WILSON: This is Angene Wilson on March 21, 2007, and I am interviewing Jennifer Payne for the Peace Corps Oral History Project. What is your full name?

PAYNE: Jennifer Haney Payne.

WILSON: And when and where were you born?

PAYNE: Somerset, Kentucky. October 15, 1966.

WILSON: Okay. And tell me a little bit about your family and growing up in Somerset, Kentucky.

PAYNE: Well, I grew up with both parents were living. And my dad just died a few years ago. My mom still lives in the same house. And Somerset's a pretty small town. So my dad worked at General Electric for years. He retired from there. And my mom was a homemaker. And then when I was in grade school, she went back to work. And we lived downtown and it was very small town, you know, stereotypical. Lived 1:00across the street from the grade school. I have a brother that's six years older than me. And then I have a sister that's fifteen years older than I am. So she was not there. She was gone most of the time. But--

WILSON: So you went to Somerset public schools?

PAYNE: Yeah, I went to Somerset public schools. Went to high school there. We were always, I was a cheerleader and we were very active in the church, always. And my brother was a lot into sports and stuff like that. But he was an Eagle Scout. My dad was a Marine. And he was a World War Two veteran. And he was very, very public service oriented. He was always on the city council, and he was always getting his, he was always in everybody's business about all that kind of stuff. (laughs) You know, getting community projects and things like 2:00that. He was very, he just felt like it was important to participate in those kinds of things. So my brother was always in Scouts. And me, too. I guess he was a little bit even concentrating more on him. I guess he felt like he needed to keep him out of trouble since he was a boy. (laughs) But we had a good time. It was pretty safe down there. It was a pretty, I guess, uneventful childhood, but in a good way. Somerset is bigger now, but it was a pretty small town then. We traveled some, just going to see family and friends. We didn't take that many vacations together as a family. We mostly went to visit people. We went to see his friend from the Marine Corps that he was in World War Two with every year. We went to see my cousins in Western 3:00Kentucky. My mom and I would go to Florida with her friend once a year. But he would always go fishing with his brothers and stuff like that. My mom always said that he just, the war just did him in for traveling. Like he had gone a lot of places, but once he got back--

WILSON: Where was he?

PAYNE: South Pacific. And he had been to, and he traveled in the United States quite a bit for work and for doing training and things like that. And when he was in his training for the military stuff, he was in the National Guard, too. And he just kind of--I mean, he loved traveling. In fact, when I joined the Peace Corps, he was all for it. He was just like, "I think that's great!"

WILSON: Oh, really? That's interesting.

PAYNE: Yeah. Oh, he was, he encouraged me more than anybody else. My mom was sort of like, "Well, I don't know. Where are you going to be going, and what is it going to be like?" And he was like, "It will be fine. Don't worry about it. She can take care of herself." And I was supposed to go to Papua New Guinea to begin with, and he was so 4:00excited, because he hadn't been to Australia, he spent a lot of time in Australia, and he hadn't been back since the '40s. And he was already planning his trip. Like when I got my call, I said, "Well, I think I'm going to go to Papua New Guinea." "That's great! We can go to Australia. We'll come visit you, and then we'll go to Australia. We can spend a month or two months! It will be awesome!" You know? And my mom was going, "Wait a minute! Where's Papua New Guinea?" (laughs)

WILSON: Bu he knew where it was.

PAYNE: Oh, he knew where it was. And he was, you know, he was all for it. And then he was a little disappointed when I didn't end up going. But he came to visit me in Gabon and was really excited about that. So we had, it was pretty good.

WILSON: What about schools? Was there anything in your high school, well, any part of your schooling that was about the rest of the world? Did you know people who, beside your father, who obviously had been 5:00other places?

PAYNE: Not really. And I know the, I know there was one group of kids that went to Europe at my high school. Every summer there was a couple of teachers that would take a group for like two weeks. But I didn't go. And I, you know, really, I never even thought about going. I just never, I guess I was too just concerned about, I don't know what. I went to camps and stuff, and I always went to church camp. And I was in the band when I was much younger than that. But I guess I just, I don't know what. I wasn't really, I wasn't really that interested in traveling or doing anything like that too much when I was that age. And the only thing that got me interested in traveling was when I decided I wanted to go in the Peace Corps. And that was not, that did not manifest itself out of a traveling desire to see the world. 6:00I developed that much later, like after I actually started traveling. And then I got that bug, I was like, wow! Gosh, there's a lot of stuff I have never seen before, and this is awesome! You know, I was very in my little, you know, I thought going to Lexington was like some big deal, you know.

WILSON: So when you were in high school, you thought maybe you'd live in Somerset the rest of your life, then, sort of?

PAYNE: Yeah, I didn't ever really think about, well, I don't know if I really thought I'd live in Somerset the rest of my life, but I didn't think about international travels so much.

WILSON: International, yeah, yeah.

PAYNE: But when I was about a senior in high school, I saw a commercial for the Peace Corps. One of those--

WILSON: Oh, really?

PAYNE: Yeah.

WILSON: What was the slogan then? Do you remember?

PAYNE: "The toughest job you'll ever love."

WILSON: Was it, "the toughest job you'll ever love" back then?

PAYNE: Uh huh.


PAYNE: And it showed, it showed some scenes from an African village. 7:00And I don't know what it was about that. It was just like an epiphany or something. I just saw that and I thought, I'm going to do that! And I remember telling my mom and she was like, yeah, right, whatever. You know, because I wasn't even out of, I mean, I wasn't even in college yet. And I actually called, I kept that in my mind for those years. And I called and I asked, I talked to somebody at the office or whatever. And they were like well, you pretty much have to have a college degree. Which I figured.

WILSON: Right, right.

PAYNE: But you know, and she kind of went into it a little bit. But she said, "If you're still interested when you get out of college, call back. But do it," she said, "do it before you get out."

WILSON: Right, right.

PAYNE: Like do it your senior year, because the application process takes a long time if you're serious about it, unless you want a year 8:00or so to think about it. And I went to, during those years I was in college, I went to some Peace Corps informational things at UK.

WILSON: Now where did you go, you went to University of Kentucky?

PAYNE: I went to Transy, to Transylvania.

WILSON: You went to Transy, okay. All right.

PAYNE: And we had, I think that a recruiter came to Transylvania maybe once.

WILSON: Well there was, at that point there would have been a recruiter at University of Kentucky, actually. I think.

PAYNE: There was. And I can see him.

WILSON: Because now they come from Chicago.

PAYNE: I think his name was Chuck or something. Do you remember what his name was?

WILSON: No. I don't go back quite that far with--

PAYNE: But he, he was the one, I did talk to him quite a bit. And he was the one that came to Transy. He just came over like for information session one time or something.

WILSON: Were there other students at Transy who were interested, too?

PAYNE: There were like maybe ten people at that meeting.

WILSON: So there were other people you knew?


PAYNE: The only, yeah, I mean, I knew everybody at Transy. There was only eight hundred students when I started. But the only other person I know for a fact from Transylvania that went to the Peace Corps around the same time I did was John Mark Hack.. And we were good friends in college.

WILSON: Oh, okay.

PAYNE: And I knew he and his wife Carol went. Well, Carol went, too. But I was probably better friends with her than him.

WILSON: Right. I think Jack has interviewed him.

PAYNE: And they went to South America somewhere, or Central America. I can't remember where they went. But they're the only ones I know of. There definitely could be more. But I don't know of anyone else. But in college, you know, I never did any traveling either. I kind of got focused on--

WILSON: What did you major in?

PAYNE: Math and education.


PAYNE: And I kind of got focused on that Peace Corps thing. And I kind of like geared my whole, I mean, not really just for that. But when I was--

WILSON: So did you take some courses in--


PAYNE: No. Not really. Because I didn't really know--you mean as far as like African studies, or anything like that?

WILSON: Well, or anthropology or anything.



PAYNE: I was just totally clueless about any of it. My only, the only thing I was thinking was I want to go somewhere and do something meaningful. You know what I mean? I was really stuck on that.

WILSON: So you knew that you could teach math, for example, in the Peace Corps.

PAYNE: Right. Exactly.

WILSON: Okay. Okay.

PAYNE: I mean, I had seen, I had gotten the information and seen the book listing what the programs were. And she had told me, I don't remember like I said where I got this information. There was a lot that I had compiled from different things. But someplace, somebody had said well, they always need English teachers and math. Teachers can go anywhere. And I didn't realize that you could be a teacher without actually having a teaching degree.


WILSON: Oh, okay.

PAYNE: You know. But it was okay for me because I had always kind of wanted to be a teacher. That was kind of where I'd seen my life kind of going toward that way.

WILSON: So you did student teaching at Transy before you left.

PAYNE: I did student teaching, yeah.

WILSON: Where did you student teach?

PAYNE: Henry Clay.

WILSON: Oh, okay.

PAYNE: And so it was, you know, but as far as traveling, I didn't like really travel any, I had never been out of the country until I went to the Peace Corps.

WILSON: So you graduated from Transy in what year?

PAYNE: I graduated from Transy in '88. And then I was supposed to leave for Papua New Guinea that fall.

WILSON: And you had applied during the previous year.

PAYNE: I had applied during the year and I'd gotten all, I'd gotten all accepted and everything. And I got my invitation, I guess, in June, maybe, to go to Papua New Guinea. And so I was all planning for that. 12:00And when I was doing the very last, you know, well that summer then I was doing all my stuff, got my wisdom teeth cut out. And when I had one of my medical checkups, I had a medical problem. (laughs) A female, it's just small thing, that I had to have taken care of. It was like a precancerous thing or whatever, but he said like 60 percent of women have them. But the Peace Corps was like well, that's okay if you get it taken care of, but you have to have three normal checkups four months apart before you can leave. So they retracted the invitation. And you know, so my mom was like, "Well, maybe it wasn't meant to be." (laughs) Bless her heart. She was just so nervous about me going. And 13:00I was like no, I'll just do what they say. So I waited a year, I went ahead, I moved back up to Lexington, I got a job working at Central Bank when Central Bank was still, or not Central Bank. First Security.


PAYNE: Which was boring, boring, boring, but I couldn't get a teaching job then because it was too late. It was already, so I moved back up to Lexington. And I worked at the bank for a year. And anyway, I kept in touch with them and everything. I technically should have been able to leave the next fall. But of course then my year was up so then they started, because this was in the fall when I was supposed to leave. So then I started, that summer I started having to have these checkups. So I went till the next summer. They were all cleared up. And then they started looking for me another place to go.

WILSON: Oh, so you couldn't go right away.

