WILSON: Peace Corps Oral History Project, interview February 2nd with Carolyn Cromer. Carolyn, if you would please, give me your full name and where and when you were born.

CROMER: Carolyn Elaine Cromer, born November 19th, 1969 in Louisville, Kentucky.

WILSON: And did you grow up in Louisville?


WILSON: Tell me a little something about that. You're family background, schooling and so forth.

CROMER: I grew up in the Highlands which is a more eclectic, fairly liberal open minded neighborhood or area of Louisville and I would describe my family as such as well. I'm Caucasian and came from a family of two parents and a sister and fairly average white, middle class American family. A lot of exposure to international students 1:00growing up. We didn't have extended family who lived near us so our Christmases were spent inviting international students who were studying in the United States to spend Christmas Day with us and that really was probably my first experience of bringing the world to my door and the, all the different countries that the students for years that came to our house that we learned about and their cultures and languages, etc. and then, when I was a sophomore in high school, a Swedish exchange student lived with us for a year and that was more wonderful interaction with the rest of the world.

WILSON: How did you happen to have the contact with the international students? Was some member of your family associated with a university or with a program at the university?

CROMER: I don't know if that was a program through the University of 2:00Louisville or if it was through a Presbyterian Church. My father worked at U of L and we belonged to a Presbyterian Church but it was operated out of Harvey Brown Presbyterian and it was just something that my parents were interested in doing and signed up for, I would say we did that for five or six years.


CROMER: My parents are also well read and pay a lot of attention to what's happening in the news and current events and globally and that transferred to my sister and me and so we were aware of and cared about global issues growing up even though we weren't traveling internationally ourselves. We were aware of them.

WILSON: But you had this exchange student, when did you say? Your senior year?

CROMER: No, I was a sophomore--

WILSON: You were a sophomore--

CROMER: In high school.

WILSON: I'm sorry.

CROMER: Right.

WILSON: Okay and how was that?


CROMER: It was wonderful and my first experience traveling and living abroad was my junior year in college when I lived in Britain and I spent Christmas and New Year's with that Swedish exchange student's family in Stockholm so it was a really wonderful relationship, one that still exists and that was an important experience with people living in other cultures and countries.

WILSON: Where did you go to school in Louisville?

CROMER: I went to high school at Atherton.

WILSON: At Atherton, okay, so the exchange student went there with you or--?

CROMER: No, she attended high school with my sister at Seneca--


CROMER: Later, we also had a German exchange student who lived with us for a month and she did go to Atherton. I think that was my senior year and then, we had another relationship with a Guatemalan. He sort 4:00of adopted our family, I think this was through U of L, for two years while he was a student at U of L and then, most recently, my parents have had a ten year relationship with a Chinese family, actually, two families who came to Louisville to study and my parents were their host family and I've spent a lot of time with them as well.

WILSON: So had your parents traveled internationally before all of this sort of started or--?

CROMER: Not, my father had through the Navy but I'm not sure how intensely he got into the cultures since he was just on a ship that was docking for a while at each of these ports. My mother had traveled almost none internationally. I think by that, by the time I was in high school, I think she had spent a week in Spain and that was it. They just, they're very educated people who have a very global awareness and 5:00also have a strong sense of giving back, you know, the blessings or the good fortunes that they have, have had, they like to share with others.

WILSON: Okay, let's stop for one second and do a sound check--

[Pause in recording.]

WILSON: So where did you go to college?

CROMER: Northwestern University in Evansville, Illinois.

WILSON: And you were saying you took your junior year abroad in England?

CROMER: In England, right. One of the things that was important to me when I went to college was the student abroad program there and that was I mean, from my memory a direct influence from those international students who had shared our lives for a brief time so I spent a year living, at the University of Sussex at Brighton.


WILSON: And what did you study at Northwestern?

CROMER: English Lit is my major.

WILSON: Okay and when you graduated, then what?

CROMER: Well, I had attempted to find a way to get to Africa not through a government or religious organization and had written letters to consulates and programs and schools, and there's a book called Alternatives to the Peace Corps, and I had a copy of that and learned that you either have to pay a lot of money or you have to have a marketable skill which I didn't much at that point or you have to go with, tie yourself with a religious organization so probably round about the end of the summer, beginning of fall after I graduated from college--

WILSON: Which would have been?

CROMER: This was in 1991.



CROMER: I gave in and said looks like it's the Peace Corps.

WILSON: Why Africa?

CROMER: Because of a PBS program I had seen on Beryl Markham who was a female pilot. She was the first person to fly from Africa to the, the west coast of Africa to the east coast of North America. And she grew up in Kenya and I was fascinated with her life there and after learning about her, which I was in high school at the time, read books about Africa, took classes in college about Africa, and for me, I really wanted to be in

sub-Saharan Africa.

WILSON: Okay, so you, you gave up on doing it on your own--


WILSON: And that led you to the Peace Corps.

CROMER: Yes. I headed to Eastern Kentucky after graduating from college and had a job there as an environmental educator and working in a 8:00community outreach center in Appalachia and it was during my time there that I applied for the Peace Corps so that application process occurred while I worked--

WILSON: Where? Where in Eastern Kentucky?

CROMER: Well, the P.O. Box was in Beverly, Kentucky. It's a place called Red Bird.

WILSON: Red Bird Mission, it used to be called, right?

CROMER: Right.

WILSON: Right, okay and how did you happen to get into an environmental ed. program from an English Lit degree?

CROMER: I was supposed to be the bookmobile lady which would have been wonderful but right before I got there, they cut that program and they had, I had also written down on my application with this program which was through the Presbyterian church that I had been involved in a 9:00Student Conservation Organization in college and so they asked me about starting a recycling program for the campus, the school and people, two hundred people who worked there at the medical offices, etc., and also, doing an environmental education program so that's what I did.

WILSON: Okay so it's from there that you applied to the Peace Corps?

CROMER: Correct.

WILSON: That was in the summer? Is that what you said? Of '91?

CROMER: It was in the fall of '91

WILSON: Fall of '91, okay and what was that application process like?

CROMER: Well, it was fairly easy for me because I was living in the boonies so my interview was over the phone. I didn't even realize it was my interview until after it was over. I never met my recruiter who was out of Atlanta. It was, you know, the medical part, I had access 10:00to a medical clinic where I worked so that was no big deal. I think the Peace Corps application process is very arduous and I certainly had my bumps along the way but all in all, compared to some people, it was fairly painless.

WILSON: Arduous in what ways if the two things you mentioned were easy for you?

CROMER: Well, they wanted me to pull eight teeth out for instance.

WILSON: Eight? I've heard of two but eight?

CROMER: I believe eight. Well, all my wisdom teeth, maybe they wanted eight filled. Maybe they wanted my wisdom teeth pulled and eight teeth filled and I had to get something from a dentist saying these calcifications have been there for years and they're not going to change, etc., etc. I think that was relatively minor. The biggest 11:00thing that was when I was finally offered Morocco in May of 1992, I turned it down after some thought because primarily because it wasn't sub-Saharan Africa and I had also understood that I was allowed to turn down two countries and still have an opportunity for another invitation before I had to reapply. I was told, once I turned down Morocco, I was told that that was too bad. That was nothing else available and that I could reapply in a year which I, looking back, I think I was the victim of ignorance and probably--

WILSON: Arm twisting?

