going to go.

WILSON: And so regardless of the fact that you didn't know where it was, after you looked it up on the map you said yes I'll do that.

WRIGHT: Yeah, I didn't--Yes, I said yes I'll do it, and I didn't tell my mother I didn't know where it was. I just showed her on the map. I said, "Look! This is where I'm going to go," and she's like, "What are you going to do?" "Well I'm not really sure yet, but I think it's teaching math and this is where it is." And it was very hard for her to roll with that. And I went to work that day and this was way before we had cell phones, so if you had to make a phone call from work you did it in the pay phone in the restaurant closet, coat closet. And so that is where I called my boyfriend who was in med school in Kentucky and said, "Hey! You know how I was going to be moving there in about three weeks, well I've gotten a job offer. So yeah I'm going to see you this summer but then I think I'm moving overseas for a couple of years."


WILSON: And so let's see. Let me backtrack again. How did you find out about the Peace Corps to begin with? Did a Peace Corps recruiter come? Had you heard about it from other people or what?

WRIGHT: I don't remember. I don't remember.

WILSON: You don't remember how?

WRIGHT: They could have had some type of poster at college but--

WILSON: Were there other people from Davidson that went into Peace Corps?

WRIGHT: I don't remember anybody.

WILSON: You didn't know anybody who had gone into the Peace Corps.

WRIGHT: I didn't know anybody. And this is like when you know internet was not a really good search method at that point.

WILSON: Right, you couldn't go into the Peace Corps that route.

WRIGHT: You could go into the career office and kind of search for things and--

WILSON: So this was your idea?

WRIGHT: Yeah but I don't know where it came from. And there's a song and it's called a "Peaceful Easy Feeling," that's one of the refrains and I can't sing it especially not with the recording. But it goes "Peaceful Easy Feeling," and I used to always think that song said "Peace Corps Easy Feeling." And it was not until oh maybe five, six, 8:00seven years ago that I realized that oh, that's not what that song's about. Isn't that interesting?

WILSON: Okay, well so you've talked about the process of joining. So you found out and how long did you have then before you were supposed to report?

WRIGHT: Like two or three months, two months probably.


WRIGHT: And I had a bunch of--It was right after college so you've got everyone getting married. So I went to a couple of weddings. One was in Texas, so I drove out to Texas and I drove back and stayed in Lexington, Kentucky for a while with my boyfriend and his family. And then he came back with me to North Carolina, drove with me to my family's annual beach trip, which I spent three days there. And then I left my family crying there and Peter took me to the airport and I flew to Chicago, that's where we finished getting all of our shots. Oh by the way that summer I had to have my wisdom teeth out because you 9:00could not go in Peace Corps with your wisdom teeth and they were not bothering me at all.

WILSON: But they made you take them out?

WRIGHT: But I had to take them out that summer so--

WILSON: Yeah, I've heard that story from other people.

WRIGHT: So I got my wisdom teeth out, went to a couple weddings, and we also went like we got this list of things that you were supposed to take with you. And so I went on this flurry of shopping, and really the only useful thing that I bought and took with me was a short wave radio. But I had been told that I really needed bandanas, so I took lots of bandanas because they can be a washcloth and they would dry really quickly or it could be a littledust mat. Okay so I took like 10 or 12 of them; I could have lived with two. Or you bought like t- shirts for different things and you know what, my money--I had no money. It was right after college. It would have gone so much farther if I you know had just packed a few t-shirts and long sleeve pants and long sleeve shirts for mosquitoes and had just bought stuff in the bazaars over there, but you didn't know that. You wanted to prepared and you wanted the best flashlight and just silly things that we spent time and 10:00energy on trying to get ready.

WILSON: And so you went to Chicago and then you flew?

WRIGHT: We flew, we were there for three days and we did some type of cross cultural game. I remember some type of exercise that we did that was like to prepare you for not knowing the language.

WILSON: Like BaFa BaFa or something?

WRIGHT: It could be something like that. And I remember that, and I remember getting shots. And I remember having to go to an emergency room in Chicago because I had some infected eye sty. My tear duct had swollen up and I was all worried I was going to get to go. And then we had our last bit of pizza; we heard some jazz. We were tempted to take pizza with us but we did not. And then we flew to Banjul, The Gambia and we started in country training.

WILSON: But not directly to Banjul, right?

WRIGHT: To London and then over.

WILSON: To London and then--

WRIGHT: But we didn't get off the plane.


WRIGHT: I mean you changed planes but you didn't get to spend the night in London or anything like that.


WILSON: How many of you were there?

WRIGHT: There were--I brought my photo album so I can remember this. This was my group right there in Chicago Airport travel insurance. Does that look like 12 people, 15 people? Look at all of us! We are pasty white, we've all got these backpacks on, we are so full of idealism and thinking I don't know.

WILSON: All young?

WRIGHT: We've all got these--All young! We've all got these hats on with really wide brims to protect us from the sun. There were two married couples in my group; the rest were single. And everybody was young. There was no real older volunteers in my group.

WILSON: Oh really? And you were all going to teach math?

WRIGHT: We were all going to teach math. The Gambia would one year they would take math teachers, the next year they would take science teachers, then math, then science. So each school that accepted volunteers always had one experienced volunteer and always had one 12:00new person.

WILSON: Oh that's interesting.

WRIGHT: So that was very, very, very nice.

WILSON: Yeah. And how many, all secondary?

WRIGHT: All secondary technical schools and then they also had volunteers who were foresters. So there were three jobs.

WILSON: And so how many of you in country?

WRIGHT: 30, 35.

WILSON: So it was a fairly small program. Okay. So you got to Banjul and then what? What was training like?

WRIGHT: Training was very comprehensive and thank goodness. I mean they taught us the you know how to teach in the school. We actually taught summer school for free for local kids, and that's how we learned because most of us had never taught before. Peace Corps had seen something on our application that made them think that we would be good teaching math in Africa, most of us didn't know what that was. But we actually taught a math summer school and we learned about the Gambian education system. We went to language classes.


WRIGHT: Well for me I started out in Wolof classes because I was going 13:00to be placed on the north bank of the river, which is traditionally a Wolof area of the country. Halfway through training when I went on my site visit the experienced volunteer who was there Joe Cook asked how language was going. And he starts talking to me in a language that I don't recognize and it's Mandinka.

WILSON: Oh dear.

WRIGHT: Evidently my village and little area was more of a Mandinka enclave, so Wolof was not useful there. So I came back from site visit and they gave me a couple days or something of one on one training to try to catch me up and I switched over to Mandinka classes. We learned how to try to take care of your nutritional needs with the limited diet. We learned how to take a bucket bath. You know when a medical situation was serious and you should make your way down country or when you should just look at your book "Where There is No Doctor" and figure it out and go on from there. Because I was about eight hours of travel 14:00from my site visit to the capitol and there were no phones so--

WILSON: And so you ended up going to this Mandinka area where there was a technical school? And there was one other volunteer there already?

WRIGHT: One other volunteer there, Joe Cook, who taught science there. And when Joe, like I think volunteers take different avenues. Some their true focus is on complete assimilation into the culture and doing everything like locals do it. Others their focus is there to do a job effectively, but a lot of their social interaction may be with other volunteers. And there's a lot of people kind of in the middle, so like the whole range.

WILSON: Yeah, that's a good--

WRIGHT: Joe was full assimilation. He had chickens sleeping in his house because foxes had been getting them. Everyone loved Joseph, Joseph. And he was a--He just fully really assimilated into the 15:00village. He was a great individual to help me kind of find my way. And he was in one village Fulakunda and we didn't want to live in the same village, so I lived in Jakaba and we both were able to walk to our school, which was nearby.

