WILSON: Peace Corps Oral History Project interview with Glen Payne, March 13, 2007. interviewer, Jack Wilson. Interview done in Lexington, Kentucky. Glen, if you would, please give me your full name for the tape, and where you were born and when.

PAYNE: Okay. My name is Roy Glen Payne, Junior, and I was born in Akron, Ohio. Actually, Barberton, Ohio. 1963. January twentieth.

WILSON: 1963. So tell me a little something about your family and growing up in Barberton.

PAYNE: Well, I grew up in a place called Portage Lakes with, I have one sister. Her name is Karen. Grew up there with my mom and dad. My 1:00dad was a builder. And after he retired from BF Goodrich. Akron, as you know, is the rubber capital of the world. So along about the '70s, the rubber companies started to go down, and my dad became a builder. So I grew up there as a carpenter. Starting out when I was fourteen, fifteen years old, learning the carpentry trade. And then worked my way in carpentry up until, I guess through college, really. I went to the University of Akron.

WILSON: So you graduated from Barberton High School?

PAYNE: No, I was born in Barberton, but didn't live there. I lived in Akron. In a little place called Coventry. And I went to Coventry High School, which was just a small high school, maybe ninety kids in my 2:00graduating class.

WILSON: And so that would have been 19--

PAYNE: Yeah, I graduated in '81 from high school.

WILSON: 1981. Okay. And went to Akron University?

PAYNE: I went to Akron University, which was just right up the street. I lived at home, really all through college, which we always saw as an advantage because I could work and save lots of money and just carry right on in that life.

WILSON: What did you major in?

PAYNE: I majored in English and creative writing. I graduated in 1985 with a B.A. in English from the University of Akron.

WILSON: Go ahead.

PAYNE: After that, I worked a couple of years as a carpenter. And by now, I'm not just a carpenter. I'm training new carpenters for a crew, a pretty big crew of very, very high quality craftspeople. 3:00And I'm beginning now to take over part of the supervision now of building new homes. And these were very expensive, so my family was lucky enough to work their way into what you'd call a higher end of the building residential building market. But I majored in English because I started out at, as soon as I got out of high school, trying to do everything I could not to work for my family. I eventually succeeded in that, what with my degree. And then I went and got a master's. Again, at the University of Akron, in linguistics and literature.

WILSON: This would have been when now?

PAYNE: Well, it's kind of funny. Because I didn't finish that master's until I got back from my Peace Corps experience in Gabon.

WILSON: Okay. But after you graduated with your B.A. in English, you 4:00worked--

PAYNE: Worked a couple of years.


PAYNE: Till about 1987. And remember, I'm still trying to get away from the building business. So I decided to, while I was working, I'd go back to school. But see, I have a good job. And so that partly explains why I went back again to the University of Akron. It's a commuter school, very easy for me to go up to. And so I began working on a master's in literature and linguistics. But in 1989, for various reasons, I got interested in joining the Peace Corps. Did the application. And that started to distract me from the master's work, because they were pretty eager to have me sign up, or at least it seemed like it. Because I already had a, I was working on my master's.

WILSON: So how did you get interested in the Peace Corps? Was there anything in your background?


PAYNE: Yeah, I mean, I always liked to travel, and was given lots of opportunities to do so by my parents, growing up. In other words, at fifteen, if I had a friend who was going to go out west to go climbing with his parents, well, I would join them. If they asked me to join, I would go with them. So I did some climbing out west. Later on, when I was about nineteen, I went to Europe for a summer. I did that again when I was twenty or twenty-one. I did that a couple of times. Traveled all around. Was always interested in what else was happening on the planet. And of course reading a lot, I was always a pretty voracious reader, I think built that up in me, too. But then really to kick it off was I had a girlfriend who wanted to join the Peace Corps. And oh, that was going to be a catastrophe, right? Because as soon 6:00as she got accepted to the Peace Corps, she was going to go away. And so I thought well, I'm going to join the Peace Corps, too. So that's what we did. We both applied. And of course we knew right away that Peace Corps doesn't want you to, there's no going together for the Peace Corps, and that wasn't going to matter. I think we were both mature enough to know that that wasn't going to work. But between, I would say, my interest in the world and travel and a sensitivity to, you don't want to talk up your own sensitivity to the plight of other people, but I come from a strong Christian background, and I think that that fed into it as well. And my girlfriend joined the Peace Corps, I signed up. I mean, I filled out the application forms and wanted to see what would happen. So we get to 1989. Working on my master's sort of part time. I'm going to work every day with the building company. 7:00And I'm applying for the Peace Corps. And I got a letter saying, "We want you to come to China. We're going to open a program in China." And it seemed like there was all kinds of rigmarole involved with that. Is it okay if I just ramble on like this?

WILSON: Please.

PAYNE: It wasn't going to be just, the China program isn't developed yet. So there's going to be extra training. They're going to be extra careful about and sensitive to Beijing's needs, or you know, I'm not really sure what it is, but I'm a little bit oblivious to what's happening. But I'm very excited about China. I know there's going to be three weeks of training in Los Angeles or San Francisco, something like that, somewhere in Southern California. But in 1989, so I'm very excited about that, and my parents, of course, are not as excited, right? They think that's a little bit crazy. They're supportive, but realistic as well. And if you'll recall, in 1989 is when the 8:00Tiananmen Square events happened. So the plug got pulled on the China program just like that, in the blink of an eye. Called everybody who was slated to do that and said, "There's not going to be a program in China, at least not for the near future. So what else do you do?" They wanted to know. "They" being the Peace Corps. Well, they looked at, they must be looking at all the application forms I'd filled out. I'm a builder, right? So I was asked then to go to Gabon in West Africa as part of a school construction program. I thought, well, great. That makes as good a sense as anything. And I'm equally as excited to go to Africa as I would have been to go anywhere.

WILSON: Do you remember anything else about the application process itself?

PAYNE: Well, sure. I remember some flags getting thrown. One flag 9:00was, "You're working, you're in the middle of working on your master's degree." It was almost as if they didn't want me to abandon that to do the Peace Corps. I think what they're doing, the application process is partly filtering out people who are having trouble keeping their life together, or something like that, right? That was the sense I was getting. And I said, "No, no. My life is all together. We're okay." So I worked out with the faculty at University of Akron to continue my master's work while I was in Africa. Which turns out to be pretty funny. But I got whatever letters were required, and sent those along, and vouchers from UK faculty. Or not UK, University of Akron faculty, saying, "It's going to be okay. Glen will be all right. Let him go to Africa. He'll have work to do while he's there. And we think he can do it, and it won't be too much of an obstacle." So that was one flag 10:00that was thrown. Another flag that was thrown, and maybe I shouldn't confess this, was a little traffic DUI when I was twenty years old, or something like that. (laughs)Well heck, by now I'm twenty-six, right? But you know, I'm glad, actually, that they're very, it seems like it's a very thorough process of looking at your records and who you are and what you're about and I think that overall it goes a long way to keep the Peace Corps very on the up and up. Anyway, that was a minor blip, and that got overcome pretty quickly, too.

WILSON: So you were invited to go to Gabon when in '89?

PAYNE: Pretty late. In about August. The way I understand it in hindsight now is that the major new volunteer launches are happening 11:00during the summer. Maybe June and July. Schools everywhere have let out, and training can begin. That's when people are taking off. The China program got cut. Got invited in kind of a hurry up way to West Africa, Gabon. It turns out I wasn't alone. And we were going to do, me and about six other men, there were no women asked to do this school construction program, were going to go to Gabon in October. So we were kind of the, we weren't part of the main group of other volunteers who went to Gabon that year, 1989. We didn't go until October. And we missed out on some of the, you make a lot of friends during those initial training periods and all that. But we made our own, we had our own group there. So we went, just really the seven of us.


WILSON: And you trained in Gabon?

