WILSON: This is Angene Wilson and I am interviewing Ann Neelon on May 4, 2006. Ann was a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal in 1978 and 1979. So Ann, let's start off with just the basic questions like what's your full name and where and when were you born?

NEELON: My full name is Ann Marie Neelon and I was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1955.

WILSON: Okay, and tell us something about your growing up, your family, anything in those first 18 years or so that maybe related to what happened to you later in terms of going into the Peace Corps and so forth.

NEELON: Okay, I was the oldest of seven children so I think there was a certain appeal that Peace Corps had. You know I never had my own space so you know I was kind of eager to get out in some ways. But I think 1:00that probably the thing that pushed me more than anything into Peace Corps was the fact that I came of age right in the middle of the busing crisis in Boston. And for me there was never any question of where I was going. I somehow thought and I didn't know say from my husband's experience how strange Peace Corps could be about placements. You know my husband had years of Spanish but got put as a single volunteer into Cote d'Ivoire where he had to learn French just because of his skills. But I wasn't thinking that way. I was thinking, "Well I know French and I'm going to get sent to French West Africa." Because I really wanted to go to Africa and I think that's just because as I say the busing crisis made me you know just want to experience something else with people who were black you know. And it was just--


WILSON: How did the bussing crisis affect you? Where did you live in Boston?

NEELON: Well I grew up in Dorchester, which is you know one of the places where it was most hit. And all of a sudden really overnight everybody left town. You know most of the people that I graduated with from high school I think I was the only one left, maybe there was one other person whose family later left who actually graduated from that high school living in Dorchester. Some of them moved to you know the working class towns south of Boston and drove in you know because overnight you had--Well I can remember around the corner from one of my friends' houses you know the black family that moved in and the house was torched several times. I mean it never burned down all the way but then you had all this stuff going on with real estate where the houses you know just blockbusting phenomenon going on and the houses were I 3:00mean people were being threatened. You know sell now to us because you know otherwise tomorrow you'll get you know five cents for your house. So there was all of that kind of brainwashing.

WILSON: And this was happening when you were in high school?

NEELON: Right, when I was in I would say you know from 7th to 12th grade. The blockbusting part of it was maybe more on the earlier end of it but yeah I was probably, if it hadn't been for the busing crisis I would almost surely have gone to Boston Latin School, which is a public high school, you know excellent public high school. But that was in the middle of Codman Square and I had the experience of I mean as a kid I mean when we were about ten years old. I mean that was the thing you know you could get to ride the bus to Codman Square, but when I was about 11 years old you know my sister and I got on the bus as usual, went up there, and had this you know really terrible experience. 4:00We'd go to this place called Kennedy's Butter and Eggs because my grandmother would be getting off the bus, going there, and one of my--A black girl came out of an alleyway and kind of grabbed my sister's necklace off her neck you know, and we had this really kind of brutal experience right out. And that put a lot of fear in everybody. But things like that were happening all at, I mean that's not a wild story. I mean it was, everything was and both ways. I mean it was just I grew up near Ashmont Station on the red line and people were getting you know threatened you know getting off the bus. You had purses would be taken and that kind of thing, it was just a terrible atmosphere to grow up in in terms of the amount of relationships.

WILSON: But your family stayed?

NEELON: My family stayed, yeah.

WILSON: Why did you stay?

NEELON: And later moved, we stayed I think because in the beginning 5:00you know my grandmother was still alive. You know she died when I was in 8th grade, so I think that was one factor that she didn't want to leave. She had built that house and etc, etc, but I think that yeah I think my family just had deeper roots and my father was an insurance agent and I think that he had originally anyway he had had, he was a little more idealistic than other people. I mean he you know--

WILSON: That it might work?

NEELON: Yeah I mean we weren't allowed for example in our house to say, to call anybody a nigger but a lot of people I grew up with were you know. But my father's insurance agency was actually burned down in the middle. That's one of my strongest memories of you know that time. You know and just I can still smell those files you know that going through, trying to see well can we save this form? Can we read the information on this one? So I ended up going to this little all girls 6:00Catholic school, which was infinitely safer and it's right on the edge with Milton, which was actually a real suburb south of Boston. So I think that more than anything--

WILSON: And that's where you went for high school?

NEELON: Right.


NEELON: You know but I just, I had to have a different experience from that. I mean I knew you know for the rest of my life I needed something better than that you know, and I think it seemed at the time like it was all about race, but you know ten years down the pipe I think people realized it was maybe even more about class than about race you know. But it seemed like it was about race. You know there was a lot of rock throwing. You know my brother did go to Boy's Latin, which wasn't in this dangerous of neighborhood. But he'd have to ride a bus and there was a lot of rock throwing at the bus. You know I was just at a really tough time to grow up and try to figure out you know race and class and all of that.


WILSON: What about in school in terms of learning about the rest of the world? Did you have teachers in subjects like social studies where you learned about the rest of the world?

NEELON: Yeah I had the school that I went to was run by the Notre Dame nuns. And like so much of the world then, especially the Catholic world, there were a lot of new ideas being absorbed very fast and specifically in Catholic terms it was in the wake of Vatican too and the reform center. But I think there was a lot of chaos in that order, and I know there was because some of the older ones couldn't absorb some of the newer ideas and some of them could. And what they ended up doing was breaking down the provinces and instead of having them aligned in terms of, solely in terms of geography, they did it 8:00in terms of ideology. In other words Boston province because you know partly people from Ipswich province, but partly people--But they were the people who were progressive in their ideology and then the conservatives from Boston became officially part of Ipswich province. The school I grew up in, you know went to high school in ended up being very progressive at least for a couple of years before most of the nuns left. But I mean you know there were a lot of people who had worked in the civil rights movement and that sort of thing. So I really did get to hear a lot about other ideas and what I saw.

WILSON: And were there also people who had perhaps worked overseas or had connections overseas? I guess I--

NEELON: Yeah I don't--I remember maybe meeting a couple of missionaries but not through, my mother had a friend from childhood who was a 9:00Maryknoll nun and had spent her entire life in Chile. So I remember talking with her as a kid, but I don't really remember anybody else. I don't remember high school teachers who had been abroad.

WILSON: Or have connections through that?

NEELON: Right, yeah nothing like that.

WILSON: So anything else in terms of your family that sort of presaged?

NEELON: No I don't think, I mean my family was very regionally oriented. I mean to this day I mean I've been in Kentucky since 1992 and I only have out of six siblings, three of them have come here to visit once for a weekend. You know and that's it. I am totally expected to go back up there and you know they really, if they leave Boston to go somewhere it's to go to Disneyworld. I mean they're not into going 10:00anywhere else. I mean I'm really very, I'm really the black sheep in my family in those terms and I've never managed to convince anybody--


NEELON: Yeah! As I say Kentucky is kind of a foreign country to them in a lot of ways.

WILSON: Yeah, so you graduated from high school and then you went onto college?

NEELON: Right, right.

WILSON: And where did you go to college?

NEELON: I went to college at a Jesuit institution called Holy Cross College, which was at that time kind of on the edge in terms of a lot of things that may be you know relevant to my life here in a sense. They had just done a big issue on China, which they had gotten a lot of--They had this magazine at the time called Crossroads.

WILSON: And that's in Boston?

NEELON: It's in Worchester, Massachusetts, which is--

WILSON: It's in Worchester and it's women or both?

NEELON: It's both; it had just gone co-ed as a matter of fact, yeah.



NEELON: And it was the sister institution if you want to call it to Boston College, which is now more well known because of the football and all that. But Holy Cross was always regarded as the more academically superior of the two you know. But yeah I went there and I guess, well I went there as a chemistry pre-med student. I mean I hadn't really thought about that. I guess I just kind of did that because it was the '70s you know and women were supposed to do, you know move over into those situations.

WILSON: Professions.

NEELON: And I really didn't like the program very well. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that you know the class before mine had had, had been the first class of women and they were still a very, very small percentage of the overall class, same in my class. So the whole situation was just so male, and everything was designed and especially 12:00in the science, and I like the way things were set up and the kind of--You know where people would take their unknowns and inorganic lab and drive across the city to Worchester Poly Tech and pay $200 to have them analyzed just so they could get an A, or you know that kind of thing really didn't get to me. But meanwhile I had taken a French class just because I needed something you know, and I had--And that class was the one that I found the most interesting my freshman year, and I still have some you know one really close friend from that class. But I think through that class I just started being pulled into more international stuff. There was a good international film series there. I don't think I got a lot of non-European connections through college, but there were a lot of people who had spent time in Western Europe 13:00anyway. And the person who taught, later the one I got really most involved with in terms of French was actually Hungarian. And she had left and their family had left in the '50s and all that. And so she had kind of an interesting story and you know I just started thinking more about the world that way.

WILSON: And so what did you major in?

NEELON: I ended up majoring in English.

WILSON: Majoring in English?

NEELON: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

WILSON: Interested in poetry even then?

NEELON: Yeah I always was. I think I just was, when I was in high school I hated English because in all honesty I think I read more than most of my teachers except for one teacher they only had for one quarter. And so I was just kind of contemptuous of it, you know I just felt like and I ended up you know getting the math award and all that sort of thing instead. And because I respected it more somehow, but 14:00it wasn't until I saw how vital it could be. I mean people who really trained in it and really read phenomenally and you know I just got pulled in. And I just think the whole issue of language, I mean that's part of what pulled me into Peace Corps too, you know just having those languages swirling around you is pretty exciting.

WILSON: So you graduated in?

NEELON: 1977.

WILSON: 1977.

NEELON: Right.

WILSON: And you had applied for Peace Corps before in your senior year then?