PAYNE: So I couldn't go. I ended up leaving in June of 1990. So I just stayed in Lexington for that year and a half and just worked. When I 14:00got my invitation, my second invitation, to Gabon, I quit my job like the next day. I gave my two weeks. I was like, I'm out of here. You know what I mean? And I started waiting tables or something just to have some money to live on till I left. Because I didn't want to quit my other job because I had benefits and it was more, but I--

WILSON: So this is--

PAYNE: Gabon. Oh, what month did I leave?

WILSON: Well, you found out in--

PAYNE: Oh, probably January or February.

WILSON: Oh, January or February. Okay.

PAYNE: And then I left in June.

WILSON: In June. Okay. All right. And did you go through, at that point they were doing staging. Is that right?

PAYNE: We did, yeah, we did staging. And interlock, is it interlock, they call it, or something? In New Orleans. We did two days in New Orleans. We went down on like a Friday or something, I don't remember. 15:00But we spent a whole day, let's see, I think it was two or three days, I don't remember. But we did a little bit of cross-cultural discussion. It was just meeting everyone and--

WILSON: And this was a project to do what? To teach?

PAYNE: This was the whole group.

WILSON: Right. Right. But, but what you were going to do was teach math?

PAYNE: Oh, teach math. Yeah. Right.

WILSON: These were all people who were going to teach math.



PAYNE: It was the whole, it was the whole training group. The whole group that went to Gabon that year. We had, I don't remember how many we had. Maybe forty, or something like that.


PAYNE: There was a lot. And there were construction volunteers to build primary schools. There were science teachers, English teachers, math teachers, and I guess that's it.


PAYNE: There might have been, I'm trying to think if there were fish 16:00pond volunteers. I don't think there were, though. I don't think there were in our group. We had, we had some, you know, the fish volunteers went to a different staging. Because they went where they had ponds. They had like a special, I think they went to Alabama somewhere or Mississippi or they had set up, there was a special place where they'd do theirs because they'd have the ponds made so that they can kind of show them what they're going to be doing, I think. I can't remember.

WILSON: Okay. So you were in New Orleans two days.

PAYNE: Yeah.

WILSON: And then, and before that, they had sent you various kinds of information about what to take and--

PAYNE: Yeah. Just paperwork, yeah. Just paperwork and a list of stuff to take.

WILSON: How many pounds could you take? About?

PAYNE: Eighty? I don't know why that comes.


WILSON: That seems--

PAYNE: Does that seem about reasonable?

WILSON: Yeah. Yeah.

PAYNE: I know I took, I took a big duffle bag and, it was my dad's army duffle bag.

WILSON: Oh, really?

PAYNE: Yeah. And he had helped me like, you know, he just, he loves the whole thing. He was like rolling my clothes up in little balls and stuffing them in there. And I'm trying to think, I think I took a couple other like small bags, or carryon bags and stuff. But not much, really. And they had told us, don't bring books. There's like an overflow of books there. People get them sent, or they bring, or they bring back, or they bring home, from home, or whatever. All the heavy stuff.

WILSON: So you took clothes?

PAYNE: I took clothes and bedclothes and a couple of towels and you 18:00know, their letter was so appropriate after, I thought it was kind of weird like some of the stuff they said in the letter until I got there and they were like, don't bring 85 sticks of deodorant, because you can get it there in the capital city. And if you don't get it, then it's not that big a deal. I mean, you can get, and that's what my mom used to always send me in the mail when she would send me, send me packages. She would always send me like a Secret, always. (laughs) The craziest stuff. But it was great. She would send me that and she would send me, my skin's real sensitive and I can only, I can't use just any kind of soap. I can't use real perfumey stuff. So she'd send me a bar of Dove soap. Every month or so I would get these little, so I was a little bit spoiled. I got those little things in the mail, you know, every now and then. But the Peace Corps was funny. It was like, don't 19:00bring all this deodorant. And I said, why are they telling me? But then I could see because it's, you know, I think you think you need a lot more--

WILSON: Than you do.

PAYNE: --than you do. That was one of the things we always laughed about is that you think, the things that you think you're really going to miss, you don't miss at all once you get used to not having them. I mean, you know, watching TV and talking on the phone and stuff like that. I did miss having no real communication down there except, you know, even just to say when are they, when is anybody going to be coming on tournee to see us or whatever. But you know, you always found out, one way or another. Somebody would just knock on your door and go, "Oh, yeah, my beau frere was in Libreville, and he saw someone from the Peace Corps that he knows at the, you know, Pacifique having 20:00dinner, and they said to tell you guys that they're going to be here in like a month." (laughs) And there they were, in about a month, that they'd show up. So it was a pretty good system, really. But you know, you don't miss like a lot of that stuff. You miss cheese. Or like I got to where I missed being able to walk on carpet. You know, like I would think, I just want to go in someone's house and just walk on some carpet in my bare feet, not worry about getting chiggers in my toes.

WILSON: Right. Not having to wear shoes all the time.

PAYNE: Right. Exactly.

WILSON: Oh, yeah. So what was it like to arrive? You got in a plane and flew--

PAYNE: We got on a plane in New Orleans and we flew through Brussels. And we stayed in Brussels for twelve hours, and that was kind of all a big whirlwind, you know? That was my first international experience. And my friend and I went down to, they got us rooms so that we could 21:00nap. And we went and took a nap and we got up and went down to have something to eat. And we couldn't read the menu. We had no idea what any of it was. And I was like, "Well, let's just get a salade. That has to be salad."

WILSON: Did you have some French before you went?

PAYNE: I had three years of French in high school.

WILSON: Okay. Okay.

PAYNE: But the first two years were very questionable. The third year I had a great teacher. But I was so behind by that time, the whole class was, that it really, it took her the whole year to basically probably get us up to the end of a French I level, you know. And she did a fantastic job. But it was just, you know, the first two years we really didn't learn much. And she, I mean, so when I signed up and said I had three years of French, but I told them, I was like, "I cannot speak any French." They were like, "Don't worry about it," you know. So we ordered this salad. And I ended up getting this salad of 22:00frisse lettuce. That was all it was, you know that, and I didn't even know what, I had never seen that before in my life. I didn't even know what frisse lettuce was. So I get this big plate of just like, you know, like weeds out of the garden. I was like okay, this is not going well for me. I'm starving and I don't want weeds out of the garden. I was like, yeah. But anyway, then we left Brussels. Then we went through Cameroon. And we stayed in Douala , yeah, we stayed in Douala one night. And that was very, you know, we were all just like big eyes as big as saucers, like looking around. Because that was our first stop in Africa. And we stayed there. And then we flew into Bujumbura, Burundi. And a bus picked us up. And that flight into Bujumbura was 23:00a totally different experience even than flying into Douala because there were gendarmes all over the airport. You know, the airport was almost deserted.

WILSON: Policemen.

PAYNE: But there were, yeah, guys in green fatigues with machine guns. Like or big, they looked like machine guns to me, I don't know what they were. But they were big black guns that looked very scary. And they were all over. And we were like, that was when I started thinking, I'm not sure about this. (laughs) What am I--I got a little scared at that point, I can remember. But everybody did, so that made me feel a little better. You know, I was like, well everybody's nervous. And the people that met us and you know, the Peace Corps staff, they were very good. And they were just like, don't be nervous, this is just how it is, and you might as well get used to it. In a lot of places there's just a lot of military presence and--


WILSON: And what you're talking about now is Cameroon.

PAYNE: No, this is Bujumbura, Burundi.

WILSON: Oh, in Burundi.

PAYNE: In Burundi. And see, this was just before the--

WILSON: Now wait a minute. Why are you flying from Cameroon to Burundi?

PAYNE: Because we did our training in Zaire. We did our language training for three months in Zaire. So the bus from the Zaire picked us up in Burundi and drove us on bus through Rwanda to Zaire.

WILSON: Wow, you really got a tour of Africa before you got to Gabon.

PAYNE: Yes. Yes. Right. Well, it just, you know, a night here, a night there.

WILSON: So you were, when you were in Bujumbura, that's where you're talking about Peace Corps staff.

PAYNE: Right. Right.

WILSON: But this is just before--

PAYNE: We went to Zaire. We're still all on our way just to our language training.

WILSON: Right. Right. Right. But what you were saying about Burundi is this is just before their problems in Burundi and Rwanda. Correct?

PAYNE: Right. Yeah. In fact, the volunteers in Burundi and Rwanda were 25:00evacuated while we were there.


PAYNE: Not while we were in Burundi, but while we were in Gabon. So like within the next couple of years, see, this is 1990. So within, by 1992, all the volunteers were gone out of there because the war was full blown, there was full on--

WILSON: Right. Right. And you're there just before their presidents are killed in the airplane accident, right?

PAYNE: Yes. I think. Yeah. I don't remember what year that was.

WILSON: Okay. All right. So you go from Bujumbura--

PAYNE: We went, yeah.


PAYNE: Went from Bujumbura to--

WILSON: Where in Zaire? Which is now Congo. I'm thinking about the person who's transcribing.

PAYNE: Yes. It's now Democratic Republic of Congo. But it was still Zaire at that time. And we went to Bukavu, or Bukavu.

WILSON: Bukavu?

PAYNE: And we went to an old Danish boarding school they had there. It was empty, and they used it for Peace Corps training, for Peace Corps 26:00language training.

WILSON: For volunteers from all over Francophone?

PAYNE: Yeah.

WILSON: All over Francophone Africa. Okay. Or Central Africa, probably not West Africa. Probably did Senegal and Mali and those places. Probably just Central Africa.

PAYNE: That I don't know. I wouldn't think, but it was, the school was right across, I mean, looking back, we were so blessed to be able to have that experience. Because after that, you could never have that again. I mean, all the people who got to go to that place, you know, because Bukavu was destroyed. It was just flattened.

WILSON: Right. Right. Yeah, during the wars.

PAYNE: And, but we, and the school, it was on Lake Kivu. And it was right across Mobutu, the dictator in Zaire had a house right across the lake from this school. So we could see it. And you could see the guards out. And we were down in the grounds walking around. It was a 27:00beautiful school. It was just, because the architecture was gorgeous. And it was very, it was this very old African expat school. It looked like that. It looked like a movie. The building looked old and there was all these archways everywhere and lots of outdoor walking around and everything. And ----------(??) everywhere with like little cement huts with grass rooms. That's where we had our classes. And then the rooms that we stayed in were like as tiny as a closet, almost. And they just had a little single cot and a little table. And that was pretty much it.

WILSON: Now were there other groups training there, too?


WILSON: Just yours at that time.

PAYNE: Oh. Well, there was our group and there was a fish, a 28:00petriculture that did the fishpond training there, and actually went to Burundi. And then there was also another part of our group that went there also went to Central Africa Republic. And they had been in New Orleans with us, too. But, so we did two, they did like two countries of training.

WILSON: So what was a day of training like?

PAYNE: It was just French. All day.

WILSON: All day.

PAYNE: It was immersion the minute you stepped on the ground, except for the very first day.

