09 December 2009

MY MOTHER 3/18/1909 - 11/25/2009

My 95 year old mother had been on a waiting list for an assisted living facility for over 14 months. Meanwhile she had in-home help when I couldn't be there.

Her health and dementia had slowly worsened over the past five years, but she seemed to go down hill very swiftly in the last three months. Still, she could dress and feed herself. She took her medications, but someone had to put out the correct pills each day so she wouldn't take the wrong ones. Physically, she was frail, but had very little wrong with her.

Recently, she fell in her home between her daytime and night-time help. We thought she had a stroke because she was not walking and had no recollection of her fall. We took her to the emergency room where it was determined that she did not have a stroke. Although she had only minor physical injuries, they decided to keep her for observation. She was disorientated and very listless, and somewhat dehydrated. She knew she was in the hospital, but did not understand why.

Several days later, she seemed to be doing fairly well ---she was walking short distances with help, feeding herself and alert, although somewhat disoriented. However, her doctor recommended we place her in a nursing home for a month or so after leaving the hospital and we were looking into that possibility.

However, during the early hours of November 25th, the day before Thanksgiving, she died peacefully in her sleep.

My Aunt Jeanne, my mother's youngest sister, died the day before Thanksgiving in 2006. Their grandfather died the day before Thanksgiving in 1946. If I were a superstitious person, I might worry every time that holiday rolled around.

I've been out of touch because my mother seemed to be deteriorating so quickly. Then I was visiting the hospital and taking care of her home. Since her death I have been contacting everyone, arranging a memorial service, taking care of matters (bills, insurance, the will, etc.) helping my niece move into my mother's home, disposing of my mothers' belongings, and dealing with lawyers and probate.

My mother left written instructions that she wanted to be cremated with no viewing, which suited me fine. I have never liked funeral homes and avoid them whenever possible. She requested only a memorial service. Since there was to be no viewing, there was no rush for the service. I didn't want to do it over Thanksgiving weekend. The next week, the church was busy with a large meeting and several weddings. Also a good friend of my mother's was having a 100th birthday party that week and I didn't want to put a damper on that, so we scheduled the service for two weeks after her death.

My mother was not well-educated, but she was very smart and well-read. She had many talents. She was a caring person who was involved in a lot of volunteer work. Yet, she was not perfect and also had a dark side that many people never saw.

Probably, I will not be blogging until at least January. When I return, I will write about my mother's life on my other blog, Pro Artz.

28 September 2009


In 1961, John F. Kennedy believed so strongly in the idea of the Peace Corps that he used his discretionary funds to fund it instead of waiting for approval from Congress.

In 2011, the Peace Corps will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

If you served in the Peace Corps anywhere in the world during the past 50 years, record these dates and plan to attend the conference to be held in Washington DC to celebrate that milestone.

September 22-25, 2011

10 September 2009

OPHIDIOPHOBIA - fear of snakes

This post is in response to a writing prompt at
Writing prompt: "Scaredy Cat!!!"

OPHIDIOPHOBIA (according to Wikipedia) refers to the fear of snakes. It is one of the most common zoophobias (animal phobias). A typical ophidiophobic would not only fear them when in live contact but also dreads to think about them or even see them on TV or in pictures. Ophidiophobia is a characteristic of fictional adventurer Indiana Jones (and with good reason, I might add.)

I know others are afraid of other creepy-crawlies, but my only phobia is snakes. I acquired the fear from my grandmother who often told a story about a neighbor boy who threw a large black snake across the road at her when she was a young girl. The force of the throw made it wrap it self around her body, before falling to the ground. It was dead, but she didn’t know that when it was flying toward her.
I worked at a camp one summer in an area where there were timber rattlers. Counselors often walked from the main camp to our campsites at night. I was assured rattlers were not nocturnal so I wasn't worried. I usually had a flashlight with me, but occasionally walked without one if the moon were bright. After returning home from the camp at the end of the summer, I read an article about common myths ---and sure enough the myth that timber rattlers are not nocturnal is false. Even though it was months later, I almost fainted.
Once my first husband & I stopped to eat our lunch at a highway rest stop. On the way to a picnic table, I tramped on a snake and it curled over my almost-bare, sandaled foot. I screamed. It was harmless, but it still freaked me out. I went camping with friends, and on a hike, I went off the path to pee ---and there was a snake. It seemed that if there were a snake anywhere nearby, I was the one to run into it.

During my Peace Corp stint in Brazil, our house in Glória was at the edge of a town surrounded by hinterland. There was a pond nearby, so it attracted all kinds of animals, including reptiles. Several times a snake crawled into our house in the space (about an inch) under the door.
Brunie (my fellow volunteer) and I each had a footlocker which we shipped from home with clothing and other essentials. To prevent mildew, we placed each of them on four bricks (underneath the corners) to keep them from touching the mud-brick floor which was sometimes damp. The footlockers served as extra seating.
José Francisco (see photos of him and me, scroll down a little to find us both dressed in red, HERE) a man who worked for the Brazilian Legion of Assistance, was sitting on one of the footlockers when a snake slithered from underneath it, right between his feet. José Francisco ran from the room. I jumped onto a chair. Brunie and I screamed for our next-door neighbor and landlord. He came in and killed the snake and then pointed out its fangs and told us it was a poisonous variety.
In Peace Corps training, we were told that all poisonous snakes in Brazil were deadly. And the fact that the snake was nearly the exact color as our mud-brick floor scared me even more, because in other circumstances, one of us might have walked right up to it, or even stepped on it, without even noticing it was there.
I started to pack to go home, but then someone reminded me there wasn't a bus out of town for five days ---which gave me time to calm down ---sort of.

That was the first time we saw a snake in the house, but it was not the last. It got to the point that I would jump if I saw a thread on the floor. I had a bathrobe that had a tie at the waist which was sewn on across the back, but if not tied, the ends hung down at the side. Those ties would brush my leg and I would gasp in panic. One day, I just cut those suckers off so I wouldn’t be jumping every two minutes when I wore it around the house.
We had lots of other creepy things in our house in Brazil --toads, mice, roaches, tarantulas, bats, scorpions ---but nothing bothered me except the snakes.

What didn’t help was the word for snake in Portuguese is “cobra” and even though there were no King Cobras around, there were several varieties of highly poisonous snakes. In Peace Corps training, a fellow volunteer asked the question, “If a ______ snake bit you and you could instantly amputate your leg, would you die anyway?” The answer was “Yes.” I can’t remember, now, the variety he mentioned, but perhaps it was a bushmaster.