NEELON: No I didn't. My father died my senior year in college so that kind of put the whole family into a tailspin you know and because my mother had never worked. Well she taught kindergarten for one year, but you know you can't support kids on that. Well she would have had to go back to school to do that anyway. So I took a year to try to you know kind of figure out how the family was going to survive you know and all that. I had wanted to join Peace Corps but I felt like I 15:00had to put it on hold for a year, and I worked in a publishing company called Connors Publishing Company. And there I think that was probably the first place where I started to meet people who were not in this little Catholic world. You know I mean you just start meeting people from all over the country at least. Because I think that was another thing that Peace Corps did for me, I mean I really did grow up in a very provincial Boston situation you know the neighborhoods in Boston and you know where you say, "Where you from?" And you say, "Saint Gregory's," you know I mean it's really parochial in the literal sense connected to parishes. But when I went into Peace Corps I met people from all different religions and all over the country and you know that was sort of my first taste of that national identity, and I'm not just--

WILSON: So when was the first time that you heard about Peace Corps and when you sort of decided that this is what I think I'm going to apply 16:00for?

NEELON: Well I'm embarrassed to admit this but I do believe my first contact with Peace Corps was via a kind of tacky romance novel that was in the YA section of the library and it was about you know a couple meeting in one of the west African countries. I can't--

WILSON: Really?


WILSON: How interesting.

NEELON: And that's where I first heard Peace Corps and that planted a seed in my mind because I don't remember hearing about it.

WILSON: You didn't hear about it at college?


WILSON: You didn't know anybody else who'd gone?

NEELON: I didn't know anybody who had gone. No, I guess the other thing would be you know being from Boston and all that and the Kennedy connection, you know that there was that kind of Kennedy-esque you know his inaugural address and all that stuff.

WILSON: So you knew that?

NEELON: Yeah I knew that, but I had never met anybody who had gone.


WILSON: So you applied during that year?

NEELON: Right.

WILSON: And what was the application process like?

NEELON: I to go to a hotel, kind of a low end hotel near Boston University. I remember that much; I had to take the green line there. I can't remember which hotel it was; I'm sure it's long gone. And I interviewed with a guy. I remember he--I'm not sure he was Hispanic, but I remember he wasn't white. So that was interesting for me too right there, you know I'm sort of experiencing something a little bit more mixed than my usual situation. But you know he said he couldn't guarantee French West Africa and all that.

WILSON: But that's what you asked for?

NEELON: They were interested in, but I remember talking up the TEFL, you know Teaching English Foreign Language connection a lot there and it 18:00seemed pretty certain that I would get to do that because that seemed to be where my--

WILSON: Had you done any of that English as a second language?

NEELON: No I hadn't; I hadn't taught it at all but I had been an English major. I had I think I remember one thing that we talked about a little bit the fact that I had done a lot of work on, that I had been associate editor of the paper. And so you know some sense that extra curricular you know teaching, might be able to use that a little bit. But again there was no guarantee but I did feel like at least the guy was sympathetic toward my wanting to do the TEFL there. And I guess you know I was really right on the years when things were getting more technical in the Peace Corps with Carter and all that, so there was some fear that somebody like me who wasn't very technical might not get in you know.


WILSON: Yeah, so how long did it take?

NEELON: Not that long, I think about five months later I was on my way.

WILSON: And do you remember anything about medical stuff?

NEELON: I do, yeah I remember in fact the last time I was home my sister was talking about this because I think one of her kids had to get his wisdom teeth out, yeah you had I don't know if this is still true but in those days you had to have both of your wisdom teeth or all of them out, four of them. I had four of them not two; I had all of them out at once and my sister had to drive me home. And I just had no idea how bad that was going to be, but yeah so I do remember that. Don't remember much else except you know this kind of frenzied getting ready to go, you know all the--

WILSON: So you left in what month and year?

NEELON: Oh boy I remember the month.

WILSON: This is 1978?

NEELON: Right, I left probably oh I think it was either April, late 20:00April or May I think and we went to Philadelphia for a mini stage.

WILSON: For staging.

NEELON: Yeah and I, well I remember there was kind of a panic there because somebody in our group had kind of found out that it wasn't a good thing that none of us had been on aralen yet and that they were just starting that at that three day thing and that we should have been on it longer and all that sort of thing.

WILSON: For malaria?

NEELON: Right, right. So I remember that about the stage. And it was true that three of us did get hit, and I was one of them, got hit with some kind of malaria like thing the first couple of weeks we were--

WILSON: Really?

NEELON: Yeah oh yeah, we had severe headache and they had to give us massive doses of I think it was aralen to combat the yeah, but--

WILSON: So was this a--?

NEELON: Because we went there at the height of the rainy season I mean it was just not the best time to--

WILSON: What were these was this group Francophone West Africa in 21:00general, was it all Senegal?

NEELON: Just Senegal.

WILSON: It was just Senegal?

NEELON: Yeah just Senegal, right.

WILSON: And how many of you were there?

NEELON: 18 if I remember correctly.

WILSON: Oh that's a small group, and of all teachers?

NEELON: Yeah but that was just the TEFL.

WILSON: Just the TELF group?

NEELON: Yeah it was just the TEFL stage, yeah.

WILSON: So you were in Philadelphia for what three days or something?

NEELON: Yeah three days. I believe it was the Ben Franklin Hotel isn't it? Yeah.

WILSON: That would make sense. And then flew directly to Dakar?

NEELON: Right.

WILSON: And trained?

NEELON: Right, in Dakar.

WILSON: In Dakar itself?

NEELON: Right, right, at the Lycee Kennedy you know named after John F. Kennedy.

WILSON: Right, right, and what was training like?

NEELON: Well before I got the training I guess the thing that's coming up here is remembering being on that plane, getting off. I mean you know of course you get off and that waah of air, the humid air. But what I really remember is that about a minute or so after I got off the plane I remembered that I had left my camera under the seat. And 22:00by then we were off the tarmac and I remember we had to walk out. You know we weren't getting off into the airport. So somebody had to come out with me, so that probably took about ten minutes. And got back on the plane and the stewardess said, "Has anybody seen a camera?" And I mean how could that camera disappear? And what I remember is having to stand there. I said, "I know it was here. It was here. I had it on." I kept insisting, insisting, insisting, and I just wasn't willing to get off the plane without it. And finally a guy who looked like he was a pretty well off white businessman finally went up into his, up into the overhead, got his suitcase, and got it out and gave it to me. He had been planning on stealing my camera. So I just remember that so vividly you know because I just felt like this sort of world change, 23:00like my assumptions about humanity changed. You know there's just something about--

WILSON: Right, and why would he do that?

NEELON: Why would I think that this guy would be safe and he wasn't? You know what I mean? You look at him and you think--

WILSON: Right, right, you would have thought that it was somebody--

NEELON: Right, right. So I remember that but then the--

WILSON: And were you flying Pan Am? Was Pan Am still flying in?

NEELON: It was Pan Am, yeah.

WILSON: Pan Am was still flying into West Africa at that point.

NEELON: Yeah, yeah. And I remember there was a huge plane. You know you had the like what is it like ton of seats in the middle and then I had never been in a plane like that. But stage was I remember it was one thing that happened at stage too that was kind of wild. They gave us, we had this kind of tournee thing that we had to do after we had been there about oh I don't know I think a week or so. They gave us--We had gotten our bearings; you know how to walk from Lycee Kennedy around to whatever. They gave us this list of things we had to go--

WILSON: And by stage I'm thinking about somebody listening to this. 24:00You're meaning training I mean because that's--

NEELON: Right, right, right, right. They gave us a sheet and we had to go. They put us in pairs, so we went all around. You know we found these various places that you know where the chaloupe left to go to Goree Island and you know this hotel, the Teranga Hotel and this, that, and the other thing. And on the way back we were walking through this neighborhood and this guy, and I was having trouble wearing--I usually wear contacts and I was having a little trouble because of the different atmosphere you know whatever, sleeplessness or whatever it was, but I was wearing glasses. And this guy came running out of you know kind of like a market area and belted me across the head. And my glasses went flying and the round you know glass part went flying out of the frames. And it was just like, "Oh my god!" you know. And all 25:00these people came running up to me. And of course again you think back to busing, you know that's my contact, oh my god. But really people came running out everywhere going, "Oh!" apologizing, "Ce fou, ce fou, ce fou," you know and it took me a while because I was thinking, "He's foolish?" Then I realized no, he's saying he's mentally ill that he was--Yeah, and so that was just, but it was just this strange. I think the person who was with me was as stunned and scared about it as I was you know, but the people--

WILSON: So were you able to recover them?

NEELON: Yeah I was able to snap the glass parts back in. I mean people did it for me, I didn't even really--I mean people, it was clear that I was not being attacked you know that this guy was really nuts and everybody felt terrible about it and all that. But it was pretty dramatic you know. I guess the one other thing I really remember from that tournee; is that they have these little kind of portable kiosk things.

WILSON: Now by tournee; you mean?

NEELON: Oh it's like a trip around the city that you had to--


WILSON: I see, a trip around--


WILSON: Again I'm thinking of the person listening.

NEELON: Right, right, I get it, yeah. Anyway the kiosk that actually moved around had a volume of Leopold Sedar Senghor's selected poems and it was so, and I knew this before I went. The minute I heard that I was assigned to Senegal I was thrilled because I knew that Leopold Sedar Senghor was the president of Senegal. He was the only poet going who had ever been president, and that was exciting to me. And I ended up translating his work when I came back. And my earliest publications were really those translations.

WILSON: Really?

NEELON: You know and some really good, yeah like in Ironwood Magazine, which at the time was like one of the very top magazines in the country. So it was--

WILSON: And these were poems that hadn't been translated into English before?

NEELON: Right at that time, at least not known in a big way so--I later went in American Poetry Review a few years after that I translated a 27:00long essay of his and I think that was only one poem. Now that was really a bridge for me into my own work, so you know that was exciting.

WILSON: What about, you talked about the air when you get off the airplane.