WILSON: So you were supposed to speak French the whole time.

PAYNE: Yes. And they would, they were pretty Nazi about it, too. They were like, at the dinner table, they were like, if you can't ask for it, then you can't ask for it. You've got to learn how to ask for it. So for some of us who liked to talk, it was quite a hardship not being able to even pass the salt. (laughs) But there were quite a few who were pretty fluent in French already, so they were very helpful to help 29:00out and what not. So we did--

WILSON: So you were there for three months. Just doing French.

PAYNE: We were there, yeah, eight or twelve weeks. So somewhere around in there. Maybe. But what I was starting to say as we were down on the grounds one day and I was taking pictures, and one of the staff there came right over and said, they were just like freaking out and going, "Put your camera away! Put your camera away!" And I was like, what? What? And he said if they see you over at Mubutu's with a camera, they're going to come over here and they're going to crush your camera, and they're going to crush everybody's camera that's here, and we're all just going to get in trouble. They were like, you cannot be out with a camera down here. Up on the hill behind where they can't see you, you can take pictures of stuff there. But you cannot have your camera out down here because they get binoculars out and watch this place. And I was like, okay, well, you don't have to 30:00tell me twice. Don't worry. I won't do anything like that. But we had all the instructors were African, of course, from around there. I know after Bukavu was destroyed, we had gotten word about some of our instructors who were killed and stuff. It was pretty sad. You know. But all those people that we were in training with that went to Bukavu eventually, I mean, that went to Burundi, all the fish volunteers that were trained for language in Zaire with us that then went to Burundi to do their service, most of them ended up coming to Gabon once they were evacuated. They had to be evacuated, and then they got a, they sent some of them to Gabon, they sent some of them to CAR, I think. And then the ones who just wanted to go home, they just went home. If they didn't want, they didn't have that much time left. It wasn't 31:00even a full year, I don't think. But it was, Zaire was beautiful. It was just real dusty and there was not, like going into the downtown and stuff, but there was a place in Bukavu. And I don't know how big of a town that was. It was a town. It wasn't a village. I mean, it was, there was probably thousands of people that lived there. But there was an area of that town called Kadutu. And we went on like a field trip to Kadutu one day. And they told us, they said, "Now this is probably the most severe poverty that any of you will have ever seen in your lives. So just know it, that's where we're going." And that kind of-- [phone rings]


WILSON: Okay. So you're going to--

PAYNE: Kadutu

WILSON: Kadutu

PAYNE: But I mean kind of like urban poverty. You know what I mean?

WILSON: Right. Right.

PAYNE: I mean more like in a town situation. And it was, that was a shocking revelation to me. I had never seen anything quite like that. Although being from Kentucky and having been in Eastern Kentucky a number of times with friends, and having friends that grew up in like Perry County and stuff like that, and growing up where I did, being out, some of the counties down around where I am, there's some pretty severe poverty down there. And you can drive in certain areas and see stuff that a lot of people that I served in the Peace Corps with had never seen. These people that grew up in Seattle or grew up in, you know, and weren't like, it was just different. It's just different. Eastern Kentucky is quite a bit different than, say, even downtown Seattle. You know, it's like, but it was just, I don't know what 33:00it's called in English, but we call it tole, like corrugated tin or whatever. And it's just lean-tos. They were just all--

WILSON: Yeah. The corrugated zinc.

PAYNE: Yeah.

WILSON: That they use for--

PAYNE: All leaned together. And just sewage in the street and just, there's no running water down there. And the stench was just, and there were thousands of people living down there. I always thought of that when Hurricane Katrina hit and they talked about all those people living in the Superdome. And I was like, that's what Kadutu was like. You know, like thousands of people in this area. And they're all sleeping in these little makeshift lean-tos, but they're right on top of each other and there's nowhere to go. And they had a market 34:00down there. And you know, that was another first. All that stuff is just in my memory. Because those were the first times I'd ever seen anything like that. And with the outdoor market where there was just, that's where they buy everything. You know, it's not just for fun. It's not like going to the antique market, you know. That's their market. And the raw meat laying out everywhere with the flies all over it, and stuff like that. And there were such contrasts to that other places. But that one area was just, oh, it was just so poor and so, you know, and lots of children with physical handicaps. Lots of people. That was another thing that I noticed right away. Lots of people with either deformed limbs or missing limbs or, you know, things 35:00like that. It was just, and then it was just shocking to me because I'd just never seen anything like that. And then in such, you know, contrast to that with their whole like demeanor, though. They were so nice and such pleasant people. And you think these people are living in squalor. They have military police roaming the streets all the time. Yet, you know, there's we stopped, believe it or not, there was a couple of places there where you could get like beans and rice and stuff so we went in to eat. And you know, just the loveliest, we went into this one place and I'm thinking, she had just gotten it as clean as she could possibly get it. The tables were clean. It was just, I say "tables." There were a couple of, maybe six people could sit in there. And of course these Peace Corps people that, these Americans that lived there that ran the school of course knew where all the good 36:00places were. But it was right in the middle of Kadutu. And we went in, and she was just like, "Oh, new Americans!" And she was talking to the trainer and hugging him and everything. And her place was just as neat as a pin. And she served us up just the best beans and rice and a nice warm beer to have with it. That's just, I remember a lot because it was the first things that--and I experienced a lot of stuff like that. But that was one of the first times. And there was a place there in Bukavu where the guy made French fries. And that was, we were so excited to find a place that had French fries. (laughs) So we would go there about every other day. We were real close to town, or we only had to walk about maybe fifteen, twenty minutes, and we could 37:00be right in downtown. So it wasn't, we spent a lot of time trekking that back and forth. And there were little nightclubs, you know, we found the little nightclubs to go dancing. It was a pretty cool place. And looking back I wish, I wish after that, after I'd been in Gabon for a while and had acclimated myself and got a little bit more used to African life, that I could have gone back there. I think I would have even enjoyed it more. You know what I mean? Been able to take a little bit of advantage. Because I was just so in awe at every little thing that happened that sometimes I think I didn't really get to fully, you know, notice all the intricate details of things. Because the whole big picture was just, I was just awed by it all. (laughs) But that was, I'm really glad I got to go to Zaire and be there. When we went 38:00in Rwanda, there's a mountain called Kahuzi Biega, I think that's what it's called. It's got like a huge population of silverback gorillas up there. And they took a couple of different expeditions or whatever of students in a school bus up on the mountain to see the silverbacks. And the one group that went saw a lot of them. And you know, the little guides, the guides and stuff, they were like, "Oh, yeah, you can get real close. But if they start to charge, just stand still." I'm thinking, I don't think so! (laughs) But I didn't go on that first group. I went with the second group. And it had gotten farther into, I guess, the dry season. And they were back farther up in the 39:00rainforest because, to get food. And so we didn't see as many. But we did see, you know, a few. And I have a couple of pictures of that. But I've seen like silverbacks in animal parks since then, and it is just heartbreaking to me to see them and to remember seeing that out in the real, see him sitting there in the rainforest eating a branch and then see him sitting there behind that glass, eating, you know. And it's just heartbreaking. I hate to see it. I mean, I know, I try to tell myself that they are trying to do conservation work. And they're trying to, you know. But it's just oh, you know, he doesn't belong 40:00there! But it was, I know when my husband's group, they saw a lot of them. They saw a lot of, but that was just an awesome experience, too, to be up there and, you know. I think I appreciate those things more now than I did at the time.

WILSON: So you mentioned your husband. Was he in the same group?


WILSON: Okay. And so he wasn't in this training.


WILSON: No. Okay. We'll get to that later, then.

PAYNE: Yeah.

WILSON: So after eight weeks, twelve weeks in Bukavu, then, you're learning French.

PAYNE: Then we went to Libreville. Yeah, we're learning French. And no, I was not feeling good about my French, personally. I was still not feeling too good about it. But then we went to Libreville. I think Zaire was the French, I think that French training for our group 41:00and maybe for every group was the same. I mean, it was for learning French, definitely, and that was the best way to do it, that immersion. But I think, too, just living like that, it was a way for us to all get to know each other and spend all that time together. Really all we did was go to French class and eat. Socialize. Because then when we went to Libreville, we stayed at a, well, the construction volunteers went out into the villages. They left. They were only in Libreville for a couple of days. And then they went out to a village and did their training on site. And lived with host families. So we didn't see them anymore. And then, of course, after Zaire, our friends went to CAR, the ones that were going to CAR left and went there.

WILSON: Central African Republic

PAYNE: Yeah. To Central African. And then our fish friends went to 42:00Burundi. So we all split up. Like we had had a big group there, and we split up. And we went to the Lycee Leon M'ba, which was in Libreville, Gabon. And it was a high school that was in the capital there. And we stayed there. That was where we lived. And it was like the boys lived in one place and the girls lived in another place. It was just a big long room. We just had beds and a locker. That was our, and they were all lined up in this giant, warehouse looking thing. And then we each, we had a bathroom in our room and a bathroom in their room. And it was all cold water, by the way. In the mornings, you could hear people going, "Argh!"

WILSON: You hadn't had cold water in Bukavu? You didn't have cold water?

PAYNE: No, we had warm water. We had warm water in Bukavu. Not always.

WILSON: That was spoiling you.

PAYNE: That's why the shower was, you know, there were like a few people would take in the morning, and a few people would take in the afternoon, a few people at night. And you didn't always, it was pretty 43:00hot anyway. So it wasn't, but in Libreville we did, we had training for a couple of weeks, and then summer school started. So we were like teaching summer school. And those teachers we had--

WILSON: Okay. And by now it's what? November?

PAYNE: No, no. It's like August.

WILSON: Okay. Okay. You've left in June. Okay.

PAYNE: Yeah. We were in Zaire like June and part of July. So actually it was probably the end of July. Then July and August we spent in Libreville. And then in September, we went down to our site.


PAYNE: So we did, we had Peace Corps volunteers who were second or third year volunteers who did training who were teachers. And then there were Africans, also. So they would just help us with our lessons and 44:00with our French and stuff like that. We would practice with them and they would help us with the curriculum and things like that. For some people, it was a lot more about curriculum. I think with the English teachers, they spent a lot more time with curriculum. And then with some of us, like depending on what grades you were teaching, it was a lot of language, you know, language training. At least, for me it was. A lot. And Libreville was hard for me. It was, that was one of the only times I ever really was like gosh, I would just like to go home and not deal with this anymore. Because it was, I had a hard time with the language. And it was just a hard, you know, it just took me a long time. And I never did get comfortable until I got down in my post and just thrown in there and had to communicate. And like I said, somebody 45:00likes to talk and socialize as much as I do, you either have to learn or--but when I was being forced to do it, it was harder for me. It wasn't like a very good learning environment for me. And it wasn't, I think the Peace Corps did a good job. It was just me. I just had a hard time.