PAYNE: Yeah. We met in Atlanta, Georgia for three days. And I used to be able to, I used to know the exact date. It was around the end of October. We met in Atlanta, Georgia for three days, and got some of the standard orientation that Peace Corps delivered in that day. And then we flew to Bujumbura near Lake Bukavu in, where is that? Near the Rwanda border with Burundi. That's where it is. From there we traveled into Bukavu, Zaire [now Congo]. That's where Bukavu is. Bukavu is in Zaire, or about, it seems like it was about three weeks or four weeks 13:00of immersion in the French language and cultural orientation. Had a special place in Bukavu. And it was a pretty, it was a place that could accommodate large groups. But there were only the seven of us there. So we had kind of the run of the place in Bukavu.

WILSON: Had you had any previous French language?

PAYNE: I had had, I had had French. Remember, I was getting a master's in linguistics. So part of what I'm studying are languages, grammars, things like that. So I had had French. What I was studying was -- I don't want you to laugh too hard -- it was Old Norse. I'm studying medieval Icelandic and Danish. But I had had French as part of some 14:00requirements. So I'd had a couple of years of that. And I felt pretty good about my written, or let's say reading French. But of course, I had never said a word, I had never spoken a word beyond bonjour in French. So the immersion program in Bukavu was just as much of an experience for me as it was for people who had never heard a French word in their whole lives. It was pretty fun.

WILSON: So that was language and cultural training.

PAYNE: Right.

WILSON: And did you have other training in Gabon?


WILSON: Okay. Tell me something about that.

PAYNE: Well, we were at the Institut Superieur Pedagogique in Bukavu. When that concluded, we all seven, because we were all part of the same program-- normally that's not the case for a large training group. 15:00You might have some people who were in fisheries, some education, some teachers, nurses, small business, etcetera. But we were just a special school construction program group. They flew us at the end of our three or four weeks, I can't recall, exactly, in Bukavu to Libreville, Gabon. And we touched down in Libreville, spent a night that is all a blur to me now in what they call a casa de passage, which is sort of a flophouse for volunteers that's administrated by the Peace Corps office in town. I remember lots of lights and new smells and very strong tasting beans and rice with spices and palm oil and all this new stuff all of a sudden crowding in on me. Because now we're not part of the formal training group anymore. Now we're just, we're in country. 16:00We're excited and eager. And they didn't leave us much time in the capital. If we would have been part of the June/July group, we would have probably had three or four weeks in the capital, in Libreville, in various orientation and training activities. But we're a strange group. We're the construction guys. And it's October. So we touched down in Libreville, spent the one night, and then we were off into country. What they did was they sent each of us, or sometimes a couple in pairs, off to live with a volunteer for four or five days, out on a site somewhere, in a village or maybe a provincial capital. And so after that initial landing in Libreville, and that one really kind of blurry night, I remember just getting on the back of an overloaded 17:00pickup with a couple other volunteers and lots and lots of Gabonese, and going down long, hundreds of miles, really, or maybe, let's say hundreds of kilometers, anyway, out to some village where I landed with a volunteer named Brian, and spent four or five days with him in the quiet. So this is my first time to be in the quiet of a Gabonese village. I haven't really thought about this in a long time. It's pretty interesting. It makes me want to go get my pictures out.

WILSON: And so how was that?

PAYNE: Well, it was a shocker. I'm sure that I thought he was, you know, when you're a new volunteer and you're with the guy who's been there a year and a half or something like that, man, they seem like the oldest, roughest cowboys there is, right? And you're as green as they 18:00come. Don't know what's happening. Brian was a great guy to be with. But I couldn't believe-- remember now, this is the first time I'm seeing the kind of work that I'm apparently expected to be doing here in the country.

WILSON: He was a--

PAYNE: He was a construction volunteer. So what they did was they sent us off, all us seven construction guys, off to live with guys, construction guys who were already in country. And I'm looking at what Brian is wearing. I'm looking at his house. I'm looking at the village. I'm looking at the way he interacts with the Gabonese. I'm looking at his job site. And I'm particularly looking at what he's eating and drinking. And I'm thinking, I'll never make it. I don't know what he's putting in his mouth, but it doesn't look like something I'm ever going to put in my mouth. Well it turns out to be something that I miss very badly right now. I got my first drink of palm wine 19:00from Brian. And I thought it was the most disgusting thing that I had ever ingested. Ever. But it turns out that it's something that I miss pretty deeply right now. I don't know if you know much about palm wine.

WILSON: An acquired taste.

PAYNE: It's an acquired taste. That's right. Tastes like suntan lotion mixed with dandelion leaves. It's bitter and sweet and very strong. You know, it's kind of speckled over on top with whatever detritus is from the trees. And leaf chunks and bugs and all kinds of other crazy stuff. But brother, I would give anything for a bottle of it right now.

WILSON: (laughs) Okay. So that was your introduction.


PAYNE: That's right.

WILSON: So what after those four or five days?

PAYNE: What did we do? Oh, here's what we did. We went out and we regrouped. I should say, they regrouped us back into one village where there was a, we were going to build schools. I'm part of the rural, I think it's official name was the rural, it's a hard word to say, the Rural School Construction Program. RSCP. They regrouped us back into one village, which I believe was named Idemba. I-d-e-m-b-a. And it was in the interior of the country. Gabon is 95 percent rainforest. 21:00With nothing else happening in it. And the villages are very far apart, very little in the way of paved roads. In fact, there aren't, I would say that outside of the capital and maybe one or two other towns in the country, there aren't any paved roads at all. We regrouped in a village where a school was about, a construction project had been begun on purpose. The way they conducted the training was you would dig a foundation and then let's say one of these schools is eighty feet long by twenty-eight, thirty feet wide. So you've got a foundation hole. 22:00Then beginning on one side, there's nothing in that foundation hole. But on the other side, there are already concrete blocks mounted. So parts of the school are already up. And my group is going to spend about five weeks with a trainer there to put as much of the rest of that school together fairly quickly as a demonstration and as a hands on learning technique, is how that worked. So we can begin at on side looking at how the foundation hole was dug. Looking at how it was leveled out, squared up. We did that. We would make our own concrete block. We would make our own gravel, dig our own sand, cut wood. And we got the full experience then of doing everything from the initial 23:00digging to laying block and beginning to put on pieces of roof and all that. So by the time a training, by the time our training group is finished there, after four or five weeks, we have about, we've got one school about two-thirds of the way done. The way it works then is one volunteer out of our group will be selected then to stay there and finish that school. And everybody else will go off to independent villages to begin new projects. So that's what happened.

WILSON: And so you went off to one of those new villages?

PAYNE: Yeah. Well, I went off with another volunteer, which was a little bit unusual. His name was Stuart Osborne. Well, it still is Stuart Osborne. Stuart's an architect somewhere now. But we went to the southern, one of the southern provinces of the country, the Nyanga 24:00province. And the reason they sent two of us to my first village was because we hadn't worked in that province before, and they kind of wanted, the country director there kind of wanted to make sure everything was okay. It was a way of testing the waters and ensuring a little bit of additional security by that means. Not that there was anything to worry about. But you know, you don't just fling a volunteer by himself to a part of the country where they're not used to having a volunteer without some precaution. So that's how that, that's what happened to me. Stuart Osborne and I ended up in a village called Penyundu (??) that was in the southern part of the country. And we worked together there for I guess seven or eight months before Stuart, 25:00everything seemed to be okay. Another site was opening up in the middle of the country that needed a volunteer. And so since everything was pretty calm down in Nyanga and the job site was gong well, Stewart went ahead and left. And he went up to take over another site. And I remained in Penioundu then for the rest of my year, to finish building that school.

WILSON: So tell me something about how that worked, building the school, with the local community. Who was involved? Who provided the funding? The labor and so forth.