NEELON: Right, right.

WILSON: I understand that too. Getting off at Dakar's when you come from the United States, but what else happened when you first got there? I mean sometimes we talk about people having culture shock, but what else was unfamiliar and what was hard to get adjusted to?

NEELON: Well I think just teaching for one thing because you know you had these classes you know where you were taking turns teaching and you know there were these--

WILSON: That was part of the training.

NEELON: Right, so I mean I had never done that so believe me it wasn't as easy as it looked from sitting on the other side. I learned a lot 28:00and I think I had a huge advantage going into graduate school after, I mean I got the cushiest graduate, you know the arts and humanities type things because I had that experience.

WILSON: Teaching.

NEELON: You know it really helped me a lot. But I remember there was this one guy who was really kind of nuts in our group. And he got up there and he would do these really crazy things in front of the class, and the Africans would think he was just you know kind of on the lunatic fringe. They were probably right, but I remember that tension of them looking at each other. And but I remember the classes were big, so the energy learning how to control those classes and I mean it was just a whole other issue. And I guess another thing I remember strongly is that we went on a trip to a beach right I think it was actually in Dakar but not far from the Lycee Kennedy, and I guess most 29:00Americans can swim you know. And I didn't know then that most Africans couldn't. And there was a guy who was one of the--And I think also because you know you have somebody who's a teacher or trainer you sort of assume that they can swim. I don't know if that's a stupid thing to say, but you know working on American assumptions. And there was a guy who almost drowned because I think he wanted to be with us, and none of us realized that he--Because he got knocked down by a wave and before we could realize that he really was in trouble and not fooling around. I mean he was; I mean that was scary. I mean I'll never forget that either. That's the closest I've ever come to seeing somebody actually drown thank god you know, but I really remember that you know. I guess I wouldn't really put that in the category of culture shock. But in a way there's something cultural going on there about the assumptions you make in those situations. Yeah but and we also went on trips 30:00at a certain point I think it was maybe four weeks into it we each got assigned to go somewhere. And somebody who was a volunteer that you know took us up and I went way north to St. Louis, which is the ancient capital, you know the old capital and now it's Dakar but it used to be St. Louis. And that was really interesting way up there in the desert right on the line with--

WILSON: Mauritania.

NEELON: Mauritania, yeah, yeah, so that was and I remember too that I saw huge, huge water rats that I've never seen just oh boy yeah. I also there and I never saw this, heard the kind of image that's become ubiquitous in the press these days at least if you read you know the New York Times or whatever you know you can actually click online sometimes and see the Koranic schools the people singing, you know actually singing the Koranic verses.

WILSON: Right, using slates.

NEELON: Right, right, I actually saw that there. And of course the 31:00further north you go in Africa the closer you get to the--

WILSON: Koranic.

NEELON: True pulse of Islam.

WILSON: Islam in north Africa.

NEELON: Yeah, yeah.

WILSON: So training was how long, eight weeks or so?

NEELON: I think it was eight, might have been ten with eight weeks of teaching. I'm blanking out; it was either eight or ten. I can't really remember.

WILSON: And more language? Did you learn any more languages?

NEELON: Yeah they divided us into groups. They tested our French and if you were, if your French was fairly strong, which they considered mine to be, you got to concentrate more on Wolof.

WILSON: And that's what you learned was Wolof?

NEELON: Right, but during stage. But then I got to assigned to a part of the country where Wolof wasn't spoken. But then the people who didn't have much French, and there were several people in the group who were really beginning and I think they had a lot of trouble in the beginning in terms of controlling class and all because they didn't have, they couldn't just say, "Sit down," you know or whatever. But 32:00they concentrated more on the French you know. So we got, we had these Wolof dialogues, which I still have somewhere upstairs in my files. But I remember that even there, there was kind of a cultural thing because there was this expression. You know, "Naarbe, blah, blah," you know the Naars are the Mauritanians who are going you know migrants in West Africa you know manning the little stores where you can go buy tomato paste or whatever. But the dialogue we felt as Americans we thought it was incredibly racist, you know prejudice against. And our African teacher who was you know I mean he was black African, he didn't agree with us. And we kept having this, for this week we had this running debate and we finally just had to draw a line in the sand and stay on your side because we couldn't--

WILSON: Couldn't agree on it.

NEELON: --convince him and you know. And I think now it would be hard for anybody not to see that it was you know pretty racist, but it 33:00really was I remember we argued about that everyday. And I remember we took a tour of Goree Island as a group, which is the place from which most of the, or at least a high percentage of the slaves, the ships carrying slaves left from to get to the United States. And that was an incredibly moving experience. You know you go there and you see these little notes in the wind you know left by people all over the world, and you can actually go down and be on the rocks where the water hits and put your hands in the manacles and all that where the slaves were. I mean that was something I'll never forget from that stage.

WILSON: After training you were assigned then to a non-Wolof speaking place, right? Where did you go?


NEELON: Right, I went to Fatick, which is was Serrer in its local orientation but of course in Senegal anyway the way the schools work is you don't get all local students. You get students from all over Senegal. So you could use Wolof.

WILSON: Anyway.

NEELON: I mean I tended to use the French.

WILSON: Why don't you spell Fatick and spell Serrer.

NEELON: Fatick is F-A-T-I-C-K and that was in the Sine-Saloum region, S-I-N-E, hyphen, S-A-L-O-U-M. The regions are different now; they've been separated. But in the late '70s that was one region. And the tribe was Serrer, S-E-R-R-E-R.

WILSON: And this was where in Senegal?

NEELON: It was about four hours from Dakar. It's in the bush region of--


WILSON: So it's four hours interior?

NEELON: Interior, yeah.

WILSON: Four hours into the central.

NEELON: Yeah four hours southeast. In Senegal you basically have your three regions. You had the desert north, which was you know I mean it really was. You had the bush you know they say in French en brousse, in the bush you know that area where you have baobob [Editor's note: trees] and kind of scrub vegetation and stuff. And then you go south and of course Senegal has had problems with this region wanting to secede and it had all you know the Casamance, which is really more closer to what maybe Americans might call a jungle, just much, much thicker vegetation and all that.

WILSON: Well and then Gambia goes.

NEELON: Right, right. Yeah Gambia, which since your--

WILSON: Was this at a time when they were talking about Senegambia? They were trying to put the two together or that comes after you were there I think.

NEELON: Yeah that wasn't really happening too much when I was--There was 36:00already trouble in the Casamance though, which became I mean I think there's still trouble now. I don't check all that often but I know there are travel advisories against going, last time I checked you know against going into that Casamance yeah. And you know there are some tribal differences. You know you have more of certain tribes, Ajola, whatever but I mean yeah it's just, that's another thing you learn when you get assigned to Africa that drawing geographical borders doesn't mean a heck of a lot in defining a country.

WILSON: Because they were drawn by somebody else.

NEELON: Right, right. It's, yeah it's--

WILSON: So it occurs to me, back to Leopold Senghor, he was still president when you were there?

NEELON: He was president, yeah. He left in 1980 and was it '81? I think it was '80 and he, I believe that was really the first peaceful 37:00transfer of power since independence you know. And he handed it to a hand picked successor, Abdul Diouf I think his name was.

WILSON: Right, D-I-O-U-F.

NEELON: Right, yeah, yeah.

WILSON: So he had been president since 1960 when Senegal got its independence?

NEELON: Right, I think in 1959 they had the federation of Mali you know, and then that later it didn't last for like a year or so and then--

WILSON: Right, and then they became.

NEELON: Yeah and I mean Senegal's really I mean Senghor is really an interesting person too because he was the first West African to pass the, I think it was called the agregation exam and he got to teach French to the French and all of that.

WILSON: And he was a member of the National Assembly.

NEELON: Of the French Academy, yeah, later on.

WILSON: Right, right. So did you ever get to meet him? Did he--?

NEELON: The closest I got to him was once being in Dakar when the 38:00presidential motorcade came by very--That had been true before I had seen him going, but this time I just happened to be right on the street when the car went by, and I got one good look at him. That's all I got and you know you can go buy the presidential palace is right in downtown Dakar you know but the edge of it anyway.

WILSON: So did you read his poetry in French in the States before you left?

NEELON: I did. I couldn't find much of it. You know I did, I knew of his work. There was in fact I ended up going to the MFA program at UMass Amherst partly because of this book. It was called Contemporary World Poetry and a guy at UMass had put it together and he had you know Senghor in there and he had a few translations of a few poems that had been done by a woman named Sylvia Washington Ba, who was American who 39:00had married a Senegalese I believe. So that's the, I knew those and I went to try to find more and I really couldn't find anything.

WILSON: And so you were reading them in Senegal?

NEELON: And then I went, then I bought, yeah, right, right, right. And I think you know even when I was translating them later on here, I mean there are a lot of words in there that you can't get to. I remember translating a poem that had a Tucolor word in it you know and they're in the north of Senegal. And I remember having to write one of my students. I mean that was, at that point students were still writing me asking me to fund their you know ticket forms and all that you know stuff, but that when I remember you know tracking down a word that way because nobody in the United States. I mean how can you find out these little tiny words? But yeah I think that's the richness of Senghor's 40:00poetry because it's got the African words in there too, although people would make fun of him because he didn't speak Wolof very well at all. But he wasn't Wolof but you know he spoke French a lot better than Wolof yeah, because he was from actually from the same basic region that where I was.

WILSON: Where you were?

NEELON: Yeah, yeah, so--

WILSON: Okay so you got to your town and you were assigned to teach English as a second language at a--?

NEELON: At a CEG, yeah I ended up teaching well they were more like our 8th and 9th in terms of age, but they were really 7th and 8th in terms of form. The I mean it was like, it went from our 7th grade to what would have been 13th instead of 12th grade. They did the one that 41:00premier year so--

WILSON: And what did you call the school?

