WILSON: --Peace Corps Oral History Project interview with RichardParker, May 4, 2006. (pause)Do a quick sound check, Richard. You want to say something?
PARKER: All right. Hello. This is Richard Parker.
WILSON: Richard if you would, please, give me your full name and tell mewhen and where you were born.
PARKER: Well, my name is Richard Harry Parker, and I was born in PaloAlto, California on June 7, 1943.
WILSON: And did you grow up in Palo Alto?
PARKER: No. My father, I was in Palo Alto, I was born there because myfather was a navy pilot at Moffett Field Naval Air Station. And I grew up, he was career navy, and I grew up in a navy family, traveling from pillar to post. Living different places. One, I will say the most fascinating experience was when I was eleven and we lived on the navy base at Guantanamo in Cuba. Before the revolution. We could go off the base. 1:00
WILSON: And so you went to base primary school there?
PARKER: I went to base elementary there. I was in the base elementaryschool, yeah. Sixth grade.
WILSON: And where for high school?
PARKER: Oh, for high school. Well, we ended up in Corpus Christi,Texas. And I went to Flower Bluff Independent School District for three years. Kind of a little rural school. But I graduated, finally, though, for my senior year we went to San Diego. I graduated from Point Loma High School in San Diego.
WILSON: And your father, or your family, was still involved with themilitary at that--
PARKER: That was about the time he was, he retired, actually, rightafter I got out of high school.
WILSON: And then you did what?2:00
PARKER: Well, I joined the air force. I come from a solidly workingclass background. No one ever got a university degree in my family before I did. And I finally got mine here in Murray at the age of forty-nine. I joined the air force as an enlisted man. I went to North Dakota, to a SAC base. Got electronics training, got some good electronics training, which I always had a background interest in science. After that, I left the air force, went back to California. Lived in California. Worked in the electronics industry there.
WILSON: Okay. Help me a little bit with the years now. You graduatedfrom high school when?
WILSON: '61. Then you did these other things.
PARKER: Did the air force--
WILSON: You were in the air force for three years?3:00
PARKER: Yeah, about that long.
WILSON: Okay. So about '65, you were headed back to--
PARKER: Yes. That's right. I went to work at my first civilianelectronics job in Pasadena in 1965.
WILSON: Those were the Vietnam War years.
PARKER: That's right.
WILSON: You didn't end up in Vietnam?
PARKER: No. Somebody had to stay back here and take care of the B52s onthe SAC bases, you know.
WILSON: I see.
PARKER: And after that, I had fulfilled my obligation and could not bedrafted. So after I got out, it was actually after I got out that the big buildup in Vietnam took place under President Johnson. The draft became a big issue. I didn't have to worry about it, personally.
WILSON: So you went back to California and got involved in theelectronics business.
PARKER: That's right.
WILSON: Doing what?
PARKER: Working as a technician. Electronics technician. Engineeringtechnician. I worked for a branch of Hewlett-Packard. Worked at 4:00several different jobs, actually, over a period of a few years.
WILSON: And when did Peace Corps come into your life?
PARKER: Well, in San Diego, along about 1972, I was getting quite boredwith purely technical work. And I felt like I really needed something more, something more than that. In fact, the jobs working electronics had always, my problem had always been a kind of creeping boredom with doing purely technical work all day, every day. After a while, it got to me. A friend of mine in San Diego told me, "You should join the Peace Corps." She had a very strong personality. "You belong in the Peace Corps. That's what you should do. You'll probably love it." And I can thank her for, it never had occurred to me. So I contacted 5:00Washington, and I got an application package, and I applied.
WILSON: Was she somebody who had served in the Peace Corps?
PARKER: No, no. Not at all.
WILSON: But knew something about the Peace Corps and something about youand she made--
PARKER: Well, she didn't have any special knowledge. She just thoughtthat the Peace Corps and I would be a good match. But she was a very astute judge of character, I think. Personality and character.
WILSON: So what would you say your motivation was to join the PeaceCorps? Boredom with your electronics job?
PARKER: Boredom with my current life. And I had it in the back of mymind somewhere, I did have a certain longing to travel internationally.
WILSON: But you'd not fulfilled this part of, your air force career--
PARKER: Not in the air force, no, no.6:00
WILSON: Although one might have thought you might have.
PARKER: No. I got to explore the farmlands of North Dakota.
WILSON: What do you remember about that application process?
PARKER: Well I remember a fat package of papers to fill out, anddetails of my background and educational experience. And of course, I had to report that I had no university degree. I'd taken some night courses. I'd been doing that off and on. I was certainly interested in getting more education. But I had no degree of any kind. But I had my experience. And the fact is, the Peace, that was not a bar to Peace Corps service. A university degree is not a requirement, or at least it wasn't at that time. I remember the eight references going around, contacting people, work references, personal references and so forth. And handing them the paperwork. 7:00
WILSON: And how long did it take for you to be accepted? And did yourequest a particular part of the world, or the country?
PARKER: They asked me if I had a preference, and I marked Africa. AndI think from the time I turned in all the paperwork and my references, turned in their reports, it was probably about three months till I got a letter telling me that I had been evaluated as acceptable for Peace Corps service. In those days, they did not recruit you for a specific position. They reviewed your qualifications and your application, decided if you were qualified. And after that, they then went about seeing what they could match you up with.
WILSON: And so what were you accepted for?8:00
PARKER: Well, they finally gave me, they sent me an offer. They saidthere's an opening for an electronics specialist in the Ivory Coast, in West Africa.
WILSON: And was that part of a larger group of electronics folks? Orjust a group of folks going to Ivory Coast?
PARKER: That was, in this case, it turned out to be an individualreplacement. They had an electronics specialist at the university. Actually, it wasn't a university. It was connected to the University of Abidjan. But he had suddenly quit and left. They needed to replace him. They needed someone with electronics skills to work with the equipment at the university. The language labs, and the microteaching lab, the closed circuit TV systems that they had. So, in the Ivory Coast, there was a position for one electronics specialist. There 9:00wasn't any electronics program going on at that time. This was not a vocational education program, either. I got into that later. They just needed somebody with electronics skills at the university. It was an individual replacement, so I didn't go with a group. And--
WILSON: So--Okay, go on. Tell me about that.
PARKER: Well, Monsieur Retord, who ran the audiovisual languagedepartment at the university was screaming for a replacement. So they decided to violate the Peace Corps Act of Congress. They selected me. I accepted it. And they sent me directly to the Ivory Coast. I still had to stop by Washington for two days. Then directly on the Pan Am West Africa flight to Abidjan without one day's training. And the next day reported for duty at the university to Monsieur Retord. And 10:00I didn't speak a word of French. Not one word of French. I flew on the Pan Am West Africa flight trembling, clutching my Berlitz French for Travelers book, which was useless. And this was a violation of the Peace Corps Act of Congress. So I did have a Peace Corps, one of the higher Peace Corps administrative types in later years told me he'd never heard of that happening. So I don't know if anyone else, they ever did this to or for, it was kind of the parachute drop into the jungle. Do you choose to accept this mission?
WILSON: All right. So you went directly with no training. Alone witha job assignment. What happened when you arrived? Other than this man was waiting for you.
PARKER: Not at the airport, no. It was Peace Corps people who picked11:00me up at the airport. I do remember getting off the plane and discovering, I'd come from California, which is kind of a desert climate. It's very mild and very dry climate. I got off the plane there in the tropics. And discovered I couldn't breathe. Which set me back a little bit. It was kind of like--(wheezing) The air was so hot and thick and heavy. And I remember wondering will I have to wait a full week for the next Pan Am West Africa flight, or can I turn around and get back on the plane right now? I walked off the plane. And it did take a while to acclimatize. Literally, the climate. It took me about three months. After that, I was completely comfortable.
WILSON: And give me the date, or the year.
PARKER: October, 1973.12:00
WILSON: '73. Did the Peace Corps staff in Abidjan provide some help toyou? Some training for you?