PAYNE: Right. Well, the reason we were there, the Gabonese government has a policy of providing villages with a teacher. One or more, depending on the size of the village. But the teacher, to be a teacher 26:00means you've trained at the college in the capital. And it's quite a, not very many people in that country get that kind of education. So there's some, there's some prestige and privilege that's expected along with that. The Gabonese government will provide a teacher, or will cause incentives for a teacher to go out to a village and live and begin to work. But not the rural, not the ones that are way out there. The ones that are just too, the villages that are just too far off the main tracks don't get very much attention. And so that was the gap that our program was filling. What we did was, our mission was to go to the more remoter villages, those one or two nice residences that a 27:00teacher could come and stay in. Could have. Could live in. And build a school in which the teacher could teach. But these are villages of anywhere from two hundred to six or eight hundred people. So they're pretty tiny. They're very remote. And the work is very hard to get that school built. You might spend a long time convincing your co-villagers that what you're up to, considering all the obstacles. Broken French, lack of communication with the capital city. You know, you might spend a while just trying to ingratiate yourself, trying to be friends. You have a lot to learn just to get by day to day as 28:00far as washing, eating and keeping clean and trying to make your way through the day. But you get over some of that fairly quickly and get right into making friends. We were allowed to pay workers. We could actually pay workers to work in the village.

WILSON: Where did the funds come from?

PAYNE: The funds come from the Gabonese government. And they're pretty meager. But even meager would be very attractive out in these remote villages. Because honestly, apart from the, there isn't much in the way of career opportunity, let's put it, out in these remote villages. The idea on our side was if I can find, if I can make friends with, gain the respect and trust of anywhere from three or four to up to 29:00ten or more fellows in this village who are willing to come and work, who understand what we're going to try to do, we're going to try to build teachers' houses and a school. We're going to use mostly their methods for building for the houses. And then I'm going to bring some expertise around building a concrete block school in the village. Then I can offer to pay them a little something as well. And they'll get paid on some monthly basis. And it was a very attractive proposition for them. And for us. The goal on our side was then to, one of the incentives on our side was to train them. "If any of you are good enough, dynamic enough, learn enough, you may come with me to the next place and have a stronger supervisory role in the building of another school." And you can see where that road's leading. "Well eventually we would like for you to be a builder. To know about construction 30:00techniques and about making sure that, about supervising a job site, employing other people, all those things." So that way they could go into another professional firm, maybe up in the capital or somewhere, and say, "Hey, I have experience in building. I worked with an American Peace Corps volunteer. I ran my own job site." Etcetera. That was the ideal, I'm painting the optimal picture of how that was supposed to work. And we did have success with that. We had two or three Gabonese men who came out of the villages pretty young. They may be anywhere from eighteen to twenty years old or something, who learned enough that after a couple of years they were given their own job sites, running right alongside an American volunteer somewhere. Not in the same village, but on a parity with an American volunteer. The 31:00Gabonese government was paying us as well.

WILSON: So they were covering your living allowance.

PAYNE: Yeah. Right. As far as I know. I never really got behind all the curtains of the administration on that.

WILSON: And what kind of housing was made available to you?

PAYNE: Well-- (laughs)When I first landed in Penioundu with Stewart, I don't know what we did. We lived in something that was made partly out of bark. Kind of a mud and wattle technique. Partly made out of bark with a little bit of a rusty tin roof. But we were pretty soon after that offered a nice mud brick house. And we were kind of adopted by some really nice folks in the village, whom I love to this day and will never forget. But they're mud brick houses. Very simple. Very, 32:00and they had kind of a uniqueness architecturally that you have to be there a couple of years to figure out why the house is built the way it is. For instance, imagine a very simple rectangle one story high made out of mud brick with a tin roof, or maybe it's not, I want to say a pine roof.

WILSON: Thatched roof?

PAYNE: Thatch, yeah, leaves of a kind, long, can you imagine long--

WILSON: Palm leaves.

PAYNE: Yeah, like palm leaves, but it was a special plant that they were using that worked out very nicely for that. But anyway, it's a simple rectangle. And then you know, as Americans, we're used to making something of our homes. We live in them. But honestly, in that climate, there's nothing happening inside the house. Really it's just 33:00a place where you go in and you sleep at night. People had very little in the way of possessions. There might be a couple of, wooden bed with some matted mattress of some kind, kind of homemade. Everything very scratch made. The windows are very tiny. The door is low and there would be a door in the front and a door in the back that make kind of a central passage. We found out that there's a lot of superstition there about spirits and things like that. I don't want to paint too much of a picture of that. But some of that was leading to why they built the houses in certain ways. In other words, let me put it this way. I'm going to build a teacher's house. So I have an idea of what a house should be like. My idea does not match their idea at all of what a 34:00house should be like. I'm wanting to make something modern, right? With lots of open space, a nice veranda with big wide doors. Nice windows that you can open up and look out, etcetera. And the villagers in Penioundu did not want that. They wanted it just like their places. With the small windows. Little tiny cells for rooms, things like that. And I understand that now. You do, of course, what's expected. We don't want the Americans to do something that we don't understand. That's not going to be a house to me, you know, if you do it that way. What Gabonese would come down and live in such a thing? It would be like me living in one of their houses now, of course. It's just a mismatch. So that was a lot of fun, learning about that kind of thing. We made the mud brick. You make mud brick by digging a hole, locating 35:00certain clay soils of some kinds. Wetting it, moistening it with water, doing lots of stomping and sort of kneading of the mud. And then packing mud into wooden molds. And it was great fun. We could work with the women of the village, the kids. Men. Lots and lots of volunteer labor to help make the mud bricks for the teachers' houses. It was a good time.

WILSON: So the teachers' houses you did make in the Gabonese style.

PAYNE: Very much so.

WILSON: With mud brick and so forth.

PAYNE: Right.

WILSON: The school, you--

PAYNE: The school, we were following a standard Peace Corps rural school construction program plan. Which you were encouraged to deviate from it a little bit--

WILSON: You started to tell me a little bit about your living situation.

PAYNE: Uh huh.


WILSON: You had windows? You had--

PAYNE: Well, not glass.

WILSON: Not glass.

PAYNE: Not glass.

WILSON: Just frames.

PAYNE: Yeah, just wooden frames that you could--

WILSON: And shutters.

PAYNE: --swing out on a bent nail, you know.

WILSON: Or a shutter that you could use to--

PAYNE: More like a shutter, really.

WILSON: Running water?

PAYNE: No. No. No water. No electricity. No.

WILSON: So what did you do for drinking water and bathing and so forth?

PAYNE: Well, we didn't drink very much water.

WILSON: You drank a lot of palm wine.

PAYNE: Drank a lot of palm wine and a lot of beer. It was one of the funny things that we say about Gabon is no matter how remote it gets, you can still get one of the those big brown or green bottles of Regab. That was the sort of the national beer. Almost everywhere you went. We drank a lot of palm wine. Water, of course the villages are 37:00located near rivers or small tributaries, creeks, things like that. And so we'd go, we'd use those for washing, for bathing, laundry. Not much drinking.

WILSON: Latrine?

PAYNE: Latrine, we'd dig one. We had, because we were, I haven't mentioned yet one of the really unique things about our program. And by that I mean the Rural School Construction Program in Gabon, only. Which is that we all had trucks. Each volunteer got a Toyota Land Cruiser because of the nature of the work that we were doing. We were going to be hauling sand. We were going to be hauling rocks and gravel, and hauling timber, hauling sacks of cement and things like that. So we had trucks. I forget where I was going with that. What 38:00did you just ask me about? (laughs) Oh, like water, living situation, things like that?

WILSON: Yeah, yeah. The latrine is what--

PAYNE: Oh, the latrine! That's right. How did I get from the latrine to trucks?

WILSON: Probably on the building side of it.