NEELON: It's just CEG, College d'Enseignement General which is a step down from a lycee. It's a more remote region, but the lycee is a more prestigious and you know the kids who had the higher exam scores usually get to do the lycees.

WILSON: How many students in a school?

NEELON: Well the classes were huge, between 50 and 60. I would say about 500. I can't remember exactly.

WILSON: Boys and girls?

NEELON: Very, very few girls, very few. I mean I had whole classes that had maybe 2 or 3.

WILSON: And what about teachers, mostly male teachers?

NEELON: All male.

WILSON: All male.

NEELON: I was the only--

WILSON: Only woman.

NEELON: Only woman, yeah and the only white, yeah.

WILSON: And were you the only person in your town?

NEELON: No, there was somebody else who taught at a little Catholic 42:00school, which was a million times better run and an extremely cushy situation by comparison but--

WILSON: And you were both from the same group and one of you--?

NEELON: She was a year ahead of me so she, and they kind of tried to keep somebody in there who had been there you know and passing down the, you know show somebody the ropes or whatever.

WILSON: Right, how big a town?

NEELON: Well when all the students were there they said it was 10,000 but you know because there were students coming in on the lower levels too.

WILSON: What amenities did the town have?

NEELON: Well it had a little river that was kind of fun, although some of the little kids had been told these you know superstitions about white people in the, you know scared, so some of them would run away from you scared if you went to try to swim there. A very salty river and very 43:00kind of passive river; it didn't move too much. It tended to get on the stagnant side. But that was there, I mean it was a very peaceful town. I mean I really liked that about it. You know you didn't have a lot of you know like the place we would go from there where the lycee was, was Kaolack and that was very you know it had some of the problems that come with industrialization you know pollution, a little bit of that you know just. But Fatick was really I mean you couldn't even really get off there. You had to get off and if you took a taxi bus or something you'd have to get off the road a mile away and walk in.


NEELON: Yeah or you could get on a sharette.

WILSON: No stores or--?

NEELON: Just the Knar stores. There were Lebanese stores and Knar stores. The Lebanese tended to like sell eggs and that sort of thing, and then the Knars would have the kind of regular staples. And the 44:00Lebanese would sell things that were a little bit more expensive generally. There were--I don't really know why but there are a lot of Lebanese in Senegal.

WILSON: All over West Africa.

NEELON: I think all over West Africa, yeah, yeah, selling. I guess things got dangerous in Lebanon or they just weren't making a living and they figured out a way to--

WILSON: Do it in West Africa.

NEELON: Right.

WILSON: What was a typical day like and maybe in connection with that you want to describe what your living situation was, where you lived and--?

NEELON: Okay I shared a house with Imelda Garzo and that was really interesting. We got along really well.

WILSON: Now she's the other Peace Corps volunteer?

NEELON: She's the other Peace Corps volunteer.


NEELON: She was a Chicano from Texas you know so that was really interesting.

WILSON: You were having another cross-cultural experience.


NEELON: Exactly! Exactly, you know I remember learning quite a few Spanish words from her. And she actually stayed there a long time. I mean she married an African. She's now divorced from him in Washington D.C., so I lived with her. She you know I would get up pretty early because it's the only cool time. And it was so hot in the house I couldn't, neither one of us could sleep in the house. It was just you couldn't sleep. We would sleep outside under a mosquito net on this sort of porch thing, and we had a guardian. You know a guard who would kind of watch so that we could do that. And he had a guard house there that he stayed in when he wasn't back in his village. But you know I'd get up pretty early to do planning and correct papers and I would start teaching at 8:00 and go to till 12:00, then would come home and have a--


WILSON: How did you get to school?

NEELON: I walked, yeah it was--I walked through the sand, actually you know the direct line from our house to the school was about a third of a mile and we would but we had to cut through the jail, so that was kind of interesting to have to go through this sort of jail. You know the prisoners would come I mean it wasn't a--

WILSON: Alright, so you were talking about a typical day.

NEELON: Right, so I would teach from 8:00 to 12:00 and then come home for three hours and then come back from 3:00 to 6:00 we'd teach. I had a method that I was, it was called CLAD, which was an acronym in French. It was CLAD, Centre de linguistique appliquee de Dakar, and it was just like this method they had developed using figurines you know 47:00that had these felt figurines. You had this felt board and you had to, there were four different you know ways you're supposed to present this material. You know I'm trying--This is what we were trained in during stage and I'm not sure I'm going to remember them all. I remember the first one is presentation, you know presenting the material. And then one was, what was the second one? Fixation, you know then where you kind of got the material fixed in peoples' heads, you know you tried to embed it in people's heads. And then oh exploitation,you know where you were really trying to get them to take what they had learned and kind of run with the ball. And I'm still missing one of them but I might think of a, you know, I think substitution. We had these books on dialogue. I taught two different levels: the first year and the second year. And I think it was, the African teachers were thrilled 48:00that Peace Corps people took the lower things because they wanted the higher you know and I didn't know enough about teaching yet. I thought I got the good deal out of that, you know, oh I get to do the--Because I didn't know anything about teaching I think it really was helpful to me and of course I had to rethink my own language because I didn't even know how to--I mean I knew how to you know describe ? or whatever in French but I didn't know how to say what that tense was in English. You don't learn English as a native speaker that way, so that helped me a lot in future years you know just having to you know work with that structure of language. But you know I'd have to bring these figurines in and setup the dialogue and you know that was the beginning of every lesson going through all that and because you really had to do it because they were going to be examined on it. It was this whole system you know that you were just this little tiny part of. You really couldn't--

WILSON: It was part of their exam.

NEELON: Yeah, but I mean I did try to do other things and you know 49:00anything from little stories or whatever. You know I gave out a lot of articles and free copies of the Time magazines we got for free. I mean they were a prized item. You know I did a lot of things like that and it--I mean I learned a lot about teaching and all that. But I remember that especially that afternoon stretch because it was so hot and the classrooms were really primitive. And the one of the things that I will never forget is there were peanut shells all over the floor all the time you know, and there was like one window in the classroom and the structure was metal you know. So I mean we'd be sitting there and I'd be seeing the sweat pouring out of these students you know. And then one year another thing I remember one time, a time I had one class 50:00rather I had nine people with the name Mamadou and some of them had the same last name. Like three or four of them were Mamadou Juke, you know I remember that. You know how the heck am I going to keep these people straight? But that's another thing that changed. You know you really do get to recognize different looks and faces and all that stuff. You know one black person doesn't look all the same but you might think so in the beginning because you're overwhelmed because you don't know the ways to look at a face.

WILSON: Right, how many students in a class?

NEELON: 50, yeah. I mean--

WILSON: Crowded?

NEELON: I had one that was almost 60, maybe it was 60. Yeah very crowded.

WILSON: So three or four on a bench with a--?

NEELON: Yeah, more than that actually on a bench, yeah. And yeah I remember one class I had had a couple of people in it with polio. And that was another thing that you know we got--There was a nun who worked with my Peace Corps housemate in that school, you know she was 51:00associated with that Catholic school. And she would go out and do all these vaccination deals for polio and I remember she would talk about the mother who still wouldn't let her kid get vaccinated after the second kid came down. She still couldn't realize that, she couldn't admit that there was a connection between this and that. And you know so that was hard to see these kids who were so debilitated from something that could have been prevented. And I mean just given the age that I am I just missed the big polio epidemic in America but there were older kids in school, you know three years older who had been affected by it. So it was, I was maybe more attuned to that, you know to polio as a problem then people who were, would be now, you know?

WILSON: You said that all the men, all the teachers were men and most of 52:00your students were men.

NEELON: Yeah, right.

WILSON: How did that work with you as a woman?

NEELON: Well I found that to be really, really hard, really ridiculously hard. And I think that's the one thing. I think everybody who's had the post has had complaints about and Peace Corps never did anything about it. The director, well he eventually probably about six years after I left Peace Corps, I mean he was finally fired under a new administration. But he was somebody who he had gotten a lot of the girls pregnant, the few girls who were there he had gotten quite a good number of them pregnant. He--I think given my background this little Catholic school I just couldn't handle all that, the moves he put on me constantly. Do you know what I mean?


NEELON: And I really had a hard time when some of these guys, I mean there were a couple of them who would just grab my breasts in front of students and no matter what I told them they would think it was funny you know and I didn't. I mean now I would be able to handle that. 53:00I mean even ten years later, but I was you know 23 and a kind of an over-protected 23 I think. You know I wasn't out there. But yeah I think also there was a lot of resentment with the younger ones. The older guys I got along with great. They had a value system that was actually kind of similar to mine and to you know having grown up in pretty you know a Catholic school and the whole deal. But I think they were pretty rooted in raising families, but the younger guys a lot of them hated being--They wanted to be in Dakar; they didn't want to be in this little rural area and they really hated being there. And you know there was this expression on Wolof "Sy-sy" you know the guy who's kind of you know. I remember the line from the dialogue "Sy-sy in garette." It's like you're really sy-sy, you know you're out to--You think you're hot and you're out to get the women or whatever, but a lot of the younger guys were kind of like that you know, which was I 54:00found problematic in that situation. You know you just don't have that much power as a, probably because you don't know the language because they're not talking French for the most part. They're talking a lot, you don't, I mean there's no way in a couple of weeks in the summer you know when you're really studying French you have a little Wolof on the side you know. There's no way you can really converse.

WILSON: Were there women in the town who you could get to know?

NEELON: Oh yeah, the woman who worked for us we both were incredibly close to, you know my housemate and I.

WILSON: She was doing?