WILSON: Were there people in your group who didn't stay?

PAYNE: We had, I think we had one person leave from Zaire. And then we had one person leave from Libreville.

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

WILSON: Okay. We're talking about people who terminated early, right?

PAYNE: I think over the course of the two years there may have been three more I can think of. I know one girl went home because she got sick a lot. And she just couldn't, I think what happened was she got really sick once and then she never could recover from it. And she just kept 46:00getting, I don't know if it's where she lived or you know, and probably it's just, being sick she probably just got mentally kind of down and, but I know she left early. And I can think of a couple of others that left early. And it was just various reasons. I know the one guy that left from Libreville, I talked to him after I came back. I had called him and he really had regretted leaving. He said, "You know after I got home I realized the only reason I left was because I was just, I just wasn't concentrating on the goal." He said, "I was just getting frustrated. I was hot. I was tired of living in the dorm with fifteen other guys. I couldn't have a Sprite when I wanted one, and I was tired, and I was sick of, you know." And he said, "The minute I got on 47:00the plane, I thought this is the biggest mistake I ever made." He goes, "I know I will think that for the rest of my life. I just made a rash decision and didn't wait and sleep on it." Because you know, once you tell the Peace Corps that you want to leave, you're out of there.

WILSON: Oh, yeah.

PAYNE: They don't want you hanging around and infiltrating the troops with negativity. So there is, I don't know of anybody that had a bad experience early terminating like that. But he said, "Once I went and said I want to leave, they were like, okay. They got my ticket. And within twelve hours--"

WILSON: He was out?

PAYNE: He was out. He was gone.

WILSON: So what was it like to arrive in Gabon? Did you see differences from Zaire?

PAYNE: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

WILSON: Had living in Bukavu prepared you for Gabon?

PAYNE: Well, Libreville was a lot different than Bukavu because it was 48:00a much more developed place. It was on the beach, so it was just a pretty, you know, the airport was much more modern. It was bigger. It was more like a city, what you would think of as an airport. There was lots of, Libreville was more like Lexington. You know, it just looked like a regular American city, pretty much, except for, some of the architecture was a little different. And it's actually, you know, a French colony. It was. So some of the architecture was kind of French looking, some of the things. But I mean just as far as the high rises and stuff was very, you know, just looked regular. And it was right on the beach. And the school, the lycee, was right across the street from the beach. So when you look out the, you know, when you're sitting in front of the school, you just cross over the road and it's all beach there. It's completely on the coast. So it was quite a bit different. 49:00We learned how to take the taxi everywhere. And you know, got pretty good at knowing where to go. And there was a big store in Libreville called Mbolo, which is their greeting. Like in Swahili they say jambo. And in Gabon, they say "mbolo." There was a huge store called Mbolo that was like a big Wal-Mart or something. It had, I mean, it seemed like it to us at the time. It was probably not that big. But they had cheese and chips, potato chips and stuff like that. And then near the embassy there was an American store, where they had like all kinds of American like junk food. You could go in there and get, I don't even remember what else they had. I just remember they had Cheetos in there. But I only went there the one time because, like I said, after I'd been down at my post for a few months, I didn't really care 50:00about having that stuff. That wasn't the kind of stuff that I missed. I missed having cold milk. But I did have a fridge that I kept, I did have some cold milk. Dried milk, but still, it was something. But so we went to Embolo (??) and that kind of stuff. And that was a whole different, you know, Libreville was a whole different kind of experience, too. And we did, we did, well, where you live with a family for just a week.

WILSON: Oh, host family.

PAYNE: Host family. And they wanted us to do that for just a week. And my host family was actually just one girl. One woman. And she was probably oh, late twenties or early thirties. And she was a professional. She worked. And she lived in a little apartment. 51:00And it was a very, you know, it wasn't really that much different. There was air conditioning there. And some of the people, some of my friends, were down in the Quartiers, and were in a much more--

WILSON: Quartiers are?

PAYNE: Like the neighborhood, more like the little downtown kind of neighborhood, where the families were much poorer and maybe didn't work, per se. But maybe the father went out and hunted and sold that at the marche or whatever. Which Libreville was a big city. But in twenty minutes by car you could be out in the middle of nowhere. It was just this city that's right on the coast. And then you go out, and there's nothing. And so it was interesting to get back together during the days and talk about what our different experiences were like. And 52:00my house, home stay, she didn't really communicate with me that much as far as just kind of at her house a little bit. It was almost like she would take me out, we went out a lot, and would meet with her friends and stuff. And it was almost like I was her, you know, her show and tell.

WILSON: She was showing you off. Right.

PAYNE: And I would be trying to keep up with the conversation. It was pretty early on. So I could keep up with what they were saying, I could understand them, but I couldn't speak as much. I was having a hard time still finding words and so I would start to say something and then they would just go on. Like they didn't really get, and she would say, "Oh, she doesn't understand French anyway." And then they would 53:00just go on. And I would be like, "Well, actually, I do understand it a little bit. But you have to give me a minute to respond." But it was really fun. And she was really nice. I mean, she, it was just another bizarre experience of many.

WILSON: Did you keep in contact with her at all?

PAYNE: No. Not really. We didn't really hit off that much. So that was kind of disappointing for me, because a lot did. And whenever we would go back to Libreville--

WILSON: Go back to Libreville, they could stay.

PAYNE: But I didn't really spend much time in Libreville, anyway. I think I was only there about four times in the two years. Just because there was not really any, we had a conference every year. And then, actually I was there three times, I guess. Once I left and went down to my village, I went back for two conferences in the summer and then when I did my closing service. I was back four times, I guess.


WILSON: So after Libreville, then you're in Libreville for--

PAYNE: Like six to eight weeks.

WILSON: Okay. All right. That's quite a time. And you were doing some--

PAYNE: Like student teaching.

WILSON: Student teaching. Okay. And then you get assigned to your site.

PAYNE: And then we got assigned to our site. And another girl and I got assigned to the same site. And it was, they said they assigned two people to this site because it was like the farthest away on this one coast. And they had asked for two teachers. And there had been two teachers there before us. But it wasn't a big site. It was called Mayumba, and it was right on the beach. Again, it was right, if you just went all the way down the coast, almost to the Congo, which is Congo Brazaville now.

WILSON: Right. Right.

PAYNE: It was right there. Like you could almost, you could drive across the border in like fifteen minutes from where we lived. So our village 55:00was kind of neat in that way because it was a very, it was a mixture of a lot of those people were ethnically Congolese instead of Gabonese. I mean, meaning their maternal languages were Congolese languages. They weren't, and back to, you know, the white people that draw the borders don't always consider where the ethnic groups are. They just draw the lines where it's good for them. And so we had like maybe five hundred people lived in that town. And that's counting a bunch of Togolese that lived down the beach in their own little village that they had built down there that were fishermen. Like they didn't really come into town. They didn't really associate with our town that much. But they down about a mile or two down the beach, they had this beach 56:00village down there. And there was probably a couple hundred of them. And they just fished. That's all they did. And the only time they came was when they brought their fish in. But down there, there was--

WILSON: So how many hours by whatever transportation--

PAYNE: Truck.

WILSON: By truck. Is that how you went?

PAYNE: From Libreville?

WILSON: Yeah. How long would it have taken you?

PAYNE: Let's see. Two, four, eight, ten, maybe fifteen hours.

WILSON: Fifteen hours. So it's a long way.

PAYNE: Oh, yeah. You couldn't do it--

WILSON: You couldn't even do it in a day, obviously.

PAYNE: No. No, no, no, no. And that would be in perfect road conditions. If it was rainy season, you'd take at least two days. We always flew to Libreville.

WILSON: Oh, you flew. Okay. There was an airport.

PAYNE: We couldn't drive. I mean, it would have taken us too long to get there.


WILSON: So you were a long ways from Libreville. I understand why didn't go by truck.

PAYNE: And where we lived, Mayumba was on a peninsula. And you couldn't, there was a land, it wasn't completely surrounded by water. But the land access was not open. Like it was just pure rainforest. And there was no road. So you had to take a pirogue, a canoe, across an estuary to get there. So you could only drive so far. And then they did have a bac, or I don't know what you'd call it in English. I guess it was just a big, flat, I guess a ferry. A big flat boat where you could drive a car onto it, and then they would bring you across if you had a car. And you could then be out on the island, they called it, even though it wasn't really an island, but be out in Mayumba. Oh, and then that was at one place. And then at another place is where 58:00you could take the canoes over. And that's mostly what everybody did, because there weren't any cars over there. I mean, nobody really had a car. Maybe there were a couple of French nurses that lived over there our first year, because they did that Volontaires du Progres.. They do it instead of military service. I guess everybody in France has to do military service at a certain age, before a certain age. Like before you're thirty, you have to do two years of military service or something. But this Volontaires du Progres is like a different, it's an alternative. And it's like Peace Corps only it's kind of, you know, kind of--

WILSON: So were they the only other Europeans?

PAYNE: No. They were there for about a year. And then there was a Danish guy that lived down no the beach that worked for one of the oil companies. And he was a real nice guy. We were friends with him. And then there was a Lebanese guy that ran a store. And he was probably, 59:00because he lived there and had lived there for a while. And these other three, they, we were not, probably the Danish guy, the French nurses, we just did not really, they kind of kept to themselves. And then they left. So we did not really end up getting to be very good friends with them. But the, and then the Danish guy, Torben, he ended up leaving. But Hisham, the Lebanese guy that ran the store, he ended up, his wife came. He married and his wife ended up coming there to live with him. And they ended up having a baby. And you know, we kind of were good friends with him. He spoke some English, and he liked to practice on us, you know. And he was very generous. And he had a lot of money, really, because he didn't really have much to spend it on. 60:00So he was always having us, he always wanted us to come over to his house. And he would give us things from the store. We'd be like, "But we have money. We can buy these things." "No, no, no, no! I want to give this to you." And he was, there was another, in Tchibanga, which was the provincial capital of our province where we lived. Our province was called the Nyanga province. And the capital city in the province was Tchibanga. And it was an even bigger city. And there were some Lebanese that lived there. And that was a very interesting dynamic for us, because the Gulf War was during that time. And Hisham had pictures of Saddam Hussein up in his store. And things like that. And it was a big learning experience for me. I mean, I'm definitely, you know, we were definitely the minority. I mean, we were friends with lots 61:00of Middle Eastern people there. Or even Muslims, African Muslims who, you know, tended to, even though Saddam Hussein was not, you know, a Holy Warrior, but they tended to side more with the Middle Eastern, you know, faction of a conflict than they would American. But it was very, you know, educational. And they were not the least bit radical like they needed to kill all the Americans, or anything like that. But they were very good to explain why their side of the argument, and I think that was one thing that I learned a lot from. You know, their side of why they felt the way they did about Western versus just Middle Eastern 62:00kind of cultural clash. And Hisham said, I was like, "I can't believe you would have a picture of Saddam Hussein up in your store. I mean, Saddam Hussein, he's bad!" He goes, "Yeah, he is. He's bad." And he said to me, "It's just the lesser of the two evils." He was like, "They come and they do this in my country, and they do this in my country and they do this in my country. And he's the only one that thinks to do anything about any of it, even though he's bad. At least he does something." So it was just interesting. Not that I agreed with the arguments he made, necessarily. But we learned a lot. Anyway, so that was some of the different kinds of friendships that we made that, you know. And he listened to us and we listened to him. And we agreed to 63:00disagree about lots of things. But it was interesting.