PARKER: They were very helpful. Just very helpful. And there was acommunity of volunteers there that I immediately took to. They were very good, very good to me. And there were volunteers who were alerted that they needed to really kind of take care of me, because I had no preparation whatsoever, spoke no French. And here I was in this city that, one thing that shocked me was they took me to my, where I was going to live and it was a very modern apartment building. Air conditioned apartments. I actually used the air conditioning the first month, until I got the electric bill. At that time I was beginning, fortunately I was acclimatizing. I realized I could not afford to run the air conditioning. So I adapted and turned it off. But it 13:00was so modern. In some ways, my lifestyle improved from the way I'd been living in California. It was rather luxurious. I lived about a kilometer from the Hotel Ivoire, which was an Intercontinental Hotel with bowling alley, supermarket, manmade lagoons where you could rent your boat and boat to the casino and gamble all night long. I didn't do that, but this was what it was like.
WILSON: So your apartment had what kind of provisions? You say it was--
PARKER: Well, it was a three-bedroom apartment. I lived alone in it.It was generally furnished throughout. I wouldn't say the furnishings were luxurious. But we got a little Italian refrigerator. Brand new one the Peace Corps gave me. And the fateful Honda 70 motorcycle. I'd never ridden a motorcycle.
WILSON: But the housing was provided by the Peace Corps? Or by the14:00university?
PARKER: In the Ivory Coast, the government, the local governmentresponsibility for housing the volunteers who come. So it was government university housing. I only had to pay utilities.
WILSON: Okay. So that would account for the quality of the housing,perhaps. Because it was being provided.
WILSON: It would be the same if it were a family of several as opposedto a single man.
PARKER: They would put them up in the same quarters. We didn't havefamilies. We did have the occasional married couple. But they didn't have children.
WILSON: So tell me about the job. What was the job? Or maybe, before weget to that, how did you learn French? 15:00
PARKER: Well, I was suddenly immersed in it. French sounded to me likethe rain on the roof. It was absolutely incomprehensible. I couldn't tell where one word started and another stopped. Which might be what a person who's never been exposed to English might feel the same way. But it is a very fluid language. Everybody spoke French. Of course, the place was full of French people who lived there. They have very close relations to France because it's part of their economic prosperity, general prosperity of the Ivory Coast. Of course the Ivoirians all spoke French unless you got way out in the bush, in the villages where they just couldn't have that much education. Then they would speak only their own African languages. Whatever the tribe happened to be. 16:00But the Peace Corps volunteers all spoke at least passable French, because they'd already gotten--the ones who had just arrived had come the previous summer, gone through intensive training and were by that time at least somewhat conversational. So I was the only person I knew who didn't speak French. This wasn't easy. It made me feel very stupid. Which is one good reason why the Peace Corps has this rule that you don't send a volunteer over there and put them into service without any language training. But the Peace Corps arranged a tutor for me. He was an Ivoirian teacher. His name was Noel. And he worked for the Peace Corps. Part of his work was for the Peace Corps. And he taught French. He taught French as a foreign language. And I got one month of intensive lessons with him. He actually came to my apartment every afternoon for three hours. Every day. And he was an excellent teacher. He just worked me and worked me and worked me. Each day it 17:00was to the limit of what I could handle. After a month, I discovered I was making sense out of this language. I was understanding what people were saying, and I could, I certainly had enough French by that time I could take care of my basic needs and get around and go shopping and handle myself at least marginally. So, it was a start.
WILSON: And any kind of orientation to the culture? Any training in thatrespect at all?
PARKER: Just a parachute drop into the jungle. That was it. I hadto pick it up as I went along. And it was a combination of French, intensely French culture, overlaid on Africa. Which was absolutely fascinating to me. It was quite a blend.
WILSON: So what was the job? I mean, describe the job.18:00
PARKER: Well the job was at what they call CERAV,which was theaudiovisual branch of the university there for language training and teacher training. They had some very sophisticated language labs. It was French equipment, by the way.
WILSON: So you had to read French as well.
PARKER: Yeah. I had to try to read the technical literature in French.And you know, I did start learning technical French, by the way. But they needed someone basically to take care of their language labs and their closed circuit TV systems. Their microteaching lab and all that. That was the job. They needed a technician.
WILSON: And so on a daily basis you went from your apartment to theuniversity?
PARKER: I went to the department. And there was a workshop there.It wasn't very well equipped, but I had to try to make do. Oh, I also then became the Peace Corps technician for the volunteers. When 19:00their little cassette radios failed and so forth, guess who got them? So I think I did win some people's hearts and minds by keeping their equipment going.
WILSON: In terms of becoming acclimated, how did you feel as you didthat? I mean, you said something about it was like stepping off a plane and sort of being parachuted into the job. You immediately got some help on the language. At what point did you say to yourself oh, no, I guess I don't have to get on that plane to turn around and go back? Did 20:00that happen right away? Or did that take a while?
PARKER: Well, it didn't take too long for me to decide well, this isworthwhile. I discovered pretty quickly I could breathe, in fact. That was just the very initial shock. But I didn't go through any, I wouldn't say I went through a difficult culture shock at that time. I went through an adjustment. And a lot goes on subconsciously, emotionally. My living conditions were certainly easy enough. I got to enjoy the motorcycle, too. They had a modern auto route system in Abidjan that I was racing around on.
WILSON: And so if you were, if your assignment was just at theuniversity, why did you have a motorcycle at all?
PARKER: I had to get around Abidjan. So the volunteers in the city,21:00at least, I think it was only Abidjan, as I recall, we got the Honda 70. And the volunteers up country, like very commonly the English teachers, TEFL program, they would live in towns all over the country. Probably any town they had a lycee, which is a French high school. French style. By the way, the educational system was absolutely transplanted from France. They even took their big exams on the same day they took them in Paris. Those volunteers in little towns got a mobilette. It's kind of like a motorized, it's a step below a real motorcycle. But it does have a motor on it.
WILSON: So you had to learn to ride a motorcycle, too.
PARKER: Well, that wasn't hard. That didn't take long.22:00
WILSON: And that was your local transportation. What did you do forrecreation?
PARKER: Went swimming at the Hotel Ivoire. Went to Peace Corpsparties. They might occasionally have events at the university that I went to. Went to movies in town. And I developed a very serious hobby that stuck with me. It's been a serious hobby for many years now, photography. I discovered at the university, in one section of the university. The United Nations had, I think it was, well, some branches of the United Nations had set up a darkroom for doing black and white photo processing and printing. And I had bought a camera 23:00before I went over there. And there was a French Canadian working in this lab who had responsibility for the darkroom. And I asked him, I was very interested in this. Could he show me how does this work? So one day he took an hour or so and he walked me through the process of developing the film and making the prints, printing on the paper from the negatives and so forth. And I was absolutely fascinated. I was instantly hooked. And so I became a photographer. I started documenting everything I could find, buying black and white film, and then going into the darkroom. And then I started a kind of service for the Peace Corps volunteers who wanted to do black and white photography. They would give me their film and I would process it for them and make the print.
WILSON: Well this was your recreation, avocation.24:00
PARKER: An avocation. I would call it an avocation or a serious hobby.I kept developing that. And I finally started making slideshows with 35 millimeter slides. And after that, every time I lived overseas anywhere, I did a project overseas, I would do my best to produce a slideshow, put it to music, make it as technically proficient and artistic as I possibly could. And then I just love to show people what I had seen and experienced. I still have all these slideshows downstairs in a closet. They're all there. Even though slides are obsolete now. You have to do PowerPoint presentations today.
WILSON: What would you say a typical day might have been like for youat Abidjan? 25:00
PARKER: Well, a typical workday, I would get up in the morning and havesomething for breakfast and ride my motorcycle to the university. Go into CERAV, poke around with the technology, see what needed to be done. Then go home for what they called the siest, which they took from Spanish, but since it's French it's not a siesta. They call it the siest. And everyone has to go home for about two hours in the middle of the day. After all, it's the tropics. I might get invited home to somebody's house for lunch once in a while.
WILSON: Did you do any cooking for yourself?
PARKER: Oh, I had to. I did all my own cooking.
WILSON: So what did you find yourself eating? Local foods? Americanstyle food? French food?