I once saw a dead coral snake on the street in Glória. We were assured that the coral snake wasn’t much of a threat because its jaw span was so small that it would almost have to gnaw at a little finger or toe to inject its venom. We were told they live in banana trees and not to stick our hands into one. So there was no way I was ever going to pluck a banana right from a tree. I always bought them from vendors at the weekly market. I am guessing the dead coral snake I saw was from a cart full of bananas, and that the snake had been crushed by a horse, cart, truck, or automobile.

My husband thinks I am ridiculously silly ---I can't look at a snake on TV, not even a drawing of one.
I had a very difficult time writing this ---even writing the word sn___ makes me crazy. And I couldn't look at photos of them for an illustration, so I did the best I could without actually drawing a sn___ !

Luckily, in my everyday life, I rarely see one, but my husband found a very small harmless one in our basement about a year ago. I wish he hadn't told me.

* * * * *

(Recent studies have theorised that humans may have an innate reaction to snakes, which was vital for the survival of humankind as it allowed such dangerous threats to be identified immediately.)
(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

20 July 2009


Today I am thinking of forty years ago when the men landed on the moon.
I had been discharged from the Peace Corps about 10-14 days earlier. I flew with several friends from Rio to Lima where we spent a few days, then flew on to Cusco for another few days. We took a train to Machu Picchu. After returning to Lima, my friends went on to other places, while I flew to Mexico City for several days. Then I took a flight to Houston to visit a high school friend.
Connie had recently married. In her wedding photos were Neil Armstrong and some of the other astronauts, for Connie's father-in-law worked for NASA.
At her parents' home that night, everyone was excited about the moon landing. The day I arrived back in the U.S., July 20th, 1969, in Houston everyone was glued to their TV's watching the grainy black and white pictures of the astronauts. I was there, too, but after several weeks of travel, I could not keep my eyes open. I kept dozing off, then waking and trying to watch, only to drift off again within seconds. Eventually, sitting on a comfortable couch, I allowed my exhaustion to overtake me and slept through the broadcast.
Thus, I missed one of the big historical events of my lifetime. Those astronauts might as well have been walking on the dark side of the moon where no one could see them, for I saw almost nothing of the actual event and remember it only from news videos seen later.
But, then, I had just lived through what would prove to be my own most memorable experience, serving for two years in the U.S. Peace Corps in Brazil.
(©2009 C.J. Peiffer)

22 June 2009

St. John's Day- June 24th - Festa de São João

In Glória on June 24th, we celebrated the Festa de São João, St. John's Day, celebrating John the Baptist. Like many religious holidays, the celebration had little to do with religion. This festival has been celebrated in Portugal for more than 600 years. It has sacred roots but is also mixed with pagan traditions. In Glória, I thought it was sort of a cross between Sadie Hawkins Day and Trick or Treating.
The ginásio where I taught sponsored a quadrilha, which was similar to square dancing or line dancing. Participants practiced for weeks so we could put on a performance. It was customary for females to ask males to be their partners and everyone dressed up like the Brazilian version of hillbillies, thus the similarity to Sadie Hawkins Day.
The first June I was there (1968) I asked Zé Francisco (who worked at the Brazilian Legion of Assistance to create chicken cooperatives) to be my partner. I wore a red print dress someone had loaned to me.
The next year (1969) I asked my student José Augusto to be my partner. He was a very nice and hard-working man who worked as a tailor to support himself and his mother. Since there had been no high school in the town for most of his life, when the ginásio was founded, he went back to school in his mid-twenties, so he was a few years older than I was. That year, I had a green & pink print dress made for myself by a local seamstress. I still have it in a closet in my attic, although I will never fit into it ever again.
We danced to music on a recording by Luis Gonzaga, featuring lots of accordian music. Before I left Brazil, I copied the dance instructions in both English and Portuguese and took a Luis Gonzaga record home with me. On several occasions when I taught in public schools in the U.S., I taught a shortened version of the quadrilha to students for International Week performances.
In Glória, Judite (the girl on the right of the quadrilha photos in a blue dress) was the "caller" who would call out the moves we made.
The quadrilha was a lot of fun ---and some of the moves were humorous. For example, she would call out "Here comes the rain," and we would hold our hands over our heads. Then she would call, "Watch out for the mud," and we would pretend we were wading through deep mud, picking up our feet in an exaggerated way.
Most of the participants were students, but other young people in the town participated, including Brunie and me.
Several other traditions of São João were that people built bonfires in front of their homes and roasted cobs of corn on the coals. Pamonha, a sweet corn pudding, was also popular. The purposes of the festival were to celebrate rural life and to thank the saints for the rain which comes in the late fall, winter, and early spring months (May through September south of the equator.) The June solstice marks the beginning of winter in Brazil.
Young men would wear a half of a coconut shell on a string around their necks and go door to door asking for genipap (not sure if I spelled that correctly) ----a sweet liquor which they drank from the shells.
Forty years ago, São João's Day was mostly celebrated in rural areas of the northeast (like Glória) for a day or two, but now it seems that June is a full month of festas to honor several saints. Throughout Brazil, June is filled with singing, dancing, food, concerts fireworks, and costumes.

Poet Jorge Henrique of Glória posted photos of recent São João celebrations HERE. (Once you arrive at that page, click on "VEJA AS FOTOS!" for a slide show.)

(photos ©1967-1969, text ©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

26 May 2009

ALEGRIA! ALEGRIA! (Happiness! Happiness!) Part 1

Alegria! Alegria!

Losing contact:
        When I left Brazil in 1969, I wrote to people there for a while, but (at least at that time) Brazilians weren’t great letter writers and many people took months to respond or didn’t respond at all. Or, perhaps our letters were lost in the mail. Eventually my teaching job, graduate school, art work, volunteer work, a new love who turned into my first husband, and my hectic lifestyle all took over and I lost touch completely with the wonderful people I had worked with in Glória.
        After I had internet service at home, 15 years ago or so, I occasionally searched for the town of Glória, with no luck. I knew it might take a while for information technology to catch up in the sertão.
        About 5 years ago, I finally found a web site called Sou de Glória (I’m from Glória). There were many virtual postcards on the site, including one showing the cell tower that served the town. I knew then, that Glória was no longer the underdeveloped town in the middle of the hinterland. Other photos showed a town so much larger than it was in 1969. The only thing I recognized was the church. I posted a notice on that web site stating that I would like to contact old friends from Glória, but all I received were spam messages from Brazilian businesses.
        In late 2008, I found a notice about a poet and professor from Glória, Jorge Henrique, who was going to present his epic poem on the anniversary of the founding of Glória. It included an email address. I sent him a message asking if he knew some of the people I wished to contact, and if so, requested he give them my email address.
        Although I heard back from him and saw that he was following my blog, I didn’t hear from anyone else.