WILSON: And so what was your living situation like?

WRIGHT: I chose to live with a host family and you could make two choices. You could get into a host family compound that would have the mud wall homes with the thatch roof or you could have a mud wall home with a corrugate metal roof. I think as an overreaction to my stay at Joe's house that had the thatch roof and lots of bugs and chickens under my bed that never stopped moving all night long, I somehow decided that it would be nicer and safer and somehow cleaner if I was in a house with a metal roof. Okay that just means it's hot. It's 16:00all it meant! It was very, very hot. So I was in a, it was a compound that had kind of two rows of houses facing each other. Hadja who was a local midwife lived in the house over here with her granddaughter and great-granddaughter whose their families had gone to France and would occasionally send money. But they left their kids there to take care of her. Now I see the reasoning behind that. Back then I used to think you know these parents here they are living it up in France and all they do is occasionally send back some money and fabric and they're leaving their kids here. But now I understand the family obligation that they were taking care of their grandmother that way. But at the time I was kind of horrified. And then I lived in a--

WILSON: And what kinds of jobs would the parents have been doing then?

WRIGHT: You know I don't know, I don't know.

WILSON: Probably thinking they could make more money.

WRIGHT: They could have been taxi drivers or you know, don't know what they did.

WILSON: Yeah, right, right.

WRIGHT: And they would write occasionally.

WILSON: How old were the kids?

WRIGHT: Most people did not know how old they were, but I would say 17:00probably 8 and 14, something like that so not real old, not real old. One of them went to school; one of them did not. And then I lived kind of in the same family compound in the little row house across the way. A goat used to live in my house but we kicked out the goat and we cleaned it up a little bit because Peace Corps required that you had a cement floor and that you had screens on your windows, so that was a nice upgrade to the house. And then a student rented the room next to me. And then an uncle of some sort, but they kind of called everyone uncle, lived in the one on the end. It was a two room mud house with a corrugate roof, no attic or what they--It's supposed to be like kind of a ceiling of your house and then all the heat would be up above it; I didn't have one of those.

WILSON: Oh okay.

WRIGHT: So it was just hot.

WILSON: What was your eating like? What did you, how did you eat? Did 18:00you eat with the family or--?

WRIGHT: I ate with the family. Initially they would, the ceremony was for them to kind of bring you your bowl of food and your separate spoon and you would kind of eat apart from the family. Well that was kind of lonely, so I got to the point to where I ate with them and at first I used the spoon and then I got into the situation to where I was using my hand and sitting around the bowl with them. But before I learned to like their food I used to--I'd get this bowl of food with this rice that looked great because you'd be hungry. But it had this like sauce on top and it'd be an odd color and it might be a little slimy because it had some okra in it and dried fish that you had seen up drying on the roof and little flies on it, and I was having a hard time getting over that initially. So I would scrape off the sauce and I made a lot of rice pudding. And I gained like--I gained weight! Because I would be adding sugar and powdered milk to my rice every night for dinner, and that's not very healthy because then I learned to like the food and I enjoyed it and I ate with them.


WILSON: So where were you located?

WRIGHT: I was in about three quarters of the way up the Gambian River.


WRIGHT: The Gambia had two roads at the time, and I was there from '89 to '91. The north bank of the river was a gravel road; the south bank was the paved road. So you would always go as far as you could up country on the south bank road because you could make better time on an actual bus.

WILSON: Right.

WRIGHT: And then you'd cross over the river. When I look at like maps now I mean maybe it was like 70, 100 miles up country if that far.

WILSON: But it would take you?

WRIGHT: It would take eight hours of travel because from the--Take a bus, first you take a taxi to the bus station, then you take a bus up to the Georgetown area, then you'd cross over on one ferry to an island, you'd cross over the island on a bush taxi. And taxis never go anywhere until they're full, so you'd wait for it to fill. And 20:00then you'd cross over on another ferry which was kind of--You'd pull on the, pull the boat across on the rope and then you'd have to wait for another taxi to take you to my village. And I was in Jacoba, which if you ever look at a Gambian map it's very close to Kuntauer, which is K-U-N-T-A-U-E-R how we spelled it. I never saw it written there so that's how we spelled it.

WILSON: How big a village?

WRIGHT: Oh I don't know.

WILSON: Well how many compounds? How many houses?

WRIGHT: Maybe 60 families, something like that. And that could be, that number could be grossly off, but I'd say maybe 60 families there and maybe--

WILSON: And so there were a number of--?

WRIGHT: Another 80 families in Fulakunda, which was near by, very close.

WILSON: Okay, then that was where the other Peace Corps volunteer was and then the school was in the middle?

WRIGHT: And then there was another, school was kind of in the middle, and then there was another village a little further away that had the forestry volunteer. And some kids actually came to our school from 21:00there. And that was probably a 35 minute walk for them every morning. And then kids often came from Kuntauer, which was that was probably a 45 minute walk.

WILSON: So your job was a math teacher at this school was named?

WRIGHT: Kuntauer Secondary Technical School.

WILSON: And what was the difference between a technical school and a regular school or a secondary school?

WRIGHT: The Gambian educational system was based on the British system. So after they go to primary school they take a test. If they do well on the test they go to high school. If they don't do well on the test supposedly they don't have the same academic aptitudes and they go to a technical school supposedly to learn a trade. So we also had a woodworking class and metalworking classes, and so that was kind of the goal. However, my school had no metalworking supplies, no woodworking 22:00supplies. And what people would do is they'd go to secondary technical school for a few years and then they'd try to take the test again so they could get into high school, which they would learn some nice academic things on paper. And then they would go to the capital and kind of live because now they thought that they were above farming, but there still was not a job for them in the capitol. So it was kind of a messed up educational system. My secondary project was working on a woodworking project, which that I think probably had a little more impact where we actually through USAID got funding for woodworking tools. Before I got there the woodworking teacher would draw pictures of tools both hand tools as well as electric tools, and mind you my area had no electricity. But perhaps this would prepare them if they ever moved to the capitol and there was electricity. But the students would, they'd look on the chalkboard, the teacher would write everything, and then the students would dutifully transcribe whatever 23:00was written on the blackboard into their notebook. You know those little paper notebooks with the blue covers and the little lines and that would be class. And I remember us looking at pictures about you know wearing safety goggles for electrical things and what to plug in where and I'm like this doesn't relate. So we got funding to buy raw supplies and hand tools, and the first class of students made furniture for the school, sold that to incoming students, and then used that money to buy more raw materials. So at the end of four years the whole school would have furniture for each grade and then they could start selling furniture to the local community.

WILSON: And did that continue? Do you know whether that worked?

WRIGHT: I don't know how much of it continued because once the volunteers that I was in contact with left, most Gambians they're not letter writers. They write letters but it's not about how things are going. It is greeting the 20 people in your family and wishing them all good health and then I list all the people in the village that are 24:00sending my best greetings to you, and then you say peace only and the letters over. You don't find out if the rains have come. You don't find out in the Independence Day was good and if they had beautiful fabric for their dress. You don't, you don't even know if people had babies. It's just all these people greeting you.

WILSON: So what would a typical day be like in terms of let's do a typical day when school was in? What would it be like?

WRIGHT: When school was in you'd wake up and you'd have breakfast with your family.

WILSON: Which consisted of?

WRIGHT: Something with rice. I was in an area where they grew a lot of rice, which meant that there were lots and lots of mosquitoes. But they grew a lot of rice. Other areas of the country they might have more couscous or other grains, but we had plenty of rice. If it was imported rice they actually called in Uncle Ben's, which just kind of cracked me up. But we had rice and sometimes it was just rice, 25:00sometimes it had a little bit of sauce on top. Sometimes they oh they called it sour milk, which I would not touch in my first year. But in my second year, man I ate it up. It was awesome. And so you'd have that and then you'd--I'd eat with my family then you would go to school. You would teach for lunch.