PARKER: I kind of adapted, I didn't at that time, I really didn't know26:00how to do traditional African cooking. I didn't know how to so I would have that out at a restaurant. Where I discovered that the traditional African cooking in the tropics in West Africa is loaded with pima, which is actually red pepper. It keeps it from, but you probably know something about that yourself. It keeps it from, I always figured it kept it from spoiling in the tropics, because nothing could possibly survive, no microorganism could survive in that. And my, it was hot food. But good. I liked the African cooking very much. Especially peanut sauce. There were a lot of things like that. I didn't cook that at home. I would go shopping and of course all the French people lived there, you go to the market, go to the marche and buy, you just buy hamburger, you know, make hamburgers on French bread with avocado. 27:00Those were great burgers. Fresh off a cow.
WILSON: And you had a full kitchen in this apartment?
PARKER: Pineapples. It was a small kitchen, but I had everything. Itwas a modern kitchen. It was all very modern lifestyle. So I liked to travel around the country, you see, go visiting friends in other towns.
WILSON: Well tell me, yeah, tell me about that. On your motorcycle,I presume.
PARKER: No. I did not take my motorcycle. It was just a Honda 70.
WILSON: So how did you travel?
PARKER: Well, I would travel on the buses. Or actually, most often,going between towns in the Ivory Coast, I would travel on, sometimes they call it the mille kilo, which is a kind of bus. But more often, the bush taxis. They called them taxi brousse in French. It's a bush taxi. You go to the gare where the taxis congregate. And you buy 28:00your ticket and you pay the guy and get in the taxi and wait until it's packed so full that you can hardly breathe inside. And then you take off. And you head to the town that that taxi's going to. Looking at the remains of the wrecked vehicles along the road, along the way. And wondering whether you'll survive or not.
WILSON: And what were you doing in these other towns?
PARKER: Well, I would visit other volunteers. I would visit friends.
WILSON: So you got to know other Peace Corps volunteers, even though youweren't a part of any particular training group, or you didn't have a built in--
PARKER: Oh, yes.
PARKER: Sure. I mean, I landed in the community when I got there.And I got to know people very quickly. And then when volunteers from 29:00up country, as we called it, wanted to come to the capital for some reason, they had business with the Peace Corps office, who knows what, sometimes they would come down and stay at my apartment, since I had this three bedroom apartment.
WILSON: It became the local hostel for Peace Corps.
PARKER: Some of the, yes, some of the time. Yes, that's right. And thesummer, the one summer I was there, I went with friends on the train into Upper Volta, which is now called Burkina Faso. And went all the way to Ouagadougou, the capital. That was very interesting. Leaving the tropics, going into the Sahel region. You could see it was much poorer than the Ivory Coast.
WILSON: Drier climate?
PARKER: Of course. Yeah, it's on the edge of the Sahara.30:00
WILSON: Any other vacation trips outside the country?
PARKER: Yes. A very interesting one. At Easter time, I went with agroup, two other volunteers and I, traveled with a group of students from the University of Abidjan to other West African countries. We went east to Ghana, Dahomey, Togo, and Nigeria. We flew from Abidjan to Lagos to start the trip, then went by bus from there.
WILSON: Back up.
PARKER: We flew to Lagos, then from bus, well, we first worked our wayaround Nigeria, at least around southern Nigeria, to the major cities. Staying at different campuses of the University of Nigeria. Very interesting arriving in Nigeria at the airport. Our plane landed, and as we got out, I noticed the plane was completely surrounded by soldiers with assault rifles. A ring right around the plane. Why? 31:00This is strange. Well it turns out that at that time --they may not do this anymore --at that time, the government was so worried about exiles returning with a plane loaded full of guerillas for a coup, that every plane that arrived as surrounded. At least, maybe if it arrived, the Air France from Paris, no. But if it arrived from--
WILSON: Another West African--
PARKER: --another African country, they surrounded the plane withsoldiers before anyone got off.
WILSON: And so you traveled some in the southern part of Nigeria.
PARKER: Yes. We got over as far as Igboland. The Igbos lived inSoutheast Nigeria. That was very interesting. We stayed at the university in Enugu, which is the main city in that part of Nigeria. 32:00And at breakfast I met a medical student who volunteered to take me on a tour of Enugu. And it turned out that he had been an undergraduate student when the Biafran War broke out. I think it was '68. This was '74, Easter of '74. I think the war broke out in '68 and went till about '71 or '72, something like that. But that was a war of secession. The Igbos were trying to create their own homeland. And they called it Biafra. They seceded from Nigeria. And then the federal government in Lagos declared war. And they had a long, horrible, bloody war until Biafra was completely surrounded and defeated. But he had left the university and joined the Biafran Army. And before it was over, he became a colonel with a battalion of commandos he was in charge of. He 33:00took me around and showed me. One thing we saw driving across Igboland was the wreckage of the war. You know, destroyed military vehicles. Buildings shot to pieces. So he told me his war stories. He said it was enough for him. He hoped he never saw another war.
WILSON: And then you went back up the coast by bus? Is that what you'resaying?
PARKER: Along the coast by bus. All the way back to Abidjan.
WILSON: And what was that like? There were, what did you say? Two othervolunteers and some students?
PARKER: Two other Peace Corps volunteers and basically it was a studentexpedition from the University of Abidjan. Ivoirian students.
WILSON: So there was a large group of--
PARKER: How big was it? Maybe thirty. Something like that.34:00
WILSON: So you had your own bus to go back on?
PARKER: That's right.
WILSON: It was a charter bus. It wasn't public transport.
PARKER: No, no. We had our own bus.
WILSON: That must have been a fascinating trip.
PARKER: That was quite a trip, yes. Very interesting. I do remember,also, another little image that comes back to my mind is at night, the night we arrived in Lagos, we went somewhere, I can't remember. So the other two volunteers and I were in a kind of small bus. We were sitting at the back of this little bus. And we were caught in the infamous Lagos traffic. They call them "go slows," traffic jams. And they don't have emission controls on their vehicles. And the air, you could almost see the fumes in front of your face. And we were started to wheeze. And Brenda, so I was with Libby and Brenda were the other 35:00two volunteers, and Brenda said, "Is it always, is the air always this bad?" And a middle-aged man from behind the newspaper lowered the newspaper, looked up, and in impeccable British English said, "But of course." Then went back behind his newspaper. (laughs)
WILSON: So was the Peace Corps what you thought it was going to be whenyou joined?
PARKER: I should point out this was only my first Peace Corps experience.There was a second one. Okay, well you know about the second one.
WILSON: No, I didn't know about that.
PARKER: Morocco. North Africa.
WILSON: We'll get to that one. But anyway, was the first experiencewhat you expected?
PARKER: I couldn't really anticipate it, except that the lifestyle inthe Ivory Coast, this was one of the most affluent, rapidly developing 36:00countries the Peace Corps was in. In fact, it was one of those places where some people would question is this the right country for the Peace Corps to be in? I don't think they really were in such a situation. The Ivorian government wasn't in a situation where they had to depend on free labor from the United States. But the real point of it, I think, the way my thinking has developed, yeah, it's fine to go do practical, actual, concrete work in poor countries, to help them. But even in the Ivory Coast, even if they weren't that poor, even though not that needy, the real point of the thing is building these international bridges between our country and the people of other countries. And helping people here understand more about the rest of the world.
WILSON: Did you have any kind of host country counterparts? Were you37:00expected to be training an Ivoirian technician to replace you? And how did that go?
PARKER: No, they didn't have that program. And that was, I would callthat a weakness of the program. They just, the Peace Corps responded to what the government asked for. And as I say, the Frenchmen at the university of Abidjan needed a technician. And through government channels, that was requested from the Peace Corps. But there was no program to train, I wasn't involved in a program to train Ivoirians to do that kind of work. That came in Morocco, later.
WILSON: So tell me again how long, what the time period was that youwere in the Ivory Coast?
PARKER: October '73 to October '74, when I had my motorcycle accident.38:00
WILSON: Ah. You better tell me about that.
PARKER: Ah, well. Well, it all started one night with a dream.