Last week, everything changed:
        On May 17th, Jorge Henrique ----obrigada, obrigada (thank you, thank you) ---wrote a short article about my blog and posted it on the official web site of N.S. da Glória and also on the web site of the colégio there.

Dona Guiomar and her family.
I heard from Celia, top left and
Alcione, in front. (See disclaimer
at bottom about poor photo quality.)

        Within a few days, I heard from Alcione the youngest daughter of Dona Guiomar ---a great and progressive woman who was the elementary school director when I left Glória in 1969. Alcione, was six when I left Brazil. She sent me news of her mother, older sisters and brother. Also Alcione planned to be in Glória on the weekend of May 22nd and intended to see who she could find that I knew back when. A few days later I heard from her eldest sister Celia who was about 13 when I left Brazil. She told me her father had died c. 1974. Her mother is now 81 and is doing well.

Idalécinho (middle) at about age 16
with his parents, sisters, brothers,
and cat.

        Also, I received an email from Idalécio, who I knew as Idalécinho, one of my former students. After I replied to him, he kindly wrote back with more news of residents of Glória.
       I actually cried reading his email. First, sadly, some of the people I knew had died, including his parents, a friend who had worked at the bank and taught at the ginásio, and Dona Nininha who had treated Brunie and me like daughters. A few days later, I heard from Nadja, one of Dona Nininha's daughters.

        I also cried from joy to hear wonderful news of my former students.
(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

Read the rest of this story in

Please excuse my very bad photography.
The photo of Dona Guiomar and Idalecinho
and their families are so bad that I was almost
embarrassed to show them. Below you can see the
photos as I scanned them from 40-year-old slides.
In comparison, the ones I enhanced above aren't so awful.

(Original slides.
Left Dona Guiomar & family.
Right: Idalecinho and family.)


Overland, a former student,
is now a meteorologist in Sergipe.

Alegria! Alegria!

Making contact:
        In my post Alegria! Alegria! Part 1, I explained that I had been trying to contact my former students from my work as a teacher in the Peace Corp in Brazil. After many years of trying, I finally was contacted by several people I knew when I lived there.

        Sadly I learned a few people had died. 
        But I was so thrilled to learn of the lives of my former students that I actually cried with joy when I read about their successes.

        When I left Glória, 40 years ago, I was proud to be a part of the first ginásio  (high school) in the town. It had been established only a few years earlier. When I arrived, no one had graduated yet, but would soon. As proud as I was to be teaching these wonderful students ---I am a firm believer that education can open doors for everyone ---I admit I worried that there would be no opportunities for high school graduates in Glória.
        The town had no industry. Except for local farms and small businesses that served the town (bars, bakeries, a fabric shop, cabinet makers, etc.) there were several government agencies. DNOCS was a federal agency fighting droughts. ANCARSE provided a home economist and an agronomist to help farmers and homemakers and to teach students practical skills at one-room schools in the interior. Also there was a Brazilian Legion of Assistance that was in Glória to create chicken cooperatives. Most of the people working in these agencies were not from Glória. They had come from the capital city Aracajú and most would move back there or to another larger city if the opportunity arose.
        There was also a branch of the Bank of Brazil which had an all-male work force. Most of the bankers were also from other cities, with only two local employees with low-level jobs. And most of the men had submitted requests to move to larger cities when there were openings for them.
        Opportunities for women were almost non-existant, except for teaching. But there wasn’t a need for more than a few teachers, and most teaching jobs were part-time.
        Those who wanted to continue their educations would have to live in Aracajú or another larger city to attend a colégio, which was somewhat like the last two years of high school in the U.S. That meant staying with relatives or paying room and board in addition to tuition. Some students’ families already struggled to pay for tuition, uniforms, books and other supplies for the ginásio. The good thing was that if students completed courses at a colégio, university tuition would be free.
        I feared it would take decades for any progress in the town to permit the graduates to branch into new fields or to build better lives for themselves, their families, and their community.

        I am so happy that I was wrong.

        My former student Idalécio told me he is a chemical engineer and a professor. Other former students are a meteorologist, a bank manager, a federal police officer, a lawyer, a doctor, a secretary of agriculture, and a social worker. Several are teachers.
Idalécio at about age 16 in a detail of a larger photo (see below ) is now an chemical engineer and a professor.

        Wow! I feel like a proud parent who wants to brag about her children. But, of course, 40 years have passed and none of my former students are children. In fact, some are older than I am. I had just turned 22 when I arrived and not quite 24 when I left Glória. Some adults who had never before had the opportunity to attend high school, were my students. The oldest was 44. The youngest was 12 and would be 52 now.
        I am so proud that I played even the tiniest part in their educations. Apparently, at least for some, the doors of opportunity were opened. I’m sure it took much hard work and sacrifice for many of them to continue learning and to achieve success in their chosen fields, but they did.
        Knowing this, is the best gift I have received in many years.


When I wanted to take a final photo of Glória
before leaving in 1969, Idalecinho posed on a
bench in the praça in front of the church.
(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

17 May 2009


more material goods. Brazilian women began to realize that with fewer children, everyone in the family could have a better life.)

        Below is another photo taken in front of our house. I am leaning against the utility pole with letters just delivered by the postman.  A group of neighbors seemed to have gathered to see what was going on.  I think the boy in the hat was our landlord's younger brother and the landlord's wife is leaning against the door frame just left of the utility pole. Between the postman and me is Nadja, a neighbor girl and student at the ginásio.

        And finally, there I am on the back of a donkey. My riding a donkey is about as ridiculous as Michael Dukakis riding a tank, but I don't think I actually rode it, I just posed with it. 
        Occasionally Brunie and I did ride horses or mules. A large family from the interior (mentioned above) would invite us to lunch (the large meal of the day) on a Sunday.  They sent two of their smaller boys on two horses or mules and we would ride back with them sitting behind us. Then we'd ride home with the boys again, and thn they'd fo home on the horses.
        I think this was taken outside of town at the dam which had been built by DNOCS, the National Department of Works Against Droughts.
        In this photo, Linda, a Volunteer from Brunie's group is on the left. She lived in another town in Sergipe (Propría, I think) and was visiting us for a few days. (Linda is featured in a previous post.)
       Gugu, the boy who delivered water to our house is beside her with his shirt open. An unknown person is hidden behind me. In the water is Overland, one of my students.
        Overland (pronounced Oh-ver-láwn-dee) was named for a truck his father saw in an American movie. He was the oldest child. The next child was a girl, so they named her Maryland and then didn't have a name ending in "land" for the next child, so called him Joséland. Their father was known as Zé de Shell (Zé is short for José) because he had, at one time, worked for Shell Oil. He ran the town's generator which gave the town electricity from 6-10 pm before full-time electricity came to Glória.
        On at least one occasion, Overland loaned me his horse.
        In the morning, Overland often rode the horse to his family's farm several miles outside of town to get milk. He would stop at our house for Brunie to make hot chocolate to share with him.