WILSON: What time did school start?

WRIGHT: I don't remember. Like you'd hear--

WILSON: You walked to school?

WRIGHT: You walked to school and I remember I had a watch while I was there but it was more like in the morning you'd hear the roosters and you'd hear women up pounding the corn and so you got up and then you'd eat something really quick and then you'd go to school. Maybe it was eight, something like that. And have lunch--

WILSON: And the kids were all walking to school and come from quite a distance?

WRIGHT: Yep, and they all had uniforms. They had to wear their uniforms to school, and if you couldn't provide your own table, chair, uniform, and notebooks you couldn't go to school. So that was the barrier for a 26:00lot of people.

WILSON: What about how many girls were going to school at that time?

WRIGHT: There were a lot of girls at my school.

WILSON: They also were expected to learn woodworking and--?

WRIGHT: They had a home economics class.

WILSON: Oh they did?

WRIGHT: But I think they could take woodworking too; I'm not sure. But they did have a home economics class and they would learn about nutrition and making sure that you know if you had rice you also had beans; it'd be a complete protein. I'm not sure how many women were in the older grades because once they got married or something else happened or they got pregnant, they'd get pulled out of school. But like I don't think, I'm going to look. While we're talking I'm going to look here because I have pictures of school.

WILSON: Yeah, okay. Well so how many kids would you have in a class?

WRIGHT: But it probably would have 50/50.

WILSON: You had?

WRIGHT: Probably like 40 people.

WILSON: 40 students in a class, and this would be what grade or equivalent to what grades here?

WRIGHT: 7th, 8th, and 9th maybe, something like that. Like this is 27:00a typical classroom. It's just a wood brick building again with corrugate roofs, a chalkboard on the front, little desks that they had made. So I mean there's a fair amount of girls and this was like our home economics teacher, and she would teach Phys Ed. But girls were also there because they were really interested in the guys. There were very few--Most of the kids that went to the school may or may not live in these villages full time. They might have come from even more remote areas and they would live with them, that kind of host family that lived close. And they would do work for the family and then get to go to school.

WILSON: Right, right.

WRIGHT: And school probably lasted until like 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon. And then they'd go home and they'd have a lot of chores to do.

WILSON: How many classes were you teaching during the day?

WRIGHT: I don't remember but most of the day; you might have a planning period inside but that would be it. And then they also they had math class, they had English class, they had their religious class where 28:00they would do kind of learn their different prayers. They could rotate through--

WILSON: Everybody was Muslim?

WRIGHT: Mmmhmm. Then they had like woodworking, metalworking and home economics and I think they rotated between them, and then they had science and homeroom. I don't remember what they did in homeroom.

WILSON: Any outside activities I mean extra curricular activities?

WRIGHT: Like physical education?

WILSON: Well or games or clubs or anything like that?

WRIGHT: There might have been. Like I worked on a library there, got that established, and there was a group of students that helped with that. There was probably like a cooking club but not a lot of extra curriculars. There was a lot of work when people were done with school.

WILSON: They had to go and do their chores.

WRIGHT: Now occasionally we would have events at school in the evening. Once we rented a generator and we showed a movie on the side of the building. And I'm sure we showed other movies but the one that 29:00I remember was something about John Wayne and cowboys. And all I remember is the next day everyone asking me if everyone in America had a gun. And I was like, "No, that's not it. That's just a movie." And you would be just embarrassed that that was their view of the United States. That and they loved Kung Fu movies; they also showed those on the side of the school.

WILSON: But at that point nobody in that village would have had a TV hooked up to a generator then?

WRIGHT: Not in that--

WILSON: Watching or anything?

WRIGHT: No, in the capital they did but not in that area.

WILSON: What about your math classes? How did that go and did you--?

WRIGHT: It got better, it got better. Like you tried to make it apply. Like if you could relate it to crops and how much seed you needed or kind of you made it to be word problems like you know your sheep and your goats and that kind of stuff. But I remember it's probably my first year. I'm supposed to teach the concept of negative numbers. 30:00Well in the US when you learn negative numbers it's hot and cold.

WILSON: Right, right, right.

WRIGHT: And I've not always been the best at preparing things ahead of time, so I've kind of looked at my book and it's you know been donated from somewhere and so their little examples are about hot and cold. And half my students in the room don't have a book anyways, so it's whatever I put up on the board. And I remember starting to teach this thing with negative numbers because in Kuntauer, which was about 45 minutes away, there was one shop that had a kerosene refrigerator. So I was going to use that as my example. Well that's stupid. 75% of the people have never gone to nor could they afford something that came out of the kerosene refrigerator. Just because I could go there once a month and get a cold Coca-Cola didn't mean that they ever could. So you had to kind of dance on your feet. I'm like, "Okay, that's not going to work." So I ended up teaching negative numbers like a hole in the ground versus building up.

WILSON: Oh that's good!

WRIGHT: So you just had to be really flexible in your lesson plans. 31:00You'd always come up with a plan but you had to kind of watch facial expressions and figure out what was working and not working and try to just make sure that each lesson added value and that you weren't--You had to prepare them to take their exams because their exams were very important to them. But you had to also make sure that there was value just in their day to day because if they didn't pass their exams then that's not where they--They weren't going to go on to more school. And even if they did go on to more school that didn't mean that they were going to have some great mathematic career somewhere.

WILSON: Right, right, so it had to be practical.


WILSON: So did you get to know your students as individuals?

WRIGHT: I got to know a handful of them, some of the ones that lived in my compound. What was his name? There was one boy who my boyfriend at the time came over and was in The Gambia for a while, and his last name 32:00was Toure also, and the Gambians had given me a name of Kati Toureyand stuff. He took us to--

WILSON: Which meant?

WRIGHT: It was--

WILSON: Kati is?

WRIGHT: Kati and Kani, they'd go back and forth. One meant hot, one was the sister of Abraham. So I get which one mixed up. I always got it- -Kati meant sister of Abraham. I switched away from being the one hot because everyone calling you hot when you're this little blonde white thing just brought too much attention to yourself. And then the family name was Toure. And he was also a Toure. So he took Peter and I to meet his family in his village, which was about five or six hours away.

WILSON: Walking?

WRIGHT: We took some bush taxis and then we walked and donkey rides and other things. And his village, they had not had people that were this white there before. So they threw a huge party for us because 33:00not only were we white foreigners but we were the teacher, the son's teacher. So the chief of the village had a party for us and he brought us this bowl of rice with sauce on top of it, in which they had very ceremoniously placed a chicken head with its feet crossed through the head like kind of coming out. And my student was asking us, Peter and I, if we wanted to eat that. And we were just a little concerned because we knew it was offensive if we didn't eat it. But I also just couldn't imagine putting this chicken skull in my mouth with little feet coming out of it. And we're like, "Would you like it?" And he was like, "Oh yeah. I'd love to eat it!" So he ate it and kind of saved us from that. So he lived in my compound the whole time that I was there, so we were close. And there were probably two or three other students that you know they couldn't buy candles, they couldn't buy kerosene, so my first year there before Peter came over most nights I had kind of a study hall where you could come over and if you wanted to use my candlelight you could come over.


WILSON: You didn't have a kerosene lamp? You had candlelight?

WRIGHT: I had some of both. Sometimes you could get kerosene and you had a kerosene lantern and other times you just had candles. And then my second year there somebody had left me; oh it was like a Coleman lantern that had like this little white filament thing that was bright. I mean my compound was glowing.