CROMER: Some numbers games happening in the office which was unfortunate in that I didn't end up in sub-Saharan Africa but fortunate in that I ended up in a wonderful place in a part of the world I probably 12:00wouldn't have ever explored on my own and it's hard to complain. I ended up extending for a year so in the end, considering the kind of experiences I could have had, I really have no room to explain.

WILSON: So you turned it down, then, when they told you too bad, apply in a year, you said oops?

CROMER: I said let me think about this over the weekend. And I talked to a recent returned Peace Corps volunteer from Morocco who was a friend of a friend of a friend and through soul searching and talking with other people who had experience with Morocco, I decided it was worth not having to wait another year. It was worth going for.

WILSON: Okay, so you said yes then sometime in late spring of '92. Then, what happened?


CROMER: I had five weeks until I was to leave the country so I think I worked for two more weeks and then, quit my job and had three weeks to get ready.

WILSON: And was there some staging or medical stuff before you left or how did that work?

WILSON: Yes, we, we met in Philadelphia? It's almost so fuzzy now--


CROMER: I think we, everybody met at a hotel in Philadelphia and this was a, Morocco had been evacuated because of the Persian Gulf War rather that the Peace Corps program in Morocco had been evacuated in '90 I believe. '91 was the first year that they brought volunteers back so I think people were evacuated, the program was evacuated for a year. The first program in '91 or the first group back was small, 14:00maybe 27 people. My group had, I think, 41, 42 people in it. Now, later, I think they had more like 60 people in but we were a moderate sized group for that, you know, for what the country's program had been up to them so about forty of us met and I think we got some shots in the states and they shipped us off--

WILSON: Straight, straight from Philadelphia?


WILSON: And what happened next?

CROMER: We had a ten week stage in Rabat and that took place at a school for teachers that was empty during the summer so we were not living with families. Now, I think they do in the Morocco program which is better so we were living together on a compound and did all of our language and cultural and technical training there. I was in 15:00the health and sanitation program. They had, Peace Corps had, had encouraged me to teach English. I didn't want to teach English because I wanted to be as remote as possible. I didn't want to be in an urban area. I didn't even want to be in a town. What I told them was I want to have to take a vegetable truck to the end of the road and then walk which is essentially what happened so I felt like health and sanitation was going to, I had a better shot at that type of experience than if I was teaching English. Plus, I had some philosophical issues with teaching English so anyway, I ended up in health and sanitation.

WILSON: What was your, what was your language there?

CROMER: Oh yes, well, Morocco has two official languages, French and Arabic, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic which is called Darija but sixty 16:00percent of the population is Berber and I was going to a Berber region so I was taught Tamiazight. I actually spoke something that was closer to Tashelheit which are both dialects of Berber or actually, I think the politically correct term is not Berber but Tamiazight.

WILSON: And so you had ten weeks of language training plus what other components of the training?

CROMER: Medical classes but I think the medical part only lasted six weeks. Cross- cultural training and then, technical training and for the health and sanitation group, we left for a month to go 17:00to the town of Essaouira which is on the coast and we did a very concentrated, technical and language training there and we were doing things like teaching people, doing education programs about water, treating water so it was potable, building latrines, building wells or treating water in wells, contraceptive education, hand washing, germ transmission routes, pretty basic stuff so we learned stuff like how to put a concrete cover on a well or how to build a latrine and the more technical of these issues. It was in the Essaouira province that we got our first experience actually teaching classes out in health clinics and we got to practice our language skills.

WILSON: And how, how proficient did you feel in the language at the end 18:00of your training period?

CROMER: Well, not very. First, I had been taught, well, the dialect I had been taught was not exactly dead on. It was close enough though to where I actually ended up living. I remember when I went to my site, that I could say things like "hello, how are you? Do you have a sister? I have a sister and parents. I need water" so you know, the most rudimentary. I think mostly what the training did, it taught us the Arabic alphabet which was crucial for getting around in Morocco. Now, people who are learning Berber are first taught Arabic for a couple 19:00weeks, just street Arabic. My group was the last group, well, we were the first group learning Berber and the last group that only, that had ten weeks of only Berber and no Arabic and because Arabic is the language that's spoken most heavily in the cities, it is an advantage to have at least some working knowledge of Arabic so that, but, you know--

WILSON: Did, did you have any French?

CROMER: I had taken two years of French in college. They did not teach us any French during our language training and actually, I didn't need French. I spoke Berber with everyone from the villagers where I lived to the Governor of the Province where I lived and I don't think he was Berber but his assistant was so there were, I was much more comfortable in Berber than in French or Arabic and by the time I was setting up 20:00those kinds of meetings with government officials or high government officials. Really Berber was the preferred language for me and there were always Berbers around to translate. Inevitably, somebody was Berber. Oh! We didn't know you were Berber. Yes, I'm Berber and so they could translate for me.

WILSON: So at the end of the training, what happened next in terms of your assignment so forth?

CROMER: Well, I'm trying to think when we learned what our site assignment was. Maybe the sixth or seventh week into our training, we got our site assignment. I was very happy with mine. Again, it was a remote site, probably, the most remote of the ten people I was, I think ten, nine, ten people I was training with. I lived in the 21:00village of Amejgag near the town of El Kelaa M'Gouna in the Province of Ouarzazate and to find it, you, from Rabat, the capital, you would go to Marrakech, the most direct route is to go to Marrakech and then, go over the High Atlas Mountains to Ouarzazate which is about a ten hour bus ride and then, take a grand taxi three hours east on the road that runs between Agadir and Er Rachidia to M'Gouna which is where I picked up my mail. That was the nearest, not hospital, but health clinic with any kind of facilities. Then, I would get on a, well, when I first arrived in 1992, it could be a truck like a large truck that could haul animals or any kind of supplies or a van. Either in the van or on 22:00top of the van, three hours straight up into the High Atlas Mountains where I would let off in the village of Alamdoun and then, walk thirty minutes east to Amejgag.

WILSON: So you're description of what you wanted, it fit.

CROMER: Yes, yes, I was very pleased.

WILSON: Fit pretty well and so you made that first trek on your own or did somebody take you or go with you?

CROMER: I, I'm trying to think. I went to Agadir straight out of stage. A group of us who were on our way to sites went together to Agadir. The first time I ever traveled alone in Morocco was when I went from Agadir to Ouarzazate which is about a ten hour bus ride. That was, 23:00that was a rather heroine ride because my senses were all on high alert and I was misinterpreting situations and being paranoid and etc., etc. I believe I was met by a person named Rick Neal in Ouarzazate. Rick was a really special kind of volunteer. He had been a Peace Corps volunteer for two years teaching drama and this was a very limited program. He was teaching drama in Casablanca and he became proficient in French. Then, he was evacuated or the program was evacuated in I guess '89 or '90. I guess it was '90. The Persian War didn't happen until '90 or '91. We invaded in '91.