WILSON: With a dream? (laughs)
PARKER: Some mysterious things happen in Africa. And this dream couldhave happened anywhere. But I did. I had a dream where I was riding my motorcycle around the auto route in Abidjan at night, and came upon some sort of an accident. I saw a group of people by the side of the road, and I stopped. Got off my motorcycle, and I saw that they were gathered around someone who was injured on the ground. And after a few seconds, I turned and got back on my motorcycle. And as I got on the motorcycle, I looked down and saw my left arm covered with blood. And I woke up. And I thought that was such a vivid dream. It's anxiety. 39:00It's African traffic anxiety. Motorcycles are dangerous enough anyway. That's it. I think it was two nights later I was traveling on the auto route on my motorcycle and I had an accident and severely damaged my left arm. Compound bone sticking out, blood all over my left arm.
WILSON: And that then led to your early departure?
PARKER: Oh, yes. Of course. There wasn't even such a thing as anorthopedic surgeon in the Ivory Coast. And the Peace Corps doctor there, V.A. Finstad, would not have let me go into the hospital there. Not with a severe injury. The policy was to evacuate, either to the army hospital in Frankfurt, Germany, or back to Washington. So I went to Washington. I had to stay in his house for two days before I could get on the flight. And then I went out with my arm in a sling and 40:00a bottle of codeine tablets and flew to Washington. Laid overnight in a hotel there and then flew from New York to Washington and took a bus out to George Washington University Hospital. Walked into the emergency room. And my fingers swollen up like sausages by that time. Tremendous swelling, and my hand was dislocated and wrapped around the wrong direction. And I walk in and said, "I brought you this from Africa." (laughs) They were a little startled by that. And they took X-rays of it and said my wrist looked like Grape Nuts. That's what the doctor said when he looked at the X-ray. It had been destroyed. Fragmented. So I had to have surgery to reconstruct my wrist.
WILSON: Peace Corps Washington had alerted the hospital of your imminent41:00arrival?
PARKER: I don't think the hospital knew, no.
WILSON: But Washington? But Peace Corps Washington knew you were comingback?
PARKER: I expect so. But I didn't go directly there. That was onlyafter I was in the hospital a week. And then finally they released me. And then I had some business with Peace Corps offices there. And I was mustered out of the Peace Corps. Discharged and turned over, because it wasn't something I was going to recover from quickly. So I was turned over to a disability claim with the Department of Labor, and flew back to San Diego. And then had follow-up medical care with an orthopedic surgery group there in San Diego. Then finally when the cast came off, I had physical therapy for months to regain the use of my hand.
WILSON: And do you feel that the Peace Corps provided adequately for you42:00medically in that situation?
PARKER: Completely. It was total coverage. I got top quality care.Every penny paid for, including all the follow-up with the Department of Labor sending me a check every month to live on.
WILSON: That's interesting. Based on what? Based on the cost of livingin San Diego? Or based on what your salary had been as a Peace Corps volunteer?
PARKER: I'll tell you, it wasn't something I really could have lived onindependently in any decent fashion. It wasn't that much. But it was enough because I just went back and moved into my mother's apartment for my rehabilitation, you know? Which was fine. I still had family back there I could stay with. And I knew I wanted to go back into the Peace Corps. It finally turned out, after a long enough time, they 43:00decided no I couldn't, it just had been too long, and I couldn't return to the job in the Ivory Coast.
WILSON: In Ivory Coast.
PARKER: It was too long. I couldn't go back into the Peace Corps untilI got an official medical clearance that I had stabilized and recovered from this. And that took a long time. It was about a year and a half. So what was I to do while I waited with these checks coming in? Well, I had become very interested in French. I even had an experience, I'll tell you another dream I had. Seven months into my experience in the Ivory Coast, I had a dream in which I burst out speaking fluently in French, like a dam bursting, and it gushed through me like glossolalia, like automatic writing or something, only verbally. And that was the key that after seven months this language was incubating on a very deep, subconscious level. An experience like this has a lot to do 44:00with my later career teaching English as a second language, because it gave me the really deep experience, the authentic experience of what students go through when they have to go to another country or come here and learn English. But I was very interested in French. I had kind of fallen in love with the language. I wasn't that great at it. Dialogue in the movies still left me in the dust, but I was very interested in it. So I used those checks, and I went off and studied French for a semester at the Sorbonne University in Paris. And I had a wonderful five months in Paris. That was in the spring of '76. Shortly after that, I was able to rejoin the Peace Corps.
WILSON: Okay. Before we get into that, let's flip this tape over.45:00
[Tape one, side a ends; tape one, side b begins.]
WILSON: Side two, tape one, of interview with Richard Parker, May 4,2006. Richard, I think you were about to tell me about your second Peace Corps career. This would have been, give me the dates again, if you would.
PARKER: For the second one?
PARKER: You know, before we go to the second one, there's one thingthat I learned and saw happening in West Africa that I thought was very important to mention.
PARKER: And it's what I could see going on with the young Ivoirianspsychologically. That most of them grew up in traditional African society unless they happened to be the children of the affluent middle classes or the ruling classes, whatever, in the city. Most of them 46:00who even came to the university grew up in a town or village in a very traditional African family and society. But what happened in school was, they had a French school system. A very modern, intensely French, Westernized school system. And you sometimes saw this kind of cultural schizophrenia taking place. Like they had to make a choice. And you saw some of them making choices to become as modern and French as they possibly could, and to kind of look down on what was traditionally African. You saw that happening. And you saw also, sometimes, I would say some sort of rebellion against that. Or maybe more often just confusion, you know. I remember I was visiting one volunteer who was an English teacher. And I was helping her grade compositions from 47:00her English class. Like little blue book compositions, essays. So I read this essay from one of her students. And the story was that this teenager had left his village. He'd gone to the local city, you know, the town that had the lycee. He was going through the French school system. Came time for a big traditional festival in his town. He decided not to go. He just wasn't interested in that sort of thing anymore. Didn't really believe in it. Well the fact was, he developed some sort of mysterious stomach ailment. He got some severe stomach pains. He had to go into the clinic in the city, and the doctors couldn't find out what was wrong with him. It was all very 48:00mysterious. But finally a fetisher from his village came to visit him and told him, "The reason you're here is because you didn't come to the traditional ritual back in your town with your family. And your parents were there, and you didn't come. And the kid in the essay said he repented on the spot. He realized it was true. He was instantly cured of his stomach problem. Although before that, a friend of his in the school, from the same village, was going back and told him, "You should come back to the festival." And his response was, "Nonsense. We're no longer living in the past tense. We are modern now. We don't believe in such things." Well, after the fetisher visited him and he went through all this pain and suffering, he realized the error of his ways, and he said he would never miss another festival back in his town. I thought that was a great story. It just laid right out this kind of conflict that they go through. 49:00
WILSON: Yeah. Okay.
PARKER: We also had some very strange things happening where PeaceCorps volunteers, I think, in some cases, ran up against an entirely different, what for them was an alien mentality that no one finally could really penetrate or completely understand. And we had one volunteer who taught English up country in a little town. It happened that outside of his town, there was a section of forest that they told him was a sacred forest. And he shouldn't go into the sacred forest. Well being a typical irreverent, modern, young American, one Saturday he just went on a jaunt right into the sacred forest. And of course he saw it was just another section of forest. There was nothing different about it. And he went back home. And the next morning, he woke up totally paralyzed. Now I understand he could only move his eyes. I 50:00got this story from Joan Hettrick, who was the Peace Corps nun. She was on loan from the Dominicans to teach medical lab technology at the University of Abidjan. And she told me her experience of this. And she said, "He could only move his eyes." They brought him down to Abidjan. And the Peace Corps doctor couldn't do anything with him. So they shipped him up to the army hospital in Frankfurt. They couldn't find anything wrong. They couldn't find any bacteria, virus, microorganisms, poisons in him. They finally sent him to a big nervous system rehabilitation unit in Texas. And he made a slow recovery there. I understand he eventually completely recovered. But that's not the only story. That's just an example. (laughs) And sometimes no 51:00one seems to be able to explain just what happened.
WILSON: I have heard other such stories from volunteers. So tell meabout your second Peace Corps experience, when you went in, how that came about.
PARKER: Well, I finally got my medical clearance. I went through myadvanced French training in Paris.
WILSON: At the Sorbonne.