WILSON: That's an Aladdin lamp I think, right?

WRIGHT: I don't know what it was.

WILSON: We had Aladdin lamps.

WRIGHT: It was like this little, it looks like a little bag.

WILSON: Right, exactly! That's an Aladdin lamp.

WRIGHT: And it was like these little tank things.

WILSON: And really it's bright. You can see with it.

WRIGHT: Oh yeah! You could see with it and it was bright. And then you'd start to feel a little guilty because it was so bright because I would have other people come over. But it was awesome; you wouldn't get a headache. You could you know you could read and it was great. The other guilty thing we used to feel about is Peace Corps provided us with mosquito repellant.

WILSON: And mosquito nets or?

WRIGHT: And mosquito nets. And everyone in my area slept with mosquito nets because when you told people, even locals, where you were going. 35:00You'd say oh I'm going to Kuntauer. And they go, "Oh soosoola," which mean, "Ah mosquitoes." Because it was part of the rice country terrible mosquito problems that would beginning in the evening as soon as dusk you would just hear a buzz going all the time. So you wore long sleeves, you wore mosquito repellant; you'd always be slapping yourself.

WILSON: And you were taking?

WRIGHT: You took malaria medication.

WILSON: Right, right.

WRIGHT: There was something we took everyday and something else.

WILSON: Oh really? Wow, yeah.

WRIGHT: So we were surrounded by malaria and you took your medication. I didn't always treat my water but I took my malaria medication. And so at night you'd be sitting outside and you couldn't always get the mosquito repellant but if you had it on it was great. But everyone else would be sitting there you know slapping their legs and their head and you wouldn't be, but you feel guilty because you didn't have enough mosquito repellant for everybody. So you would just kind of occasionally just kind of slap around. And one time the student who 36:00had taken us to his village, my boyfriend his name was Yaya [Editor's note: stranger]. They gave him a name and he's like, "Yaya!" And he's like, "What?" And he's like, "I think you must have applied something to your skin to protect you from the mosquitoes." And then we're like, "Yes we did," so it was just but you just didn't have enough. You feel guilty because you're kind of hoarding it, but you hoarded it so--

WILSON: What was the most difficult adjustment for you? You talked about taking a year before you ate some things and so forth, but what was hard about getting used to being in The Gambia?

WRIGHT: I think really the isolation because you don't have--For me my language skills are very slow to develop, so you don't have good enough language skills to truly develop close friends in the local language until again you're about to leave. And as a white woman who would 37:00be leaving there I was in a very different situation than most of the women. Older men were very Muslim. If I tried to shake their hands they would do it, but it's not something that most people could get away with. And some would not shake my hand. So you're not going to you know talk to them like a father, advise me, because I'm not the typical woman. I'm not doing the typical Muslim things. The young girls who had the most time to talk to you, they're good companions but again their life was going to end up being very different and so you didn't always have the bonds. And most women my age had you know three and five kids and they were wife number one, two, and three. So I think that was the hardest thing. So I was a very good letter writer while I was there. And you would probably like Joe the volunteer in the village over, we didn't see each other much in the evenings or 38:00weekends, but typically at lunch we'd kind of touch base and then kind of unload with each other and kind of build each other back up. And then probably once every six to eight weeks you'd go up country to the capitol and you'd have a long weekend at the beach with the other Peace Corps volunteers and kind of get that connection. But there was a lot of solo time. There was a lot of time when you'd be kind of out hanging out with people in the village on the Banta boat, which was this wicker contraption typically under trees in the shade and you would just kind of relax and hang out there. But again you're just kind of talking about the crops and who's doing their greeting. You're not talking about, "Man I was really frustrated today because that lesson plan I came up with just didn't work," or, you know I just a letter from home and you know so and so's having a baby or you know.

WILSON: Couldn't talk about it?

WRIGHT: You couldn't talk about it. I think that was the hardest. And then you had dysentery and you had all sorts of other physical things 39:00and you had food cravings. Like I craved pink lemonade with crushed ice and Oreo cookies and you know, but those were all manageable things. And you had more dysentery than you knew could even exist. And things would happen to your body that were just you know not pleasant, but you got over them. I think the mental isolation was probably the hardest.

WILSON: We've talked about your living conditions I guess. Let's see well let me--You talked about what was most difficult adjustment, what do you think you were prepared for and what weren't you prepared for?

WRIGHT: Oh I don't think you can truly be prepared. I was just talking to a volunteer who was getting ready to go recently and she was going to be in Senegal, which is very close to The Gambia. And she's actually the sister of a good friend of mine. And she's like you know, 40:00"Sarah, what do I need to do to get ready etc.?" So I told her about a short wave radio and then I just told her you know soak it up when you get there and recognize that on the worst days, that's your worst day and that it's uphill from there and that it's going to be better and that those are just moments. And you know when you're going through training build a support network with the other volunteers and your teachers there because they're there to help you succeed. So I think I forgot what the question was.

WILSON: No, well I think you answered it. I mean you said you had really good training but part of what I hear you saying is also that you can't really prepare.

WRIGHT: You can't be prepared. You can't bring material things that are going to make life all that much better for you. It's definitely good to kind of stock up on deodorant and feminine protection things because what you get here works a lot better than what you get there.

WILSON: Right.

WRIGHT: But you know you can't really prepare yourself. You just have 41:00to be kind of open to trying new food and expect to get sick but then expect to get better and--

WILSON: Did you feel also you had good medical information and care if you need it?

WRIGHT: Yes, because I knew that if something happened I could get to-- There were enough volunteers along the way that if you could get someone from--If you couldn't get yourself there, someone from your village could get to one of those places and they could get you to where you needed to. And there was a hospital in the capital. There's also a hospital in Bansang, which was maybe two hours away. And also if I got really sick I'd get medevaced to Germany. And so you know, I'm sure I had this vision of some helicopter swooping in and saving me, and that was probably very far from the truth of what actually would have happened.

WILSON: Well but you would have been taken care of.

WRIGHT: I would have gotten taken care of. And we had a monthly mail run, and there was always a volunteer on the mail run, and then there was always a Peace Corps employee. Sometimes it was the nurse that 42:00kind of came up and saw our places, sometimes it was somebody else. But every month you had someone kind of checking on you. And you could replenish your medical supplies, your malaria prophylactic, your bug spray, whatever you needed to. So you felt like you had contact.

WILSON: Let's see you've talked about what a typical day was like. What did you do for recreation?

WRIGHT: You know I think one of the best things about The Gambia was you learned to slow down. Like I think in the US you always want to be doing something or to be entertained. And I learned that you know what I can just sit on this Banta boat with somebody else and maybe I can't talk to them but you can just stay there and look at the stars you know or just kind of ataya, which was kind of a tea ceremony. And you would have three rounds of brewing this green tea or you would have coffee. And people would tell jokes, and I might understand a fifth of what I heard. But you just learned to kind of be slow. And life was 43:00about living; it was about gathering your food, it was about being with family, and it was just very simple. And that was appealing. So we would just kind of hang out.

WILSON: Okay I think this is a good time to break and we will turn it over. Okay you were just saying something else was hard.

WRIGHT: The other thing that we were talking about was well during the break we were talking about how Peace Corps volunteers always have food fantasies, but that's a whole other story. But that made me remember that holidays were hard because I didn't come back while I was there. So Thanksgiving, Peace Corps volunteers would get together. Christmas though, some volunteers would go on trips and some would go back home. And I remember my first year I couldn't go anywhere and it was just me. And there was one other volunteer; we're kind of hanging out. And my mail had gotten stolen and I didn't get any Christmas packages.