NEELON: Well she came and she washed the floors and she ironed our clothes and you know sometimes we'd pay her to--I mean actually we would kind of think up, try to think up as many things as we could to pay because she had like seven kids and we loved the kids. You know and that was, I mean her family kind of became our family and I have 55:00some great pictures of them. But in the beginning I really didn't want that because I couldn't stand the thought of having a servant. But if she hadn't, if we hadn't done that, I think it would have been hard to have a female connection because it's very--The women's lives are pretty isolated you know, and the whole time I was in Senegal I met one woman who was professional. You know she was teaching in Dakar you know who wasn't a foreigner. And I think that even in the lycees I don't remember too many of my friends having Senegalese women friends who they, they're usually a lot of Russians in those days who were teaching in Senegal you know in the lycees. You know they would just kind of donate labor like the Peace Corps, but you know 56:00we didn't--We were very close to Rose; she was not Islamic so she had kind of a European name, but she was Senegalese. And we got very close to Irene, Belgian sage-femme, a midwife there and there was a married couple who were from Holland; they were doctors. So we--It was really a pretty small place. I mean you know if you were--Well I mean that's it in terms of the whites who were there. I think we wanted to get to know women better but as I say if it hadn't been for Rose who was actually more, she wasn't educated but I think she had been around French nuns and priests. She was--Like her son went to the you know to the actually into the seminary. He was you know considered one of the smartest kids around and that's how Senghor had gotten educated. That 57:00didn't mean he was going to be a priest or anything, but that's where they started. Yeah they had those schools for the--But yeah I just found it really, I wish, I hope it's changed, but everybody I ask and I don't get the sense that it has. And I know that in Senegal when I was there I mean just the--They used to say there's about a third of the people who wanted to get into the elementary education system got in you know and a lot of that was political cases you know and a lot fewer got into the--

WILSON: You're talking about girls now?

NEELON: No I'm talking about across--

WILSON: Oh you're talking about kids?

NEELON: Yeah just kids in general, yeah I mean there were a lot of people who didn't get educated who would want to have. You know there's a really funny story in Peace Corps Senegal about this guy who was a trainer and Yuri Diallo was his name and he was from Senegal Orientale, 58:00which is the eastern part, the most remote part of Senegal. And he used to say that the reason he got educated was because of a family feud. And this, the family that hated his family had stolen him and reported him to the authorities; somehow he ended up going to school because of that. You know and otherwise he wouldn't have and he ended up later going to the United States and studying graduate school and all that sort of thing. But you know we did get to know a lot of the male Senegalese you know who were teachers and all that, even during stage and that was exciting. But a lot of them had very you know I would see as negative attitudes toward their wives. You know they were trying to get Peace Corps girlfriends you know even while their wives were at home with a, god knows how many kids. You know that was 59:00another cultural thing we had to negotiate. I think the guys had a very different, you know their problem was sort of the opposite; you know that they weren't allowed to go near the women at all but yeah.

WILSON: Did you get to know your female students?


WILSON: Did they see you as a--?

NEELON: Yeah oh yeah, there were a couple in particular that I you know really befriended but I didn't, I really didn't have that many. Excuse me really very few, it's also hard in that massive situation to get to know--It's so much easier to get to know students here. You know that friendship is not something that's expected. I mean I remember you know walking into a classroom that first day and have everybody stand 60:00up you know and it's just, whoa, wait a minute. And I also remember that all of them have many, many, many colored pencils you know. And if you would say you know write down, "Stand up now Bintu," or whatever the dialogue said they would all, they would be trying to do blue you know, the S for blue you know they had these fabulous and you had time. You had to say, "Come on, no, you can only write it one time you know. Use one color; put those colored pencils away," I mean because that copying thing was so embedded you know and it could take them all of class. And I mean all of the--I mean we were warned about that in stage. I mean that was just another difference in the educational systems you know that creativity wasn't something that was valued as much you know. Yeah.

WILSON: Okay, what about one other question about education, what about 61:00discipline?

NEELON: I found it to be really difficult you know. In the beginning, I think you know you do anyway if you're teaching. And there are plusses and minus--One of the things that I found difficult was that the guy who was what was called the surveillant would literally whip people if you can believe. And so I had tried--I just didn't want to--

WILSON: Surveillant was the?

NEELON: He was like what would he be? It's kind of not really a role that exists in the--

WILSON: Like an associate principal in charge of discipline?

NEELON: Yeah exactly, like I taught in a prep school for a while and there was I guess the role there would have been called executive vice principal. He was the one who was in charge, but I mean what that meant in Senegal was and he wasn't a guy who had an education himself. You know he was a guy, he was actually handicapped you know. But he 62:00would kind of whip and beat students you know and scream at him. So I really didn't see that as a--I don't want to send somebody to that because I don't really believe in that you know. But there was one class in particular that I remember having trouble with, and it was a class--It was the class that went over 60. It was just way too many people. There weren't enough benches; there weren't enough places. So that alone starts a situation because they fight over the benches. And there was a really nice older guy who died; he had cancer when I was there and he was the English teacher--He never wanted to speak English with me though, that was the thing. I think he felt embarrassed about his English and so after a while I just spoke French with him all the time, but he helped me out with that class you know. He would you know get on them or whatever you know a couple of--There were only a couple of kids who were really--But there were also kids who were--I think 63:00they were the redoubles, that means we call it like they had taken the you know--

WILSON: Class over again?

NEELON: The class over again you know.

WILSON: Okay they flunked it.

NEELON: Right, right, they're taking it over. So they were a lot bigger than the other kids so they felt kind of out of sync because there are these little kids and there they are. They've probably been--It's probably their third time being a redouble, you know, they were you know the ones I had trouble with were the ones who were like--I think they were literally like 16, 17 in a class where the other kids were you know 12, 13. So yeah--

WILSON: So what did you do for recreation for?

NEELON: Well we traveled around the country. We you know visited each other's posts and that was really interesting. We took a couple of 64:00weeks and went to the Casamance and went down the the river, you know going to cross the river in the barge and all that sort of thing. And that was really, that's--I guess there's one visceral image from there that I'll never forget. They--It was--They were just starting to develop the tourism industry and in fact some of the, a couple of people in our group were assigned to teach English and there's like a chef school in Dakar and you know tourism school. But it was in the middle of all those Roots tours that was happening.

WILSON: Oh okay.

NEELON: You know so that was sort of what had brought the tourists there.

WILSON: So the tourists were going to Senegal as well as to the Gambia?

NEELON: Right, right.


NEELON: And they would be marketed through Dakar so that's where you would run into them, not in you know--I know some of them went down to the--They were starting these national like little almost like little sets of huts that they were using to rent to tourists you know kind 65:00of not and so we went to one of those. And it was kind of like midway between camping and staying in a motel or something like that. But the thing that I will never forget is you know we're walking along you know and we walked for about a mile and a half on the beach and we get to a chain link fence across the beach. And you know we've been fooling around with these kids who have been following us and there were cows on the beach, and there were actually porpoises that we were swimming with. And it was the strangest moment, all of a sudden we get to this chain link fence and we find out that is Club Med.

WILSON: Oh! So Club Med had come to Senegal?

NEELON: Yeah, and so I don't how long it was there, much longer than the huts. But come to find out the locals had to walk miles around the Club Med property to get to the other side of the--I mean it was a ridiculous situation you know and I swore right then that I would never go to a Club Med you know. But I really remember that. But we went 66:00way out to Senegal Orientale too, that was interesting. I remember seeing different tribal groups--I think the poles that had lots of gold, yellow, yellow gold earrings, and it was just really seemed like maybe more like 50 years back from where we were.

WILSON: Did you go outside of Senegal? Did you travel outside of Senegal?

NEELON: We walked on the beach into Mauritania and no I didn't travel outside of Senegal--in through The Gambia but yeah other than that.

WILSON: How did you travel?

NEELON: Traveled with lots of goats and sheep and all that in les cars rapides, and--



NEELON: Those are like oh they're like big vans I guess. You can take you know they'd have the goats legs tied and you know put the goats on top and all that. You can also take those didn't go everywhere because they were so big; they had to be going to a big enough place they could fill a van. But they had these smaller like regular family cars but they called them les taxis-brousse, you know, in other words like bush taxis that would go on into the smaller places. So you know you'd have to just go to a bus station and wait in line until they had enough people to fill one, which could take literally days if you, depending on the place you were going to you know. So that was kind of--Actually I have a good transportation story. One time I was going into Dakar. I think I had a tooth that broke when I was there and I had to go a couple of different times because they had to do a crown and do a couple of different stages to that. But we were going into 68:00Dakar; we were about a mile from Ties, which is pretty near Dakar. But one of the tires broke you know. So okay alright so they go fix that tire then we go a few more miles, and then another tire went and they had no spare. They had used the spare, so we all had to lean. This was on a bus type thing and we had to all go to one side and lean. And it was just like somehow we got there; it was just about two more miles but you know can you imagine that ever happening in the United States? I just--God knows what it did to the rim of the tire but it was kind of fun you know, but just yeah different ways of thinking about how the world should work I guess.

WILSON: So what I think we've covered most of these questions, do 69:00you want to say anything more about interactions with host country nationals or with Americans, Peace Corps volunteers, other Europeans?

NEELON: Well I guess the one thing I would say is that I think a lot of Peace Corps volunteers in Senegal really didn't like a lot of the French who were there and some of the Belgians. They seemed to be really negative toward Africans in a way that Peace Corps volunteers generally weren't you know. I guess it was nice not to be the colonial power in some ways, you know what I mean? I mean we've done that in other parts of the world too, but I mean I did come across a certain kind of expatriate type that I didn't like I know, that I kind of suspected these people who probably were there because they didn't 70:00get along that well in France or Belgium. And they were allowed to be crotchety outsiders forever and relatively well off and perhaps a little bit drunken a lot of the time or you know that kind of type. I had never you know kind of made certain novel, Graham Green or whoever, you know maybe if I could understand that stuff, but I guess that's about it. You know there were just a lot of really interesting Africans you'd meet. You know many of them you wouldn't talk to for more than a day. You'd run into here, there you know just I guess like any place you travel.