PAYNE: Oh, here's where I was going. We had trucks and we had access to materials. So we built very nice, I mean, I considered them to be very nice latrines. You might dig a deep hole, and over it take some wood and make like a concrete form. And then we could mix concrete and pour a concrete slab on top of this, of course with a hole. Right? And then around that, we had access to corrugated tin. And I keep wanting to call it the words that we used. Tole is what we called it. But we had 39:00corrugated tin. So around the overtop of the concrete slab, of course, we would have four little walls made out of corrugated tin and sort of a sloping shed type tin roof over it. So they were great latrines by the time we were finished.

WILSON: So did you build those for the Gabonese teacher houses as well?


WILSON: And the school?

PAYNE: And the school. Right.

WILSON: You had mentioned earlier your initial somewhat disparaging opinion of what the volunteer that you first visited was eating. What did you do about food for yourself later on?

PAYNE: Well, during our training period, we were, let me cast back to when we were regrouped together as one, as new guys in Idemba going to, during our training period. We didn't live together. We each lived 40:00with a Gabonese host family. And then we were given, we had enough money and access to buy meat. Here's something that we could do in Gabon. We could buy shotgun shells. I guess we had some status that allowed us to buy what would otherwise be a very controlled item. So not everybody can just go out, run out to the capital and buy a box of shotgun shells. But we could. And here's how that worked. There are hunters in Gabon. Lots of meat.

WILSON: Bush meat.

PAYNE: Bush meat, of all kinds. Duiker, antelope, gazelle, crocodile, snake. I ate elephant a couple of times. Wild, I want to say wild boar. Sanglier is what we called it. Kind of a wild pig. Pangolin, 41:00which is like an armadillo. Very, very occasionally, on special occasions, we'd have goat. But of course you didn't hunt the goats. The goats were property. We could buy shotgun shells. And we were encouraged to do so by the trainer and the volunteer leader out of the capital, etcetera. If I had a box of shotgun shells, I could give a hunter three shells and say, "Go kill three things. And give me one." And we might be talking about an entire, an animal. It might be a duiker or one of these little gazelles or something. And they were very, very, very good hunters. So I'm only half, I'm not kidding at all, actually. If I said, "Here's three shells. Go and get three things and give me one." So I could get one. And then I could give 42:00that, say, to my family. Or later on, when I was out in the village by myself, I could give it to, say, a lady that I was very good friends with, or somebody in the village. And say, "Prepare this meat, and just give me some." So everybody gets to win, right? The hunter got a couple of animals that he could dress for himself and his family or extended family or sell or whatever. I got one, and then the lady who's making it for me gets to keep most of that. Because all I need is a little something to eat. And they were just amazing cooks using what little resources you could get out of the little tiny market stalls and things like that that you might find in the provincial capitals. Certain oils, a few spices, lots of homemade things out of, with palm oil and 43:00things like that. Really delicious sauces. So we ate fairly well, as long as hunting was good and you could keep your lines of supply up and your communication with the capital. But it was entirely possible to get out there for a long time and kind of let some of that drop and not have any shotgun shells, and I haven't picked up my money in a while, and I haven't been anywhere except this village. And it can get pretty lean. I mean, I probably lost forty pounds while I was there working.

WILSON: And the staple for people is--

PAYNE: The staple is manioc. Manioc. Which I never really grew too fond of. Although I'm going to say I ate a ton of it. But it's not something that I miss terribly today.


WILSON: Okay. Let's, I've got to turn this over.

PAYNE: Okay.

[Tape 1, side 1 ends; tape 1, side 2 begins.]

WILSON: Going back just a step. Tell me something about how you worked in your village, building this school, with the village power structure. 45:00Were they involved? Did you have a pre-selected counterpart? Did you have to go through a village chief or something? How did that work?

PAYNE: Well, yeah, the villages had, there was a power structure out there. It would be kind of regional, I was going to say chiefs, but it's more French. The chef de canton, which might be a kind of a regional administrator of a kind, I don't know what you'd, I don't know the--

WILSON: For the government, in that case.

PAYNE: Yes. A representative from the government. But really it's local. It's, they have a status as representative with the government. But I don't think there are a lot of communications or supplies or lines of activity, or anything happening from these regions that are, these very rural regions back with the capital. Once you leave 46:00the capital in Gabon, you're gone. It's out there. There's no more radioing back, there's no more phoning back. There's no nothing. So--

WILSON: At least not in 1989.

PAYNE: At least not in 1989. Not that we could see. I mean, you could, but you'd have to hunt up somebody. You're liable to find, if you needed to communicate, say, by phone, you're going to go and try to find an expatriate somewhere. Probably in a provincial capital. They're going to say, "Oh, yeah. Louis the French guy who has a little construction company," or something. Which doesn't do all that much, has a satellite phone or some kind of a radio or something. So it's pretty rare to communicate. Because of that, the volunteer, 47:00the directors out of the capital would make lots and lots, lots and lots of their job was traveling around the country checking in with volunteers of all different programs, seeing how they're doing, taking the temperature of what's up, what do you need, bringing things like popcorn, cheese, things like that, that you would never get out in the village anywhere. There's no refrigeration. There's no electricity. There's no running water, nothing like that. There were a couple of towns that I would say that none of them besides the capital approaches the term "city." But there were a couple of provincial, provincial centers, I should say. Yeah, centers for provinces, that achieved a kind of a size where you might find a concentration of expatriates from 48:00France. Lots of French people. Very, very few Americans. I believe that, as far as I knew, apart from the embassy people in the country, the only Americans in the country are the Peace Corps volunteers. At the time, there were maybe ninety of them, spread out throughout the entire country.

WILSON: So did you, you recruited local workers?

PAYNE: We recruited local workers in the village. Now I did an extra year and a half after my two-year tour was up. So I left in '89 and I came back in '92, the very, very tail end of '92. Somehow--

WILSON: So you changed villages, then, with different assignments?

PAYNE: During my two years, let's see. I was in Penioundu first. And I finished that school. In fact, that may have chewed up, that may 49:00have taken me the whole two years. No. Yeah, it did. After Penyungdu (??), I decided to stay in Gabon. And I became a trainer. The way they did it before was they got a returned volunteer, say, who was back in the States to fly out, fly back to Gabon. A contract basis. Do the training for four or five or six weeks, whatever it is. And then go back home. And Mark Vandervort was our country director. And I remember talking with him and saying, "I'm here. I'm going to stay. I have a construction background, I've already built a couple of schools here in the country. Let me just be your trainer." So this is how I'm getting around to telling you how to work with the villagers. Because 50:00it was different everywhere you went. And one of my most important jobs when I became a trainer was I'm going to go to a village many months in advance. I know that there's a batch of new construction volunteers coming, say, in June. But in December or January, I'm already in that village sort of planting seeds. And I'm not going to do much maybe for a couple of months. I'm going to hang out with them. We're going to laugh. And I'm going to drink palm wine with them. I might walk around on some of their hunts a little bit. Really just to sort of gently make friends, you know, see what kind of support there might be. And I'm introducing the idea to them that pretty soon, at the end of the dry season or whenever, there's going to be more 51:00Americans like me coming to this village. And we're going to build a house or two and a school here. And it was important to go ahead and let them build a consensus around that idea. Let them--

WILSON: That they wanted that.