WILSON: So there were Gabonese, Africans, who were Muslims and who were Christians?

PAYNE: Not Gabonese so much.

WILSON: Not Gabonese. Okay.

PAYNE: But there were--

WILSON: I didn't know how strong Islam was in Gabon.


WILSON: No. Not very.

PAYNE: It's mostly Christian in Gabon. But there were Muslims there. There were like a lot of store owners that were Egyptian or Moroccan, some of them. There were lots of Senegalese, lots of Malians. That was mainly. There was mainly Senegalese and Malians.

WILSON: Okay. And they were also had stores? Senegalese and Malians?


PAYNE: Yeah, some of them. Some of them just came, we had a couple of teachers at our school even there in Mayumba. We had a Zairois that was a French teacher. We had a Senegalese that was a math teacher. We had a Malian that was a P.E. teacher.

WILSON: Oh, that's interesting.

PAYNE: Uh huh.

WILSON: Why would they have come to Gabon? Better opportunities?

PAYNE: Yeah. I guess. I really don't know why. I really don't know why they came there. Because at the time when we went, like everyone was on strike. We actually didn't even start teaching our first year until November. We were at our posts with nothing to do for like two or three months because the teachers were on strike. And it was starting to become a problem. The teachers were on strike everywhere, the whole country. The teachers had gone on strike right when we, like 65:00in August. Right before that school year started. And so the Peace Corps was kind of put in this bizarre position where we have all these teachers. I mean, do you want them or not? And the government, which of course was the one controlling the Peace Corps money. You know how Peace Corps works. We don't just go there and offer up our services for nothing. I mean, they have to ask for it, and they have to support it.

WILSON: Right. Right.

PAYNE: They were kind of like, do you want these teachers? Or do you not want them? And they said, "No. Send them and we're going to resolve this strike. This is not going to let--" And they did, eventually. But you know, we just kept sitting down there. We traveled around. We just took the opportunity to go and visit some other villages and stuff like that. And just to get to know people in our town. We had 66:00all our lessons ready. We were ready to go, you know. (laughs)

WILSON: So what were your living conditions like? You weren't living with families, right?

PAYNE: No. I lived in a house that was specifically built for teachers. There were about four houses. I lived just a little bit out of town. And it was a huge peanut plantation, a peanut farm.

WILSON: I didn't know they grew peanuts in Gabon.

PAYNE: Which is kind of weird, too. You wouldn't, I mean, when they told me, "Your house is on a peanut plantation," I thought, my thoughts were totally different than what it actually was. All that means, basically, is that my house was just sitting in a big peanut field. And it was just little paths that walked up to it.

WILSON: You were living by yourself?

PAYNE: Mm hmm. And there were three other houses that were teacher houses.

WILSON: What about the other volunteer?

PAYNE: She lived in town in a different house that was not a specific 67:00teacher house. But that's the one they had always used. I guess there were, I guess somehow in the past there were, they had teachers living in all the teacher houses. So the Peace Corps volunteer had gotten, the other Peace Corps volunteer had gotten stuck living in town in this other house. And they just had never changed it. Because one of the other teachers' houses was empty. And it was, there were two roads in the village. And the village was just between them. The roads ran parallel and basically everything was just here, you know, in between the roads, or then at the end of the road where the estuary was. And that's where you took the pirogue over. My house was out, you went away from the estuary, out of town. And then there was a big peanut plantation with these four houses out there. There was also a primitive airstrip out there where they did land planes a couple of times, small 68:00planes. But it was right on the beach. So my house was pretty much right on the beach. I mean, I had to walk about, I could see it. It was maybe, I'm not very good with distances. But maybe like three football fields away, or two, probably even two. And down right on the beach was a little complex of military housing. But no one lived in it. It was just like four little concrete houses down there. And that's what it was for. And there did eventually end up being some military down there over the course of the two years. But you know, I'm not really sure what the schedule on that was. Because there was nobody, and then some showed up for a while. And then they were there when I left, actually. And then down right on the beach, too, was our principal's house. So it wasn't like, it was kind of like we had our 69:00own little village out there. The military and the principal and us three teachers. But our houses were a hundred yards apart or two.

WILSON: So how big was your house?

PAYNE: I had a big house. I had a big cement house with a tile floor. I had three bedrooms, a tiny little kitchen. But a big common room where I had a couch and like two chairs and a big table that sat like six people. And then just a big empty area, like an entrance way. And then you went back a little hall and I had a full bathroom and then three bedrooms back there. So two of the bedrooms were never used, except when people came to visit. Which they did often, because we lived on the beach. So we had a lot of company. We had, all Christmas, all the holidays when any of the teachers got vacation, they always came down to our house, you know. And they always stayed at my 70:00house because I had the most room. And it's not like you have anything to store. (laughs) I mean, all I had was eighty pounds' worth of clothes, and that was pretty much it.

WILSON: Did you have running water?

PAYNE: I had running water.

WILSON: Hot water?

PAYNE: No. No hot water. But I had running water. I had a shower, I had a toilet that worked, that didn't have a seat. But, you can adapt, you know. And a little sink. The only, during the--

WILSON: I was just going to say, what about cooking? What about in your kitchen?

PAYNE: I had a little gas stove. I had an electric refrigerator. So in the rainy season, in the dry season everything was fine. The roads in Gabon are horrible. They're all dirt. There's no paved roads once you 71:00get fifty miles outside of Libreville. There's nothing. Until you get over into the Franceville area, which is in the east, which is where the president is from. And those roads are paved. Some of the roads in Tchibanga, which was our provincial capital, those roads were paved within the city, within the town. There was like four or five roads there that were paved. But once you get just to the edge of town, there's nothing. There's no, and when it was rainy season, the road to Mayumba became pretty much impassable. I mean, I have pictures of the trucks just tilted over on their sides, almost. What they used to do whenever we wanted to go anywhere during the rainy season, there were places in the road where the mud was just, it was up to your thighs. You know, you couldn't. So the trucks, they called them occasions and 72:00they were the ones, we met them at the pirogue stop and you'd pay the guy, the guy says "I'm going to Tchibanga." You pay him however much. It was five hundred, five hundred CFAs, I think.

WILSON: francs.

PAYNE: Central--

WILSON: What does CFA stand for?

PAYNE: Anyway, the money.

WILSON: It's money in Francophone countries.

PAYNE: Yeah. And he would then drive you to Tchibanga for like five hundred, or whatever. And there was a constructor that actually lived in a village on the road from Mayumba to Tchibanga. So sometimes we would just go to his house. And he would take us to Tchibanga. And that was how we did our American socializing. Once every few months we would meet, we would stop at his house, we would go up to Tchibanga and the other guys, the other constructors would come in. There was a couple of teachers that lived up there. And that's kind of how we would get our English speaking American socializing time in. And my 73:00husband lived in that province.

WILSON: Oh, okay.

PAYNE: So he was on a different road. He lived on a different, he lived on a road out of Tchibanga, and I lived on the road to Tchibanga from Mayumba.

WILSON: But that's how you met him.

PAYNE: But that's how we knew each other, because we lived together down there. But the road, so what they'd do is the truck would just drive you up to these big impassable places in the road and just let you off. And another truck would come from the other way. They got pretty good at it where they could time it. And then you'd just have to wade through with your stuff. You just had to hold your stuff up over your head and just wade through and get to the other side and clean up and go down to the water, because there was plenty of water everywhere. And lots of streams. But the truck that carried the fuel that ran the pumps for the water could not get through. So we never, we had no 74:00Gazoil is what they called it, but I don't know what it actually was. I guess it was like gasoline, or whatever.

WILSON: Fuel or something.

PAYNE: Fuel of some kind to run the pump. So during the rainy season we had no running water. Nobody did. We had nothing. Like whatever you had when rainy season started, that was it. When the beer ran out, it was gone, because unless what you carried down there. The food, they couldn't get food. They'd have to stock up on flour and stuff before. And you know, there were some times in the rainy season where they would be out there pushing trucks. It was just hilarious. You would come up on these big places in the road, and there would be five trucks just completely up to the chassis in mud. Sitting there. And they would, they were just stubborn. They were just going to get those trucks across no matter what. They were just going to, you know. But 75:00during the rainy season, I used to just put buckets out. I bought about five buckets that I would just put them out under the eaves of the house. And once the first couple of rains were over, which just took a couple of days, then the water was just perfectly clean. After all the dust got cleaned off the roof, then the water was just perfectly clean and pure. And I would drink it. I didn't even have to filter it, you know. And that's what I used fro my drinking water and for any like dish water. And I would go out there and I would use it to bathe in. But a lot of times when it would start raining about midnight, I'd just go out there in my bathing suit and just stand under the eaves of the house and wash my hair and just clean up. So you just adapt. And it was actually very efficient, you know. And the water was good. And I just kept it in the house. So that's how I learned to, that's how I adapted for the rainy season. And then during the dry season, of course I had water. And it would get a little bit cooler. And my second year, I somehow came upon a heating coil. I don't know 76:00where I bought it. But somewhere, somebody had discarded it. Maybe from the French girls when they left, or someone. But it was just a big electric coil that hooked on the side of a bucket. And you set it down and it would heat your water up. You plug it in and hook it on the side of the bucket and it would heat the water up in there.

WILSON: Right. Right.

PAYNE: It seems very dangerous, now that I think about it.

WILSON: I've seen them.

PAYNE: I used to, in the dry season, even though I had, my shower worked, I would fill that up. Because it used up a lot of gas to heat up all that hot water, you know what I mean? It wasn't efficient, fuel efficient to try to heat the water. But it was so much cooler in the dry season. It was down in the seventies, which seems really hot. But when you're used to it being ninety and a hundred all the time, 77:00or not a hundred, probably, but in the nineties, it was pretty cold to be taking a cold shower. So I got kind of spoiled with that coil. I would heat a bucket of water up and do all that and take my shower, just stand in the shower, that area, and take my shower using that warm water. And that was perfect. That was just like, I got to where I could take a bath, and my hair was real long and just straight. And I could take a bath and wash my hair in about that much water. I was so like efficient with it.