PARKER: Yeah, at the Sorbonne in Paris. And had a wonderful timethat spring in Paris. Made a lot of friends. And lived in Cite Universitaire, which was a big campus for student housing on the south side of Paris, where they had a different house for every country. And I lived in the Japanese house, the only American there. But I went 52:00back home and finally reapplied for the Peace Corps and was accepted to go to Morocco. And in June of '77, I went, this time with a group. I got my training I went with a big summer group. And we went on a chartered flight from Atlanta to the capital, to Rabat, Morocco. And went into training. Lived at a lycee, a girls' lycee that was empty for the summer, there in Rabat.
WILSON: And what was, what were the jobs to be there?
PARKER: Well for me, I was recruited to, this time, to get into avocation education program teaching electronics, or helping with things like curriculum development and teaching of electronics at a big government vocational education center in Casablanca, the big city. 53:00
WILSON: But tell me about the training.
PARKER: Well the training for me, more than anything else, was Arabic.They didn't, they had, well, actually, I volunteered for the TEFL training, too, since they didn't have any training for the vocational education people other than the Arabic. Most of them took French, because they considered they should speak French for the school system. But since my French was on quite an adequate level by that time, I went ahead and went into the Arabic training, which was a good thing. Because Morocco is really, as much as they use French, and as common as French is there, still, it's an Arabic speaking country. So I went through intensive Arabic training. And also, I volunteered and was allowed to go into the TEFL training for English teachers. 54:00
WILSON: And how long was that training?
PARKER: This was all about two and a half months.
WILSON: And then your assignment was to do the curriculum development.
PARKER: General, general advisor/consultant, aide to teaching theelectronics students. Young Moroccans who had gotten into this government program to train their own technicians.
WILSON: And this was where?
PARKER: Le Centre du Formation Professional. The Center ofProfessional, Vocational Education is what it means. Vocational education center in Casablanca.
WILSON: Okay. And what were your living arrangements there like?
PARKER: In Morocco, we were on our own to go find a place to live. And55:00after training, I went to Casablanca. I did rent an apartment with another volunteer for one year. After that, I switched, and I rented a room in a big apartment run by an elderly Swiss lady who was really one of the most amazing people I knew in Morocco. And something like a very lively grandmother, I'd have to say. She's a wonderful person, absolutely wonderful person. And she was friends with a number of the Americans there, and some of the other volunteers. But I rented a room in her apartment.
WILSON: Did you cook for yourself there?
PARKER: Yeah, I cooked for myself. I did. I had kind of mini kitchenfacilities off of my room there. Or I went out to eat. North African 56:00food is absolutely fabulous. The traditional Moroccan food, it's a tremendous kind of cuisine. Mixed in, then with the French influence. And then I could go out to a traditional little Moroccan restaurant, and get a big bowl of rich, thick, steaming harara, the traditional soup, for one dirham, which is about a quarter. I never had any problems living on what the Peace Corps gave me. I'm a frugal sort by nature. And you know, it was no problem.
WILSON: What were your classes like there?
PARKER: Well, I wasn't assigned to teach regular classes. I worked withthe teachers. 57:00
WILSON: Ah, okay. So you do workshops for them or something?
PARKER: Nothing that formally organized, no. Basically what I didwas I spent a year fighting the bureaucracy. It was a government bureaucracy under the Ministry of Social Affairs. And I spent a year fighting the bureaucracy. I made friends with the teachers and all. This is when the students, the teachers, wonderful. But when it came to trying to actually change anything, or get anything done, I just ran into a brick wall of bureaucracy. For example, the simple, basic, safety procedures. They would, in their lab, they would plug in the equipment by taking a power cord that had bare wires sticking out. Twist the wires and jam them into the outlet. So I decided well here's something really concrete I can accomplish, you know? I can go 58:00out and buy the plugs and connect them to the ends. And I actually went out, found an electronics supply. It's a big city there. You can find a lot of things around. I bought the plugs, came back. And that particular instructor wouldn't let me do it. (laughs) Why wouldn't he let me do it? You tell me. Why? Then I was supposed to, I was told by the director of the school there, they did want me to write a new curriculum for industrial electronics. So I said fine. I had noticed that no one was actually using a written curriculum in my electronics classes. I said, "Can I see the old curriculum?" "No, you have to go talk to the man who is responsible." The keeper of the curriculum, you see. So I went to talk to him and he told me, "Yes. I have a copy of 59:00the curriculum. It is locked in my cabinet. If you want to see it, you must bring me written permission from the director general in the Ministry of Social Affairs in the capital. This was what my life was like. Yes.
WILSON: So were you able to do, do you feel you were able to do anythingwith the teachers themselves, direct a change out, the way they taught or the curriculum that they were using for themselves that it sounds like they made up in some places.
PARKER: They kind of made it up as they went along. Since they didn'tbother with the curriculums, or curricula, that had already been written, they didn't bother with them. And then I got to thinking, if I ever do get permission, written permission from the director general 60:00in the ministry, and I do all this work to create a new curriculum, will that end up locked in Monsieur Ghoulani's cabinet? Under guard, which will show how important he is, because he has exclusive record, control of this curriculum. And what if the teachers continue not to use a curriculum and just freelance it as they go along? Why would I do all that work? But basically, I would say my impact was minimal. And this strung along for about a year. And I finally went to the Peace Corps office and I said, "I have to have another job, or a plane ticket home." I felt like it was hopeless. And they said, "Well, it just so happens we've had a new request for two volunteers to work at school, a government school for handicapped children in Casablanca. You can stay right in Casablanca and switch jobs if you want. So I said well, 61:00that sounds interesting. So I did it. And I ended up working, that was basically a very good experience. I worked at a school with about three hundred handicapped kids, mostly from poorer families around Casablanca. And the school was run jointly by the Moroccan Ministry of Education and the Save the Children Fund from London. And I was able to work there. Actually, bureaucratically, it was much simpler. And the director on the spot was a retired British Army major who came from London. It was more workable.
WILSON: And worked with the individual students, or classes of students.
PARKER: Basically I helped with the administration of the school.
WILSON: I see.
PARKER: I just had a variety of tasks to do helping with, sometimes I62:00went on home visits to research home conditions for the children we had. I also was able to do French/English translating, because this school was being sponsored through the Save the Children Fund, it was partly administered by them, they had a sponsorship program in which people, primarily in UK countries, would sponsor individual children at the school, the poorest ones, and pay their school fees, to help keep them in school, to make sure they didn't end up being forced into some menial labor or something, having to drop out of school. Or end up just on the street because the family couldn't pay the school fees. So I helped administer that program, and I did things like their regular letters that went back and forth between the children and their sponsors. And I did letters from sponsors, translating English to 63:00French, letters from children translating French to English to go to the sponsors. Still having a lot of polio there. A lot of kids, in fact, the most common problem was kids crippled from polio, still, at that time. They had a vaccination program. It wasn't very effective, though. It didn't really get around, they couldn't get the mothers to understand they had to get three doses of the vaccine. Refrigeration failed, vaccine got warm and was ruined. So I'm not sure exactly what the situation is today, but in the '70s it was still a big problem.
WILSON: So you finished out your two years in that.
PARKER: That's right. Oh, yes. And at that time, all motorcycles wereforbidden in the Peace Corps. (laughs) So I couldn't have a motorcycle 64:00accident.
WILSON: You couldn't have a motorcycle accident. What did you do forrecreation in Morocco? Did you do some more traveling while you were there?
PARKER: Oh, I traveled all over the country. Fascinating country. AndI did want to get out of Casablanca and see more of the traditional Morocco. And they had a very good system of roads, transportation, buses. Mostly I took buses all over the country, visiting, traveling, doing my photography. There was a darkroom at the vocational education center, but Monsieur Ghoulani had the key. (laughs) I saved my black and white film, saved it, kept it refrigerated, then took it home and did it all in San Diego after I got home.
WILSON: Even though there was a darkroom--
PARKER: There was a darkroom right there. (laughs)
WILSON: So you weren't able to see what you had done--65:00
PARKER: Till I got home. That's right. Till I got home.
WILSON: You didn't know whether you were getting--
PARKER: I was very happy with the results. And I did get some veryexciting documentation.
WILSON: So how would you compare your two Peace Corps careers? Or yourtwo Peace Corps experiences?