PAYNE: Yeah. Do you want that? It might be very likely that you get to a village where you know, you have determined that they don't really need that. It's just not going to happen here. That happened to me once. Otherwise, you're beginning to work with them on well, where's it going to be? Do you, what do you do now for school? And they'll take you over to someplace where there's nothing but some wooden benches, and it's no ceiling at all, no walls, nothing, just a place where they gather, maybe, and do some spotty instruction. To the best of their abilities. It turns out, I'm going to skip ahead here. It 52:00turns out it's a very, for African, for West African countries, it's a very literate country. They do place a high value on education. So usually that's no trouble, to get them to the idea. And they're saying well who's going to pay for it? Well, I'm going to pay. I'm going to bring the materials. I'm going to supply that. What you can do is you can provide volunteer labor and some paid labor. It's going to be important that we work together to select a site, to do some of the initial scoping out of where we might get sand, where we might get gravel. Because you have to dig your own sand. Here, I can make a phone call and say, "I need three tons of sand." A truck will dump it in my driveway. But there, you have to go get it. So it might be that me and some guys from the village, our first initial goal is really 53:00let's just make a big mountain of sand right here next to this little river or creek. So we might be standing up to our knees or waists in the water for six or seven weeks or longer, just shoveling, just throwing shovelfuls of river bottom up onto the shore until we've got a bunch of sand and gravel there. Meanwhile, we might have another project cooking where we've got some of the women and kids involved to start to make mud bricks. Stack them up. They're not fired in any way. They're not kiln dried or heated or anything like that. They're just sun dried. And we might make a stock of those. Meanwhile, though, there's lots and lots of, you know, the pace of activity is very slow. Part of it's culture and part of it's climate. You might 54:00get going on a job site at 6:30 in the morning, and by 11:30, that's the end of it. We're quitting and there's no more for the day. It's too hot. There's too much else to do, too many other things that we need to get to in the day, such as hunting or you know, washing up, collecting firewood. Hanging out. Doing more hanging out. You know, lots of sitting around, talking. So as a trainer, usually by a couple or three months in, I know everybody in the village. It's very small. They know me. They know I'm harmless, and I know they're harmless, right? And in fact, we're great pals, probably. I have introduced the idea that I need some people to let an American live with them, just for four or five, six weeks, something like that. If they'll, when 55:00they get here, when the guys get here, in June, say, if you'll let one of them live in your house, then we'll get onto this meat program where I'll be supplying them with certain things, they'll bring it home to you, you prepare it and you can keep most of it, just make sure they get something to eat. The one innovation that we brought when I became a trainer there was I worked with Mark Vandervort, our country director, and said, "We need for the guys to be able to have one recognizable meal during the day." At least one a day where they have an opportunity to get something that's not palm oil or manioc or armadillo meat or whatever it is, things that they're not used to. So I asked for a cook. I asked, "Let me have another volunteer to 56:00come out here during these four, five, six week period, and cook for these guys. And you send us some supplies for that. Send us breads and cheeses, cans of tomato sauce, canned veggies, things like that, right? Corns and green beans and peas." And so the first, the cook that I had then was Jenifer, who is now my wife. I mean, we knew each other already. We were friends. We got closer while we were working there together. The new guys, of course, remember me saying how when the new guys get there, they feel as green-- These might be very experienced guys in the States. But boy, you get there where every piece of your world is different. Nothing makes sense to you. They feel very green. And I used to tell them, "This school is not a complicated building. If you can't build this school in eleven days in the United States, I'm going to fire you. But here, if you can get one done in two years, 57:00we're going to raise you a toast." Because you cannot order materials to be sent to you. You cannot push people around. You just can't work that way. And we don't want you to. It needs to be their school. You're there as the guy who can provide the monthly sort of stipend pay around it. You have some responsibility around that. You're there to teach them and to instruct and to transfer as much knowledge in that way, construction skills, techniques, job supervision, all those things as you can, to them. Hopefully to a targeted one or two of them who seem like good soil to till in that way. But you're going to have to go stand in the river and make a mountain of sand. You might have to break rocks to make gravel. You're going to have to build a mold to 58:00make mud brick. You're going to have to design the house. You know, working with them. You're going to have to build it, and when it rains and knocks your walls down, you're going to have to rebuild it again, until you get under roof. So they have quite of a job cut out for them. And you have to live here. And your best, it's in your best interest to be yourself, be as honest as you can with them. And build respect. You need to respect what they're about, and they need to respect what you're about. But most of the onus for that is going to be on you're in their village. And there's not very much in and out. There might be, their village is where if we saw one vehicle a week, that would be great. That would be, pretty remote. You're going to 59:00need to eat like them, like the Gabonese. Learn what they do. Trust their judgment on things. You don't have to be the expert on what's good water and what's not, which piece of meat is too rotten to eat and which isn't, because they already are. They've lived here their whole lives. I mean, their whole culture is built around. You take their lead on all those things, and then you provide the leadership that you ought to provide when it makes good sense around things that they don't have, things that they can't, that aren't easy for them to get, like job training. New techniques, new ideas. It could be something as simple as using a water level to level a concrete floor or something like that. Show them how to use a water level, right? Spend ten 60:00weeks on it if you need to. We don't need this school, it's not about productivity. If it was about building schools, we would just fly materials in, fly guys in with generators, right? And crank them out. But obviously that's not what we're doing. It's not what it's about. It's about learning, having fun, building relationships. And we built great relationships, volunteers did. They'd make great friends. Some of them even would get married. They would have long term relationships with Gabonese who would come to visit them in the States, or they'd fly back to Gabon to visit, etcetera. So it was a really wonderful program in that way to get you living, really, in a very remote area, with Gabonese, just the way that they live out there. It's affected my whole life, you know? There are pieces of me that will never come back.


WILSON: So what did you do for recreation?

PAYNE: Talk. You can probably tell from this interview. (laughs)We used to comment on it all the time. After about a year or so we'd be like, you know what? We talk a lot. We'd get together as often as we could with other American volunteers, right? And those relationships are unbreakable. And those are people that we love to this day, and who love us back. It's about as close as I can think of when people say "my army buddies." I feel like I could understand a piece of that. Because it's like people who were in this experience together. But what did we do for recreation? We talked. Because there isn't anything else to do. It's almost like a new skill that you learn again. Wow, people are really interesting! Right? If you'll talk to them at length. If it's not just about some transaction between me and you, like most 62:00of my interaction today is more like that, in this world.

WILSON: But you're talking about the Gabonese as well as with the volunteers?

PAYNE: That's right. That's right. Uh huh. With the volunteers, it's lots and lots of note comparing. And how in the world, what in the, rage about things that you don't understand. Humility about things that you thought you were right on and turned out to be wrong on. Lots of like mutual wishing for, "Gosh, I just wish I had a glass of cold milk. I haven't seen a glass of cold milk in a year! You know, I'm thirsty for it!" You know? Or a new shirt. Wouldn't that be great? Something that didn't smell like diesel fuel and dust and manioc. You know? Anything. And with the Gabonese, you're doing the best you can. 63:00French is a second language for both of us, for the American and for the Gabonese. They speak their languages. In the southern part of Gabon, there's lots and lots of Bantu. In the northern part, there's lots and lots of Fang. And variations of that.

WILSON: And you didn't--

PAYNE: We learned some Ipunu. Or at least where I was, it was Ipunu. It might be Bateke, Mitsogo, Ipunu, various flavors of Bantu tribal languages. But yeah, I learned some, your transcriber would never be able to--

WILSON: But how was that, as a linguistic student?

PAYNE: Oh! Meanwhile-- (laughs) It was very fascinating. But I didn't pursue. I mean, I learned enough to be like a real friend and regular 64:00fellow there in the village, regular guy, right? I learned, "I'm going down to the water. It's hot today. You guys got any beer left? What kind of meat is that?" Just simple things like that. But I didn't study that language at all. In fact, as far as I know, there's no written form of it. We met a missionary at one point who'd been there over twenty years who was working on building out a written piece of that. So there was an interest there for me. But I had my own work to do. Remember me saying that I took some work with me?

WILSON: Right.