for the photos and the memories
(text, ©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

08 May 2009

TETHER THE SUN - a trip to Machu Picchu

        Although this isn't strictly a story about my Peace Corps experiences, it belongs on this blog because I traveled to Peru on my way home from Brazil along with Don and Sharyn, Volunteers from my Peace Corps training group. At the Lima airport, waiting for our plane to Cuzco, we ran into friends of Don's from college who were serving in the Peace Corps in Colombia. In Pisac, we also encountered Van, another Volunteer from our own group, along with his cousin who had flown to South America to travel with him. During much of our trip, Peace Corps was definitely on our minds as we had just completed two years in Brazil.

*          *          *          *          *
Sharyn trying a flute at the market in Pisac.
        If I had to recommend one place to visit in South America, it would be Machu Picchu in Peru.
        In July 1969, after exploring the museums in Lima, Don, Sharyn, and I took the one-hour flight to Cuzco (also spelled Cusco) where we spent several days acclimating ourselves to altitudes exceeding two miles. We hired a guide with an automobile to take us to spectacular Inca sights near Cuzco and spent one day shopping in nearby Pisac before moving on to the acclaimed ruins at Machu Picchu.
        Experts have never determined exactly when Machu Picchu was built or why it had been abandoned or why the city was founded in such an inaccessible location with little arable land.
        There are no paved access roads to Machu Picchu and the river at the base of the mountain is too shallow for navigation.  Experienced backpackers may chose strenuous hikes along ancient Inca footpaths, but most tourists opt for traveling by train. Trips of three to four hours leave daily from Cuzco. Local trains are reportedly dangerous for foreigners who may be robbed. Yet tourist trains deprive one of experiencing the local culture. Don, Sharyn, and I took the tourist train because we were unaware of the other.

Left: This train carries locals along the Urubamba River valley (not the tourist train.)

Right: Don (left) and Sharyn (middle) and I traveled together in Peru after completing our two-years as Peace Corps Volunteers in Brazil. At the market in Pisac, we ran into Van (middle back) who was also in our Peace Corps group, along with his cousin (right) who joined him to travel through South America.

        A few miles from Cuzco found us on zigzagging tracks designed to navigate steep hillsides. We traveled on one grade forward, then moved backward up the next, traversing five switchbacks out of the Cuzco Valley before descending toward Machu Picchu, lower in elevation than Cuzco by 3,000 feet. We were soon traveling beside the sacred Urubamba River in awe of the steep slopes on both sides which had been cultivated on stepped terraces built hundreds of years ago.
        Machu Picchu is referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas.” Arriving at the foot of the mountain we understood why it had long eluded explorers. Two thousand feet above us, the ruins were invisible. When Hiram Bingham of Yale University discovered them in 1911, the magnitude of his find escaped him at first. The ruins nestled on a saddle between Machu Picchu (Quechua for “old peak”) and the higher Huayna Picchu (“young peak”), had been so overgrown with jungle vegetation, that even from the summit only a few huts were visible. The following year Bingham returned. Without a road, workers transporting provisions found access to the site nearly impossible. (FYI: Indiana Jones was loosely based on Hiram Bingham.  Find more info HERE.)
        Although tourists used to be carried up the mountainside on mules, we boarded vans to make the steep ascent. Our driver whipped around hairpin curves making each forbidding turn a frightening memory until we encountered the Turista Hotel below the ancient ruins. The cool ancient air from the summit was so clear we could see far-distant, well-defined Andean peaks. The July day (winter south of the equator) was sunny, but crisp. I wore a turtle-neck under a sweater, feeling chilled in the shade and slightly too warm in the sun.
        We passed up an opportunity to join an expedition set to hike extremely steep steps to the Huayna peak. The climb takes about an hour and is supposed to provide a spectacular view.
        We ventured into the archaic ruins. The stone structures were generally intact much as they had been hundreds of years ago, except for their straw roofs which had rotted with time. 
        For hours, we wandered among the ruins, in and out of huts and between them on narrow paths, up and down hundreds of stone stairways. We examined what Bingham had called “the most beautiful wall in America” in the Temple of the Sun. We were astounded by aqueducts carved into the rocks which created a crude form of plumbing as well as an irrigation system.

        Everywhere we found perfect photo opportunities. A trapezoidal opening framed a mountain crest in the distance. A cylindrical observatory was silhouetted against the cerulean-blue sky. A llama posed proudly in the brilliant sun. Precise gray stonework contrasted with the acid-green grass between huts. A Peruvian child in a scarlet cap peaked through a trapezoid-shaped hole. Lush blue-green foliage on nearby mountains created a perfect backdrop. My snapshots of the ruins are some of the best photographs I have ever taken.
        There were more than one hundred tourists roaming in and out of the roofless stone temples and shrines, across plazas and open courtyards, climbing terraces, admiring steps carved into the natural rocks. Yet a silence prevailed, with visitors talking in hushed tones, or not speaking at all, as if in a cathedral. The effect was breathtaking, peaceful, arcane ---almost magical.
        Most visitors returned to Cuzco the same day, but we decided to spend the night. Before sunset, we climbed vertical steps to examine Inti Huantana, a carved stone standing sentinel on a high altar-like plateau, resembling a sundial casting a long, abstract shadow on the late afternoon. Scholars believe it was used by Inca priests as a mystical hitching post to tether the sun. An old man in traditional garb played his handmade flute below us. With those eerie tones as a backdrop, I could almost imagine a priest, arms raised upward, chanting an Inca invocation.
        Before retiring to our rooms at the Turista Hotel, we requested a predawn wake-up call so that we could experience the sun rising over the Andes Mountains.
        The morning air was cold and tentative, with clouds hovering in the early stillness. After climbing the trail behind the hotel, we sat on the summit to obtain a bird’s-eye-view of the ruins. The sun inched its way over the tops of distant peaks, slowly turning the stony grayness to yellow-gold while dissolving the mist. Watching the morning awake, I sat transfixed, gradually warmed by the sun, sensing a peaceful connection with the ancient past and engraving the haunting images of Machu Picchu on my mind.

Machu Picchu at dawn.
        After additional explorations of two square miles of ruins, we braved the hairpin curves downward. Despite our reckless driver, we arrived safely at the train for our return trip to Cuzco.
        Perhaps the Inca gods were with us.