WILSON: Oh dear.

WRIGHT: And you're sitting there and we were in the capital in this beautiful area but it's primarily a Muslim country; no one's talking about Christmas. And we're just kind of sitting there eating and I don't remember what we ate. We probably got ice cream and thought that was really cool, and it's just you're kind of in like a weird limbo place, so holidays were weird.

WILSON: Were hard.


WILSON: Well but I think Sarah that you ought to talk about food fantasies because I think that's pretty common among volunteers, so go ahead.

WRIGHT: Well I was flipping through my scrapbook that I brought for my memories and like every event that I have like volunteers getting together it's all about food. And like when you're getting together as a volunteer overseas it's all about American food, like if you can get a burger or beans or a turkey that that's a--Now volunteer get-togethers we're all doing funky stuff that kind of reminds us of the food that we ate when we were overseas, so it's like you never 45:00fantasize about what you've got. But what I was telling Angene is my biggest food fantasy was about pink lemonade and crushed ice. And volunteers could talk for 20 minutes about one single food item and just desiring it. That and I wanted my double stuffed Oreo cookies and pizza, so and I didn't get them while I was there.

WILSON: While you were there. So did you travel? I mean you were talking about Christmas and being by yourself. Did you travel within the country, to Senegal I mean other places in West Africa?

WRIGHT: Yes, my first year I traveled like extensively through The Gambia. And you go and you stay with other volunteers.

WILSON: Yeah right.

WRIGHT: My second year on the school break at Christmas my boyfriend and another couple traveled through, we went to Dakar, which was a big city. And they had tall buildings and electricity and they had hamburgers that kind of tasted like hamburgers. They had fried eggs on them and 46:00we thought that was weird but we ate it anyways. And they had Spanish peanuts and they had mandarin oranges. See I'm talking about food again. And I spent all of my money on that trip on food. And then we went from there into Mali and we went to Bamako and Mopti and we wanted to go to Timbuktu because we thought that would be really cool to say we've been to Timbuktu. But it was the dry season and river, the river boats were the best way to get to Timbuktu, but if the river was down--Like on the river it would take a couple of days to get there. If you didn't have the river and you went by donkey cart traversing up and down all these hills etc. it would take you weeks. And our vacation was not that long. Well we rode a train and I was one of those volunteers that really believed in immersion. So like there was some book Africa on a Shoestring, which every volunteer in my area had. And this book you could ride first class or third class on the train.


WILSON: This is a train from Dakar to--?

WRIGHT: From Dakar to Bamako.

WILSON: Right.

WRIGHT: And in the book Africa on a Shoestring it says even the flies do not ride third class. I wanted and the other couple the husband of that couple, he and I were like we really wanted to experience it because evidently they did all of this trading in and out of the windows and we really wanted to experience it. My boyfriend and then his wife were like oh no, first class. I'm experiencing it enough thank you. So we made this arrangement that we would ride third class out there and if we had the money we'd ride first class back. Great trip out there, we timed it so that we were on the good bus that had padded seats because the other bus I mean the other train--

WILSON: Coach.

WRIGHT: There were two trains that went and they would kind of on, they'd leave every three days going the other direction and they'd cross. So if you had the good train you'd have padded seats in third 48:00class; if you didn't have the right train there were wooden park benches for a 30 hour train ride. So we had the padded seats. We go there, we're great, it's very surreal. You get stopped at borders in the middle of the night and there's people with guns and they're taking your IDs and you don't understand what they're saying to you, and it's very surreal. And it's very obvious that you don't blend in. And when we all had, three out of the four of us had very blonde hair, mediocre language skills. People would always--Like as soon as you would start to talk to them in a local language they go, "Ah Peace Corps!" because it was pretty much only volunteers that tried to learn. But we still weren't fluent and they could talk about you really fast and you had no idea what they were talking about. So you get woken up like at 3:00 in the morning when you finally fall asleep to get shuffled off this bus. You don't know where you are, you've got to give someone your passport, you're hoping you're going to get it back, and it's scary. And we got back on. We arrived in Mali, had a great time. We went up 49:00to Dogon country, which reminds me of the Pueblo Indians--fascinating, just amazing. And then we got back. It was time for us to come back because three of us had to start teaching school again and there had been a train wreck and big train wreck. I don't remember hearing about a lot of casualties because they never really went that fast, but there was a train stuck in the middle of the tracks halfway in between Bamako and Dakar. So we had to extend for a couple more days. Some Peace Corps volunteers had just gotten evacuated from someplace else, so they were all staying at the Bamako stage house, so we couldn't stay there so we're having to pay for a hotel. We were out of money. We asked someone to wire us some money so that we could stay in a hotel someplace. So obviously we did not have money now for a first class train on the way back. So they finally had, they couldn't get 50:00the train fixed that was broken. So what they planned is they were going to bring a train from Bamako to the site of the wreck, a train from Dakar to the site of the wreck, and then everyone would disembark the train, walk around the wreckage, and get on the other train. And there would be no assigned seating when you got there, you would just run past the surreal wreckage with the stuff that you had on your head or your back or whatever and run into the new place. First class had reserved seating but we could no longer afford this. We were in third class and now we were on park bench seats where the backs of the seats were oh about shoulder level so you can't really sleep because you would get whiplash from the seat bouncing. I got my own. I mean I completely deserved what happened. I had bought a rolled up grass mat and you're so tired at this point; you're just exhausted. And so I was like, "You know what I don't care. I'm just going to put my 51:00mat on the floor of this train and I'm going to sleep." And you'd wake up--Like I laid down, you're kind of half exhausted, you're not making good thoughts, and the mat felt wet so I'd sit up. And then I'd feel the mat again and it didn't feel wet again. Well evidently the little boy next to me had peed all over the floor and when my body was on top of the mat I was now dead set in the puddle. And when I sat up the puddle, the mat would raise up a little bit and I was no longer in the urine puddle. I was so tired I ended up sleeping in it. I just didn't care at that point. And everyone else in the group was like, "Mmmhmm, you had said we could take first class right now." And to this day like I stay in touch with that couple that went with us, they were in Oregon and now they're not in Oregon. Are they in--? They're in Turkey for like a year or two years. And my boyfriend then now husband, they still remember that about me sleeping in the pee, and I completely 52:00deserved it. But it was a wonderful trip and it made Christmas not be hard because you weren't trying to make it be a Christmas. You were just going on something different and going on a trip.

WILSON: You were doing something else, yeah, yeah. And did you travel anyplace else in--? That was the--?

WRIGHT: That was it.

WILSON: Okay. What were your interactions with host country nationals like? Did you have a counterpart in some way in the school? You sort of had a host family in your compound.

WRIGHT: I had a host family.

WILSON: And how did that work?

WRIGHT: We had two host families actually. We had one host family during training that would kind of teach us different things, and they're actually the ones that kind of gave us a Gambian name and kind of taught us some cultural things. But typically they were selected because they had some English skills as well. And so every time I would go to the capital I would visit them as well. Then you 53:00had the host family in your real village. Not everyone lived with a host family but I chose to, and I did a lot with them. I ate all of my meals with them, I would go to the market with them, the little girls would try to braid my hair, which does not work very well but they would try to do that. And my host mother was the midwife for the village, so there would be a lot of women in and out of the compound. So we would all talk and you know so it was nice. Then in the school there were two American teachers and probably six other teachers. And we weren't partnered up with each other but we would have joint staff meetings and it would be expected that we would all kind of share ideas with each other.

WILSON: And there had been a history of having Peace Corps teachers there?

WRIGHT: There, well this a relatively new school. It had only been in existence--It was its second year of existence that I was there.