WILSON: Half a bucket.

PAYNE: Yeah. And during the rainy season, electricity didn't work, either, because they couldn't run the generators because there was no, again, no fuel. The generators are what ran the water pumps and the fuel pumps and whatever, electric pumps, everything. The generator. And so during the rainy season, there was nothing going on down there. There was no electricity and no water. I used to laugh because my one 78:00friend that lived up in the mountain, she didn't have running water. She did have electricity. But her house was really set up for that. She had a water catch system off of her roof that would drain into this barrel. And you could actually take a shower in her house that siphoned water out of that barrel into a little thing that hung up. And I was like, that's better, almost, to just know you're not going to have it and be prepared for it than to be set up for running water but then not have it half the time.

WILSON: What did you eat?

PAYNE: I ate lots of fish. We ate fish all the time, because we lived right on the beach. And there was that village of the Togolese fishermen. And they would go out at night. It was very cool. You could see down the beach they would cut, they would cut a log down and make their canoes. And then they would stick a little motor on the 79:00back. And then you could watch them go out at night until you couldn't see them anymore. They'd go out in the ocean and I would think, that little boat would get turned over. But I guess it didn't. I mean, they're not little boats. But they were trees that were turned into, but they would come back in in the morning. They'd stay out fishing all night. And they would come in in the morning and they would come up the beach closer to our place. And they'd just pull right up on the beach and the whole bottom of the boat would just be full of fish. They'd just be standing ankle deep in just fish. And you'd just pick out whatever you want. Everybody would gather around and look. And you know, if you only wanted half, they'd just flop it up on there and cut it in half with a big machete and weigh it. And I forget how much it was a pound. But you could get that much, like half of a little shark for this big for two hundred CFAs, which was less than a dollar. 80:00And they had all kinds of fish. All kinds. You know, little fish and big huge fish and whatever. And my and Alice, Alice was my postmate. And our best friend's name was Liddy, and she was a girl that worked, she ran a little boutique like that had a few little groceries but mostly she sold, it was like a bar. And she would cook at night. She would cook fish and rice. And so we, a lot of times we just ate there and let her cook for us and paid her for it. Because she could cook it a lot better than, you know, it was on the grill, over the fire, which was a lot better than what we'd cook. But sometimes, we made a lot of pasta. You could get pasta noodles. We had our specialty dish of peanut butter noodles, which was this kind of bastardized version of 81:00Thai noodles that we had made up. And I actually saw a recipe, I cut a recipe out of the paper of peanut butter noodles was what it was called, and it was almost the exact same recipe as what we used to make.

WILSON: That you developed. (laughs)

PAYNE: We were like, I showed it to her, I called her up, "You should see this recipe on the paper! It's our peanut butter noodles! How did somebody think of that?" But it was just like a tomato base with peanut butter in it and spices and stuff. And we basically lived on that. And I know when my family came to visit, my mom was like, "I can't eat any more of these." I'm like, "It's so good!" But that was mostly it. That and just pasta and fish and rice.

WILSON: So what was a day like when you started teaching? Start from the morning. You got up at--

PAYNE: I got up about seven. My classes started at 7:30. And the school was real close to my house. It was out, too. And it was 82:00cinquieme, sixieme, septieme and huitieme, well, actually, no. It went up to, it was about the equivalent of seventh grade to tenth grade. And my classes were all the younger grades, because we had another math teacher. And he was Senegalese. He'd been there a long time. And he taught the older grades. And then I taught the younger grades. Classes started about 7:30. And our classes were like two hours long. So you know--

WILSON: Two hours! That's a long time.

PAYNE: Well, because, you know, we didn't have any books. So we had to write all the curriculum on the board. And then the kids would copy it.

WILSON: Right.

PAYNE: And then we would do it. Then we would learn it. And then we would practice. And then, you know, so it took a couple hours. But it was difficult. It was a lot different than when I went. I thought 83:00oh, these African children, they're going to be just like so grateful and all this. And you know, it's totally different. The discipline problems were terrible.

WILSON: Oh, really?

PAYNE: Oh, yes. The children were so, they were just out of control a lot of the time. And it wasn't just us. I thought at first it was just us. It was even the African teachers. But of course they had learned to adapt to it a little bit better. And eventually, my second year was a lot better. I mean, I learned to--

WILSON: How big were your classes?

PAYNE: Oh, like fifty kids, you know. And they just, they just were unruly. But the discipline system was a lot different. I mean, when they got, there was an officer at the school called a surveillent. And when the kids got bad, that's who they went to see. And he would have them cutting grass with a machete. They'd cut grass all the rest of the day out in the hot sun. That was their punishment. Or, and 84:00if they, I could say, "You have to leave and you can't come back for two weeks." And so they would just be kicked out for two weeks. Now some of them didn't care. That was fine with them. And that was fine with me. The principal said, "I know that you guys want to help the children and all this," he was a pretty funny guy. "But," he said, "I know your American ideals are a little bit different." And he said, "I know you want to help them. But there's too many kids. There's only a few kids that are going to get to do anything educational, basically. There are only a few of these kids that are going to get to go to college, maybe, to the university or something like that." And he was like, "If you have kids that are disrupting the class and you can't teach, get rid of them. Get rid of them. Kick them out. Do whatever. But you really do have to concentrate on the ones that have a chance of getting out." And that was very, you know, that was like all of us, that just goes against everything that, but after a while, 85:00I started to understand. Because there were some of the kids, they didn't care about being there. Some of them, the only reason they went to school was to keep from working. If they didn't go to school, they had to work. So they would go to school just, but they were not, they didn't have any interest in going on. Then there were a few, there were probably two or three in every class that were really, that really tried and really, you know. And there were a lot more than that that were somewhere in between. There were a couple of real bad ones, a couple of real good ones, and the rest were just somewhere like, maybe they really did try or they didn't really want to go on to school, but they didn't want to work. So they would try to stay in school. You know, that kind of stuff. It was a wide range of kind of attitudes toward education. And we were kind of like the end of the road. 86:00There's no record keeping system. So we had, there was one kid in one of our classes that was like twenty-five years old in like the seventh or eighth grade. And he had been through every school in the country almost, you know. (laughs) And finally ended up at our school. And he was just a discipline problem. He just was contrary and loud. And even physically, you know, aggressive at times. So there was a lot more problems like that. You know, I've had them all just beating on the desk. Just beating on the desk so you couldn't talk or anything. And at those times, I would just leave. I would just take my books and just go home. And if we were supposed to have a test that day, I just gave everyone a zero. There was nothing else you could do.

WILSON: Did you have some good experiences? Do you remember some--


PAYNE: Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes. But I had some good experiences with the children individually. But I would not say that teaching I had particularly good experiences, no. Now I learned, like I said, my second year was a lot better. And I definitely learned how to cope a lot better. And my second year, I did have some good teaching experiences, too, I'll say. But the first year was really tough. And I never, I didn't talk to anyone who didn't have a tough first year. And I think that's just, I saw why they did the training the way they did, you know, in Libreville then. It was all kind of making sense. Because they didn't really, I thought gosh, they're being so hard on us. And that's why. And it wasn't, I mean, I would go through it all again. It wasn't anything, and it never made me think I'm leaving, I can't stand this or anything like that. But it was just like wow, it was just not what I expected. You know, it was just, but you do get, 88:00like I said, the beginning, the first part of the year was probably the hardest. And I think for any teacher in any kind of school.

WILSON: Could have happened here, right?

PAYNE: Right. Exactly. I think for any teacher in any school, your first, that was my first teaching job, ever.

WILSON: Right.

PAYNE: So I didn't really know what I was doing, to begin with. I was just learning to speak the language. And you know, kids pick up on that kind of stuff. I'm sure I was nervous and tentative about a lot of things. And American kids are going to know that. Kids are kids. They're just the same. That is definitely something that I learned. But I had some kind of different experiences just with cultural things. Like the girls do their kind of coming out thing. They call it the Bouity, and it's a special tribal ceremony where the girls, they chew on the sacred wood and it's a hallucinogen. They call it 89:00the boit sacre, you know, and they had told us about it in training. Because they were like, "You do not want to take part in this. This is serious. Do not do this. On your own or whatever, do not do this."

WILSON: How do you spell the--

PAYNE: Bouity?


PAYNE: Bouity is like B-o-u-i-t-y, I think. Something like that.

WILSON: Okay. So it's like an initiation?

PAYNE: It's like their initiation, kind of, for the females. And they paint their faces white and everything. And you know, I had a girl come to class one day. We were supposed to be having a test. And she was just like in a trance, almost. And I was talking to her and one of the other girls said, "She's doing the Bouity this week. She can't talk to you because she's doing the bouity." Okay. So I said, "She's not allowed to--" They were like no, she's not allowed to, she has to be like completely in herself and concentrating and all this. But she 90:00didn't want to miss school because she didn't want to get marks off. She was a pretty good student. And I was like okay, well, just tell her that she doesn't have to be here. This is an excused absence. (laughs) And so she ended up leaving. But you know, stuff like that, it was kind of interesting. I didn't get to be part of some of the things, because either because I was American and they just didn't want outsiders in, or of course, a lot of the things they wouldn't let women have any, none of the women got to go at all. But we did sneak some peeks at some pretty cool, you know, like ceremonies that they had that we weren't really allowed to go to. But we would just kind of, and then there were some that we were more than welcome to be at. When they took off their mourning clothes, we were always invited to those. 91:00They called it retrait de deuil.. If they were, because their deuil is their mourning clothes. And when they took their mourning clothes off, sometimes they wore them for a year, sometimes they wore them for five years. There were women that wore black every day for the whole two and a half years I was there. I never saw them in--

WILSON: Oh my goodness.

PAYNE: And those were big parties. That was fun. You know, I don't know, there's just lots of stuff. I could go on forever and ever.

WILSON: Well, let's go for a--

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

WILSON: --with Jennifer Payne talking about being a Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon. And interviewed by Angene Wilson. Are there a couple of particularly memorable stories from those two years in Gabon you want to get down on tape?

PAYNE: There's a lot. There was one time that my friend Liddy that I talked about earlier, that Alice and I got to be, she was about our 92:00best friend, I guess.

WILSON: And Liddy is a--

PAYNE: Liddy is a woman that lived in the village with us in Mayumba. She was in her, she was about our age. She was in her early twenties. Maybe even younger than us. But she had a little boy that was about two. And she ran a boutique where they sold--

WILSON: And she's Gabonese.