(text and photos: © 2009 C.J. Peiffer)

25 April 2009


        In a previous post about Peace Corps Training, I explained how difficult it was for me to learn Portuguese. I had no confidence in my ability to learn the language. I was in the lowest level of language class all through training. I had convinced myself I might never learn to speak Brazilian Portuguese.

* * * * *
        I arrived at my PC site, Glória, barely able to speak Portuguese and not understanding more than a few words. Brunie, the Volunteer who had requested a teacher for her site, was from a Latino-American family. She spoke Spanish and English at home. She had studied Portuguese in college. Portuguese and Spanish are not the same, but there are many similarities, so Brunie spoke Portuguese extremely well when she arrived in Glória and made a concerted effort to improve her language skills. At first, she kept a notebook with new words and made arrangements to sit in on Portuguese language arts classes at the ginásio. She loved learning the local slang. Brunie was determined to earn a 5 on the foreign service language evaluation required at the end of service. A 5 would mean she spoke like a native.
        I, on the other hand, earned B’s and C’s in my Latin and French classes in high school and college. I could barely pronounce the foreign words and certainly understood none when spoken, but I could read and translate enough to pass my courses.

        I moved into Brunie’s house with her. Immediately she set some rules.
        Rule #1: Speak English only if we were alone. If anyone was within earshot, we used nicknames for people. The wall of our house was also the wall of our neighbor. If we had said, in English, “Dona Maria and her husband are marvelous people.” The neighbor might hear Dona Maria and marvelous, but marvelous sounds just tiny bit like malévoios, which means malevolent. Then the neighbor might start the rumor that we said nasty things about Dona Maria, or simply that we were discussing her in our house. So, in the house, we referred to people as the postmistress, the bank manager, the school director, the priest, the seamstress, the bar owner.
        Rule #2: Always speak Portuguese when with Brazilians. If I didn’t know how to say something, I could ask Brunie, in Portuguese, “How do you say...?” inserting one English word. But if I spoke in English, Brunie would not acknowledge that I had even spoken. She thought it was rude to speak English around the Brazilians (and she was right about that.) And also things we said in English might be misinterpreted as in Rule #1.
        Rule #3: Don’t say you understand when you don’t. Brazilians often asked, “Do you understand?” We are all programmed to prevent others from thinking we are stupid, so we often say yes, when we don’t understand at all.
        Rule #4: Continue to learn. Keep a notebook with new words and attend Portuguese classes at the high school. Ask how to say something. Ask someone to explain what a Portuguese word means using different words. Request that people speak more slowly (one of the first phrases I mastered immediately in Portuguese.)
        Rule #5: Get to work. The first night I was in Glória, Brunie took me to the literacy class she taught at night in the elementary school building. She assigned me to delightful cousins Maria and Maria, both around 15 or 16. One Maria was quiet and shy; the other was talkative and laughed a lot. On my first night, we practiced writing their names, writing letters of the alphabet and learning three-letter words. I’m sure they had about as hard a time understanding me as I did them. But I added a few words to my vocabulary, because each word in the literacy text book was accompanied by an illustration. Beside the word ave was a sketch of a bird.

Shy Maria is on the far left. Outgoing Maria is in the red dress in both photos.

The smaller children are the younger children of the family.  

On the left outgoing Maria is stirring a pot of feijão, black beans. 

On the right you can see, hanging behind her, carne do sol, salted sun-dried meat. This was a way of preserving meat without refrigeration.

        That first night at the literacy class, I learned something valuable I had never understood before: a good way to learn is to teach. And by teaching, I continued to learn.
        Within a few days, I was teaching English at the ginásio. The high school had been in existence only 3 years, so there were students who were just out of elementary school and there were adults who had never before had the opportunity to attend high school. My oldest student was 44. One of the students I admired was José Augusto. He was a 26-year-old tailor who supported himself and his mother. We often saw him at night through his window at his sewing machine (powered by foot pedal) with a book propped in front of him, sewing and studying by a kerosene lantern.
        My students were not afraid to tell me when I made mistakes in Portuguese. And when I taught them English vocabulary, the Portuguese meaning was right there on the page, so I was learning Portuguese as I taught the students English. The text books were obviously British because the English words for truck and bus were lorry and omnibus.
        By teaching English as a foreign language, I learned some things about English, that perhaps I knew, but didn’t understand. For example, when I taught the word ‘many’ from the text book, I also told my students they could also use the work ‘much’. When a student asked how to know which word to use, I couldn’t explain it. Obviously, I knew which word to use, but I didn’t consciously know why. I went home that evening and made a list of words with which I would use each ---and then it hit me, ‘many’ is plural while ‘much’ is singular. I would say ‘many cows’ but ‘much milk.”
        After a few weeks, I was learning Portuguese by teaching and having to use the language. But I still struggled.

        About two months after my arrival, Brunie received a letter from a judge’s family in Aracajú inviting us to spend the weekend with them. Besides the luxury of being able to take a civilized shower and sleep on a real mattress, one thing happened that weekend that was a turning point in my understanding of Portuguese. The girls of the family, who spent time with us that weekend, told me I spoke Portuguese very well for only having been in Brazil for a few months. I was shocked. Me? Speaking bem português?
        At first I didn’t understand why they thought I spoke well when many people in Glória couldn’t understand most of what I said. I think one of the reasons was that these girls were well-educated. Living in the capital city, they probably had more experience with foreigners than the people of Glória. So if I used the wrong tense of a verb or mispronounced a word, they were able to make the connection between what I actually said and what I was trying to say.
        Somehow, the vote of confidence from those girls made me think, for the first time, that I might just be able to learn Portuguese ---and from then on it became easier and easier.
        Soon I noticed the people in Glória were having an easier time understanding me, too.

        A few other things made the language easier. Most of the everyday words in Portuguese were much different than English words: chair = cadeira, beer = cerveja, to eat = comer. But once I got beyond those words, many words were similar to English. Sometimes I had to adjust the pronunciation, or add a different ending, but even when I didn’t know a word existed in Portuguese, I often created a word from an English word and was rewarded with total understanding of what I had said. Sometimes, of course, I was understood, but also corrected, because I hadn’t gotten it quite right. At least I was communicating.
        Other words reminded me of English words of similar meaning: green = verde (as in verdant), red = vermelho (as in vermillion), traveler = viajante (as in voyager), alone = (as in solo)
        And even though I knew only a few Spanish words (mostly from western movies) some Portuguese words were the same or similar: house = casa, gentleman = cavalheiro (caballero in Spanish).