PARKER: The first one was, as I say, when I got there, there was a kindof shock of luxury. Not as much in Morocco. Even though I lived in a modern city in Casablanca, it didn't have the air of new dynamic affluence that Abidjan did. It didn't have, it was older, more traditional. And there was really a lot more evidence of poverty. I mean, there's a lot of extremely poor people there. And I was working with them. I was working in Abidjan, I was working at the university. 66:00The students there were the elite. You know, I found out something about the French school system. As, particularly as it manifests itself when it's transplanted into Third World countries, and that is that the educational system is extremely selective. The students, and I would say this was true either in West Africa or Morocco, students who graduated from the lycee, which is comparable to a high school graduate, would be about two percent of the population. And they're the only ones, the only people to go to the university. That was basically the same. But in Morocco, I really was able to work directly with very poor people. This was a different experience. And the, although Islam was certainly around in the Ivory Coast, particularly in the north, the north was predominantly Islamic, Abidjan was not. 67:00It was not an Islamic city. It wasn't really. It was more Christian animist traditions, French skepticism, you know. (laughs) Morocco was very deep experience of what in many cases was something like a medieval Islamic society, where faith and belief were so deep, so common, so universal among the people. And that was a very valuable experience for me.
WILSON: And what did you, what kind of associations did you have withMoroccans? Were you, again, were you involved with trying to train somebody to step in to your job after you left? And to establish 68:00relationships with individual Moroccans at all?
PARKER: Of course I had relations with individual Moroccans, yes.In both jobs that I had. At the first one, at the school, although it was very difficult to accomplish anything tangible in their technical education area, personally it was, as I say, I do finally end up thinking it's the most important part of the Peace Corps. I established personal relations, understanding, lots of communication with the people I worked with.
WILSON: So when did you finish up in Morocco? And what did you do next?
PARKER: Well, I finished up in the summer of '79. And I think animportant event that happened there, this was early '79, was the Islamic revolution in Iran. It was right, very early in '79. I'm not 69:00sure if it was January or February. The revolution finally succeeded in Iran, and the shah was forced to leave. And he came to Morocco as the guest of King Hassan. King Hassan II. They were pretty close, had good relations, and came, invited him to Morocco. And he came, and we had violent protests in Morocco. There was, the whole event of this revolution went through Morocco, and I think through the whole Islamic world, like a shock wave. It was just unmistakable shock waves going through. The psychology of it basically was, a great blow had been struck in favor of the common traditional masses of the Islamic world. That was the way it was seen. Must have had a very strong effect on people. It also made it a little tricky for us, because the 70:00whole thing was tainted with war fever. We were warned by the embassy at this time, avoid public gatherings, kind of keep a low profile. At one time when I was walking around in the old medina, the old part of town, I was visiting the capital, nearby Rabat. I was kind of followed by some teenagers who were cursing me, who were taunting me, cursing me. They'd gotten all fired up with this revolutionary spirit. And one problem with it is it tends to draw the thugs out of the woodwork. There are times that can be dangerous, although I don't know of any Americans who were ever hurt in this situation, but it was tricky. It was touchy. When the shah arrived, as I said, there were demonstrations against him. Of course the king had invited him 71:00as the king's guest, and the government doesn't take, they don't take public protests very well. There were some protests in lycees by the high school students. And I knew of one French woman who was, taught in a lycee there in Casablanca where there had been demonstrations. And so the police just came into the, came right into the school one day. Came into her classroom and started beating her students in the classroom. She tried to intervene to protect her own students. They put her in the hospital. Five students were beaten to death. And then a joke went around, which I heard two times, from two different sources. And the joke was, the shah arrived at the airport in Rabat and the king went out to receive him as his guest. Escorted him to the guest palace. By the way, there was a whole Ministry of Palaces 72:00for the king's palaces in Morocco, both domestically and overseas. Worldwide chain of palaces. Well, King Hassan escorted the shah to the guest palace. And when they got there, and they were alone, the king said, "Well I see you brought just two big suitcases. This is all you brought, this is all you brought from Iran. Well, I'm curious to know. What did you think was worth bringing? Can you show me?" So the shah says okay. So he opens the first suitcase and it's full of clothing and dress military uniforms and whatever. The king said, "Well, that's reasonable. Of course you brought all your clothes. What's in the second suitcase?" So the shah opens the second suitcase. It's empty. And the king said, "What? Why did you bring an empty suitcase from Iran?" And the shah says, "Oh. Well, this suitcase is for you." (laughs) One thing the king had going for him, though, he had 73:00more legitimacy than the shah. He hadn't gotten into power with the help of the CIA. He was from an ancient line of Moroccan rulers.
WILSON: So you finished up your time in Morocco and did what? Camestraight back to the United States?
PARKER: I did. I came directly back. After two years, I was exhaustedwith being a foreigner. And I will say that. It's fascinating and educational, this all was. I was tired of being a foreigner. A nasrani, which literally means a Christian, which they call anyone from Europe. But I got back to San Diego. I didn't really have anything to go into as far as launching right into a career continuation. What 74:00I really experienced was a great disjuncture, I think, in my life at that point. After two years in Morocco, this society was so different. Although I hadn't suffered, really, from culture shock going over, nothing severe, I had my worst culture shock coming back. And in fact it was very difficult to readjust.
WILSON: In what way, specifically?
PARKER: A lot of it wasn't specific. It was just a feeling. Anemotional reaction to somehow having trouble readjusting. Part of it was I really didn't have a job lined up. I thought I had done this enough by '79. This had gone on from '73 to '79. But what could I come back to? I could go back and get another job in a laboratory doing 75:00electronics. But somehow I rather, I knew that wasn't going to work for me. I couldn't really go back and then pick up that old life the way I had when I left it in '73. I had to work, you know. So in fact I did work in a couple of electronics jobs. And I moved up, I had some friends in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Bay Area, where I was born. And I did move back to Palo Alto finally in 1980, I moved back up there. And I did work in electronics some more at that time. I took more university courses at night. And then I decided I wanted to do 76:00more international development because again, I had become too involved in that, really, to stop. So I went to Zaire with Habitat for Humanity, which is a different story. Now it wasn't the Peace Corps anymore.
WILSON: Yeah. Okay. So you did that when? In 198__
PARKER: Actually that was in '87. It was quite a while there, yeah.
WILSON: Yeah, there's a time period there. So you were involved inelectronics.
WILSON: You were--
PARKER: Going to school. I was also, based on my experience, I was alsopart time teaching English at private language schools.
WILSON: But you got the bug to go into some kind of development workagain.
PARKER: That's right. Well, actually before I went with Habitat forHumanity, I got involved with the Hesperian Foundation, which is based 77:00in Palo Alto, and they do very, very grassroots medical development work in Mexico. Peace Corps volunteers now get their book, Where There is No Doctor. It's become quite a famous book, like a village health worker's manual. And I went down to Mexico three times, not for long periods of time, but for a few weeks at a time, I went down to their center in (Sinaloa in the Sierra Madres Mountains. Western Mexico. And worked with very poor campesinos in the mountains there, in the village, doing this grassroots medical development work. And specifically, since I had worked with handicapped children in Morocco, I was also working in a new program they'd started, which was long term care for the handicapped children in the area. And they have many poor handicapped children. Just like in Casablanca, only it was a rural setting. What I did for them was documentary photography. Because 78:00that was a skill I had developed. I didn't have medical skills. I developed this skill as my avocation. And then I did documentary photography for them for their slide shows and their publications. They were very happy to get that. So I did that in my spare time, three different times. Then later, I did go to Zaire with Habitat for Humanity. And after that, through the Habitat contact, I went on a project to Armenia in '89, summer of '89, a summer project, to work on a US/Soviet team doing earthquake reconstruction in Armenia after the horrendous earthquake they had in December, '88, which killed about thirty thousand people. Of course that was also done in conjunction with Habitat. Because the entire team, including all the Soviets, 79:00came back to Washington State to work on a Habitat project there for the second half of that project. It was a kind of citizen diplomacy thing. But Armenia at that time was part of the Soviet Union. It was a republic of the Soviet Union.