I guess it was evacuated in '91. Anyway, he went back to Morocco on his own while Peace Corps was evacuated so that he could work in a program for CEDA for Aids in Casablanca. So he lived on his own without Peace Corps support for six months in Casablanca and became proficient in Arabic. He's very good with languages. He had wanted to re-up as a volunteer as a health san-- volunteer, a health and sanitation volunteer and when the program got started again in '91, he was able to do that for a year and he had a friend who was from the area where I was, that eventually became my site. This was an area that had been hit hard with typhoid in '91 and Rick saw a need there for or the possibility of some Peace Corps volunteers could do some work there and so he actually 25:00founded this site for Peace Corps in '91 and had lived in Amejgag for a year by the time I arrived so and where he had learned Berber so he was very knowledgeable about the country and the government and could move around easily teaching languages, almost any language spoken in Morocco so Rick took me back to our site. I remember going up with him for the first time and then, I lived with Rick for a couple months when I was first or maybe a month, when I first got to Amejgag, he slept in the courtyard and we made it known he was sleeping in the courtyard and I was sleeping in his mud home, his one room and during the month that I was, first got there, Rick helped to introduce me to people, he helped 26:00to initiate me to the projects that he had been working on and that I could continue if I wished and also helped me to get housing and just really made that transition process much easier for me--

WILSON: Mm hmm, okay

CROMER: But then, he left.

WILSON: Ha and you were on your own?

CROMER: I was on my own.

WILSON: And indeed, you were the only volunteer then at that site?

CROMER: Right and I, my site, my official site was all the villages that were served by a small health clinic near the suk, near the commune or the market and there were forty-eight villages that were served by this little health clinic. This is different than the one that was in El Kelaa M'Gouna where I said I got my mail. This is up in the mountains. Two nurses worked there. They had almost no equipment. 27:00They had some needles, you know, some syringes, some immunization, they had some prescription medicine, one type of antibiotic, a pink pill they handed out like candy and some contraceptives and not a lot more than that but they did the best they could and so my role was as a liaison between the people and the two nurses and the health clinic and so my job was to be out in the villages supplementing their work through health education, through contraceptive education, and I handed out contraceptives. I ended up carrying the pill with me, well, not condoms because men there don't use condoms but I ended up carrying the pill with me. Do you want me to go into--

WILSON: Yeah, sure, go ahead

CROMER: Well, my job, what ended up working best for me was a lot of 28:00one on one work with primarily women, although, I certainly talked to men and children too but what I would do is-- I had, first off, I had wells and cisterns that I treated with chlorine bleach and I did it, I tried to hit those maybe once a month but it didn't always happen and that was in maybe six or eight villages that were around the clinic that were in about a one and a half, two hour walking distances from the village where I lived so I might spend the day in one village and go around to all the places where I knew they had wells or cisterns and talked to them about have they been treating their water with chlorine and why it was a good idea and typhoid, etc. and then, we would measure the water together and treat it with chlorine bleach that they 29:00have on hand that they used to wash clothes with and--

WILSON: So that was something they had?

CROMER: Exactly, yeah and I was measuring the water in the well with a rock and a string and so it wasn't high tech at all and the idea was that they would get in the habit of treating their water. The people, most of the villages in this forty-eight village area didn't have wells and cisterns. They got their water from the river so I also talked to people about using chlorine in their drinking water and how much, how many drops they would put in what quantity. The water treatment program was only mildly successful if that. I think the greatest success I had there was with the people who I was close friends with and I think they did it because they liked me, and wanted to make me feel better but then, I also had, a lot, you know, a lot of time what 30:00I would do is just go on trips to different villages and, you know, the reason for a trip might be as random as I had been to the Peace Corps office in Rabat and they had gotten a shipment in of vitamins and oral rehydration solution from UNICEF and so I would take these vitamins and put them in a backpack and head down a river valley and be gone for three or four days and just walk through villages. Enter a village, hang out until someone invited me for a meal or for tea and then, invited me to stay the night and I would just go to kitchens and sit and hang out with the women and I would get a feel for how many kids they had in the family, how health were the kids, how healthy were the women. The men were usually pretty health. It was usually the women and kids who were suffering from any malnutrition or more day 31:00to day medical needs. Were the women using contraceptives? I talked, I approached contraceptive use from the angle of spacing kids rather than--

WILSON: Preventing?

CROMER: Right, rather than you shouldn't have more than ten kids. You know, talked a lot about giving their bodies a rest, letting their babies get healthy before they have another child, etc. That was a very, the contraceptive and the pill, kind of pushing the pill or teaching people about contraceptive use was probably my most successful program because there was an interest in not having so many mouths to feed especially, ever since immunizations came to Morocco in the mid-eighties, kids weren't dying as much as they didn't need to have 32:00any many kids in order to ensure a survival rate that you know, you no longer needed to have fifteen kids for eight to live.

WILSON: But there was no cultural or religious barriers to contraception?

CROMER: Certainly some people didn't want to use it and I think religion was one reason. Most people were very receptive and in terms of my going door to door and talking to people about all kinds of things, in three years, in over three years, I only ever had the door shut in my face once and that was in a very remote area.

WILSON: But it was oral contraceptive for women?

CROMER: It was, yeah, what I had was oral contraceptives. Now, I also went on health campaigns with the nurses sometimes. This was maybe twice a year where we would travel to villages either by vehicle or 33:00by mule or by foot because most of the villages I served, there was no road getting to them so we had to walk or usually we took a mule and that was usually, that was, we had immunizations with us so that was polio and mumps and measles type of vaccinations and then, the female nurses on those trips would also talk to the women about IUDs and in fact, were prepared to insert IUDs if the women were open to it. They almost never were because there were huge urban myths and rural myths about IUDs and what they did and indeed, these were women who participated in a lot of physical labor and IUDs didn't always work for them. Sometimes they fell out so yes, oral contraceptives was my--


WILSON: And I think you said that you, initially, that you did have condoms but the condom program wasn't successful because men would not use them. Is that right and was AIDS not an issue?

CROMER: Well, first of all, it was much, it was really difficult for me to talk to men about condoms--


CROMER: I don't know if I ever even did that. I maybe talked to the wives about condoms--

WILSON: Ah huh.

CROMER: But this was, that was just not something that the men were going to go for. Morocco at that time, officially, had no AIDS. Of course, we know there were people with AIDS. I have been truly shocked that Morocco hasn't exploded with AIDS because so many of the men in Morocco worked in Europe and I know, we know that they used prostitutes there and then, came back to Morocco and slept with wives 35:00and prostitutes in Morocco and so, the transmission route was obvious. And I don't know what the AIDS statistics are in Morocco currently.

WILSON: Well, I asked that question because I don't think I've talked to anybody who's been a health volunteer who has dealt with oral contraceptives with women--


WILSON: Particularly in a Muslim society so that, that's interesting.

CROMER: Yeah, I know there were women who were using oral contraceptives and that, it did help them with spacing. I think that the bigger taboo with oral contraceptives was not Islam but that it gave the impression that it would allow women to sleep around. And in fact, I know of one case where that was true so I think this was the fear of the husbands.


WILSON: What about your living situation? You said this other volunteer helped you get a house. Where did you live? What did you have as amenities?

CROMER: Well, in the village where I lived, there were mud homes, adobe, this was a very dry climate. These were in some cases three and four story mud homes. They were, some of them were built like the in capitals in Europe called casbahs and so the building that I lived in, I lived on the second floor of a mud building. I had one room which was maybe twelve feet by fourteen feet with a small closet and 37:00two windows and then, I had access to, I had a private roof. Roofs were used quite a bit in Morocco as another room so I had access to my own roof and then, the main roof of the building, I had access to as well and then, the bathroom, I had built as part of the agreement for me living with this family and to get to it, I went downstairs, two flights of stairs, out the door, into another door of a whole other courtyard and a whole other building, through the courtyard and then, it was a pit latrine with a concrete squat plate that worked great and this family took the opportunity to build it and create a bath, a bathing room next to it and they could in fact create a mini-sauna. They had a way to heat water so that it was steaming. It made a great 38:00steam room and they could get really clean there so that was good. I felt like that was an asset. The family I lived with had about twenty- seven people, excuse me, and I think maybe a couple, three of the men might have used the latrine sometimes but I was definitely the only person consistently using the latrine out of those people. Obviously, the idea was that I would also doing education about latrines--

WILSON: Latrines.