WILSON: Oh okay.

WRIGHT: So Joe was the first volunteer and then I was second. And then 54:00Joe's replacement Nina Kushner was like the third teacher.

WILSON: And so did you feel as though you had some things in common with those teachers or that you did share some ideas?

WRIGHT: Yeah we shared ideas. We were helpful with each other's lesson plans, so it was collaborative. It was very collaborative.

WILSON: What about your interactions with Americans including Peace Corps volunteers? You talked about that a little bit but--

WRIGHT: Well whenever a white person was in the area they would get directed to your house whether you knew them or not. I remember there was a Swedish gentleman. We nicknamed him Thor and that's really evil because that was not his name, but he was a very wealthy individual. He was actually Dutch and he was going to ride his motorcycle across West Africa. Well it's rather dusty and so he was obviously encountering 55:00lots of issues. So he stayed with us for a couple of days because he just got sent to us. Then lots of volunteers you would in order to kind of see the country you would let other people stay with you where you would stay with them and then you have your kind of monthly get- togethers. In the capital there was the US embassy and we could watch films there. I remember seeing Pretty Woman, which is a very surreal thing to watch while you're in The Gambia. But you could watch that at the US embassy. But we didn't really interact a lot with a lot of the embassy employees. Some of them would have us over occasionally for dinner; others didn't really want to have a lot to do with us. And then there weren't a lot of other Americans in country. There were a lot of Europeans that would be tourists and vacationing there. And we would kind of see them in markets etc. but we didn't interact a whole 56:00lot. Like we might step in and help translate for them in a market situation or something like that, but we didn't really seek them out.

WILSON: So when you went to the capital every six weeks or so like what kinds of things would you do?

WRIGHT: You'd buy food. I tell you it's food fantasies. You would buy spaghetti because that would be the one kind of American food that you could buy all the ingredients for. I mean you'd buy the real tomato paste and onions. What else did I buy? That would be the big thing that I remember. And there were a couple of places like where you could get something that might have kind of sort of been an egg roll but it's--You know at the time I thought it was great, and that's where I learned about shawarmas, which are gyro sandwiches, love those.

WILSON: Right, right.

WRIGHT: And there were some type of--

WILSON: So there were Lebanese merchants in Banjul?

WRIGHT: Yep. And then we would also get this ice cream concoction that everything there tasted like peanuts. Gambia was a big rice growing 57:00country as well as peanuts. And they'd make it with some type of powdery concoction and you could get pink or white or you could get pink and white swirl, but it all tasted like peanuts. But it was frozen so you would get it. So you went grocery shopping, you'd go to the market because maybe your fabric selection was better. We would go to Paradise Beach Bar, which was a place where you could get a beer and you could get a hamburger kind of sort of, and you could get French fries, and you could go swimming. And there would be cows on the--

WILSON: Nice beaches?

WRIGHT: No, no, well yes and no. I mean they were nice big wide beaches. They had a fairly big riptide where we were in the Sajara area, and then there started to be some more European tourists, but there were also cows that would kind of be walking up and down on the beach. So we thought it was awesome and we would just hang out and we'd listen to music and just kind of chill and tell stories. And you could make phone calls.

WILSON: And that's so if you were making phone calls to your boyfriend 58:00for example that would be every six weeks?

WRIGHT: Six to eight weeks, and the same thing for my family. And no one has to this day told me how much those phone calls cost to this day, so that means that they were a lot of money.

WILSON: Very expensive at that point.

WRIGHT: And I would probably call and we would probably talk for 30 minutes. And you would go to the local phone company and you would have this little phone booth thing that you would be in, and that's where I finally learned about country codes and how you make a call out then.

WILSON: Well I know in 1997 from Ghana it was about $75 for 30 minutes because I had experience with that too.

WRIGHT: Yeah, still they won't tell me. So I'm sure because this was '89 to '91, so I'm betting $150, $200.

WILSON: Yeah probably.

WRIGHT: Yeah and my mother was a nurse and she would say, "Oh it was worth it!" But I know it caused a financial strain.


WILSON: So do you want to say something about you did have your boyfriend come --how did that work out?

WRIGHT: Yeah, he was my boyfriend at the time. He's named Peter Wright and that's the reason I'm in Lexington so now in the Kentucky project. We had met each other in college, started dating our senior year. And I was going to move to Lexington if I had not gotten my job. And after about three months of being there we decided that this long distance thing was a little more than we had bargained for. I was rather naive at the time and he was in medical school here at the University of Kentucky. So we decided that you know two years was too long, but I also wasn't willing to leave because I liked what I was doing. It was a once and a lifetime chance. So bless his heart, he went in front of the medical school board to see if he could take a leave of absence. And they said that he could if he had a concrete role/position 60:00something medically related. So in my bi-monthly calls to him I also found him a job. I use the word job very loosely because jobs typically imply you get paid. I found him a position with the British Save the Children and he worked on the AIDS Education Project because at that point AIDS was not very big in The Gambia so they were really working on the prevention of it. So his payment was they loaned him a motorbike and they provided him gasoline. They gave him nothing out so his family really--He was a true volunteer in the sense.

WILSON: Because he had to provide money for his--

WRIGHT: He had to provide for himself for everything. And he you know he ended up living with me because the Peace Corps had suggested that if you didn't want as a single volunteer, a woman, if you didn't want people hitting on you, you should tell people that you were married. So I had never known that he was going to come over but I had told 61:00people that I was married. And there they have a different definition of married. You can be kind of promised to somebody and you're already married. So everyone in my village thought that I was married but I had not had my ceremony yet, which ended up being a very good thing because when he came over there he lived with me in my village. So it was okay because he was my husband, however, I did not always carry his water for him, which is what all good wives should do. So I still did not score points with my village because I still would not carry his water. So one of the local gentlemen Alpha just thought that I was a heretic, so he would always--Peter would go. He's used to that. He's not used to women waiting on him. So he'd go to the pump with his own bucket. This young guy in the village would come chasing after him, "Yaya! No good! Kati no good!" And he would pump his water because he was a married man, and married men should not have to go get their water. So Peter came over there after--


WILSON: So he came?

WRIGHT: He came my second summer.


WRIGHT: He was taking the boards here for--He had taken them again, so instead of coming over in the summer when we really could have helped him get acclimated, he came over four days before my school year started again. So he met me in the capitol and I had planned to get myself all fancied up because I had not seen him in forever. So I bought some fabric and had a skirt made, and I was talking to one of the other volunteers about how I had made kind of a longer skirt because I didn't want to shock Peter because I had not shaved my legs since I had gotten to The Gambia. Because I hated to shave in the first place and then the medical doctor had said you know don't shave while you're here because you can get hair follicles infected, it could get swollen up, or you could just cut yourself. So for me that was the only excuse I needed. So I was asking Tom Rendalik, one of the other volunteers, I was like, "Tom, what do you think of my long skirt? I thought I'd do it to kind of hide my legs from Peter." And he was like, 63:00"You better get some long sleeves too," and I had kind of forgotten that I hadn't shaved underneath my arms either.

WILSON: Oh wow.

WRIGHT: They were a little soft and furry under there. So Peter comes over. We are hanging out on the beach. I have saved my Peace Corps money for months so that we can stay at a hotel at the capitol, not the Peace Corps house. Well Peter later writes in his journal, "Not quite Holiday Inn." And I am thinking because I've been there a year, I'm fully accustomed. I'm thinking it's the Taj Mahal. It has a toilet, it has windows, it has electricity sometimes, a tile floor; I'm thinking it's awesome. So he's adjusting. We're on the beach, people are always trying to sell you stuff on the beach. I had learned how to tell them that I wasn't interested in their own language. So I'm telling them to go away. I want to spend time with this boyfriend I haven't seen in a long time. And he just thought I was callous. But he also could not leave because he didn't know the language, 64:00had not gone through any cross-cultural training. He could have not have gotten himself from the hotel to a taxi. So here he's with this callous hairy woman and can't go anywhere. And we make it up to the capital, I mean make it up from the capital to our site and he gets very sick. He gets, I forget if it's heat stroke or heat exhaustion but it's the one where you stop sweating and it's a bad thing.