WILSON: Why would you, what would you say the impact of Peace Corpsexperience was on you ----------(??)--
PARKER: Well it transformed my life. It sent me in a fundamentallydifferent direction that I've never been able to stop. I realized in a way there was no turning back from that. And that's what I'm doing today. I went to Armenia in '89. In 1990, I met Ann, my wife. I 80:00met her there in Palo Alto. We met at St. Anne's Church, right there in Palo Alto. And in two years, we were married. We moved here to Murray. She's a professor of poetry in the English department here. And I taught English as a second language in the university here and got into the master's program. What I did was finally, here, finish up a bachelor's degree. It took me about one more year to finally finish. Finally got a bachelor's degree at the age of forty-nine. And then went into the master's program. Master's in TESOL, teaching English.
WILSON: So that was in 1990.
PARKER: We came here in '92. In '93, they started the program teachingEnglish here. So I was able to start teaching, teaching English to the international students. Started that in '93. As soon as we got here, I became a full time student. Because Ann and I agreed. Why 81:00don't I just finish up a degree here, and I did that. Then I finished the degree while I taught English. Went into the master's program, which was also brand new, in '94. No, it wasn't '94. They started that program in, I think, '96. That's when I got into it. Then we, of course, Ann had been in the Peace Corps. She was in the Peace Corps in Senegal at the same time I was in Morocco. But we didn't meet until much later in California. And we've continued with the international, internationally oriented work. And she took a sabbatical in '98-'99, and we took, by that time we had our two sons. And all of us went to Costa Rica for a year. And I taught at Murray State's sister university in Costa Rica, Instituto Tecnologico. 82:00
WILSON: So you're saying the impact on you was what? One of making you,putting you into forever an international mode of some sort?
PARKER: Not in the sense that I feel I was forced to constantly travelinternationally. That's really not it. Most of the time since the Peace Corps I've spent here. I mean in this country, whether California or Kentucky. Most of the time I've been here, and it has thrown me into the role of some sort of an international bridge, which I feel I've become.
WILSON: And what of your photography? Has that been a part of this all83:00the time as well?
PARKER: Well, as a sideline, yes. Now I do digital photography of myboys and print it out on my computer. It's completely different. And the high art of my African documentation is gone now. But at least I know how to take good photos of my family. But, well, we do travel. We're still traveling. Last summer we went on a university program with a group of students from Kentucky and Tennessee universities. It's the KIIS program. And we went to Morelia, Mexico for five weeks. With the boys, whole family.
WILSON: And your boys are how old at this point?
PARKER: Right now they're nine and eleven.
WILSON: And are they learning to speak Spanish? Are they Frenchspeakers? Or?
PARKER: Oh, we wish. We can pry a few words of Spanish out of them.They were in, they should have gotten a good start in Costa Rica. We 84:00put them in a preschool that was all Spanish. And they had no choice but to try to function in Spanish. It was all day, every day, nothing but Spanish. For nine months while we were down there. And they did start learning. They did start learning. By the time we left there, I heard particularly Liam, the older one, he's about four years old now, I heard him playing with his little cars and figures and characters in the dirt there. "----------?" Oh, it's happening! Look, he speaks spontaneously! He's speaking Spanish to his toys! Then we got back here and they dropped it like a hot rock. They don't have any motivation whatsoever. They don't understand the value of a foreign language. Back here, they're in the English speaking world.
PARKER: And no, they don't have an active interest in it. Maybe they'vegot some foundation that will come back later.
WILSON: What do you think the impact of your Peace Corps service was85:00either on Ivory Coast or on Morocco?
PARKER: Minimal. You want to talk about how I impacted them, absolutelyminimal. They impacted me. And the real, my real Peace Corps job, I think, was the rest of my life. I mean, I wish I could say I could look back and say, in Morocco we had an architect. Bob Dudley, the architect. Young architect out of school. He designed a bus station in his town and they built it. Wow! You can look, you can take pictures of it. Well, I can't do that. I hope I had some effect on people, though. The people to people impact.
WILSON: So, what are you saying? Is Peace Corps about development? Or is86:00Peace Corps about relationships?
PARKER: Well, I think Peace Corps is about development in a moremultidimensional sense than just economics and technology. I mean, that should be part of it. I have no doubt, when volunteers go there they should have specific jobs where they can try to do something tangible. And many of them do. There's no doubt many of them do. Now I heard volunteers, I think both in the Ivory Coast and in Morocco, the largest single program was the English program, teaching English. I heard volunteers say things like, "I'm not sure. Does it really make sense for me to be teaching Moroccan kids to speak broken English? What good is that?" It might. Depends on what business they go into. 87:00Today I teach English on the Internet. I have a virtual classroom, and I teach English to people all over the world. And everyone is trying to learn English. And a lot of it is for professional reasons, because they have professional reasons to speak English. It's more today than when I was in the Peace Corps. It's become the dominant international language. But anyway, about what is development. You can easily become very cynical about some African countries that have gone to pieces since I was there in the Ivory Coast. They were just exploding with development while I was there. Now they have civil war. The country's partitioned. What's happened in the last few decades is really a great increase in the kind of ethnic and religious and sectarian rivalries and conflicts. It's not so much like we're moving beyond that. There's been, it's become enflamed. Nigeria now 88:00has a lot of violent outbreak between the Christian and the Muslim populations. Zaire, since I was there, fell apart in civil war. And up to maybe four million people killed. So you know, you can easily become very cynical about a lot of this. You're not going to go to one of these countries and develop it. It's not that simple. But you can always, you can always work on the personal level. You can work on the relationship level. And then you can work the rest of your life on a kind of educational level to try to help people understand each other.
WILSON: Okay. We need to switch tapes here briefly.
[Tape one, side b ends; tape two, side a begins.]
WILSON: Tape two, interview Richard Parker, May 4, 2006. Richard, what89:00would you say the impact of your Peace Corps experience was on the way you look at the world?
PARKER: Well, there's an impact, one impact is on the way I look at myown society because it always, it's almost a cliche to say you go live outside of it, you get a different perspective on it.
WILSON: I'm sorry, I interrupted you.
PARKER: All right. Well, I was just saying that the Peace Corpsexperience has given me more perspective on my own society, I think. And that doesn't mean I've come to see nothing but faults and blemishes, either. I've come to appreciate a lot about our society. 90:00I think a lot of Americans, they have no idea how privileged we are. They have no idea. If they lived in the slums of Casablanca, in a situation where it was dangerous to criticize the king, for example, you come to appreciate some things. But it's given me, it's given me, I think, a much deeper idea, a much better perspective on the lives, sometimes the very different lives, of people in other countries. How they look at us. Sometimes stereotypes about us, too. Moroccans have stereotypes about Americans. They watch too much television. I had a teacher in the school there, the vocational education institute. He 91:00said, "Is it true, is it true, I saw this new movie once. Americans just pick up a bottle of whiskey, smash the neck of the bottle off on a table, and drink it straight from the bottle?" And I told him, "You watch too many movies." They do. They've got these strange ideas from Hollywood. Another idea, another particular prejudice that they have is about the looseness of Western women. Now I'm not the one really to speak about the experience of Peace Corps women, but I certainly knew a lot of them, heard them talk a lot about it. And some of them could adapt well. The ones that adapted well in Morocco were the ones who knew how to look like they were the most conservative, most chaste, conservative, traditional women on the street. Especially if they went to some kind of Berber town, ----------(??) town, got to be well known in a good, conservative area. Went to the ----------(??), the public 92:00bath with the other women, and spoke Arabic. Like I knew some who did that, did it very well. And they got by with minimal trouble. But they tended to be harassed and followed down the streets by men. It wasn't normally dangerous, but it was just harassment, you know. There was an idea, just the idea of Western women, they're prime bait because they're so immoral. So they have their prejudices about us. We probably have our prejudices about them. If it's not totally --------- -(??) then it's kind of a stereotype we come to have about other people.
WILSON: So what do you think the overall impact of Peace Corps is?
PARKER: Hmm. Well, there's been concrete development, no doubt about93:00that. That's helped in countries. As I say, there are cases like some of the countries I was in where you see things just go into a tailspin. See everything completely reversed, go to pieces. In other cases, in other cases you see real successes. You see concrete, working successes, technical successes. Overall, I think, going back to my old theme, I think the most important contribution has been to expose many, many Americans, many thousands of Americans to a completely different kind of life. In all places around the world. And to expose people around the world to Americans. It is, I think, the diplomatic, and I think we really need that type of diplomacy. 94:00
WILSON: In that context, what do you think the role should be for thePeace Corps in the future?