WILSON: What about what you said earlier about your wanting to be in the Peace Corps or be someplace where you had a different experience with black people?

NEELON: Oh I think I did and I really you know just changed a lot on 71:00account of it. And then of course then I had to realize that Africans weren't the same as African Americans, although at the time they weren't called African Americans. You know and that was a whole other area of negotiation.


NEELON: Yeah I mean I later taught at a prep school in Boston where there were a lot of Caribbean black you know students who really it's kind of fun because I would be able to speak French with some of their parents and all that. So that was kind of a link, but yeah I mean I think it just introduced me to cultural richness period. You know so since then I really don't use French very much anymore but I use Spanish a lot. I've learned Spanish and you know gone to, I've lived for a year in Costa Rica. You know Richard and I and the kids all did and we went to Mexico last summer and I lived in California when I was at Stanford. And I ended up teaching English to immigrants, you know 72:00Mexican immigrants. And Richard taught at Stanford hospital where he had on the high end he had these doctors from all over the world but you know high levels of English, but on the low levels he'd be teaching the people who clean the floors at the Stanford hospital you know. So I know it all kind of became a piece after a couple of years. You know I never really thought of it as blacks and whites but more like just this whole pot where everything kind of started stewing together. In fact I kind of had this funny experience one that's not related to different races but you know disabled versus non-disabled. I applied for this Montana Artist Council grant, I mean this was I guess, yeah it was the first year I was at Stanford. I applied before I got back for a fellowship that took me to Stanford, but it was a very competitive 73:00fellowship and it paid a fair amount of money. And when I got there and talked to them I ended up teaching poetry in a transition house for the mentally ill. And they told me that I guess that some of the students who were from the, you know mentally ill students who were actually on the committee to hire, you know pick the people who were going to come. And they said, "Well when we saw Peace Corps on your application, we knew you could handle us." You know and so it was--

WILSON: Isn't that interesting?

NEELON: Yeah and it was one of the most interesting experiences I've ever had in my entire life for ten days with the mentally ill talking about poetry. I mean it was fantastic you know. Yeah I know.

WILSON: Interesting qualification that they thought--Well you mentioned culture, are there other cultural differences that you remember in connection with Senegal?

NEELON: Well I remember the ubiquitous signs and buses and all that, 74:00like "Defense de cracher," you know you're forbidden to spit out the windows in buses because the whole Ramadan Islam thing, but it also applied to you know kola nuts spitting them out the window and all that. So just not--I mean little things like that, I remember the kind of animists I mean you know Senegal usually is pegged at 5-10% animists and then mostly in Senegal Orientale, but I every once and a while I would look under a tree and see different bowls of milk left out for you know and things like that.

WILSON: For ancestors?

NEELON: Right, right, right, and so that was really interesting to me and you know I was always, well not always. When I got to Senegal 75:00one of the places I discovered on the tournee that we were supposed to go around and visit these things was the African Art Museum. And I got to really go to know the guy there and I would go back there a lot you know and I really got interested in looking at African art you know. And I think when I first went there I looked around and sort of said well what, you know there are no arts here or whatever. But I sort of changed my view about yeah no they don't have European looking paintings in gilt frames you know what I mean? But you know I'd walk, I mean that pagne strip over there is actually one of the few things in this room from Senegal. I mean Richard that one was from Richard's. That was a Berber one, but I remember seeing the guy who made those strips, you know, they would be tied to a tree and he'd have the loom you know that kind of--I mean I got really interested in folk arts and that sort of thing, which I had never been interested. I mean I was 76:00the first one to run when my mother pulled out the sewing machine. You know she had five daughters and she gave up on me pretty fast. But yeah but other I guess little cultural differences. Well there were things I never got used to like the whole thing with Islam and you know women aren't allowed into the mosques. I mean I did get to go into the big one, Le Grande Mosque; the Great Mosque in Dakar is open to tourists. But other than that another thing that I guess I got, I did get used to but it took a while is that in Senegal you eat with your hands if you eat in a bowl meal.

WILSON: Right.

NEELON: Ceebu jen, which is the national dish, rice and fish, you know you ball the rice up in your hands and you eat it. And that's I'm not going to say not easy to get used to. I mean the people I mean 77:00literally burn their hands the first time they tried it. I mean I had, was one of the last ones in the group to try it so I had been forewarned about burning my hands. But the first time we did it at stage there were people who--

WILSON: And only using your right hand?

NEELON: Right, right, only using your right hand. Yeah I can't think of--I remember I had some fun moments that were kind of whoa you know. Like I remember one time being on a bus and seeing this guy who was really I mean to use that Wolof expression that I used earlier "sy-sy" you know he just thought he was great stuff. He was the height of his male prowess and he I'm sure thought it was a military beret, but he was wearing, he had gotten it out of one of the mission barrels he was wearing a Girl Scout junior you know with the trefoil thing and he said I just I remember that ride that my husband and we just. About every five minutes we would just start laughing and couldn't stop 78:00you know this is ridiculous! This guy is wearing a Girl Scout thing and he thinks he's in the military. Yeah but I don't know, cognitive dissonance I guess yeah.

WILSON: Okay, any last memorable stories you want to tell before we move to the coming home?

NEELON: Let me think. I don't know if I've told them all. Yeah I can't really think of anything off the top of my head. Just one thing popped into my head that has been kind of a connection and you know I think you know I first met Richard. That's the first thing he heard in my house too, the monks at Thies, Keur Moussa have you ever heard of them? 79:00They are, they did all this stuff and you know African instrumentation to monastic music.

WILSON: Oh okay.

NEELON: And it's really quite beautiful to hear the kora and everything else. And we went to see them and that was really an interesting time. I don't have a story from that but I don't know why that just popped up and you know.

WILSON: Well another part of culture.

NEELON: Yeah, yeah, and they are known overseas to some extent because I know somebody once asked me if I had them and showed me a tape. I had already had a tape but yeah. Making these fast--

WILSON: So you left Senegal when?

NEELON: '78, no wait '79, '79, '79.

WILSON: '79.

NEELON: Yeah I left, yeah.


WILSON: You went in April of '78 and you came back in?

NEELON: Yeah I had the situation where I, there was something wrong with me. I was sick.


NEELON: Yeah and the doctor, the Peace Corps doctor had quit and there was one doctor for this whole, one Peace Corps doctor for this whole huge region of like four countries. So I would, I couldn't go to the Peace Corps doctor and this is over a period of, I mean he was visiting all these other--He was gone for like six weeks or whatever, so I kept going in and them saying, "Woah man, you know we don't know what you have. You've got this white cell count that's really up. Alright well you better go home." And this was the American Embassy doctor and because by the time I'd get in, all the way in there you know I would be in slightly different shape. You know how endless go up and down and they didn't know. They said well maybe you've got appendicitis 81:00but we can't say you know. And but they didn't want to perform an appendectomy because they don't like to do operations, and thank god in retrospect because I think AIDS was actually in starting right around that time.

WILSON: Well but they might have evacuated you and taken you--

NEELON: Right but if I went into crisis with an appendectomy, so that's what started happening. We went to Senegal Orientale and my friends were saying you know, "We don't really think you should be going because what if you do have appendicitis? You know we can't--You're going to die." I mean it just kind of started building and building. I mean it was right around the time that the next school year was going to start and anyway I ended up going home and having to have an appendectomy.


NEELON: So and I didn't end up going back.

WILSON: So they sent you home?


NEELON: Right, yeah.

WILSON: And they evacuated you or whatever?

NEELON: Yeah, yeah but I mean I could have tried to come back and do the- -It just didn't seem to work out. And I think you know the situation with that director at the school was also you know worrisome and--

WILSON: So you were there then for, how long were you actually at your site?

NEELON: I was there a year.

WILSON: A year.

NEELON: And I did do the--You had to have a secondary project in between so I did do that. I did work with the animatrice near us. That's another like how do you translate that? It's like somebody who takes on a project and sees it through. This one woman was working with it's a program they have in the animatrice and the animatrice and in English it really translates into like animator or something, but it's somebody who takes on kind of like social worker I guess.


NEELON: You know you take a project and hers was working with women in her village. So what I did was go in and would do all the UN stuff 83:00like talking about the four food groups, you know making a porridge out of the four because they lose a lot of kids when they're weaned you know because the babies eat last out of the communal bowl. We also take those and I think they're different now but in those days they were those plastic rings that you'd shoot up a kid's arm to make if it goes over--

WILSON: To see malnutrition.

NEELON: Yeah the malnutrition stuff, so I worked with that. So it was right at the point when that was all ending and I kind of had to make the call and I was just--It was just kind of like, "Man, what's wrong with me?" You know and I because I had this constant kind of dry heave kind of vomiting you know that I would get it and it would be horrible trying to get in alone in that transportation situation trying to get four hours to Dakar. You know it just ended up being one of those medical mystery stories or whatever. But I'm glad, I think the thing that my father had almost died of a ruptured appendix when he was like 84:0013 years old.

WILSON: Oh yeah, no you don't want that to happen.

NEELON: So I had that in the back of my head you know. But I think the big thing was that my friends are saying, we don't want to be with you because we don't want to be responsible. So that scared me. I don't know but anyway.

WILSON: Anyway you came home and had an appendectomy?

NEELON: Right, right.

WILSON: So what was it like? Probably a little bit different because you were coming home with a medical issue. But what was it like coming home?