PAYNE: She's Gabonese, yeah. And she, one day I was, the place that she ran was very close to my house. It was kind of on that road out of town. And Alice lived on the other side of town. And usually Alice and I would spend one night together a week. Like either, our classes during the day were from like 7:30 to about 1:30. They were two-hour classes. So we spent a lot of time, that first bit when we went to 93:00Mayumba, we spent a lot of nights together. Like she would stay at my house or I would stay at hers. Just till we got kind of, and then, after the first couple of months, we really didn't see each other that much except at school because it was thirty minutes for me to get to her house walking or vice versa. And sometimes I would go see her when I went into town to buy groceries or something like that. But usually we tried to spend one night together. One semester we didn't have any class on Friday. It just worked out that way. So on Thursday nights after school we'd go home and do whatever we needed to do. And then at like six o'clock or so we would meet at Liddy's and we would have some beers and eat fish. And a lot of times, some of the other teachers would come, or whatever. You know, it was just kind of--So one night I was walking down there, and it was just a straight dirt road. I was 94:00walking down there and I saw a big ape of some kind. I don't know, I say ape as a purely like general term. I don't know if it was a gorilla or if it was like a large monkey of some other. It was some type of animal like that.

WILSON: And you had those--

PAYNE: Well, I had never seen one out just like crossing--this one just was like walking on the road. And I was terrified. I didn't know what to do. I thought well, I just stood there. I stopped and I stood perfectly still. He was pretty far away, but not so far that I couldn't tell what it was and watch him. So he kind of crossed the road, and he walked around a little bit, and then he went back up, one side of the road was our houses and the beach and the peanuts. And the other 95:00side was like the center of the estuary, or the center of the island, and it was just bush. It was thick. And it was a lot. I mean, it was a pretty good mass of land there. So when I got down to the boutique, down to Liddy's, I was pretty shook up over it. But it was awesome! I was excited. So I was telling Alice about it, and she goes, "Oh my gosh! That's so cool!" So I told Liddy about it, and Liddy said, "Oh, yeah, it was probably just one of the papas." You know, they call the older men papas, and all the women pretty much they call mama. They would call me Mama Jennifer. But mostly the older men. They didn't call the younger men papa. But she said, "It was probably just one of the papas." I was like, "No, it wasn't a papa. It was an animal. It was an ape or a monkey." I said, "It was like some kind of big monkey." 96:00And she was like, "Probably not. It was probably just one of the papas." And I was like, "I don't understand what you're talking about." She said, "Well, when they're old like that, and they have work to do, they turn themselves into gorillas and they go off into the forest, and then they can do their work. Because gorillas are strong. And papas are not. They're too old. And he probably just forgot to turn himself back into himself when he came into town. And then when he realized you saw him, he went back so that he could change back into himself. And then you'll probably see him walking down the road in a little while." (laughs) So then she said, "I'll go get your drink. I'll be back in a minute." And I looked at Alice and I said, "You know, my French is not perfect, but did she just say what I think she said?" And Alice said that, and she repeated the basic gist of the story. I said, 97:00"Yeah." She goes, "Yeah, I believe that's what she said. That's what I understood." I said, "Okay. I guess we just won't talk about that anymore." So that was pretty--and one time Liddy had, a lot of stories about Liddy. She was really funny. But the African people were so, and I'm sure you experienced this, too. Were so generous. They are so, there's no pretension of any kind with any of them about anything. They just tell you what they think. And they aren't concerned about, you know, they're just honest. They were very honest about, the women, of course, more than the men. The men are a little bit more full of it about them. But they just, you know, "Oh, you got so fat while you were gone on vacation." And then the next ladies say, "Oh, you got so 98:00skinny while you were gone on vacation. You look terrible!" I would be like well, okay. Then someone else would tell me how fat I got, I look great. (laughs) You never know. But Alice and I, there was a plane supposed to pick us up and go to Libreville. And we had gotten all of the food out of our houses and everything, and we were ready to get on the plane. We were in a hurry, so we had walked up to the airstrip. And we waited and we waited and we waited. We had to wait for like two hours. And no plane ever showed up. We were starving! We were so hungry. We hadn't had any lunch, and we were like, oh my gosh! When is that plane going to come? Because the flight to Libreville was only a couple of hours. And finally somebody, I forget, from the post office or something, drove up and said, "Well, the plane is not going to be here for like another hour and a half, anyway." So, but we didn't have any food at our houses. We were already way out there at my house. So we went down to Liddy's boutique. And she didn't have anything cooking 99:00yet, because it was still early in the day. She didn't have any fish or anything. But she said, "Sit down and I'll fix you something." And she made, they had a cassava rolled into, or they call it manioc, but I think it may have been cassava or the same thing. And they would roll it into, one of the ways they fixed it was to roll it, mash it and roll it into this log. It was like a log of Play Doh, almost. That was the consistency of it. Have you had that before? Okay. Then roll it into banana leaves. And so they called it baton de manioc, you know, like stick of manioc. And the first time I had it, I thought I'd vomit. I thought it was so nasty. But I got to where I liked it. You know, the more you eat stuff, you get used to it. But she brought us out this plate that had cut up baton de manioc on it and sardines and just Maggi sauce, which is like soy sauce. But that's what they use 100:00for everything.


PAYNE: You know, Maggi.. And Alice and I, I looked at that, and I was like, "I cannot eat that." I mean, the sardines. And Alice was like, "I know. But," she said, "I am so hungry." And we started eating that and we ate every bite of it. And after it was over, I was like, "That is the best thing I've ever had." (laughs) So we always laughed after that, cause it was just like the best, we always said the best meal we ever had in Gabon was that baton de manioc and those sardines that Liddy fixed for us because we were so hungry. But you know, that was like her last baton de manioc that she had. So she was going to have to go to the marche and get some more. And you know, giving us two cans of sardines, that was a big deal for her.

WILSON: Of course. Of course.

PAYNE: She gave us that out of her own thing. So it was just another example of kind of the way that they were. They just were very, they 101:00were so unselfish and giving and you know, just good, just good people. Friendly and you know, protective. They were very protective of us. Whenever people would come to town that were new or something, they were always, the women, the little group of women that we knew, they would always really circle up around us and you know, want to know who those people were, and who were the strangers coming, and you know, everything like that. And who is that, somebody was at your house. Who was that? Who was that truck at your house? What did they want? And stuff. It wasn't being nosy. It was really wanting--

WILSON: Taking care of you.

PAYNE: Yeah. Taking care of us. And you know, more than once they would circle up and be like, "Get out of here!" The men were a little bit, you know, aggressive at times. And you could, a woman, even a 102:00woman that we didn't even know, if a man would be bothering us, I've had women come along and just slap them right on the head and be like, "Get on! Leave her alone! She doesn't want to talk to you! You nasty! Get away from her!" (laughs) We'd be like, "Thanks."

WILSON: So what do you think the impact of your Peace Corps experience was on Gabon? And what was its impact on you? There's the big question, right?

PAYNE: Okay, well. I mean, my impact on them is a little harder for me to determine. I don't know. I mean, I hope that they just, I hope that the friendships I made just made a difference as far as you know, people, just like the goal of Peace Corps, which is to kind of make Americans more accessible to Africans so they don't think of us as 103:00this strange foreign beast. And the same, you know, us for them. Like that, to know people and have real relationships with them is different than just to learn about someone. And Liddy, I know, when Alice, the last night that we were in Mayumba, the night before we left for good, we went to her house and she fixed us dinner. And she just cried and cried and cried and cried and cried. And she said, "I don't understand why I'm crying so much." Because they're not really a people who, they move around a lot. And they appreciate relationships, but it's kind of like once you're gone, then you're just gone. Because they can't call each other all the time and they can't, you know--

WILSON: Have you been in touch with Liddy since at all?

PAYNE: No. No.

WILSON: There's no way to do that.

PAYNE: I wrote her many times. And she never returned any of my 104:00letters. She never wrote me back. And I don't even know if she stayed there. The father of her son was in the military and he moved around. I don't know what happened to her. But she said, "I don't understand why I'm crying like this. I don't understand why." I was like, "Well, because we're your friends and you're going to miss us." And she's like, "Yeah, but I've had friends before." And of course we were, because that's just how, you know, we were just crying, "Oh, we're going to miss you so much, and we're going to write." And all that was very foreign to her. Like that we were going to stay in touch. She just said, "Why would you do that? Are you going to come back?"

WILSON: Yeah, yeah. Right, right.

PAYNE: And it was like, well, I don't know. Maybe. But we can still--But someone did email me, and this was not long ago, a returned volunteer that had just come back. And she, there are no volunteers in Mayumba anymore. I don't think even Gabon has any volunteers now. 105:00I think they ended the program like two years ago, I think. But even before that, like--

WILSON: Because? Because it's really middle income more.

PAYNE: They just didn't need us anymore. It's a pretty rich country.

WILSON: With all the oil, yeah.

PAYNE: Of course, the people aren't rich. The government's very rich.

WILSON: Yeah. Yeah.

PAYNE: But they, I guess they had eventually been able to staff the school. A lot of us were teachers, mostly. And the construction program kind of, you know, it kind of peters itself out, because they train other, they train the Africans to do their work. So that's a little bit more. But a volunteer wrote me. And she was not a volunteer in Gabon, but she had traveled there. And she had actually gone down to Mayumba. And she said, "I just wanted you to know that people were asking me about you."

WILSON: Isn't that neat!

PAYNE: She went to our website, my husband put up a website. If you google "Gabon Africa Peace Corps," you'll get his website.


WILSON: Really? Oh, that's neat.

PAYNE: So a lot of people, we get emails from people that just find it and stuff. So she had, I don't remember now how she even got my name except that, I think she, I mean, she had done some research. Like she had tried to find out who was a volunteer there.

WILSON: That's neat. Because this has been a long time.

PAYNE: She said, "I just wanted you to know--" Yeah, since 1992.

WILSON: Right.

PAYNE: So she said, "I just wanted you to know that your village hasn't forgotten you. That I was just there and they were asking me about you and Madame Alice." And I was like, oh. I just cried. You know, I was like, I wonder about them, too. But I mean, I think that makes a big difference for people, to know that they still remember.


PAYNE: That they even remember my name. And some of those, you know, a lot of the kids that I taught are probably, you know, they're in their thirties now. So some of them are probably still there. And it's 107:00probably a lot of the people are just the guy that owns the Gaboprix, which was the store.

WILSON: But still.

PAYNE: Yeah, it's great! I would remember them, too. So that was nice to know. But I hope that the impact was just that. That the people that met us remembered us in a positive way. That we did a positive thing and that we were a positive face of America for them, to know, especially now in these times when America doesn't have necessarily as positive a face internationally that people will look past, you know, that's what kind of the Peace Corps is about is looking past these things that governments do to realize that we're just people. And a lot of us are just the same, doing the best that we can to have our families and to have friends and to do stuff. And I hope that knowing Americans in that capacity for them transfers, has transferred into 108:00their future, from back then to now that's saying, well, I knew some Americans that, I can't hate America because I knew Americans that were--

WILSON: I knew Jenifer.