CROMER: Yeah, this was a village that they got their water from the river and there were no latrines in the village when I moved in. Well, that's not true. I think there was one, out of a thousand people, maybe a hundred homes in the village, a thousand people living there so I think one person had worked in Europe in for a while had built a 39:00latrine before I got there. Now, as more men have worked in the cities and become accustomed to latrines and come back, they've built latrines for their families. There are a lot more than there used to be. It's still not the primary use and most people just go outside so those were pretty much and then, I cooked food on my own. I was invited to eat with my family I had rented a room from if I wanted but I usually only ate breakfast with them in the winter when it was cold and they had a fire going and I didn't but otherwise, I pretty much ate on my own than with them.

WILSON: And what was the food like and how did you adjust to that?

CROMER: Food was great. There wasn't much adjustment needed. Where I lived, they usually had a first breakfast of coffee and yesterday's 40:00bread and then, the women would go out to the fields and collect fodder for the animals, just weeds. They used the river, they had a very complicated system of irrigation canals that allowed them to grow food and irrigate so the paths in between the fields and along the irrigation canals would grow weeds and that's what grass, that's what they would cut and feed their animals with so the women would go out and collect that, come back for second breakfast which was maybe around ten or ten thirty. That was usually somebody had stayed home or when one of the women who'd gone to the field got back, she would bake bread quickly and then, have fresh bread with it could be eggs with tomato and cilantro and green pepper or it could be a vegetable stew with a 41:00little bit of meat and bread or it could be some kind of pasta with olive oil or butter poured over it--

WILSON: Flat breads or raised bread?

CROMER: Flat bread.


CROMER: Yeah, well, but yeast breads. In the village, in most of the villages in this area, it was yeast bread. There was one area -- is that true? -- of the forty-eight villages I served that didn't use yeast and then, you know, maybe they'd then go to the river and wash clothes which was another thing I was trying to discourage from pouring soapy water into their drinking water but anyway, that didn't work either. Maybe they'd wash clothes or maybe they'd separate rocks out of whatever grain they needed to have milled for flour that day or 42:00you know, any number of tasks that need doing and then, they would eat lunch around 1:30, or two or three, between 1:30 and 2:30 and that was again, some kind of meat. Usually, meat and vegetable stew with bread. Pretty consistently just a plain vegetable stew with bread or a meat vegetable stew with bread called tyme with the food or tagine is what it's more commonly known as here and tagine was just the pot it was cooked it. Then, more food around four thirty, coffee and bread and this was to prepare for going back out to the fields to get more fodder for the animals and maybe, if the corn was ripe, maybe collect the corn and bring it back and then, dinner was served around anywhere from 8:30 43:00to 10:30 I'd say and that was usually a couscous and the area where I lived, most people ate corn couscous with some kind of greens either alfalfa was the most common green and corn couscous with alfalfa became my favorite food there. I just adored it. Never got tired of it. Sometimes, this region grew figs and almonds and walnuts so sometimes there were baby figs that were ready and we'd eat that with couscous. Sometimes it was wheat or barley couscous with some kind of vegetable, a lot of turnips--

[Tape one, side a ends; tape one, side b begins.]

WILSON: Side two of Peace Corps Oral History interview with Carolyn Cromer, February 2nd, 2006. Carolyn, you were talking about food and 44:00couscous and alfalfa being your favorite. Go ahead if there was more if wanted to add to that--

CROMER: Well--

WILSON: Oh, you were talking, also, talking about I guess fruits and nuts.

CROMER: Right, this was an area that had a lot of different food. For instance, in the summer, when it was hot, people would usually, for dinner, eat just a corn, it was a corn mush that they would eat with butter milk. This is an area that did have cattle. Maybe like a family that was doing well might have one cow and so they would milk the cow and have fresh buttermilk and they would eat that with couscous or they eat that with this corn mush or you could just drink it straight. You know, there were special foods. Ramadan provided a whole host of special foods that when people broke fast and where I 45:00lived, they would eat dried figs that had been beaten so that people, older people without teeth could gum them and so that brought out a different flavor of the fig and then, special tea. They, the main drink was not coffee at all. It was this sweet green Moroccan mint tea that people drank probably twelve to fifteen--

WILSON: Which was grown locally?

CROMER: No, the tea was not grown locally.


CROMER: The mint was.

WILSON: The mint was, okay.

CROMER: Sometimes, it was mint. Sometimes it was wormwood. Sometimes, other plants that I don't even know what they're called in English but you could use to enhance the tea. Pennyroyal was used in the coffee. Pepper was used in the coffee, special spice mixes that you could get from local grocers in town you could put in coffee. You know, fried breads were a popular breaking fast food, sort of like our beignets 46:00or a donut that's not as sweet. One of my favorite dishes was baghrir which is sort of like pancakes and then, they would pour honey or jam over it and you'd eat it with your hands and it was just heaven--

WILSON: Heaven. The food was great, you know, I never went hungry and most people didn't--

WILSON: Well and it sounds like there were really, what? Four or five small meals a day?

CROMER: Well, right, at least five. They needed a lot. These were people who were heavy, heavy laborers. They were always working and needed a lot of power to sustain that. I never saw obese people. There was one obese lady in town and it, I don't know, she just sat 47:00around the house and didn't have to go to the fields anymore but most people were pretty--

WILSON: And what were the cultivated crops? Corn, you mentioned.

CROMER: Corn was harvested in the fall. In the spring, they planted barley and wheat and harvest that in the summer.

WILSON: All by hand?

CROMER: Right, all by hand and actually, that was an important and beautiful process that still goes on that when they would harvest the barely and the wheat, they had threshing floors throughout the village. Each family had a threshing floor that they either had access to or was part of their compound so I have very distinct memories of summer nights, they would wait until night when the breeze would start to blow and then, they would drive the mules over the grain to separate, you know, the grain from the shaft and then, they would throw it up in the 48:00air with these gray light wooden pitchforks and the wind would blow the shaft away and you know, that was happening all over the village so good memories of that.

WILSON: Let me take you back a step, what would you say was the hardest thing to adjust to?

CROMER: I'm not sure. I don't remember having a hard time adjusting. I was very open to learning about their culture and being a part of their culture and I was guilty of experiencing that pendulum swing when you're more native than the natives are and you know, almost got 49:00a tattoo on my forehead and things that now, in perspective, I'm glad I didn't do. I, so, I don't think, I mean, certainly language was an adjustment but you know, you learn it over time. I wasn't homesick a lot. I didn't miss Americans much. I saw them as much as I wanted to. In fact, I was one of the people who tried to be at my site as much possible and I think the longest I ever went was six weeks without leaving the village or without leaving that area and the mountains and without seeing Americans which is not that long so you know, I got as much American culture as I wanted. I think the most difficult period was a period that happened about six months into my service, six to 50:00nine months where it was a political situation where Rick Neal and I had been soliciting the preventional government to build a well in Amejgag because we didn't have one and we needed one we thought and indeed, finally, the Department of Agriculture sent workers into build a well, dig a well with the justification that that water could be used to water animals. Of course, it would serve people, too, and the sort of like the county judge of the village of where I lived wanted credit for that well, for bringing that well to Asmagad, for the well being built and that coupled with a comment I made to people who I thought were allies where it was derogatory joke about men sitting around doing nothing while the women, you know, work. It was a lesson in it's okay 51:00for them to joke about themselves but not okay for an outsider to make the same comment that now I understand and that, that, my joke got back to the county judge. He used to it his advantage and essentially, some of the town, the village leaders wanted to ride me out on a rail and I was able to work through that situation and did sit down and talk with them and that particular politician was pretty much of a foreign ball all around. I never respected him and, but I think I was able to, I stayed in the village and I was able to move beyond that and still be able to do my work and live there and have some meaningful relationships with people.