NEELON: Well I think it was similar to what everybody I know who's got you know I came home of course in my little Senegalese pattern shirts that I had made by the tailor and landed in New York City and had to take the shuttle to Boston, which is you know where everybody goes to fly to Wall Street. And I just remember seeing all the grayness you know the suits and all that and I just sort of stuck out like a sore 85:00thumb because I was wearing this African dress. And I remember feeling like I stuck out in other ways too. I remember being in my mother's house and there was a neighbor over and I can't really remember. It wasn't about Senegal or anything but it was about the US and Africa something like that. And I said some things that were just not even incendiary you know just basic facts about and she took them the wrong way. She took them like I was criticizing the United States and she got on this high horse about America and blah, blah, blah, blah and you should appreciate what you have and blah, and you know. And it's whoa, I felt like I had inadvertently thrown a bomb, you know? I remember that and well I mean I don't think you're ever the same in terms of cross-cultural stuff. I mean I can never go back and live in Boston the way my siblings do and I mean I feel that all the time and I feel like you know it's really shapes, well it shaped my life here. I mean 86:00I probably wouldn't even be at Murray State if it weren't for the fact that a) our former dean had had a son who was a Peace Corps volunteer. And that was what kind of attracted him to me I think more than there were other candidates and I think that helped. But also at the time I mean Murray State had been named of the regional universities the one that was going to be internationalized and more focused on that, so they were really trying to hire people who had that connection. And that's really how I ended up at this particular university, yeah.

WILSON: Well talk a little bit because we'll do sort of the, what happened afterwards in chronological order so we've got that straight. But what do you think the impact of your being in Peace Corps was on the country and or the kids that you taught? And then what do you think 87:00the impact was on you?

NEELON: Well I think that in little ways I challenged their notions about Americans. For example you know they think that everybody's filthy rich. They think that you know everybody and you know I know them so-so but you give them a phone call or whatever. But I think that they saw possibilities you know in terms of especially the female students just you know models for people to go out there and get an education and learn all of that. I guess the thing I want to go for in that question is how much, not so much that I did this great thing in Senegal. I mean nobody who was a Peace Corps volunteer. I mean it's just like a truism you do nothing, but I think you a do a heck of a lot for America in the way. I mean there's so many things that 88:00I've done in terms of just going into classrooms over the years to talk about especially Senegal but also Costa Rica or even you know I've done stuff on I've gone out with the local Japanese teacher and taken those little stamp things and I've done haiku. She's done Jap--You know I mean a lot of that stuff just to kind of challenge these really flat charactered kind of notions of people in other countries you know. And I think that if America is going to be a country worth remembering in 500 years or whatever I mean I think a lot of it is Peace Corps volunteers have lived in other parts of the world and come back and really had those human connections. I mean I think it's Rose Diouf and Mame [Editor's note: Grandfather] Diaga, I mean those two were people I 89:00interacted. They were like my father and mother or sister and brother for the whole time I was there. And that's what I remember you know that kind of integrated life where every day you know the two of them in my kitchen going back and forth making fun of each other because he was Islamic and she you know she was, he was you know making gestures trying to show her you know how to make fun of her Christian orientation because that part of Senegal I was in is the part that 10% of Senegal is roughly is Christian. Anyway she was making fun of, or he was making fun of her because of evolution and you believe that monkeys and I remember him saying comme singe! You know like a monkey, and you know those kind of every day conversations and just getting involved in that sort of thing. And you know his daughter came and gave us a 90:00chicken when we were ready to leave and we didn't know what to do with it. I mean he had to help us cut it open and pluck it and cook it and all those crazy things. I mean that's what I remember and that's what I bring back that somebody who just studied it in a classroom doesn't have. You don't have those human connections. I mean as a writer I do believe really in the power of stories. You know and I think all the, we laugh about all the Peace Corps stories. And you know I know John, I don't know if you've run into John Coyne. Have you run into John?

WILSON: Oh of course.

NEELON: Yeah, yeah because he is, I've been involved over the years off and on with Peace Corps writers and he said from the beginning you know all those agents don't want any Peace Corps stories. And you know I mean I think they're what's--You know where the hope lies for America. 91:00I mean you know I think a lot of Americans, when I look at what's happening in Iraq and elsewhere it breaks my heart. And I think that you know the more people who have been abroad and experienced life abroad. And I think another thing about Peace Corps is it exposes you to what else, what other representation is going on in terms of America. I mean you meet people from AID and you meet people who are living in these really cordoned off complexes and you realize they don't get out. I mean I, it was a shock to me. I remember meeting somebody who had been in AID for 11 years in Chad in N'jamena; she got transferred to Dakar and she still couldn't speak French. Not even, she was like first year level French. You know what I mean that gives you some sense of how cut off people can be you know if they have a certain attitude. So I guess bringing the world back home to go with 92:00all the cliches here, but I think it's true you know that I forget what question I'm responding to here.

WILSON: That's alright. You're responding to one of the ones that's the last one too. But I'm looking at this and thinking that let's stop and start a new tape. Okay, in what ways are you still in contact with anybody from your Peace Corps experience?

NEELON: Well I'm still in contact with my housemate, Imelda Garza. She was part of my crowd and she's in Maryland right now I mean and I was friends with her husband, now ex-husband Moise, who moved to the United States with her--Moise N'Diaye.

WILSON: Who is Senegalese?

NEELON: Who is Senegalese, right. And she, they still you know are fairly close because they're raising a daughter together in Washington D.C., and so also another friend of ours Joan Timmoney, who works on 93:00the hill in Washington D.C. and in terms of people have lasted until this far have been out quite a ways. And also met a lot of people through like Peace Corps Writers and gone to you know I was involved in the 40, well it actually ended up being 40 plus one because it was supposed to be the week after September 11 and it ended up being pushed until June. So I've made some new Peace Corps connections through that and through the writers groups. And also you know I think the places I've lived you know just, well actually then I visited you know all over the country when I first came home. You know Sue Leutz was in my group, she was down in Arizona for a while. So but Richard and I were 94:00both involved in NorCal when we were out in California.

WILSON: Which is the Northern California returned Peace Corps volunteer group.

NEELON: And then it just so happens that you know there are people here now. You know one of our best friends is Mike Waag, who's a Peace Corps volunteer in the Spanish department. It's just kind of funny when you're like, "Wait a minute," you know it's a strange thing. Our best friend here's you know Peace Corps and there are several other people we know and get together with in various university ways. What was the other part of the question?

WILSON: That's fine. Let's go on to taking you from when you got back until now in terms of where you've been and so forth. So after you had your appendectomy, then?

NEELON: I ended up going into the MFA program at UMass Amherst and 95:00that's where I had basically of course I was from Massachusetts but I would have wanted to go there anyway not because of money issue but because this great anthology of world literature happened to come out of there. So I was really interested in that and they have a great comp lit program there, which was kind of helpful to me because I was interested in that translation work, but then I got out of--

WILSON: And is that the time when you were translating the poems?

NEELON: Yeah and actually when I started publishing that in graduate, maybe the last year of graduate school but then when I did the five years after that I taught at a prep school in Boston. And that's when I worked more on that and there was somebody who Melvin Dixon who was, had been working on it for a year and he started publishing you know 96:00and he was bilingual and ended up translating most of the Senghor poems into big selected. So that came out and by then I had kind of moved onto Spanish. But when I taught at that prep school was when I did the stuff in American Poetry Review and all that, the essay. But then I applied and got a fellowship to go to Stanford, so I--

WILSON: Okay this is what year now?

NEELON: That's 1988. '87 I applied, I think '88 yeah fall of '88 is when I went there. I was a fellow for a year and then I taught at Stanford for three more years and then I came here. But I met Richard when I was at Stanford and that has a Peace Corps connection too because I had been in a, it's like a group for women. I forget 97:00how it was billed exactly but it was mostly organized by some women in engineering who were looking for a female connection you know kind of on spirituality and the environment and that sort of thing. So I had been kind of curious and gone to a few of their things and because Stanford has a huge Taize prayer which is ecumenical and it goes you know in their old, beautiful old church. And people from all different denominations would go, you know a lot of--It's a good place to meet international students. So I met them in that and then one of them, there was a church that's kind of part of Stanford. Well not technically it's off the campus but it's just a block away. And they have some really interesting cultures. They have like a Gregorian chant mass and this, that and a lot of things going around I mean even if you're not Catholic because that Stanford--It was donated by like 98:00a Henry Luce, the guy from Time Magazine. It is--I don't think that it has official connections with Stanford; it may. But anyway I was talking to one of the people from that retreat event, it wasn't really I don't know what it was called. But it was like a meeting for women and Richard walked by and she knew him and she said, "Oh, you two were both in Peace Corps. You should know each other." So that's how we--I wouldn't have known him if not for, if it weren't, she just all of a sudden, "Oh! You guys were both in Peace Corps." So that's how that happened. And then I came here and yeah I think we have really tried, I mean it was really important for us to go to Costa Rica before the kids hit school age because we thought it would be a good time to expose them to language and all that, and I had a sabbatical.

WILSON: So that's the impact on your family?

NEELON: Right, yeah we've tried to you know.

WILSON: Your kids are?

NEELON: Liam who is 11 and Brendan who just turned 9, and we were in 99:00Costa Rica. We lived with them on sabbatical in Costa Rica.

WILSON: Where were you in Costa Rica?

NEELON: We were in Cartago. Murray State has a kind of a loose connection with the Instituto Technologico, which is in Cartago. And Richard taught English there through a program with Intel, they were training employees. They weren't the regular Instituto students or most of them weren't, and I was just on sabbatical. But then last summer we went to Mexico you know where I taught in the KIIS.

WILSON: KIIS program.

NEELON: Kentucky Institute for International Studies program. And this summer we're going to be going to Regensburg, Germany and participating in a European transition program there that is run through the 100:00university. And we're also going to get to go to Prague and I think Krakow. We're negotiating. There's a four day stretch that we get to decide. But then the following summer we're setup to go to Japan with KIIS, so you know we just kind of hit this where the kids are both old enough now and we just really want to do it before we're too old and they're too old.

WILSON: Well that's wonderful.