PARKER: Peace Corps' been adapting in some ways. They've moved intonew countries, like Eastern Europe. I think probably more of the same. I can't think right now, I wouldn't say that the Peace Corps needs to overhaul its basic, its basic approach to things. In some places it has, just the last few years, in some places it's probably become more risky for Americans to work overseas than it used to be. I've wondered, can my sons go overseas in as much comfort as I did. And I 95:00mentioned one of the momentary exceptions to that. At the time of the Iranian revolution, when I was in Morocco. But normally, I was able to go pretty much anywhere I wanted, and feel completely safe. Sometimes that's less true today.
WILSON: Do you, do you, have you maintained any kind of contactwith people in either of the countries you served in? Or with other volunteers with whom you served?
PARKER: At this point, I don't have any ongoing regular contacts. Ihave sporadic contacts with a few volunteers I was with in Morocco. I kept in contact with Joan Hettrick who was, as I said, the Peace Corps 96:00nun in the Ivory Coast. She finally left the convent and got married and moved to New Mexico. She ran the lab services on a reservation hospital in New Mexico. I visited her two times when I was in New Mexico. Her and her husband. I no longer have contact with her. A volunteer who was in Morocco with me started, about three years ago, or has it been four? Maybe it's been four years ago. She organized a website in which volunteers who'd been in Morocco over a period of years could keep in contact with each other, and share their addresses and email addresses. And I was able through that, I was able to get back in contact with several volunteers that I had served with in Morocco. So you know, once in a while, once in a while, I was just 97:00thinking recently that I should email. He's Polish American, and taught English in Morocco. And what I discovered when I got back in contact with him was that he was running some kind of travel agency. He was living near Washington, Washington, DC. And running a travel agency, taking people to Morocco. Tour groups to Morocco. And I was just thinking, I'd really like to email him and find out if he's still able to do that. Like I said, sometimes things have become in some ways much more difficult.
WILSON: Do you look forward to further international travel yourself? Orfor your family?
PARKER: Why, yes. We're going to Germany this summer on another programwith the university. We're going to take the boys.
WILSON: Okay. I guess that's about the extent of the specific questions98:00I have. But is there a story or two that comes to mind that you'd like to relate to me from your Peace Corps experience? Or is there some question I haven't asked that you'd like to answer?
PARKER: Like to answer. More stories. Well, let's see. There's onestory I sometimes relate to people that didn't happen to me personally, but it happened to three of the young Peace Corps women in the Ivory Coast on the summer vacation, when I took the train to Upper Volta. They went to Timbuktu, in Mali. The old, ancient city of the caravan routes. And I'm not sure exactly how they got in. I guess they flew in. But they were scheduled to fly out, come back to the Ivory Coast. 99:00But this time there was a drought in the Segou region while I was there, there was a drought. And they were going to fly out on an Air Mali flight. But the pilot, he made, I think he flew a big triangle between Ouagadougou, Bamako, Mali and maybe Niger and back. And at one stop, he didn't like the price of fuel, so he didn't refuel. So he never made it to Timbuktu. He ran out of fuel, and bellied his plane into the savanna and killed half his passengers. So they didn't get their flight out. And they didn't know how they were going to get back to Abidjan in time. While they were there, one of them had a malaria attack. And from the second floor of their hotel room, they watched a Malian woman give birth to her baby in the street below on 100:00her hands and knees, pick up the baby and walk off with it. This is not something I saw in the Ivory Coast. But when you get up into the more remote areas, you can see things like that. But the way they got out, finally, because of the drought, the US Air Force was flying grain in in cargo like C1, maybe KC135 cargo planes. And they knew one, they found out one was coming. So they went out to the airport and waited, and sure enough, here comes a US Air Force plane. And they ran out and talked to the airmen and said, "We're stuck here. Can we get out?" "Well, of course." More than happy to take the young American women on board the plane. And they flew them out. That's how they got back to the Ivory Coast. And they actually were shuttling an Air Mali pilot at the same time. And they were, what they told me on the flight 101:00back, the airmen were showing off. They were flying down the Niger River very low from bank to bank. "Now look, there are crocodiles! Well look, there are hippos over there!" (laughs) But the passengers in the back were rolling from side to side. So one of the airmen went back to check on the passengers in the back in steerage back there, and this Air Mali pilot said, "What's going on? What are you doing with the plane?" "Oh, don't worry, it's nothing. We're letting the girls fly the plane." (laughs)
WILSON: Well, that's a good story. Anything else?
PARKER: Anything else. I got wonderful stories from the young PeaceCorps couple, married couple from Liberia, that came through. Told me all about visiting the lightning zoe, did you ever hear of the lightning zoe?
WILSON: Lightning zoe, no..
PARKER: A zoe is a wizard, and a lightning zoe has powers over lightning.102:00
WILSON: No, I missed that one.
PARKER: You missed that one.
WILSON: I missed that one.
PARKER: He told me there was this very famous zoe in his area. So oneday he sought him out and said, "You know, I've heard so much about you. Could you demonstrate this power you have?" The zoe said, "Well, sure, but it will cost you a pint of rum." Went back to the town, bought a pint of rum, came out, gave it to the zoe. And the zoe said, "Well, okay, look. You see that rock over there." And he pointed his finger at the rock, and a bolt of lightning came down out of the sky and blew the rock to pieces. He just sat there and his hair curled. He seemed like a very sane and intelligent person but I told you, strange, I heard some of the strangest stories in my life when I was in West Africa.
WILSON: Okay, Richard. Thank you for your time. (pause)Okay, Richard.103:00I think you had another story to tell.
PARKER: Yes. Well, instead of secondhand stories from other volunteers,I did just happen to remember a really rare experience I had in Morocco. It wasn't all that rare for Morocco, but I think it was one of the most notable ones for me. Moroccans, as are Middle East societies in general, are famous for their hospitality. And it's not just hospitality to a friend or relative coming to your house. It's for strangers and travelers. It's a very deep part of their culture. On one vacation time, there were plenty of holidays in Morocco. You've got Islamic holidays, and you've got Christian holidays. One holiday I went with a friend, another volunteer, to visit the Glaoui palace, the Telouet in the high Atlas Mountains. And of course, it's too long a story to tell. But the Glaoui became very famous. They were a Berber 104:00clan. And the Glaoui brothers became something, almost like king makers in Morocco. Under the French protectorate, they gained a lot of power and the French worked with them to actually choose a substitute sultan for the capital in Marrakech. But anyway, when independence came, the Glaouis as collaborators with the French, lost power. And they went into exile. Their palace, they built the most fabulous palace in Morocco. They took decades. The best artisans in Morocco came to help build this thing. Now it's abandoned, decaying. But it's a kind of national, kind of national relic. And they do have a caretaker that takes care of the people. Once in a while, visitors get up there to tour the palace. And it's at a Berber village, the village of Telouet. So we decided we wanted to see the old Glaoui palace. 105:00So we went up there, took buses, finally got up there and walked on out to the village. And it was too late to tour the palace, I think. It was getting late in the day. And we had to stay somewhere. There were no hotels. Well, what happened was, the caretaker, the government caretaker of the palace, found us a place to put our sleeping bags down on the palace grounds. Like an old room adjacent to the palace. Kind of like partly open type of thing. This is all crumbling adobe architecture. He found a place for us to sleep. A family brought us a big load of hay to put under our sleeping bags. Another family, of course the word had gotten around the village, you know, "We've got some nasranis visiting up here, young, two young guys up here." Another 106:00family brought us firewood to build a fire for ourselves. And the caretaker's wife made extra tagine, which is a fabulous Moroccan dish. Lamb tagine. You have to taste it to appreciate it. The caretaker came out with our tagine dinner for us. (laughs) And the whole time we were there, we were treated to this unbelievable hospitality. We were total strangers. We were foreigners. This is the way they treated us. And I remember that evening sitting there, eating the tagine, watching the ancient walls of the palace flickering in the light from our campfire, and the stars coming out. And this sense of absolutely timeless peace settling over me. It was ineffable. 107:00
WILSON: Neat. Good story.
[End of interview]