        For me, the worst thing to learn in Portuguese were verbs. There are three different verb endings and each is conjugated differently. And then, like in English, there are a zillion irregular verbs. I decided I couldn’t get fancy with all the different conjugated endings, so I learned the present tense (I eat or I am eating) and the past tense (I ate). Instead of learning the future tense (I will eat), I learned to say the present tense of go (I am going) and added the gerund (to eat) after it (I am going to eat.)
        I didn’t even attempt to learn imperative, past perfect, and all those other annoying tenses that roll off my tongue so naturally in English.

        Finally, after eight months or so, one day I realized I was no longer translating everything between Portuguese and English. I was thinking in Portuguese. It had come about gradually, and finally sneaked up on me so slowly, that I didn’t realize it was happening. When I began to think in Portuguese, I knew I had crossed a big hurdle. There was only one more to jump.
        Soon after, I began to dream in Portuguese. Then I knew I was totally absorbed in the language.

        Before leaving Brazil, each PC Volunteer had to take a foreign service language evaluation. The scores ranged from 0 to 5, zero being not able to speak the language at all. A score of 5 was reserved for someone who spoke like an educated native. Miracle of miracles, I earned a 3+. That meant I could speak Portuguese well enough to get along by myself in all normal situations and that I knew some vocabulary in a specialized field.

        In a few months (July 2009) it will be 40 years since I returned from Brazil. I have had the opportunity to use Portuguese occasionally, but I have forgotten a lot. Now, I can understand more than I can speak. Maybe I cannot recall the word for onion, but if someone says ‘cebola’ I remember what it means. But there are words I have completely forgotten. I have forgotten how to use some tenses of some verbs. And, I have to again ask people to speak slowly. I resort to hand gestures and describing something if I can’t remember the exact word. And I’m sure my pronunciation has suffered.
        All the Portuguese I once knew is still in my subconscious mind somewhere. How do I know? Because, occasionally, I still dream in Portuguese. In my dreams, I understand absolutely everything a Brazilian says to me and I speak the language fluently.

        For someone who barely made it out of Peace Corps Training because of my poor language skills, I am still proud that I was eventually able to overcome my language difficulties. I owe most of that to Brunie. She was a hard taskmaster, but that is exactly what I needed.

        So, a big thank you to Brunie ---and a big abraço from me, too.
(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

20 April 2009


        When I arrived in Glória, my Peace Corps site, Brunie had already been there a year. Kindly, she let me share her small house with her. At first the plan was that I would stay until I got settled in the town, then move to my own house, but I ended up staying with her until she left the following year. We soon got into a routine of shopping at the weekly market and performing other household chores. I hated to clean and Brunie was bored with cooking, so Brunie did most of the cleaning while I usually prepared meals, although Brunie cooked occasionally. There were some things I liked that Brunie didn’t like, so I would cook them when she was in the capital city, or she would cook something she liked (a sheep’s head) that I wouldn’t touch when I prepared fish or liver.
        When she first told me she was going to make ox tail soup, I was doubtful that I would like it, but it was delicious. She cooked the ox tail until it was tender, then added whatever vegetables were readily available at Glória’s market: onions, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and cabbage. We could also add rice or break dried spaghetti into short pieces. It was easy to make and we could let it simmer on the stove while we worked through the afternoon. Since ox tail soup was Brunie’s specialty and she was very proud of her soup, she would buy an ox tail or two at the local market on Saturday if we were expecting company the next week. We served her soup with small loaves of fresh pão (each about the size of a sausage bun,) manteiga (butter), and fresh fruit for dessert.
        We didn’t receive many visitors, but occasionally the Peace Corps director would visit from the capital city. The Peace Corps doctor visited from Salvador when we were due for our routine booster vaccine to prevent hepatitis, about every six months. Somehow it seemed slightly obscene for him to ask us to pull down our drawers in our own home, rather than a doctor’s office.
        The doctor had grown up in Africa. I think his parents were working with a medical relief agency there. When he joined the Peace Corps, he noted on his application that he spoke Swahili, thinking the PC would surely send him back to Africa. However, he had been sent to Brazil. He remarked that he could now speak two of the most useless languages on earth. Of course, there were millions of Portuguese speakers around the world, but Portuguese was the official language of only a few countries.
        My friend Barney, a Volunteer from my training group, visited once. Brunie’s friends from her group, Linda and Henry, had visited her. A nurse from Brunie’s group, Helen, stopped in for lunch every Tuesday when she assisted the doctor from her PC site when he saw patients at the medical center in Glória. But that was about it for visitors.

        Brunie’s two-year commitment in the Peace Crops was up about the time I was celebrating the end of my first year there. I never met anyone who loved the Peace Corps and Brazil as much as Brunie, but after two years, she was looking forward to going home to her close-knit family. However, a new group of trainees was arriving in Aracajú, so the director asked Brunie if she would stay to help with the training. She left most of her belongings in Glória and would visit occasionally through the 12-weeks of training. Twice, trainees were sent to spend a few days with us, so they could see what it was like in the field.
        A young married couple, Carroll and Cary visited Glória. They were both very tall and very blond, a curiosity to the locals. The Brazilians thought it was funny that his first name was the same as mine, although spelled differently. Carroll especially liked Glória because, even though the city sat 10 degrees south of the equator, it was on a plateau in the path of cooling breezes most of the time. In the dry summer months, the area was desert-like, hot and dry during the day, but cool at night. I don’t remember ever sleeping without at least a light blanket. Cary told me Carroll often went outdoors in shirt sleeves in the middle of winter at home in New England, so the tropical climate in the capital was uncomfortable to him. 
        For another few days, another trainee joined us in Glória. I don’t remember her name, so I will call her Becky. She, like us, was in her early twenties.

        (In a a previous post about PEACE CORPS TRAINING, I mentioned that it sometimes seemed that trainers would intentionally throw an unusual situation at a trainee, just to see how s/he would react.) 

        Brunie made ox tail soup for dinner the first night Becky stayed with us. We were conversing over our bowls of soup. Brunie was explaining how politics worked in small towns. Becky had stopped eating. She held her spoon in front of her, politely waiting for Brunie to end her rather lengthy explanation. Then Becky asked very calmly, “Do I have to eat the frog?”
        Brunie & I looked at her and asked, “Frog?”
        “The frog in my soup,” Becky added, holding her spoon out for us to see.
        “That’s not a frog, that’s a piece of cabbage,” Brunie said.
        “But it IS a frog,” Becky said.
        Brunie took the spoon from our guest’s hand and lifted the green “cabbage” with her fingers. Then, she suddenly threw it on the floor, and shrieked, “It IS a frog.”