NEELON: Yeah they want to you know, it's not cool or something. But they seem to really love it you know. And so we're hoping they--

WILSON: So your experiences have obviously had an impact on them and given them experiences?

NEELON: Yeah I mean we haven't, I mean I think there are things. I mean Costa Rica is considered third world, I mean it really doesn't feel like third world to me compared to third world places that I've been, not only in Africa but I was also a Witness for Peace volunteer in Honduras and Nicaragua in the '80s.


WILSON: Oh okay, what in the '80s?

NEELON: Yeah '87. I felt like you know some of the places I went in Nicaragua during the war, I mean they were worse than what I saw in Africa in some ways. But I think you know Mexico this summer really challenged them a lot. I mean we weren't in a lot of, the place where we were Morelia is not a big tourist destination, which is why the guy who founded the program decided to put it there as opposed to like Guanajuato or whatever you know. It was fairly near and I think the kids saw a lot you know. They really had questions about poverty and this and that and the other thing that I think they need to have as somebody who lives in a super industrious country and is using huge percentages of the world's resources and all that. I want them to ask those questions and I feel like it's already had you know even kind of 102:00minor effects. Like Liam got to do his project. What did he have? He ended up with Mexico. They all had to pick a country in Latin America or whatever and you know he got up there and talked about riding the horses that were the livelihood of the Purepecha Indians. And we were climbing the volcano in well Paricutin in Mexico. I mean I think that he's already starting to observe things that other kids haven't had the chance to yet and may never if they don't travel.

WILSON: Well and here's the origami.

NEELON: Oh yeah well I think they have more to do with turning up the TV. You've got to find other things to do. But yeah Yoko the Japanese is married to Mike Waag.

WILSON: Oh I see.

NEELON: Yeah, she hasn't been the whole time we've known you know but we love her too so you know. And there is kind of a Japanese connection in the Murray School. She's gone in a lot to teach equality institute, 103:00which Yoko has been involved in. But there's a biology professor whose wife now has been hired to be part of the teach equality institute and they're doing like those red origami ones behind you my older son did in school. And that's one thing about--My older son he's got a couple of, well he's got a Japanese boy and a couple of Korean kids that he hangs out with in school and they were, this is like two years ago. They were shooting these little origami frogs you can actually make you know. And so he got interested in it that way too, but I do think they can--My kids even though they haven't been that many places yet they can at least conceive of going to other places, you know and there are certain things that they are interested in that they might not be.

WILSON: Have either of you been back to West Africa or is that in your?

NEELON: You know we were hoping to go back like right now. I was 104:00supposed to go teach in the Spanish, the key Spain program this semester, which is run by David Earnest. But he, there weren't enough students so I was going to teach the humanities program side of thing, because you know they're mostly taking Spanish but there just weren't enough students. Which probably is just as well because right around the time when I would have been having to gear up for that our, this new graduate degree kicked in and all of a sudden we had to drop everything and do that. So I don't know how I would have done both, but I would have tried. I wouldn't have given it up willingly, but I really wanted the kids to be involved.

WILSON: Have that experience.

NEELON: Yeah, I'd love them to keep going with some Spanish you know because they really didn't remember that much when we were in Mexico from being in Costa Rica. I think a little, you know when they study 105:00it in school or whatever I think there will be some stuff that will kick in in terms of ear I hope anyway. But I think just familiarity with people who, I mean even we've had Venezuelan babysitters and this. I mean we've had Ecuadorian guitarists playing in our living room. I think that over time affects them even if they don't.

WILSON: Even if they don't eventually become Peace Corps volunteers.

NEELON: Right, right. Yeah I have a reading about that new generation, you know I've seen that Peace Corps listserv they get you on there a number of families going second generation.

WILSON: Right, oh yeah. There are. But you can do international things other than this too.

NEELON: Right, right.

WILSON: What about, didn't you? Haven't you written some poetry about Senegal? Am I right?

NEELON: I have, I have written some poetry about Senegal, you know just poems that grew out of my time there. And I feel like you know some 106:00of them I wrote right when I was first in graduate school you know just coming out of the--But not all of them, I think actually some of the more powerful ones, the ones that came out later you know like one where they grew out of being. My older son was born in September 1994 and that whole summer I was just watching all those dead bodies floating down you know the Rwanda situation.

WILSON: Oh yes, yes, right!

NEELON: You know and just to be, I don't know there's just something right on the edge there of life and death and I had this relationship with Africa that most of the people around me didn't have you know. So somehow that came together in a poem. And you know Richard and I often talk about how heartbreak is the word that connects us to Africa 107:00more than anything. You know oh, we just you know it seems like so many things are hitting, so many countries are you know hitting their nadir and you know it's really hard to watch and it's hard not to feel helpless. And I don't know but yet to love so much of what's there you know and it's not just you know well everybody's getting AIDS or you know it's just something else going on too.

WILSON: Right, right. There's more to the continent than just that.

NEELON: Right, right.

WILSON: I think you've already talked about these things but think about how you want to close up with, these are the last questions. What has been the impact of Peace Corps service on the way you think about the world and what's going on now? Which you've really just been addressing, and what do you think the overall impact of Peace Corps has been and what should its role be today and in the future? And again you've touched on both of these but is there anything else you want to 108:00say there?

NEELON: Yeah, well somehow in response to the first one I'm thinking about myself as a writer in some ways and I think that I'm much more open to multicultural approaches. You know within America the person who chose my book to win this contest was Native American. You know what I mean? And a Chicano writer wrote one of the blurbs you know. And I feel like there are a lot of writers who are just so insular within the English speaking formal tradition that they can't even see anything else and they can't see that certain writers who maybe grew up in a working class neighborhood in the Bronx or whatever or really poor urban ghetto, I mean they didn't get exposed to sonnets you know even in 109:00high school. Do you know what I mean? It's hard; I feel like you know within the literary world I kind of live in my Peace Corps camp in a way. You just sort of, in reading a lot of literature from around the world and trying to work with literature and translation in ways that a lot of my fellow writers don't. And in terms of the role of Peace Corps should play well I think it's interesting to see how many really important people in the United States have been in the Peace Corps.

WILSON: Right.

NEELON: I mean everybody from senators you know, Paul Tsongas, you know Dodd was in it. You know to writers and I think that's going to keep happening. I wish there were a way Peace Corps volunteers could have a 110:00little more power I guess. You know a lobby or something, but I don't know if that might defeat its purpose. I do think it's nice to think about state groups and you know that keeping that connection alive for a lifetime. I also think education is just so important. You know going into those schools and all that those days when, I haven't always done it on that day when--Can you say hello, William?


NEELON: This is--

WILSON: Hello.

NEELON: Yeah, he's getting out of his karate class. What was I going to say? But yeah I mean just I mean I guess I don't have any innovative ideas. I haven't really thought that much about that beyond the local. You know I just always going into those schools try to do a lot of 111:00recruiting at Murray State, and I have to say it's been fantastic to have Jenny here because all of a sudden she's new. She's fresh, she has, you know she's young. She you know--And she doesn't have all these other burdens in her life like you know she's a graduate student. She really has done a great job of getting to students I think. And I mean she's sort of had the time to rally us, where as I mean Mike Waag and I have done a lot of going to the dorms and talk and answer questions and etc, but Jenny you know had enough energy to get a live feed going with Chicago offices and all that. And then she can talk in a more contemporary sense, which is great. But yeah I don't--I think also I would like to see more Peace Corps volunteers actually going into foreign service and I think what happens is that a lot of them get 112:00turned off against those channels because they see what the people in them are doing, you know that they're so insular and they don't really value that kind of insularity. In fact they're critical of it, and so they end up not going into those channels. I mean it would be so nice if they could actually have an ex-Peace Corps volunteer as the head of Peace Corps instead of Gaddi Vasquez you know. I think that would be only fair, but yeah.

WILSON: Thank you.

NEELON: Well thank you.

WILSON: We're going to finish this tape by asking Ann to read from her book of poetry entitled Easter Vigil and you'll tell us a little bit about how you wrote the poem and then read it.

NEELON: When I was leaving Africa the daughter of our guardian, our guard in our compound gave us a chicken, which was kind of a dubious 113:00present in a way you know for my housemate and me because we knew we had to kill it. That was the idea to eat it before we left and we didn't really want to do that. But the chicken ran away first so that solved the problem for a while, but then the guardian found it for us. So this is about that.

Chicken tied up with a red handkerchief.

Out of her good heart my neighbor

gave me a chicken.

I was a stranger,

carnivorous. I had the knife

and the mind and the heart to

butcher that chicken in my yard.

The yard wasn't really my yard.

It belonged to Mame Diaga, my neighbor

who said, "There is the river, the heart

you will drink," who tied up the chicken

and sharpened the knife

and handed the knife to the stranger.


Now nothing was stranger

than standing in my own yard

and whispering, 'Whose knife?'

Eyes on my neighbor I said to myself, "This chicken

will mock me if I lose heart."

Then Mame Diaga cupped me in his heart-

shaped hands like Allah, blue stranger.

It's not easy to fool a chicken

early in the morning in the chicken yard.

And I winced in the light at my neighbor

watching me flatter the tongue of my knife.

So, in the patient sun, the knife

Glistened, and the pet escaped through the heart-

colored hole in the handkerchief owned by a neighbor.

Now I was a suffering, speechless stranger,

and if every plot I stepped into was a chicken yard,

how could I pick out my own bad chicken?

Now Mame Diaga said, "There is a chicken,

under the moon, fearing a knife


from someone else's yard."

So under the spell of the chicken's moon I set out, heart

nearly broken, ignorant of maps, following a stranger

with swollen legs who trusted the luck of a neighbor.

When this chicken walks by the moon,

my heart flutters open like a summer yard. I yell, 'Stranger! Stranger,

eons ago my knife flew away. We grow old together, my

sweetheart, my neighbor."

[End of interview.]

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