WRIGHT: And Peter had just finished the clinical side of--Not the clinical, the book side of his medical training, which means that you've learned all the bad things that can happen to you but you haven't learned--You don't have any of the clinical experience to kind of balance it. So we're going across the rope ferry. For me this is how you, you know come on help me pull, that's how we get to the other side. And he's saying, "I ain't touching that water." There's a--The tsetse fly, its scientific name is named after a bug in The Gambia. I mean it's Gambian glossina of the rose something. So he's like, "I'm 65:00not touching that water. I don't want to get that etc." So he had a very hard adjustment without the benefit of training. And now here I was, had fully accustomed to the local diet, so my house was no longer stocked with western food because I was eating with my hands sitting around a communal bowl with my family and he wasn't used to that. And so we were at two different spots but we made it through it and we later got married and things have been fine, but it was definitely an adventure at the time.

WILSON: So he was there for a whole year?

WRIGHT: He was there for about nine months. And he would travel. His population that he worked with was government workers and the official language of The Gambia was English. So he would work with different policemen and government workers on AIDS. A lot of Gambians called AIDS, they thought it stood for Americans Idea for Discouraging Sex.


WILSON: Oh really?

WRIGHT: Is what AIDS stood for, that was kind of popular in our area.

WILSON: That's interesting.

WRIGHT: So we talked about that, and like people didn't have an understanding of the different body systems. Like if we talked to them about you know how smoking is bad for you and we use the analogy of you know look on the wall how your cooking fire has left all this black char on the wall. That's what it's doing inside of you. And then they would say, "Oh well I'll just drink milk to wash it off." And they don't have the understanding of the different systems. And then they would say, "Well if it's bad for us, why do Americans sell it to us?" And you would be like, "Oh don't trust everyone."

WILSON: Yeah, yeah.

WRIGHT: Just because someone sells it doesn't mean that it's good for you. So just not a lot of good medical knowledge, and then he would volunteer in a local clinic and help give immunizations and that kind of stuff. And then he left about three months before I finished 67:00because he came back the summer before medical school to kind of get reacclimated. And then I really missed him because I had really gotten used to having somebody who could understand my language and I could talk to about the day to day things.

WILSON: Right, so it was hard after. I don't know maybe you've already told these but maybe you have some more. What are several particularly meaningful, memorable stories from your Peace Corps service and why are they still memorable? You told about your trip but are there some other?

WRIGHT: I think I remember one moment that was bad. I was building a fence around my backyard for a garden so that the animals would not get in. It was for me and my host family. And the guy in Kuntauer, which was about 45 minutes away he was making, he was weaving the fence panels which were made from some type of bamboo. And he was taking advantage of me and giving me a very bad deal and was just a mean, mean little man. And I remember walking about Kuntauer. It was very hot, 68:00I didn't have my fence panels so I had basically been walking for you know almost two hours there and back and so and then I'd been there for a while, so it was probably four, five hours of my day walking in the sun. And I had not gotten what I wanted, and I just remember feeling like, and this was so young of me at the time thinking, "I'm just not appreciated. What am I doing here?" and that was just the low moment. And it was good that I was eight hours away from the capital because at this point in the evening I couldn't have gone home if I wanted to. And that was just a moment of feeling really sorry for yourself and you know pity is me, kind of what I would call the Eeyore syndrome. And that's like the lowest moment where I was angry and it was a good thing no one was walking with me because I think at times I probably yelled profanities into the air. So that was like a bad moment.

WILSON: How about an example of a really good moment?


WRIGHT: I remember the first time that I saw a baby that had just been born. My host mother was a midwife and I had been hanging out with the two girls on their front porch because their language skills and ability to talk about things was right where I was. And all of these women had been coming and going out of Hadja's house because Hadja had made the haj to Mecca so she was Hadja. And all of a sudden they were like, "Kati come here nah, nah." And so I came back there and there was this beautiful little baby that they were washing with a gourd and fresh water. And this woman had just given birth in the backyard. I had never heard a thing and everyone was so excited and they were so hopeful, and this little baby was healthy and it was doing okay. And then this woman who had not had the benefits of any medication probably not stitches, did not have shoes, then walked home to her family to 70:00present this baby. And all the women, me, and Haji kind of walked back with her to her home to kind of present the baby. And to be included in that was really cool, so that was a good moment. One of Peter's high moments, his good friend Alpha had taken him on this soiree. He'd take him in the evening and take him to different places. And Peter had come home that night and was telling me about his evening. And he had gone someplace and presented to the head of the compound a sack of kola nuts, which have caffeine. People chew on them in the fields etc. Which in The Gambia when you present someone a sack of kola nuts you have just proposed marriage to someone in their family. And Peter had not known what was going on so I was trying to figure out if he had just proposed marriage to someone in that compound or whether he had helped someone else and what it turned out that he had been included in proposing marriage for Alpha's brother. But it took us a while to 71:00figure out whether he had just gotten betrothed to somebody else in the village. But just people were very welcoming and inclusive and you know--

WILSON: And they were happy that Peter had come and that your husband had come, right?

WRIGHT: Yeah, they threw a party for him, huge naming ceremony for him. My host mother named him after her husband who had passed away.


WRIGHT: Yaya Marenah. We bought a goat which we fattened up and then we slaughtered. They let me and the other female volunteer in the area--The naming ceremony happened inside the prayer hut, inside the mosque. Women don't go inside this particular hut, and they let Nina and I both go in the hut when they did the naming ceremony for him. That was, that's big that they did that. And then on my last day of school the students had a parade for me to wish me well, so that was pretty darn cool. So then you're like, "Okay, I was just feeling sorry 72:00for myself the other day. They really did appreciate what I did and I'm really going to miss this." So those were highs.

WILSON: What was it like coming back to the US?

WRIGHT: There was a lot more culture shock coming back and they kind of tell you about it but you don't really believe them because you're coming home and it's familiar. And you are overwhelmed by fat dogs and big people and cars that only have one person in it. And you go to the grocery store and you are paralyzed because you're not used to having choices. I mean onions are huge. All you want is you want some soap. You want some soap. You're used to having one choice; that's the soap you take. And now you've got half an aisle of soap and you get kind of disgusted by the plentifulness of everything and our wastefulness of everything. And there are still moments when I'm very glad that 73:00I can remember that, that I wish I remembered it more because I think I'm again I'm wasteful with different areas. And you were not wasteful when you lived overseas because it was not plentiful. And if you didn't want something there was someone else they could--Like they never threw away leftovers; if I didn't finish my food bowl the little kids would eat it. And so you never threw anything away. So coming back was weird, and I had just missed two Christmases with my family. So they had saved up gifts for me, and my first night back they had decorated. I came back in July. They had put up the Christmas tree at my home for me to give, to welcome me home and help me celebrate Christmas.

WILSON: Oh wow.

