Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there, and thinking of those who are no longer with us. My brother Jack, now serving in the Peace Corps, wrote a nice piece about our dad in his blog, Carolina to Cameroon, to mark the occasion. The Peace Corps did a nice pick-up of the piece on their own blog.
As Jack noted, my dad had fond memories of the Peace Corps, and some of the stories he told about his experiences in Liberia were among our favorites. To honor him on the fifth Father's Day following his death, I've shared an entry from his memoirs about his Peace Corps experiences (below). I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. – LN, June, 2013
Peace Corps Years
I served in the Peace Corps for two and a half years. I was in Liberia and traveled around Africa afterwards. I loved my time in the Peace Corps. I thought it was a time when I was able to help somebody. I helped maybe 150-200 children learn to read (in English). I got more out of them than they got from me... it was a great adventure.
One night, I was out in front of my house and I laid down on the grass... the sky was so bright, the stars were so bright... shooting starts. I asked myself, “...Where am I going in my life?”... I didn’t know where I was going in my life. And now I know.
I saw all sorts of people die... babies, children, and their aunts and uncles. One woman would ask me for food. She said, “I’m not going to bother today, Peace Corps man....” (because she had learned Bobby Kennedy had just died).
One of the saddest times in the Peace Corps was when Martin Luther King, Jr. had died. I had to tell my class of 15-17 kids. My class was held in a mud-brick frame building. I told the class I had to tell them something very sad. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King had been killed by a man with a gun. They were upset, even though he wasn’t their leader. I looked out the window and wondered how to explain that to these people, having come from an enlightened country to this poverty-stricken nation...
A week later, I had to go back into the same classroom and say the same thing. Robert F. Kennedy... one of my political heroes. I looked out the window and said more bad news. I broke down crying. I just couldn’t get the words out, I couldn’t tell them much, I just started crying. I went outside the room, got myself together and came back in, paused by the window again and looked out at the palm trees and sunshine... and said Robert F Kennedy has been assassinated and he’s dead. I said to them that I came here to teach you... I thought I came from an enlightened country... I thought with all this wind at my back and enthusiasm, that I was bringing enlightenment. And I came from a country that was killing its best.
There were a lot of questions asked by my students. I can’t remember one of the questions or one of the answers, because I don’t think I had any answers to the questions. I don’t think there were any good answers.
– Jerry Nelson, as told to Jennifer Nelson