PAYNE: I knew Madame Jenifer and Madame Alice. And they were, they taught our kids, and they sat and had meals with us. And were our friends. We helped them and they helped us. Stuff like that. Which may be a little naive. But I think it's true. You know. I never have lost my original feelings about joining the Peace Corps, which was I'm going to go to Africa and I'm going to teach the children. Stuff like that. And I remember I was really reconsidering my Peace Corps service at one point before I went because I was just thinking I've waited so 109:00long, and now I should probably just get a job. And now I'm going to leave for two years, and what's going to happen while I'm gone. And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You know, all this stuff, all the little devil that gets in your head and is like is this, should you be doing this? Is this a stupid thing? Are you just running to do something different? And I was at church and there were these missionaries there. I don't even remember what they were from or whatever. And they were very, you know, they were, they did some kind of projects that provided like they built wells in villages or something, I think in Africa. I don't remember even exactly what it was. But they were saying, everybody has to find someplace within themselves to give. And you have to give something. Now you don't have to go, you don't have to 110:00go to Africa and build water wells, or whatever. But you have to know in your heart what you can do to contribute to society. To contribute to your community, or whatever. And they said, some people do have to go. You may not be the one. But some people have to go, because we have so much here. And there are people all over the world who have nothing. And they need help. They need someone to come and help them. And you can't look at the person next to you and say, that person is going to do it. Because that person may not do it. Unless you do it, then you're part of the problem more than you are the solution. And I was like, they're talking to me! How did they know what I was thinking? So I took that as my divine sign from God to just stop thinking about it and just go.

WILSON: So what's been the impact on your family? Your parents came to see you. And then, of course, you married somebody who was a Peace 111:00Corps volunteer. When did that happen?

PAYNE: I did. We got married about nine months after we got back. We had been friends, really, the whole time that we were there. We had just been friends until the very end. And then we came back, and kind of a lot of your selection process is done for you. You know what I mean? Okay, I've learned a lot about you just by knowing that you're here.

WILSON: Right. Exactly.

PAYNE: So, you know. But I think it made a huge impact on my whole family. I mean, as far as from being in Africa, there's no way that you can express, any Peace Corps volunteer, I think, would say there's no way you can express the change it makes in your life to live in a different culture for a couple of years. People are changed if they just go for a couple of weeks and see the difference. And then I think about people who go and live in other cultures for ten years or twenty 112:00years or whatever, how that must be. You know. I think, I see why the Peace Corps requires you to go for two years. Because after a year, you're just getting started. And then your second year, you really are dug in and you can really enjoy yourself. You don't feel like you're just constantly trying to, okay, when am I supposed to shake hands, and what hand am I supposed to eat with, and what am I supposed to do, and who am I supposed to talk to? By the second year, you're just doing all those things and you don't think about it. And then, you know, I think for my family to come and see. You know, we still talk about, I mean, it's been fifteen years ago, and that was one of the last big trips. My dad had Alzheimer's. And that's, when Glen and I got married, we were like, we'll go back to the States, we'll get married, and then we'll just come back. We were going to try to work for Peace Corps or maybe re-up for another couple of years and volunteer together and go to a different country, or go to South America. We really wanted 113:00to go back to Africa, though, because we were so in love with it. But then when we got back, my father was not right. I didn't know what was wrong with him exactly. But we knew that, and I didn't want to leave for two more years. And I'm glad I didn't, because that would not have been good. But you know, that was one of the last big trips that he took. But he had such a great time. And he would talk about that trip. It was just so great for him, because he just loved it. And you know, my mom and my brother and I still talk. My sister didn't get to come, but my mom, my brother and I still talk about things. And my friend, my best friend from high school came with them, too. You know. So I think that, you know, it wasn't just me that learned about that other culture. It was them, too. And Glen's family's the same way. My husband, his family, his dad and uncle and cousins came. And then, you know, our children now, we have three boys. And they, we have a 114:00lot of African art in our house. We talk about Africa a lot.

WILSON: Have you been to their schools to talk about it?

PAYNE: I've offered. I've never been asked to come, actually. But every year, I offer. And I have done, like for the kids at church, we've done things with them. And stuff like that. But I think for what, I think what's neat--

WILSON: Now your boys are how old?

PAYNE: Nine, seven and four.

WILSON: And four. Yeah. Okay.

PAYNE: Now after I got back, I went to my niece and nephew's school. And we did, I did that WorldWise School thing. So I was pen pals with the junior high kids at my school where I went to junior high.

WILSON: While you were there.

PAYNE: While I was in Africa.

WILSON: Oh, wonderful! Wonderful.

PAYNE: So when I came back, I spent probably a month doing programs like every week.

WILSON: In Somerset?

PAYNE: In Somerset, my school. And at the high school and different things. Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce and churches and all that 115:00kind of stuff. And you know, there's a great, there's a little thing I've got that another Peace Corps volunteer sent me that is Kennedy, it's one of the Kennedy women. And I can't remember now her first name. I'm just drawing a blank. But she talked about, she has this little excerpt from a speech that she gave talking about Peace Corps volunteers. And it says, you know, Peace Corps volunteers, they're just regular, you know, they just get back into society and they work and they go to the grocery and they play with their kids. But they appreciate, they eat well every day and appreciate it. They're a lot like, they have some similarities to immigrants that they know in the 116:00back of their minds somewhere that there are lots of different visions of the world. There are lots of different ways of looking at the world, and that they'll never again be able to see only one. And you know, I've always thought that was a very profound, you know, insight. Maybe she is someone that's traveled and lived outside of the States a lot, but I think that's been like one of the most important things I've gained from it is that I never, it's not something you consciously do, but you never see things, view things from just one perspective anymore. It's always, well how would people in this country feel? Even if it's not Africa, you just realize that there's a lot of people living lots of different ways in the world that are nothing like what we're living. And that's okay. I mean, that's good. You want differences. But when you say, can I have that in addition to the purely, the purely 117:00visceral reaction that you have to thinking about that experience just because of the love that the Africans showed to me, and this generosity and the friendship, then you know, it makes for a combination that's life altering. You just feel like you're part of that, also. Not only do you just understand it, but that you are part of it somehow. And that it's part of you. That you left something there and brought something back. And it makes you realize that you don't have to do that much to make an impact on someone's life in a positive way. So--

WILSON: How does that work in terms of you came back and went to nursing school.

PAYNE: I went to nursing school.

WILSON: And now you're a nurse.

PAYNE: Right.

WILSON: How does that impact your professional life?

PAYNE: Well, I went to nursing school because I wanted to go back to 118:00Africa. And I felt like that would be an easier way to do it.

WILSON: Right.

PAYNE: I felt like there were a lot more opportunities to do health service. And then I just, I was friends with one of the, we did have a health program in Gabon, too, and one of the nurses was a good friend of mine. And I just, you know how you get in these deep talks with people about your life and stuff. You really get to be close to people real quick. And she just convinced me that nursing was, she loved being a nurse, and she just thought it was the best, that you couldn't do anything better than that. And I think it's a good thing I do, because I do love being a nurse. But I find--

WILSON: And what kind of nurse?

PAYNE: I'm an ICU nurse now. I was a pediatric nurse for some years. And then when we moved down here, I ended up working at Central Baptist. And they didn't have any pediatric positions, and I had to 119:00just take what was available. And so it's been, you know, it's okay. There are some things about it I like, and some things I don't like. I mean, being a nurse in a hospital is just stressful, period.

WILSON: But do you see it in the future, that's a way you might be able to get back to Africa?

PAYNE: Yes. I do. For sure. And I think that you, I mean, I think that transfers to life in general just by constantly being aware of ways that we can serve the community. Not in like I say in these giant ways of being on, you know, the city council or whatever, but in our small ways that we do. And I think that's why I like being a nurse a lot, because I get daily gratification from that that's very immediate. You know what I mean? Not that every day I come home and I say oh, 120:00I've made such a difference. Yet I do feel like I make a difference and I do the best job that I can. And someone needs to take care of these people that are in the hospital. And if that's something I can do every day, or you know, when I work, and do it with compassion and do it well, then that's a service to people. And lots of jobs are that way. Teaching. Lots of jobs. I can't really think of, any job can be that way. It might not be as easy to quantify as like a nurse or a teacher or a fireman or something like that, but any job can be that way. And I think it's serving, something like the Peace Corps, it just helps you in your mind to be able to do that transfer. So what you do as being service. And teaching our children that you need to do these things. This is part of your responsibility to the world, 121:00you know, recycling your cans is part of your responsibility that you need to do. And when they're little, they don't understand a lot more than that sometimes. But as they get older, hopefully you've instilled in them some kind of. I mean, we basically just act like well sure, you'll need to do the Peace Corps or something. I mean, you've got to do something. You can't just go and make money and not care about anybody else. You know. So you know, I hope that they not only get that, but I hope they get a lot of the other things that are just like, like wanting to travel and wanting to see other places. We really tried to instill in them that yeah, this is cool, but this is just one place. There are lots of other places. And we try and watch National Geographic and we try, just expose them to other country things. 122:00Our neighbors are French now. When we moved into our new house, our neighbors are from France. And it's wonderful, because now they're all interested in France, and they want to know--

WILSON: And you can speak French. (laughs)

PAYNE: Right. So we have fun with the neighbors, and with our French, trying to speak. Of course, they've been here a long time, and they speak, their English, they're fluent in English. My oldest son wants to go to Egypt. And I'm like, "Yes! Absolutely! But we have to save some money first. And you have to be a little bit older, because we can't go right now." But, you know, so I hope that, I hope those are the two things. I really feel that my dad, early on, his commitment to community service and things like that. And my mother, also. I mean, she did a lot of things that were not quite as overt. But a lot of, you know, making, always making food for people that were sick, 123:00or somebody who had died, or somebody that had had a baby. She would constantly, you know, putting out all these feelers like who needed this, and who needed this. And we were constantly picking up elderly couples or elderly women from the church and bringing them on Sunday mornings. And my dad was constantly going to the hospital to see people. And things like that. And those little things add up. And I look back and I'm grateful for those examples that they gave me of doing for other people instead of just always doing, you know, just always thinking about yourself. Because you always get more out of it than you end up giving. You know what I mean? It's kind of selfish, in a way. You feel better when you do something. So I mean, I hope as far as, you know, in our marriage has been just, you can't hardly 124:00explain it how it's just, you just have that always there in common that, how else would you get that, without that shared experience? Not that there aren't other shared experiences that are important, too. But for us, that's our big thing. So.

WILSON: Looking at your watch, I think.

PAYNE: I don't have one.

WILSON: I've got about ten of.

PAYNE: Oh, okay.

WILSON: You probably need to--Thank you. That's great.

PAYNE: Well, thank you.

[End of interview.]

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