WILSON: Did you feel that your Peace Corps training prepared you well or 52:00not well for the job and situation that you found yourself in?

CROMER: I do. I think, in my case, first of all, I had a job. I had a very discernable job, you know, a lot of Peace Corps volunteers don't and so I felt useful and I woke up every morning knowing what needed to be done. I wasn't, I wasn't being held back because of bureaucracy or you know, big fish in a little pond except for that one occasion I mentioned and I think that the training that I had in stage as well as the cultural and language training were very useful for what I did.

WILSON: What, what about your role as a woman from the outside? How was 53:00that? How were you perceived? How did you function? You've mentioned I guess one difficulty with a male politician--

CROMER: Right, well, I mean, I don't really know how I was perceived. My perception of how I was perceived is an anomaly. As a woman, I could do a lot and go a lot more places than an American man could have. I had access not only to the men, or not only to the women but also to the men whereas an American man really wouldn't have had the same kind of access to women in the same situation so yes, I was a woman but I was an outsider. I had different colored, actually, there were a lot 54:00of Caucasians or a lot of light skinned. It was a mixture of different skin colors where I lived. It wasn't, I wasn't necessarily a different skin color but I was clearly different. I was a foot taller than most women in town and anyway, it gave me access and plus, I had, you know, I had a piece of paper from the Moroccan government that said I was allowed to be there and the government carries a lot of weight in that country without any questions asked by the people so it wasn't an issue of whether not I was going to have access to places. I just did because I was working with the government.

WILSON: Did you, did you dress as Moroccan women dress? Did you have to or did you wear head cover and so forth?

CROMER: Moroccan dress, especially for women, was very different, area 55:00to area, region to region. Where I lived, the women certainly did not veil. They didn't have time for that kind of silliness. They wore a remnant of a more traditional Berber costume which they did wear a dress, a polyester dress which was pretty new, only about twenty-five or thirty years had dresses been worn. Over the dress, they wore what was called a tajedad which looked like a toga except it was made of usually black net. Originally, women, I say originally, thirty years prior, women would have only worn two tajedad, sort of like two togas that would have covered everything that would have been covered and then, their coats, in the winter were just wool blankets. They draped around their shoulder and would have fastened with a particular type of 56:00jewelry, excuse me. When I got there, I remember wearing the polyester dresses, usually one black net tajedad and then, pantaloons and then, their hair, there was a distinctive style for unmarried girls and a different style for married women so and I'm using the term girls for any female who was unmarried and women, a female who was married and then, so the hairstyles particular and then, a scarf would go over that with a woven string, sort of like a woven rope that would keep the scarf held on similar to what we're used to seeing Saudi Arabian princes or Yasser Arafat--

WILSON: Ah huh.

CROMER: Wear to hold on the scarf. What I wore was a modification of what the other Berber women wore. I wore a skirt or a dress. I also 57:00wore pantaloons. If I hadn't worn pantaloons, it would have been as if I wasn't wearing any underwear so I wore pantaloons and I did wear a tashdaff for a lot of reasons. One, I had felt like there were enough cultural barriers and language barriers between the people I was trying to talk and live with and education and myself. I didn't feel like how I dressed needed to be another barrier for them. It wasn't a big deal for me. Plus, the tashdaff helped keep my clothes a little less dirty. The tashdaff could, took that first layer of dirt and protected me a little bit more. Plus, it was handy for carrying things. There are lots of good reasons for wearing them, a toga or tashdaff here. I did draw the line was the scarf. I wore a scarf in the winter. It was really cold where I lived. We had snow and snowball fights and I 58:00mean, it, the song that says there won't be snow in Africa is just dead wrong. We were freezing in the winter so I did wear a scarf then but in the summer, I just, I couldn't deal with the scarf so sometimes I wore it and sometimes I didn't and you know, that was not a big deal for people. They could get beyond that pretty easily.

WILSON: What did you do for recreation?

CROMER: I hung out with people and talked. I did a lot of hanging out with people. I didn't have any privacy. There was no lock on my door. People came and went whenever they wanted and I, the last year, I was in the village three years and the last year, I don't ever remember cooking dinner for myself which is pretty pathetic but I was just always eating out at friends' houses and spending time with them even though the village had a thousand people, we were living on top of one 59:00another and it was very densely populated so there were always people in the streets right below my window talking and conversations and activities happening and you know, there was just a lot going on that I tried to participate in.

WILSON: Weekends, holidays, did you go to towns or cities? You mentioned some place in terms of contact with other Peace Corps people.

CROMER: Well, I didn't differentiate between weekends and weekdays. First of all, their, their church day, if you will, their mosque day is different--


CROMER: So and it's just, you know, it was a, I was living there and so there were no such things as weekends. Holidays, it depended, 60:00some holidays, some American holidays, I just spent in the village and didn't worry about it but you know, if there was a party coming up or something that, or I wanted to see some Americans, I would, I would usually head down to Ouarzazate, the, Ourazazate, which was the province capital which again, for me was about a five, six hour trip from where I lived and there--

WILSON: So you had to want to do it?

CROMER: Yeah, I did. There were Peace Corps volunteers living there and I was friends with them and would drop in on them. At that time in Morocco, the hepatitis B shot for gamma globulin that you had to get every three months, that, you know, when the hepatitis B shot become a series of what? Two or three and then, you're done for ten years totally changed the social scene of Peace Corps volunteers in Morocco 61:00because no longer did you have together every three months. I mean, I had to go to the capital every three months. It was a pain. It was a long trip. It was a fifteen hour trip for me straight and you know, it took two days so it forced me to interact with my American friends and I had a lot of really good friends. I wasn't anti-American. I wasn't, there certainly were Peace Corps volunteers I knew who didn't want any interaction with Americans and I was not like that. I just wanted to, I wanted my primary experience there to be with Moroccans and--

WILSON: Did you, did you travel elsewhere in Morocco or out of Morocco during your time?

CROMER: Well, Morocco was, because of its geographic and political location, most volunteers stayed within Morocco. To the south was 62:00Mauritania and the Sahara desert and it was very difficult to cross into Mauritania and to cross the Sahara. To the east was Algeria which that border had been closed by the Moroccan king because of the insurrection, political insurrection in Algeria so we couldn't go east. To the north was the Straits of Gibraltar and a whole other country so you had to leave the country to go north and of course, west was the ocean so we were fairly locked into Morocco unless you took vacation and left the country and made a big deal out of that so most, most Peace Corps volunteers in Morocco stayed within Morocco and vacationed within Morocco. It's a gorgeous country. It has very diverse topography and climates and mountains and deserts and oceans 63:00and everything in between. There's plenty to see and do there and I took advantage of that. Did a lot of traveling and I did leave after two years, excuse me, I did travel for five weeks in West Africa with some other friends but then, I had extended for a year so I went back to Morocco and did travel to Italy and the United States as, I guess when you extend, you get what? A month off so--

WILSON: So tell me about that decision to extend for a year. How did that come about?