        We surmised that one of the tiny frogs that hopped around everywhere, including our kitchen, must have committed unintentional suicide by hopping into the pot of soup as it simmered on the stove. To no one’s surprise, Becky thought we had planted it there under the direction of the PC psychologist to see how she would react. We assured her we were not a party to such a prank, but if we had been, Becky had stayed calm and cool so she would have passed the psych test with flying colors ---or maybe with flying frogs.
        After removing the frog, which had been well-cooked, we all continued to eat our soup. However, the next day, no one seemed keen on having the leftovers, so we ordered a roasted chicken from a local bar and went there for dinner.

        When we told the story about the soup to a neighbor, the tale was quickly passed from neighbor to neighbor. Within hours, everyone in town knew about the crazy Americans who cooked frogs in their soup. It so happens that the Portuguese word for soup is sopa and the word for toad is sapo, so the Brazilians were soon talking about the new American delicacy called soup of toad ---SOPA DE SAPO in Portuguese. Yum.

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

17 April 2009

PEACE CORPS TRAINING - not for the faint of heart

Click on map for larger image.

Peace Crops training is different for every country and every group. Here you will find the saga of my training to become a Peace Corps Volunteer in Brazil.

After filling out a lengthy application during a Peace Corps recruitment event at my college and before I was accepted for training, a background check had been completed. Several of my professors told me they had been visited by FBI agents, asking questions about me.
I received word, several months later, that I had been accepted for a PC “advanced training program” for Chile. I had studied Latin and French in high school and college, but couldn’t speak a word of Spanish. To get a head start, I arranged to meet a Spanish major over coffee once a week for tutoring.
The “advanced training program” meant that we would train for about 10 weeks during the summer between our Junior and Senior years of college, receive language tapes throughout our senior year, then train several more weeks after graduation and eventually become Peace Corps Volunteers.
Soon I received a letter saying I would be in a Brazilian program instead of serving in Chile, so I dropped the Spanish tutoring. In June 1966, I flew to California and checked in at Sacramento State College, a wonderful location for our training.
Training was difficult, very difficult.
Most of us had to learn a language we had never studied. We went through a short battery of tests to determine our ability to learn a language and were grouped with others of similar skill levels. Each week, based on our individual progress, we might stay in our current language group or move to a higher or lower group. I stayed in the lowest group throughout training.
The trainers let us off the hook at breakfast, but we were expected to speak Portuguese at lunch and dinner. Despite being somewhat of a motor mouth in English, I listened but barely spoke a word.
I didn’t seem to have the skill for learning a language. I had been a mediocre Latin and French student. As a child I had frequent and severe ear aches. Although I could hear even very soft speech, I had a hard time distinguishing sounds. One day, a trainer tried over and over to get me to say ‘prazer’ while I kept hearing ‘plazer.’ My biggest problem was that I had no confidence. I thought I would never learn another language ---eventually I found out I was wrong about that ---but in training, I was sure I was hopeless.
For the most part our language trainers were Brazilian university students studying in the U.S. Most were from Rio, São Paulo, or other large modern cities, and most were from the upper crust of Brazilian society. Only later did we realize this was a disadvantage because we were likely to be working, at least part of the time, with poor, uneducated people, who had lost many of their teeth ---rendering them difficult to understand ---and who spoke Portuguese much like someone in Appalachia might speak English, with unusual accents and lots of colloquialisms and regional slang.
We were expected to learn and understand local customs and as much about the history geography, popular culture, religion, social norms, food, and customs of Brazil as could be crammed into our heads. We took a course in group dynamics and another in community organization. We needed a lot of information on health concerns in the areas we would serve, including first aid skills.
In PE classes, we were taught the basics of soccer (long before almost anyone played it in the U.S.) and had to pass a swimming and “drown-proofing” test.
We were supplied with long lists of recommended items or those we needed to take to Brazil, including a two-year supply of tampons since they were unavailable there. We were also told the texture of the toilet paper in Brazil was reminiscent of crepe paper, but that filling our footlockers with toilet paper would be a waste of space.
We spent part of each evening in the college language lab and had a class in which we simply practiced Portuguese sounds. Occasionally we watched a Brazilian movie or learned song lyrics in Portuguese.

Except for mealtimes, we were in classes from early morning until ten o’clock at night. Then, many of us walked to a Shakey’s Pizza parlor to drink beer and let loose after each grueling day. But even there, we played a children's game, singing a Portuguese song called Escravos de Jó, passing beer mugs around the table instead of the traditional match boxes.
Classes continued on Saturday mornings, but we had the rest of the weekend off. We often went into town by bus to catch a movie. One weekend someone organized a trip to Lake Tahoe and Yosemite.

Here I am at Yosemite (age 20).
I think that is my friend Roy (another trainee) driving
the car, but the photo is so dark it is difficult to tell.

We had to learn a lot of DON’Ts. Don’t make the customary OK sign, because, in Brazil, it means the same thing as an extended middle finger does in the U.S. Unmarried women should not be alone with men. Slacks were okay in big cities, resorts, and beaches, but not in small towns. (This changed over the two years I was in Brazil.) Don’t drink water unless it has been boiled twenty minutes, then filtered, yet don’t be rude by refusing coffee one knows hasn’t boiled the required twenty minutes. Don’t flaunt your money or expensive cameras. It was recommended that we not become involved romantically with Brazilians. That was a useless “don’t” ---most of us were single, 22 to 25, and we were likely going to be involved romantically with either another volunteer or a Brazilian.
Training included a battery of psychological tests, lots of interviews with the administrators, trainers, and psychologists, along with frequent evaluations.
Trainees were in jeopardy of being deselected at any time, for any reason. Two guys were let go midway through our summer of training because of racist attitudes that were unacceptable to the PC and would have been problematic in a country as racially diverse as Brazil. At the end of the summer, one guy was let go because it was suspected he was gay. One of my best pals, a wonderfully funny man, was deselected because he made a joke out of nearly everything. He would answer questions on the psychological tests that required one to fill in bubbles and “make no other marks on the answer sheet,” by responding to a question like “Do you always follow directions?” by writing the word ‘YES’ on the paper. He should have known that kind of behavior would not be appreciated.
I’m not sure what all the criteria were for “passing” training, but it often appeared as if the trainers would put banana peels in our paths just to see if we would slip. It seemed rather juvenile to me, but that appeared to be the modus operandi for PC training at that time. The most feared man on the staff was the PC psychologist. I guess it might all have been part of a plan to toughen us up or to see how we would react to stress or the unexpected. A Portuguese word that was bantered about a lot was "flexibilidade" ---flexibility, something we would need a lot of in Brazil.
Some of my Sacramento training is a blur to me now. I'm sure I was sleep deprived. We often went to bed after walking back from Shakey's after 1:00 a.m. and had to be up early for 7:00 a.m. breakfast and our first classes at 8:00. We were in classes or physical activity about twelve hours a day, and even when not in class, we were trying to speak Portuguese or conversing with trainers about Peace Corps and Brazil.
It was probably the most intense and grueling educational experience I ever had.