PAYNE: Here's what I did. Here's why the other volunteers, my friends will make fun of me to this day. I took with me a thirteenth century Norse manuscript to translate into English. And that's what I'm working on. It was a saga of Andrew the apostle. Written in Iceland 65:00in 1267, or some year like that. And I'm doing this at night with a candle, right? Or a kerosene, one of these rickety kerosene lanterns, sitting on a wooden bench with my stub of a pencil. And it was just hilarious, really, to think about. I thought, my goodness, what am I doing? (laughs) But I got that done. And when I came back, by the way, I managed to turn that in and get my master's degree.

WILSON: That was your master's thesis?

PAYNE: That was my thesis project. Right. Right. I was allowed to do a project, rather than a true thesis, because of the unusual nature of how I was trying to get it done. It was a nice concession, really, from the university to say, "I'll tell you what. If you'll take this with you and do that and get that cooked, then you can have the--"


WILSON: Do you think they believed you would take it with you and do that?

PAYNE: I'm sure they did. You know? And why not? I did. (laughs) I was just that kind of guy.

WILSON: Okay. Did you do any traveling while you were there? Either in country or--

PAYNE: Lots of in country.

WILSON: --or elsewhere in Africa, or elsewhere, period?

PAYNE: Well, yeah. Lots of in country. You know, sort of, I don't want to make it sound too easy, but we would travel around and meet in Chibanga or Mayumba or N'dende or various other places to meet with either people we needed to because they were Gabonese officials in some way, or to meet with other volunteers, or both. I traveled with a couple of friends to Kenya for I guess about a month during the 67:00three years or so that I was there. That was a lot of fun. It was nice to get out and see another part of Central Africa. But it was very different from Gabon. When we got to Nairobi, we thought we were in Chicago. It was so built and urban and sophisticated. It had ATM machines. It was just crazy. We felt pretty cut off. There's one funny story where me and some other volunteers were sitting around. It's night, we've got beers all around us and there's a fire. And the US ambassador is coming down to visit us.

WILSON: In your village.

PAYNE: In the village, right, where we are. And it turns out that the ambassador doesn't, but some deputy or somebody else does from the office. Anyway, this fellow gets here and he goes, during the course 68:00of our talking, he mentioned that they had torn down the Berlin Wall, right? And we just, we were like yeah, right. (laughs)Sure. No. We didn't, we were just cut off. We had no news.

WILSON: No radio?

PAYNE: Yeah, we had some shortwave. But we had, as eager green volunteers we kind of toyed with that a while. At least I did. I played with it early on for some weeks and kind of got tired of it. Honestly it was much more, it was much funner to just be out talking with people. A lot of activity at night in the villages. A lot of pumping water at the well and tending the fire with the men. Sometimes there would be occasional, I want to say fete, fetes. I don't know 69:00what you'd call it. Like little--

WILSON: Festivals?

PAYNE: Yeah. Little festival or some occasion for music, dancing in the village. Really a lot of sensory overload on those. So different, so rich. A lot of sound. You know, a lot of firelight. Really interesting nights in the villages.

WILSON: Did you return to the States between your two years of service and your training?

PAYNE: I did. Yes, I did. I came back for, I guess about three and a half weeks.

WILSON: What was that like?

PAYNE: It was really a shocker. My parents and family hardly recognized 70:00me. Of course by now I have long hair and I'm forty or more pounds lighter. I'm down to my like ninth grade weight, right? But very strong in a way. There's a kind of a fearlessness that you get. There's a kind of a confidence and fearlessness that you grow, I think. Because most of what you're doing on a day to day basis is utterly unsupervised. I don't have to do anything in the village. I don't have to build the school. I don't have to do anything. Everything you do is because you somehow found the get up and energy and commitment to try to make something happen. And there's a kind of 71:00a vitality about it that when I came to the States, all of a sudden I remembered in a very big way, very suddenly, that lots and lots of what happens in the States is just really alien to the kind of life that I'm living over there, and to the, so the chasm between being a regular guy, regular American guy growing up in Ohio, and being in one of those Gabonese villages is really so broad that I hardly knew how to cross it even with my own family. Of course they're asking me very similar questions. "Well, what's it like?" Well, how do I tell you? Because like I said to you earlier, Jack, if I say the word "road" or "bridge" or "house" or "village" or anything, none of these things is like 72:00what you picture. The road is a red dirt track, you know, that if you drive a truck down it, it's jungle brushing up against both rear view mirrors, right? And that's going to show up on a map. Go get the map of Gabon out, and look at the roads on the interior. And then imagine that that's, they're really like what I'm telling you.

WILSON: So you were here just three weeks.

PAYNE: Yeah. And I gained a lot of weight. I ate like crazy. I slept a lot. I went to my sister's house as soon as I came back to the States for that visit. And I don't remember much. But the way she tells it now, I must have slept about two days, or something like that. I think I was just exhausted. And the long flight from, first it's 73:00maybe two days travel from the village up to the capital. Then it's from the capital to Brussels. And then Brussels to JFK. And then JFK to Cleveland. And then the hour from Cleveland. Anyway, I was exhausted. Not just physically, but in a lot of other ways, too. I was very relieved and happy to be back at home, so to speak, for a bit. And I just crashed and slept. And then got up and spent time with family. Got some pictures developed, and just took care of some little bits of business like that during the time. But mostly I didn't do much during that stay.

WILSON: You were glad you made the decision to go back to Gabon?

PAYNE: Yeah. I did have a little bit of convincing to do. Because people are like, "Well, you're done now. You did two years and you're back now. Why are you going back?" But honestly, they know. My family 74:00knew me. It wasn't a surprise to them that I wanted to go back to Gabon. And for that matter, I would go back tomorrow afternoon if I had a good purpose to do so.

WILSON: You stayed another year, or year and a half?

PAYNE: About a year, just over a year. A year and some. I'd have to count it up.

WILSON: And you met your wife there.

PAYNE: I had met her when she first arrived. She had got there in 1990. I was a good part of a year ahead of her. And we were friends. Until it got close to time to leave for good. And I thought man, I'm really going to miss her. (laughs)And it turns out she was thinking the same thing. And there's more of a story to it than that, but I'll 75:00spare you. But that's what it amounted to. And it's worked out great. That's thirteen years ago.

WILSON: So then you came back finally, in '9_

PAYNE: Like December '92.

WILSON: '92, okay.

PAYNE: Right. So let's see, what is that, then? The last bit of '89, all of '90, all of '91, darn near all of '92.

WILSON: So what was it like coming back for good?

PAYNE: Honestly, it was depressing. It was, how can something be exhilarating and depressing at the same time? I was pretty desensitized to various things. I can give you an example. Very early on, coming back to the States, I watched a sitcom. And I can't recall what 76:00it was. It was just an average Thursday night sitcom, right? And I remember laughing and laughing like I'd never seen anything funny in my whole life, you know? And the flip side of that coin is I watched, some other movie came on, and it seemed like it was so violent to me and so raw edged that it was like repulsive in a way. I just realized at the end of that, I was like I've just plain been desensitized to it. I thought the funny parts were about the funniest thing I ever saw. And the scary parts were the most terrifying things I'd ever seen, right? And that's what most people are doing. We're watching TV. We're going to work. We're doing our daily things. And there's lots and lots of richness about life. But it took me a long time to like, to find that again in what I'm doing in this part of my life now, back in the States.


WILSON: So what did you do?

PAYNE: When I came back, I went back to work for my dad's building company again. Partly because that was easy, right? I could immediately get work without a long application process. But right away, pretty much right away, I started working at Roadway Express, the trucking company. National trucking company. Headquarters are in Akron. And I was hired there as a writer in the corporate communications department. So you see, I'd finally succeeded in getting out of the building business. Jenifer and I got married in '93. So we were back about a year and then got married. I started working at Roadway. Now I'll give you the fifteen second version from there to here.

WILSON: You can make it longer than that.

PAYNE: Well, remember I'm hired at Roadway as a writer. But this is 78:00like '93, or '94-'95. And one thing I didn't mention, I was always a computer geek in the background, right? The guy who'd stay up late at night, hacking away on things.