CROMER: Well, it was pretty easy actually. We had a training, I can't remember if this was for my whole stage group or if it was just my health and sanitation group but it was in the spring before I was supposed to leave at the end of two years and everybody was talking 64:00about what they wanted to do and quitting, etc. and I just, all I could think about was my next health campaign and what was happening in the village and it was clear that I was at a really different place mentally than they were and it was pretty obvious to me that I wasn't ready to leave yet so I did end up extending for thirteen months.

WILSON: So you felt you had some particular projects that you wanted, yet to accomplish or it was just going on with the same job?

CROMER: It was more going on with the same job. I just wanted to be there longer. There were some projects that were happening that I was excited about but it wasn't that I was finishing a particular project. Now, as it happened, the last summer I was there, so this would have been in'95, I was asked to be the coordinator or the head trainer for 65:00the health and sanitation volunteers. I was cheap labor for Peace Corps and ran that program with another, with an assistant so I was working stage that summer so I was out of my village for those ten weeks.

WILSON: Now, tell me something about this month of traveling in West Africa.

CROMER: Well--

WILSON: Where did you go? What did you do? How did you travel and with whom?

CROMER: I went with three other friends, American friends who, this was their COS trip so we flew from Casablanca to Bamako in Mali and spent maybe three weeks in Mali and had a wonderful time. I loved Mali. Again, this was, remember, I had always, I wanted to go to sub-Saharan 66:00Africa so this was my first opportunity to do that and I was eating it up so Mali was wonderful and we stayed with Peace Corps at the maison de passage and that was easy and then, we went into Burkina Faso for a week. My friends continued south to Ghana and I had to fly back to Morocco so, from Bamako so I went back into Mali and ended up, we had met a Mali Peace Corps volunteer on the flight to Bamako and she had invited us to come to where she lived so I ended up doing that on my own and in fact, she was at a training for her, you know, for her, I think she was also a health/san volunteer. She was at a health/san training so she ended up leaving me a note and the key to her house and kind of directions on how to get to her village and whom to ask for 67:00so I ended up just going to some random village on my own. That was another harrowing experience where I was acting paranoid and making a lot of bad assumptions and had a wonderful time with sort being her for a few days and then, went back to Bamako and flew back to Morocco.

WILSON: If you're comfortable in doing so, tell me something about, in more detail, either that experience or the first one that you referred to about making bad assumptions and paranoia and so forth. Sounds like a good tale.

CROMER: Well, I think that first trip, the one from Agadir to Ourazazate, I happened, this was the only time, save one I think but I was on a bus by myself with the driver and the driver's assistant. There was nobody 68:00else on the bus and it was at night and you know, that's sort of, and as we were going through areas where there wasn't a soul. People didn't live in the areas where we were going so they could have pulled the bus over and done whatever they wanted so my, just my intuition as a woman was on high alert because of those situations that I was in. Plus, I wasn't as comfortable culturally with the language as--

WILSON: Yeah, you were new.

CROMER: Right, I was new--


CROMER: Definitely and as I said, it was the first time I had traveled on my own. In Mali, you know, it had taken me a lot of different transportation routes and, or methods to get to the village. I ended up walking into the village as night was falling and there were drums playing and we don't have, we had drums in Morocco but they sound different. First of all, they're designed differently and you know, my 69:00every racist thing you heard about African drums beating in the jungles of cannibals and that, you know, was on high alert and I was exhausted. I was really tired which I think also contributed. Anyway, I got there. I got pointed in the direction of where, of this family that I was supposed to meet. Of course, I had in my mind what am I doing? I'm walking into a village in the middle of Mali. I know nobody there. There are drums playing. What am I walking into?

WILSON: And language--

CROMER: Oh, I hadn't, I couldn't speak their language.

WILSON: Yeah, I was going to say Berber was probably not anything that was going to help.

CROMER: Nor French, nothing was going to help me--


CROMER: So it wasn't like I thought I was going to get eaten or anything but again, you're, I mean, what the heck, so I went in and got settled in her house at the very gracious, with the gracious hospitality of 70:00the family that she lived with there. They were wonderful to me and her young brother, her seventeen year old brother/friend, invited me to go to the dance where the drums were and wouldn't that be fun? And of course it would be fun but I was so tired, I said no thinking this happened every night. Well, it didn't happen every night. It was a special occasion and I missed it so of course, that's a regret but you know, you do the best you can.

WILSON: Yeah, yeah, okay so then, you went back for the third year. And what about that third year?

CROMER: I think it was just more of an even richer experience doing the same kind of things that I had been doing. Obviously, I got even more comfortable with language and by this point, excuse me, I had some very solid friendships with the people I was living with or some 71:00people I was living with and in fact, I've been back twice since then, since I left in '95 and I think the first time, I was in the country for five weeks and was four weeks in the village where I lived. The second time, I guess I was there six weeks and was spent like four and half weeks in the village where I lived. Just, I just and was very fortunate to end up with people who I really got along well with and they were very accepting of me and very hospitable and you know, I considered them some of my closest friends.

WILSON: Okay but then, it came to an end, right?


WILSON: Did you come straight home? Did you travel?

CROMER: I traveled. I went back to sub-Saharan Africa.

WILSON: Okay, tell me about that.


CROMER: I went to east Africa. I went to Kenya for about three weeks and I went to Tanzania or sorry, to Uganda for a month and Tanzania for a week with, this is with another Peace Corps volunteer for most of that time. She was there two months and I was there three and had a wonderful time. Just had a great time, you know, you've probably experienced but the Peace Corps network is, I can't think of a better traveling network of places to stay and interesting places and interesting cultures and this was no exception so that was great. Then, when to Europe for about a month to Britain and visited friends from when I had lived there and they, bless their heart, had to deal with my culture shock and you know--

WILSON: Your return--

CROMER: The initial culture shock--

WILSON: Yeah and tell me about that.

CROMER: Oh I'm sure I was a pain in the ass and certainly, my one 73:00friend, I did go to Italy after being in Morocco about two and half years. That was the first time I had left the country. This was even before the trip to ----------(??), that can't be right. I must have gone to West Africa by that point. I thought, I remembered it was the first time I left Morocco but that can't be right. I guess it was the first time I left Africa in two and a half years and I met her, I left my village on a Tuesday and I met her Friday in Milan and she was trying to be Euro-chic and I was a bumpkin from you know, podunk Africa fresh off the vegetable truck--

WILSON: Hahaha

CROMER: And acted it. It was horrible. She had to deal with the most, you know, I was haggling over taxis, you don't do that and I was haggling over the price of oranges. You don't do that either so it 74:00was not a pretty picture and I don't have a lot of memories of what my friends of Europe had to deal with regarding my culture shock. I probably didn't go into a lot of grocery stores and was spared the more classic tales of grocery store shock but--

WILSON: So you spent, but then, you spent the month or several weeks in England and then, you came back to Louisville?


WILSON: And how was that?