As part of our training, we each spent three weeks working with a social agency. I worked in Tracy, CA with a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) worker. My humorous pal worked nearby with a migrant minister.
Our trainers decided that everyone located near Stockton should work on a migrant farm for a day, just to see what migrant workers experienced. We dragged ourselves from bed before dawn and went to the vacant lot in Stockton where trucks or buses arrived to carry workers to the fields. Men would shout out, “Thirty-two cents a crate for tomatoes. Thirty workers needed.” Some of the members of our group picked cucumbers. I was with a small group picking apricots.
We were totally unprepared. We took no water or food with us, wrongly assuming it would be provided. The temperature was close to 100 degrees. The guys picking cucumbers had a rough time. They had to bend over all day in the scorching sun.
Ours was a hot, nasty job, but at least we were in the shade. However, the trees were planted close together so the branches from each tree touched the next tree, holding in the oppressive heat. We could pick apricots from the lower branches of the small trees without much effort. Ladders were available for higher branches. Some of the migrant workers could fill two crates in the time six of us filled one.
Because we had no food or water, we ate apricots ---lots of apricots ---mostly for the moisture. I was very fond of apricots, but after eating a crate of them that day, I could not look at an apricot for many years to come.

Meanwhile, a tragedy happened with another group of trainees working in a different area. They were helping at a summer day camp for impoverished children. One day the scheduled activity was a field trip to a local swimming hole. Sadly, one of the children drowned.
One of my worst fears is that I might be involved in an incident that hurt or killed someone. Even if it were an accident and no fault of my own, I can’t imagine how I would live with that. I empathized with the trainees involved.
We were never informed of the details ---and those involved were instructed not to discuss it ---so I don’t know if someone was negligent or if it were an unavoidable accident. There were rumors of a law suit.
The Peace Corps decided to deselect all the trainees who were present when the drowning incident took place.
It was a sad event, especially for the family of the victim. But is was also sad for the Peace Corps and for those trainees who would not be joining the rest of us in Brazil.

I made it through the summer and returned home full of excitement about the coming year. During my last year of college when I would complete my B.S. degree in Art Education, I was supposed to listen to Portuguese tapes and it was suggested that we become involved in some kind of volunteer work. I had good intentions, but my senior year was hectic. I was taking more than the recommended number of courses during the fall semester. During the spring semester I student taught while taking two required education classes. So I didn’t do volunteer work and only half-heartenedly listened to my language tapes.
My training group met over Christmas break in Chicago, but I had an emergency appendectomy, so I didn’t make it.
In the spring, I started to get my required inoculations. I believe the total was about 18 shots for everything from tetanus to cholera.

After graduation, we met in Philadelphia for a few days near the beginning of July 1967. From there, we flew to Miami where we had a long wait because of a mechanical problem on the plane. Finally we left for a very long and uncomfortable flight. We stopped briefly at the airport in Caracas, then flew on to Rio.
After a few days of orientation and sight seeing in Rio, we were invited to a reception at the American ambassador’s home where we were officially sworn in.
We were divided into three groups for six more weeks of training. One flew to the state of Goiás, another to Espírito Santo, and my group to Bahia. (See map at the top of this post.)
After a few days in Salvador (which became my favorite Brazilian city) the Bahia group was sent to Dias d’Avila, a small town outside of Salvador, where we lived with locals. I stayed with a family consisting of an older couple, their granddaughter, her husband and their small boy Paulo. After about three weeks, I was moved to a pensão because the elderly gentleman was admitted to the hospital and a house guest was too much work when the family would be with him most of the time.
My Portuguese skills didn’t seem to improve with training. The trainers informed me that I would be deselected if I didn't make progress soon.
The trainers still seemed to be trying to trip us up and would question us about the oddest things. I was called to an interview one day because someone (?) said they had seen me flirting with a Brazilian stranger on the Lacerda Elevador (a large public elevator that carries commuters between the upper and lower sections of Salvador.) I had no idea what the psychologist was talking about. Someone may have asked me if I were an American ---a frequent occurrence ---and to be polite, I may have responded. In Salvador, I was always with another trainee ---mainly because I needed someone who could speak Portuguese better than I did ----so I referred him to the people I had spent time with in the city. It was not brought up again.
We made lots of fun of the PC psychologists (when they weren’t around, of course) because they seemed like such small, petty men ---and yes, they were all men ---who had an unnatural interest in everyone’s love life and seemed to get some perverse pleasure from watching us squirm.

Advanced training sounded like a great idea, but there were problems with the program so ours was the last such training group. We started out with about 106 trainees the previous summer. By the time we were ready to go to our PC sites in Brazil, only about 56 remained. During our senior year, some had decided PC was not for them. Some had received job offers or graduate assistantships or fellowships they felt they couldn’t pass up. A few had become romantically involved and didn’t want to leave their new loves. Others were let go by the Peace Corps for a number of reasons. Several dropped out during our in-country training. After flying us to California, putting us up at a college, paying the numerous staff and teachers, flying everyone to Chicago for the Chistmas holiday event, too many people dropped out to continue that type of program.
The Peace Corps has always run on a budget, less than what is allocated for the Army band, so unsuccessful programs had to be trashed for ones that were more cost effective.

Despite my terrible Portuguese language skills, Ralph, the state director for Bahia, fought for me to stay in Brazil. In his experience, anyone who had been trained as a teacher turned out to be an excellent Volunteer. Brunie, who had been in Brazil for about a year, was requesting a teacher ---primarily to teach English as a foreign language ---to be assigned to her town in the state of Sergipe, just north of Bahia along the Atlantic coast.
I suspect that Ralph knew that Brunie, who spoke Portuguese beautifully, would be a good teacher and a hard taskmaster, which was exactly what I needed.

So, sometime in August of 1967, just a few days after turning 22, I arrived in Nossa Senhora da Glória, my Peace Corps site, anxious to begin my two-year commitment, but barely able to speak the language ---and the rest of this story can be found on other posts on this blog.

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

Click HERE for a post about how I went from a Portuguese illiterate to earning a 3+ (able to get along in all normal situations with some advanced vocabulary in a specialized field) on my final foreign service Portuguese language evaluation in July 1969. (Scores ranged from 0 to 5.)