WILSON: Not in Gabon.

PAYNE: Not in Gabon, right, I had to put that down. In '94-'95 now, I'm working at Roadway. And we're saying, we need a roadway.com. Well this is at a time when they're like, what? You didn't just make websites. So down in our department, we began building roadway.com. So now I'm "writing," quote unquote, for the website. Well pretty soon it's we need the website to do this, we need to be able to track shipments, we need to be able to file claims, make it actually do things, right? Growing along with the rest of the country and the world in what the Internet can do. But by the end of that, I'm basically an IT guy. So after I work three or four years at Roadway, now I'm 79:00not a writer anymore. Now I'm a software guy. So after that, I went and did other software work, really until 2003. So that's ten years since I got married and moved back from Africa. And my wife is from Somerset, Kentucky. We wanted to come back to Kentucky. We had had three boys by then, so they're very young. We're looking for something new and wonderful to do. So I quit the software career that I had, and we sold the house in Ohio. And we came to Lexington and I started at UK in the historic preservation program, the graduate program. It's about buildings again. So I'm kind of full circle on that. I'm back 80:00to buildings again, but I'm not building them, I'm looking at old ones. And that's what I do now.

WILSON: So you did a graduate degree--

PAYNE: Got a master's of historic preservation.



WILSON: And when?

PAYNE: 2005.

WILSON: And you are doing what now?

PAYNE: Right now I have an independent consulting business. We do preservation planning work with cities, city agencies, design review boards, engineering firms, architecture firms, and individual owners of historic buildings of one stripe or another. Sometimes they want building conditions assessments. We do documentation. We write design guidelines for towns, and work with a planning group to, as they move 81:00forward, as a town moves forward, how does it get what it wants and preserve what character it thinks it has in its historic building environment? Downtown.

WILSON: How would you say your Peace Corps experience has affected your career, if at all?

PAYNE: Well, I would say that it has. It's impacted not just this career, but it's impacted everything that I've done. One way it's done that, maybe the primary way, is we've had kind of a rule amongst us volunteers in Gabon. Remember, there weren't very many of us. And even though there were only eighty or ninety in the country, I probably never met half of them, because they were in the northern part of the country. And there was just no easy way to get from the south to the 82:00north. So those of us down in the south grew very close. And we had a kind of a thing amongst ourselves which said basically you weren't allowed to, it was related to that idea that nobody was supervising you, and that you had to make it happen yourself. You weren't allowed to complain, is what it was. There was lots and lots and lots to complain about if you looked at it through a certain way. But it wasn't going to do any good. And we all learned that the hard way there together. And it's something that me and my wife both have kept with us ever since is that I'm never going to point out a deficiency in something without having some chunk of a solution or at least an avenue to try in my pocket already. And I would say that's how I approach every problem still today.

WILSON: And that was developed--

PAYNE: I would say that we developed that on those long nights talking 83:00on those wooden benches in Gabon.

WILSON: What do you think the impact of your Peace Corps service was on Gabon?

PAYNE: Oh, I don't know. I made friends. So what's the impact of having had a friend, right, who came and stayed with you from another country? I'm sure there's something there for them. I did get news from a couple of few years later that the schools were just fine. They were still going. Of course they were beginning to get covered in that red dust that covers everything, you know, but still looked pretty good. I don't know. That would be a very, if I knew that, I would hope to return and do that better.

WILSON: And I guess you described for me what the impact was on you.


PAYNE: Well, there's lots of it that you couldn't describe.

WILSON: What was the impact on your family?

PAYNE: Right. Like what was the impact of having had great parents, you know. Well, gee, where do I start? But that's really the kind of depth it has. My wife and I know that that was really, I'm not going to say the seminal event. I mean, we've had other things, we've had children, we have lots and lots of wonderful other aspects of our lives. But that was definitely a forever altering thing. It took, whatever parts of you that compelled you to it in the first place. Okay. I like to travel. But that really wasn't about travel. I like learning things. But that really wasn't about learning things. I mean, it wasn't a science experiment, right? It was really a piece of your life that got played out among, in circumstances that you would 85:00have a hard time describing to this day to folks. It got played out in ways where you discovered that everything that you thought was going to be a problem was pretty easily surmounted. Like oh, how will I ever get along without electricity? How will I ever get along without water? How will I ever get along without this long catalog of amenities and certain things that I take for granted in my daily life today? But I can honestly tell you that all of those things were easy to get along with, or to get along without. And that the things that it wasn't easy to get along without were really harder to get at. They were more mysterious. They involved people, talking to people, having friends, 86:00feeling like you had people that you respected, feeling like people who respected you, who acknowledged what you were about, and that you were reciprocally acknowledging what they're about, even if you're doing it in a kind of an awkward way, because I'm just never going to be one of them, and they're not going to be, you know, those villagers aren't going to understand everything there is to know. Of course. I don't know. So what are the impacts of that? I don't know.

WILSON: In what way are you in contact with anybody from your Peace Corps experience? The Gabonese or--

PAYNE: Not in contact with any Gabonese. I don't know why that is. Because it was, in my case, they would be hard to contact. We did have little bits of it in the first few years after I was back. But 87:00that pretty much trickled off. But as far as the other volunteers that we got to be close with, about every three or four years we have a shindig somewhere. We have a kind of a reunion somewhere. It's been in Philadelphia, it's been in Cleveland, New Mexico, various places around the country where we all try to get together. We stay in email touch. We stay in phone touch. We are always, it's nice to know that there's a network of folks across the country, we've all done this before, where I know that I can go to anyone of their homes and flop there on my way through or whatever it is I happen to be doing. And they can, too. There isn't a one of them that I would turn down if they wanted to come and spread out on my family room floor for a couple of days. They could stay there. That's one of the wonderful things about it.


WILSON: What international experiences have you had, if any, since?

PAYNE: I would say that, well the answer to that is just plain none until 2004. When, as part of a program at UK, I traveled with a group to Havana, Cuba, for about ten days, to look at architecture in Havana. Havana has the unique advantage of time having stopped there in 1959, right? So you can get a lot out of that. But boy, I don't mind telling you that as soon as I got off the plane and got that, and there it was, the red dust, the palmy smell, the diesel fuel, all of that, and 89:00I was just back again in heaven. And I thought man, I've got to go to Libreville again some day.

WILSON: So you'd like to do--

PAYNE: I would.

WILSON: --international travel again.

PAYNE: Absolutely. If we are able to, my wife and I have absolutely planned to try to join the Peace Corps again as retirees. If we ever get to that point. Right now we have to raise the kids first. So we're twenty years out on that, but we'll see.

WILSON: Okay. This tape is about to run out. But I've only got two or three questions left. Let me put a new tape in.

PAYNE: Okay. Oh, man, I don't mean to--

[Tape 1 side 2 ends; tape 2 side 1 begins.]

WILSON: Tape two, interview with Glen Payne, Peace Corps Oral History Project, March 13, 2007. Let's see where we were, Glen. I was asking 90:00you about international experience and you said you were hoping to go again.

PAYNE: Yeah.

WILSON: Let me ask you, what do you think has the impact of Peace Corps service been on the way you think about the world and what's going on in the world now.