CROMER: Wonderful. By that point, I had decided, I had sort of reached a point in my third year where I realized, you know, I've spent three years now trying to get to know this culture and these people, investing of myself and then, I've got a family too. I've got my own people back home that deserve my energy and my time so I was really ready mentally 75:00to go back and embrace my culture and my people here so it wasn't a big hardship to come back. The hardest part was the adjustment to the isolation in our society, the everybody sitting in their little box. And the boxes next to each other and the lack of community and you know, I had been so accustomed to all, you know, community, community, community, all the time, never alone and I was mostly alone when I came back from the United States. That was by far the hardest thing I had to deal with. I still am resentful that our society is like that.

WILSON: And what did you do when you came back?

CROMER: I lived with my parents about eight months in Louisville. I worked part time jobs about six months while I looked for a full time 76:00job and then, I got a full time job in June of '96 and working for a local alderman in Louisville so I entered local politics and city government which was really wonderful. It was more community service and community outreach kind of activities and you know, eventually got my own place and moved out.

WILSON: And so what are you doing now and how did you get into that?

CROMER: Now, I have a house that I bought with, but I bought it with the intention of having a housemate or two. I do have a housemate. I'm trying to do communalism and I live in the Highlands where I grew up because that's a great place to live. It's very community oriented. Not as much as Africa but better than some places. For a job, I 77:00worked for State Nature Preserve in Kentucky, Blackacre, and I work for the non-profit organization that manages that preserve and I spend my time trying to be involved in the community.

WILSON: What do you think the impact of your service was in Morocco?

CROMER: Well, I think like most Peace Corps volunteers, I think the biggest impact was the relationships I had with people. Yes, I know that I successfully helped women with spacing of kids. Yes, I know that I helped with some dehydration and diarrheal diseases in infants either through oral rehydration solution or some education or vitamins 78:00etc. To my pure astonishment, when I went back to visit my village the first time, lo and behold, my friends had treated their water without knowing I was coming. I still, that's gone back with me because I didn't think I had been successful on that front. Minor success, very minor so I think mostly it was the relationships and introducing people in that area to an American or an outsider, a foreigner and what that person might be like in their lives.

WILSON: And the impact on you?

CROMER: Hahaha, oh, much greater, hahaha, much greater I think.

WILSON: In what ways?

CROMER: Well, I think because I do have these strong relationships with people there and I tested though relationships by going back and indeed 79:00was, found that it was mutual. It wasn't just on my side. There's certainly a part of me that is always thinking about my friends in Morocco and always thinking about being there and going back and when am I going to go back to visit next and the lessons that I learned there about what it's like to live without running water and without electricity and where you grow your own food and it's a little more self-sustaining lifestyle, a lot of important lessons there but also I think again like most volunteers, the National Geographic photos have named their personalities and the romanticism of how hard it is to live without amenities like running water and electricity got blown to bit 80:00and questions of development of place in that kind of a picture and the place of how do you hold on to culture and some of the wonderful songs that are sung by people while they're hand harvesting the field. What happens to those songs when you get a combine? Those are important questions but suddenly, they, you know, for me, they have a lot more meaning and depth than they had before.

WILSON: You mentioned going back and that was a question I had, sort of related about those, about continuing contacts. Tell me something more about how many times you've gone, who the contacts are with, that sort of thing.

CROMER: Well, let's see, I left in '95 so it's been eleven years. I've been back twice. I'm hoping to go back this year in 2006. I don't 81:00keep in letter writing contact with my friends partly because they're not a very letter writing culture partly because my closest friends are illiterate and also because I'm lazy and it's hard to write Berber in an Arabic alphabet and I get out of practice and I get lazy. Recently, with the phenomenon of cell phones and even land lines ----------(??)--

[Pause in recording.]

WILSON: I think you were talking about communication changes and that impact in terms of your relationship, continuing relationship with folks in Morocco.

CROMER: Right, now, I do have the cell phone numbers of several friends in Morocco. That doesn't mean I can reach them, hahaha, but there's 82:00the possibility of reaching them by phone now.

WILSON: That makes me think, I'm digressing a little bit but what about communication when you were in country as a volunteer? What kind of communication did you have with family in the United States or with Peace Corp staff or others?

CROMER: Well, there was no email at that time. There were no Internet cafes. There are now but there were not when I worked there or when I lived there. It was all by post. I don't, I did get to talk on the phone, by phone to the United States when I went to the capital and sometimes when I was in the province capital in ----------(??) but most, I mean, it was overwhelmingly by letter.

WILSON: Okay, so any other since you've come back, you talked about 83:00going back to Morocco twice and anticipating a third trip, any other kind of international travel or international interest particularly?

CROMER: Well, I have been back to Britain a couple of times since then and my sister recently moved to London so I'm hoping to go back not to London but maybe to Sweden and meet my sister there and visit the Swedish exchange student who lived with us. I've been to Mexico briefly and duh, where else have I been? Hahaha, oh--

WILSON: It's alright

CROMER: I'm totally blanking. Anyway, oh, I was going to say that next year, I recently had two friends who joined the Peace Corp and are in Paraguay and I would like to go visit them next year so I strive to do 84:00an international trip every year but it doesn't always work out.

WILSON: What has the impact of the Peace Corp experience been on your family would you say?

CROMER: Well, it's definitely opened up a world for them as well. They, my parents came to visit me with my aunt. They were there for two weeks.

WILSON: Two weeks?

CROMER: Yeah, two weeks and went to the village and met my friends so have this experience of seeing where I was living and meeting the people I had written about and both of my parents have you know, they pay a lot more attention now to Morocco when it's in the news or the people they might meet or the foods and the culture and they enjoy 85:00it probably as much as I do. My sister also came to visit when I was living there and then, she went back with me the second time and we traveled around for a week together or when I went back to visit in '99 so I think my family has been very supportive of my experience there and also the relationships I've formed there.

WILSON: Did the Peace Corp experience have any impact on your career path?

CROMER: Only is as much as what little I considered working internationally centered around reforestation efforts because I saw such deforestation happening in the area where I lived. People cooked using firewood and as population levels rose, they were deforesting at rates that were not sustainable so I certainly considered that. I 86:00thought about Fulbright, examining the plant life in cemeteries in the area where I lived. Cemeteries were the only places which goats and sheep were not allowed to graze so the plants were protected there so I think someone should look at that, the diversity that is there and the species but you know, I purposely avoided a health career when I came back to the United States. That's not the path that I wanted. That was more a means to an end for me in the Peace Corp than it was a career goal but I think the community work and the community outreach that I started in Appalachia and continued in the Peace Corp has been of meaning and careers that I've had.

WILSON: Have you done any more academic study since--?


CROMER: Since the Peace Corp?

WILSON: Mm hmm

CROMER: Yes, I went to graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin and got a Master's degree in Forestry and Land Resource Management.

WILSON: Okay and when was that?

CROMER: I graduated in 2003.

WILSON: Okay and then, so you came back and took this job with Blackacre?

CROMER: Correct

WILSON: Okay, okay--

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

WILSON: Tape two of Peace Corp Oral History interview with Carolyn Cromer, February 2nd, 2006. Let's see Carolyn, I think what you were, you had said something about completing some graduate work and what I was about to ask you next was what do you think the impact of your 88:00Peace Corp service has been on the way you think about the world?