WRIGHT: And they showered me with gifts, and it was the best of all intentions but it was very, very overwhelming. My brother had given me a transition back to the US guide because I had sent them pictures of 74:00my home because I was very proud of my first home, which actually made my mother break down in tears when she saw it, but I didn't know that at the time. So my brother would like have a picture of my pit latrine and then have a picture of a porcelain toilet so I could make the transition or things like that. You know this is where I used to get my water from; this is where you get your water now. And it was very good intentions but it was just very overwhelming. And I was thankful that I came back and Peter knew what we had gone through, so you could talk to somebody. And there are still times that we throw out a Mandinka term to each other. When other people are around we'll go--And you kind of have that kind of connection that keeps it real. But if I had come back and had not had someone that had been there a little bit of time with me, I think it would just have been really overwhelming, which is one of the reasons I think it's really nice that we have the local returned Peace Corps volunteer group just for us to kind of 75:00reminisce. But for people that just come back to have someone to talk to that knows what you're talking about, I just think that's big.

WILSON: What do you think the impact of your Peace Corps service was on the country and the people where you were? And what was the impact on you?

WRIGHT: I think the impact on me was bigger. Like I think you make a short term impact while you are there. You help broaden people's ideas that not all Americans have guns and that we are not all here to take over the world. Because I was there when the first Gulf War erupted and people were very scared, but then they would say, "Oh but you know but you're like this." And I'm like, "There's lots of people like me." So I think you make an impact that way and that we live in different places. Yes I'm a toubab, which is what white people were called. But 76:00we all eat; we all need basic clothing, so I think you have that type of impact. As far as what I taught math-wise, did that have a long impact on anybody? No. The woodworking project, you know I would like to think that that helped the school get furniture, but does that have a long term impact? No. The books that we got donated--nice, very glad that I did it, could that have helped some kids begin to get a passion for reading? Well yeah, but most of them were like Nancy Drew or other things that weren't necessarily culturally appropriate for them. So I don't think that had a lasting impact. I think it's really the personal relationships that you develop even if you don't stay in good touch. I think you kind of remember that universality.

WILSON: In what ways are you still in contact with anyone from Peace Corps experience in Gambia or former volunteers?


WRIGHT: I'd say The Gambian people Alpha, who was the individual that would really take care of Peter the young man, we probably hear from him every two years or so, maybe three years and he'll talk to us a little bit about what's going on. And we'll send him money and fund different projects, but really not a lot of contact. We used to fantasize about going back, but we knew that we'd need about two or three weeks to go back. And with him being in medical school and different jobs we just didn't have the ability to take the time or have the money. And now that we have the time and money it's like, "Hmm, I'm not sure who would still be there." And then there are like two Peace Corps volunteers that we had gone on our Mali trip with that we emailed probably every six months to sometimes it could be two years before we'll kind of email each other, so it's very sporadic. There was a lot more when we 78:00first got back, but it's just kind of drifted off.

WILSON: What about the impact on your own family? You mentioned your mother and sisters and brothers and that kind of thing.

WRIGHT: I think it probably opened up all of our eyes as to what is the bigger world out there. But I'd say for a lasting impact I knew probably my mother, not so much on my brothers or sisters. I think my mom's appreciative that I'm home safe. I think when she hears news of what's going on in different countries she associates it with people that took care of my daughter when I couldn't, and so I think she feels a lot of empathy and compassion.

WILSON: What has been the impact of Peace Corps on your career path? And what did you do after you got back?


WRIGHT: Well I currently do business training, and I knew when I got back I liked to do training but I couldn't imagine teaching math all the time. So my first job was at Lexington Community College, when I got back, in their continuing education department. And when I came back I just wanted a job. I was living with Peter's family; I just wanted to be able to get on my own. I tried to get a job tutoring Spanish. Well I'm convinced I have one foreign language compartment in my brain. For every Mandinka word I learned a Spanish one fell out. So I wasn't any good at tutoring, and I think Peace Corps helped me to discover that I like interaction with people. I like facilitating conversations. I'm not a lecturer; I wasn't in The Gambia either and it helped me to understand that I liked that. And you have language barriers; your class has to be very interactive because you've really got to kind of read the group and figure out where they're going. You can't live with a preset lecture, and I think that helped me with adult 80:00education because adults--they don't want to be spoken at. They want to be engaged and they want you to build on their life experience, and I think that helped me to learn how to kind of dance on my feet and adjust with people. So I think it helped me discover a career that I like.

WILSON: So you taught, no you worked at continuing education at LCC?


WILSON: Lexington Community College and then?

WRIGHT: And then I did the same thing in North Carolina for four years, and then I was in Buffalo, New York for a year also doing corporate business training. And then moved back to Kentucky--

WILSON: This is for different companies?

WRIGHT: Yeah, while Peter was finishing med school and then his fellowship and internship. And we moved back to Kentucky seven years ago and I started working at Gall's Incorporated, which when I used to work at LCC they were one of our clients. And now I lead our training efforts there. And so I'm no longer--Like in The Gambia you felt like you were helping people with their lives, like in the moment you did. 81:00Looking back I don't think I improved their lives. I think it's very naive and pompous to think that. At the time you thought you were making such a big difference. I have more realistic expectations now. If I'm helping someone who's just gotten a new job to assimilate and to feel successful in their job in the three day period as opposed to a two month period, well that's a positive impact. Is it life changing? No. Was it a nice thing? Yeah. So I think I find satisfaction in those type of things.

WILSON: What international experience have you had since Gambia, any? Or what international experience do you and Peter talk about in the future maybe?

WRIGHT: Well with his career we have not had a lot of travel. I went to all of like Peace Corps is the last big trip I took, and man that's been a little while. And then but all of my travel had been in third 82:00world countries, developing nations. And about a year and a half ago I went on my first international trip to a place that had electricity. My brother was working in Paris and had frequent flyer miles to pay for a hotel for me in Paris and a flight. And I--He was really doing, he gave the trip to my mother but she couldn't travel by herself so I got to take her. And it was awesome. So the trip I'm actually fantasizing now is about Italy and going in the farm country, and again kind of eating my way from one side of the country to the other and kind of discovering that. I'm at the point where I like beds now.

WILSON: What has been the impact of Peace Corps service on the way you think about the world and what's going on now?

WRIGHT: I think I am more tolerant of different points of view. I am--It is rare that I will start out a conversation saying, "I know 83:00the right way." So I think I'm much less, pompous is not quite the right word, but I think I'm much more open to being influenced by other people and their ways of thinking. And I think I seek that out more on the front end as opposed to getting surprised on the backend, that, "Oh, why didn't I think of that?" That doesn't mean that I still don't get very stubborn in my ways. I think there's one right way to load the dishwasher and I don't try to tell other people that's how you're supposed to do it. But when it comes to like bigger decisions I think I'm more open to being influenced and asking people.

WILSON: Do you think there's still a role for Peace Corps today and what do you think its overall impact has been?

WRIGHT: Oh yeah because we are in such an us and them type. Like when you--Oh those Iraqis you know or those people in Afghanistan--Well you know what if you or I had been born in Afghanistan or Iraq and had had 84:00those same types of cultural influences and had been fed the same type of propaganda, well we might be having some of the same conversations. And I think that as Americans we can get very righteous about what is the right way to do things, and I think we do that very naively without looking at it from the other person's point of view and trying to understand why they think that they do, why they have the values and the priorities that they do. So I think the more that we have people kind of crossing over barriers and learning about each other, we don't think oh you know that's just collateral. That's just 100 people. You're thinking about oh it's those 100 people and what types of lives have we disrupted and you know what instead of you know spending my money on this, wouldn't it be better if I spent my money on this? And every time I drive through a tunnel in the US I think about my host 85:00mother Hadja and wouldn't she just be amazed at this tunnel. And just you know more sharing like that would be good.

WILSON: Is there anything else you want to say?

WRIGHT: Nope, I think I'm good. Thanks Angene.

[End of interview.]

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