PAYNE: It's very easy. It's very easy for me to answer that. It's partly from a Christian ethic, which was only strengthened, and strengthened by, and recolored by our Peace Corps experience, which is that we, my wife and I are blessed in that, I think, in that we are armed all the time with a sense of perspective about things. And you know, we all have bad days. And when I'm having a bad day and I've dropped a plate on my toe and the door hinge broke when I went to get 91:00it, and I forgot to take the car out of, forgot to take the emergency brake off or whatever, you know what I mean? And I'll get steamed up, right? But immediately, well not immediately, but 99 times out of 100, right, I'll be like, you know what, though? This is nothing. This is nothing! Look at me. I'm blessed in ten million ways, right? And my problems are tiny, really. And to complain about them, or to let them get the best of you is just silly when so many other people who have so much less, right, are out there who need, who could use help, who could use friends, who could use support. And who are oftentimes extremely 92:00happy themselves. The villagers, I'm not going to paint the story of happy villagers, but there are definitely happy people, just as there are happy people everywhere, right? In every circumstance. And one thing we got over very quickly was seeing them as what you might call problem cases or something. That I'm going to go there and fix that, you know. That is a problem. That is a notion that you get disabused of right away. We think, I'm not going to fix any of this. And in fact, framing it in that way turns out to be totally wrong. I'm not going to fix anything here. What I'm going to do is something else, you know. I'm going to live and learn. And hopefully someone on the other side is reciprocally living and learning, too, with me. So to try to answer your question, we feel like we're armed with a sense of 93:00the blessings that we have, and a sense of perspective, really, about everything. And we understand that nine out of ten things that we do on a day to day basis, while they may be important to get through this part of our lives, are really lack that kind of vitality and necessity of what we were doing in Gabon in our daily lives there. Water is easy for me to get. You know, everything is easy for me to do here. And lots of leisure time. What will I do with that? How will I use it? How will I spend the resources that I have? Right now, we're socking lots of it into our kids and into various church activities and things that we can do. But I would say that a lot of that comes out of our acknowledgement of what that Peace Corps experience meant to us.


WILSON: What do you think the overall impact of Peace Corps has been? And the second part of that is, what should the role of Peace Corps be in today's world?

PAYNE: (sighs) The overall impact, well, I don't know. I know what it did for me was it provided a channel for me to gain this experience. And it still does that. And so if you took that channel away, that might be the question, right? Is what, if people who are willing and who have whatever idealism it takes, because it does take some idealism, hopefully that will get knocked out of you and you'll get onto something more practical once you get there. But not all of it. 95:00You don't want all of the ideals knocked out. Sorry I'm rambling. If you took that channel away, I don't know where it would go. We have this sort of, what do we have now? We have Americorps, patterned after Peace Corps, but focused on domestic issues. And that's a great thing, you know. So here, one of the overall impacts of Peace Corps, right, is to spawn Americorps. I don't know. Hopefully it's been, I know that it's been generally good. I've never met a Peace Corps volunteer who made it through the years, I mean, who succeeded, who didn't have positive things to say about their experience there. And those come in as many different flavors as there are people. But overall, it seems to be positive.


WILSON: Is it important for the Peace Corps to continue as an organization and an outlet for Americans? And if so, how?

PAYNE: Yeah, I think it's critically important that it continue. And other things like it, that Americans be encouraged to get up and go somewhere else. To accomplish what they can, using what they are allowed to, what they find there, wherever they go from South America to the Pacific to Eastern Europe to Africa, you know, these various places around the world. I really like the way that the Peace Corps' framed one of its main goals, right? The main goal, one of the main 97:00goals, is really for you to come back. Come back and share. And honestly, I'm all for any program that encourages Americans to do that. It's too easy to get insulated here from what the rest of the world is experiencing. And a lot, let's be real. Some of what the rest of the world is experiencing is nothing like my African experience, right? But it's something different. I think it's critically important that the Peace Corps continue as a channel for encouragement and support. It used to be kids, and maybe it still is mostly young folks. But all the volunteers to get out.

WILSON: So how you, how do you feel you're sharing that experience?

PAYNE: I don't feel like I'm sharing it in a direct way. Like I'm 98:00not out talking about my Peace Corps experience. But I think that the things that it, the things about me that it strengthened, I'm still relying on those things every day in my working life, in my interactions with other folks, whether they be friends, family, colleagues, students, bosses, everything, you know. Hopefully there's some spirit about that that just affects me every day.

WILSON: Okay. That's sort of all the structured questions that I've got. But what haven't I asked you that you'd like to answer, is a question. Or do you just have a fun story or two from your experience?


PAYNE: You said you haven't asked the, we used to go and teach at-- not teach, we used to go and speak at high schools once in a while. And those kids would ask great questions, you know? Simple ones. "Did you get sick?"

WILSON: I did pass over the medical stuff.

PAYNE: Right. And the answer to that is yeah, we got real sick a lot. Did it kill us? No. I'm here. Had malaria.

WILSON: Did you have malaria suppressants?

PAYNE: We did.

WILSON: That you did or didn't take?

PAYNE: I didn't take them. I did, early on. But they said one of the side effects of this may be, for some people, is the malarial prophylactic pill that you would take might make you feel kind of 100:00drowsy and a little bit dumb. And it really affected me in that way. I just couldn't bear it. I would rather have the malaria than what I thought was I was getting from these pills. Who knows, you know? Maybe that was stupid. But I got to where I could recognize malaria from a mile away, right?

WILSON: In yourself.

PAYNE: In myself. I would be able to say, "Hey, everybody. I'm going to tell you right now, really by six o'clock tomorrow morning, I'll be down. I can just feel it coming. I just know it's happening." And then I would knock it out. Fortunately, we were provided with pretty good medicines for that.

WILSON: Have you had any relapses since you've been back to the States?

PAYNE: No. No. No, zero lingering problems that I ever noticed. "What 101:00about bugs?" the kids ask at the high schools. Yeah, there are lots of bugs, you know. There were these things that they called chiques [chiiggers] that you'd have to pick out of your toes pretty much every morning. You know, it's kind of a standard practice to get up, and you might have some coffee. And sit around a little bit with maybe something to eat, and pick these little bug things out of your toes, they were just awful, with porcupine quill. The little village kids would come and do it for you sometimes. Very expert at getting a porcupine quill right into this little hole and popping that little egg out or whatever it was that was in there. I saw an elephant slaughter. What I mean by, like for meat. An elephant was killed in a legal way, maybe ten clicks [kilometers] ut from a village. I was in my 102:00house one night by myself. I was asleep. And it seemed like it must have been two or three o'clock in the morning. All of a sudden, boom, boom, boom, boom, I hear lots of knocking on the door. "Mr. Clem, Mr. Clem!" They could never say Glen. They'd always call me Clem. "Mr. Clem, come on! You have to see what's happening!" So I'm like "What? What? What's happening?" "They've killed an elephant." And so I open my door and I go out, I sort of wander out groggily. And everybody is up. Everybody in the village is awake. And there's lots and lots of lanterns, and candles, and kids are running all around, and people, you know, ladies are running. Everybody's heading off in this one direction. And so after a little bit of time I got dressed and off I went with some of them. And they're leading me out there. We walked and walked and walked. Maybe four o'clock in the morning or something, five o'clock, we're getting to this place where there's an elephant that's been killed, that's been shot, because it was getting too close 103:00to, who knows why. I don't really know why it was shot. But what this represented for the village was lots and lots of good meat, right? Just like that. So everybody's arming themselves with these big banana leaves that they're going to wrap up chunks of this elephant into them, and pack them all back to the village, right? And honestly, they worked on that elephant all day long. I have some pictures of it that I should get back out and look at. But nothing was wasted. There was no piece of that elephant that was left on the ground by the middle of the next day, when that was finished. And there were dozens and dozens of people all over it, you know, and around it, doing the, what do you call it? The cutting it up and packaging up this meat. And I ate some 104:00of that, just like everybody else did. And it was just incredibly good that time. Later on, like in my third year, I had another chance to have a little bit of elephant meat and it was about the worst thing. It was just inedible. It was about the worst thing at that, I don't know what was different. At that time, it was very good.

WILSON: ----------(??)

PAYNE: It was probably a different part, right.

WILSON: Well, anything else?

PAYNE: No. I could talk all night to you.

WILSON: Well, another time, maybe.

PAYNE: Okay.

WILSON: Thank you.

[End interview.]

Search This Transcript