CROMER: Hmm, well, I think it's a lot easier now for me to put myself in the place of the other, the other people, you know, I always, we always generalize about everything and populations and it's usually from the perspective of an American but Americans are some of the wealthiest two percent of the people on earth and our perception is skewed because of that and so in the back of my mind, whatever issues come up, I'm always thinking well but there are these other people that live this other way and so I just have much more of an awareness or consciousness 89:00of that than people who haven't had that kind of experience or haven't lived in those conditions or with those kinds of populations. I became a lot more sensitive to development work. Most development work I've seen was not successful, development projects, money that was thrown at UNICEP projects or USAID projects that were not, were not designed sustainable, weren't designed with, in conjunction with local populations or there was corruption involved and money taken so that the project wasn't done the way it was supposed to be done and therefore was not sustainable so I became a bit cynical about development work in general and more an advocate of helping people help themselves than doing it for them. I have, you know, I have serious concerns 90:00about certain programs, certain Peace Corp programs in countries like Morocco. Are we taking jobs away from our host country nationals? I'm concerned that we are. However, I understand that Peace Corp is a political tool for our country and I think there are good reasons for that as well so I guess I think that may answer the question.

WILSON: Well, yeah and that leads me into another question. What do you think the overall impact of Peace Corp has been and the second part of that question is or the follow on then is what do you think the role of Peace Corp ought to be today and into the future?

CROMER: That's tough. Well, I don't know. I would want to see some 91:00data about projects completed, schools built, students taught, you know? I'm sure that Peace Corp volunteers over the last almost forty years now have had, or maybe it has been forty--

WILSON: Forty-five

CROMER: I guess it's been forty-five, wow, has had a huge impact on a lot of people's lives, touched a lot of individuals, enabled them to do things they couldn't have otherwise. Probably a lot through education. I hope we've done more good than damage. I definitely think that the relationships that have been built are valuable and I think and I guess would be overwhelmingly positive and I think that that should continue to be a major goal of the Peace Corp. You know, I know that Peace 92:00Corp, especially once the Cold War ended, small business skills were one of the major things that were taught or would help to be developed in eastern Europe, etc. I think that's great. I also though think that the Peace Corp should continue to be under the state department, not under the military or any other department and that it should be as separate as possible from the rest of the government, one, so that we avoid questions of suspicion and questions of affiliation with the CIA that always seem to come up and also, because I think there needs to be continual auditing and self-reflection of what our goal is with the Peace Corp. Whom are we serving? Is it, are we serving our need to develop more markets internationally? You know, capitalist markets or are we, is it political? Are we trying to develop stronger political 93:00ties with countries or are we really trying to feed and house and educate people and help others do that better so you know and I question agriculture programs that Peace Corp is involved in where we're trying to push for ways of doing agriculture that are not sustainable in the conditions there happening with seeds that you can't, you know, that are genetically modified and maybe you can't get seed from them the next year. I just think those kind of questions need to be vigilantly asked, continually asked. I think it would be a shame if Peace Corp simply became a tool for some of the shadier sides of democracy rather 94:00than some of the best sides of democracy and our country's goals.

WILSON: Okay, let me again backtrack just briefly. Why did you decide to come back and work in Kentucky?

CROMER: Primarily for the reason I said of one I wanted to spend time with my family, excuse me. Two, I thought about going to D.C. or San Francisco, some place that I was going to be surrounded by a lot more people who thought a lot more like me than probably here in Kentucky but I felt like I was ready for the good fight and I wanted to come and make Kentucky more of what I wanted it to be and I thought, think it has the potential to be so I beat my head against a wall for five years and then, left for to a much more liberal place to get, ha, re- 95:00energized and now I'm back, hahaha.

WILSON: Fighting the good fight

CROMER: Fighting the good fight again hopefully.

WILSON: Given your discussion and your graduate work and what you're doing now and so forth, do you see yourself staying and working in Kentucky or do you ever see yourself ever going back overseas to work?

CROMER: I don't see myself leaving Kentucky unless some sort of overwhelming personal or career, something, opportunity would take me away. I don't know if I ever would work overseas. I think more of a chance, more, I can more see myself choosing to live overseas where my 96:00focus is on embracing another culture. I'd love to learn Spanish. I'd love to go to South America and live in a South American country. I would consider doing the Peace Corp again. I think the Peace Corp is a great deal and I think they do probably a better job than anyone I know at being sensitive to culture and sensitive to language and teaching the people they're sending out under their name, under their umbrella. I do believe in that part of Peace Corp so anyway, yes, I could see myself living in another country again.

WILSON: Okay, that's all of the sort of structured questions I have. My last question is so what questions didn't I ask you that you would like to answer or do you have just a miscellaneous story or two about your 97:00experiences that you'd like to share?

CROMER: Well, I think, I think I was in, no, I can't think of any particular questions. I think that I was in, in one of those places, like a lot of places in the world where I really felt like I had gone back in time and coming from Appalachia especially. In Appalachia, I was living with people who were talking about what it was like within their memory where there were roads and people would travel by mule and people lived sustainable, grew their own food and I was, at the time, that was so hard to imagine. I would think wow, I wonder what that was like? And then, a few weeks later, I was living it, hahaha--

WILSON: Hahaha

CROMER: Walla!



CROMER: And that's, you know, that's a pretty incredible experience for someone who's grown up with the amenities that I have and the opportunities that I have to find one's self in the Middle Ages which is pretty much for all intensive purposes what it was like, traveling minstrels and all and what an incredible opportunity and in many ways, what a wonderful life, what a difficult life but what a wonderful life too. I wish if there were some way to make my friend's lives a little bit easier on a few different levels so that they weren't killing their bodies with labor and providing them good health care or access to good health care. I would say they have in many ways a much richer life than most Americans do and that's not even romanticized. That's, 99:00I really believe that in terms of community and relationships and support for the least of those in those communities and the mentally ill in those communities. You know, a lot of it is just small town, small down dynamics but I think a lot of its Africa and just how in Africa, there's so much less focus on the individual and so much more focus on family and community and I think it's a better way to live than a lot of what our society stresses in terms of independent spirit and individualism so it's been wonderful to experience both of those dynamics and yeah, and what a beautiful place.

WILSON: Do you have any examples that come to mind about the sort of 100:00richness of that life?

CROMER: Well, specifically, you know, in every village in the area where I lived, there were old ladies who were either never married or they had been married and weren't able to have kids and were widowed and who was going to take care of them? Well, the village took care of them. The village fed them and clothed them and provided blankets for them and they weren't wealthy but they were okay and that doesn't always happen in our society here. An old person here could sit in their house and rot in some places and no one would know about it for a while in some cases. That's very sad. That doesn't speak well of how we've structured our society. Another example, and again, I think 101:00a lot of this is more small time dynamics than you know, village in Morocco but one of my friend's brothers was mentally ill. I think he may have had schizophrenia and he took medication but when he was off his medication, it was scary. He did things, he could hurt people but because everybody knew who he was and everyone in the village knew him, yes, they were afraid of the ----------(??) he had but at least, they weren't going to hurt him because of it. They were going to try to help him because of it. He was in a nurturing community and I think I heard a story well, I mean, in this country, what happens to people with schizophrenia? Well, a lot of times, they end up on the streets. They end up homeless if they're not in a situation where there is someone care taking them or depending on the choices they make for 102:00themselves and again, I, you know, it's so easy to be anonymous here. It's so hard to be anonymous in Africa and I'm generalizing continent wide based on my own experience but also based on what I've heard from people who have lived in many different counties in Africa including Africans as well so I, those are just a couple of examples that come to mind.

WILSON: Okay, anything else you'd care to share?


WILSON: Okay, thank you for your time.

CROMER: Thanks Jack.

[End of interview.]

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