Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Harold Daniel Freeman, February 18, 2005

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Personal and educational background

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Partial Transcript: Peace Corps Oral History Project, February 18th, 2005, interview with Harold Freeman, interviewer Jack Wilson.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Freeman to introduce himself and to talk about his upbringing. Freeman discusses his family background in Tennessee as the son of a Methodist minister. He talks about the various towns his family lived in, particularly the suburb of Donaldson in Nashville, and about his experience in transferring from one high school to another. Freeman describes the courses he took at his new high school and his experience in being part of the newspaper staff at his school. Wilson asks Freeman where he graduated from. Freeman replies that he graduated from Dixon High School in 1961 without much an idea of what he was going to do after graduation. Freeman mentions that he attended Tennessee Tech after graduation and explains that he had to figure out what he was going to study because a year of general education wasn't an option at the university. Freeman states that he ended up studying physics and mathematics, switching which one he majored and minored in after realizing that physics wasn't for him. He explains why physics as a major just wasn't an option for him and how he got back into journalism in college. Wilson asks Freeman what he did after college. Freeman responds that he had no clear idea of what to do after graduating from college and considered graduate school, getting a job, or joining the military. However, Freeman explains that the Peace Corps was created shortly after his sophomore year in college and that he was accepted into it sometime during his senior year to begin training at UCLA after his graduation for an assignment in Ethiopia. Wilson asks Freeman how his family felt about his decision to join the Peace Corps. Freeman replies that some family members thought he was strange for wanting to leave Tennessee for California and then Africa and that his grandmothers were worried that they would pass away before they were able to see him again or that something would happen to him while he was in Africa.

Keywords: Eritrea; Ethiopia; Family background; Family support; High school transfer students; Journalism; Mathematics; Nashville (Tenn.); Peace Corps; Peace Corps volunteers; Physics; Tennessee Technological University (Tennessee Tech); University education; University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); Upbringing

Subjects: Education.; Eritrea.; Ethiopia.; Families.; Freeman, Harold D.; Freeman, Harold D.--Interviews; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Eritrea; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ethiopia; University of California, Los Angeles

00:15:30 - Peace Corps application and training processes

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember anything particular about the, uh, application process?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Freeman if he remembers anything about the Peace Corps application process. Freeman responds that it was probably the longest form he had ever filled out in his entire life. Freeman describes the language aptitude test that the Peace Corps employed in their training at the time, it being based upon the Kurdish and Urdu languages since it was assumed almost no Americans would have knowledge of them and be in a better position to pass the test. He explains that he didn't have enough command of either French or German so he trained in the Amharic language when at UCLA. Wilson asks Freeman to tell him more about his time at UCLA. Freeman states that UCLA was chosen as a training location because it was one of the few places in the country that had an existing language program that involved symmetric linguistics and hermetic linguistics, including the Amharic language. Wilson asks Freeman if he had had interest in Ethiopia or Africa at the time. Freeman replies that he hadn't and just kind of signed up for a blank check and remarks that he would probably have never picked Ethiopia. Freeman adds that he almost knew nothing about Ethiopia besides its location, capital city, and leader before being assigned there. He states that, at the time, almost all Peace Corps training was done in the U.S. and they only began doing partial training in the U.S. and host countries later. Wilson asks Freeman how long he was in Ethiopia. Freeman responds that he was there for a period of about eleven to twelve weeks through the months of June, July, and August. Freeman describes the training he went through at UCLA in Ethiopian culture and language, particularly the emphasis placed on immersion in the Amharic language. Freeman explains that there wasn't much free time during training, but describes how he and some other trainees took a trip to Mexico where they practiced their Amharic language skills on everything they saw while traveling. Freeman adds that Ethiopia primarily wanted teachers from the Peace Corps at the time since the emperor was trying to modernize the country and explains that the demand for freshly graduated college students from the few Ethiopian higher education institutions was intense.

Keywords: Amharic language; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Haile Selassie; Hermetic linguistics; Language aptitude tests; Language immersion; Peace Corps; Peace Corps applications; Peace Corps teachers; Peace Corps training; Peace Corps volunteers; Symmetric linguistics

Subjects: Amharic language; Education in Africa; Education.; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Freeman, Harold D.; Freeman, Harold D.--Interviews; Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, 1892-1975.; Language transfer (Language learning); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Eritrea; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ethiopia; Training.

00:30:53 - Peace Corps selection and deselection process / Peace Corps assignment

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Partial Transcript: So how many of your group actually went overseas and was there a particular process of--

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Freeman how many people were in his training group. Freeman answers that there were a little over a hundred trainees in his own group and there was another group being trained simultaneously at the University of Utah, but they all traveled to Ethiopia at the same time. Wilson asks Freeman what else was included in the selection process other than language training. Freeman replies that there were several education classes he had to take since the trainees were designated to be teachers and that he took several other classes on Ethiopia other than in language. Freeman describes the cultural education he received as extensive, but regarded the how-to-be-a-teacher training as ineffective since there wasn't enough time allotted for it. Freeman explains that he learned most of what he needed from other trainees who had been trained as teachers or from faculty members who had recently returned from Ethiopia. He describes the respect teachers were given in Ethiopia and how the instruction was more similar to British and Italian styles of teaching. Freeman explains how many of the 7th graders he taught were actually in their early twenties because of the lack of access to education in the country at the time. Wilson asks Freeman how many people in his group ended up going to Ethiopia at the end of the selection process. Freeman describes the de-selection process and how it often consisted of self-deselection by individuals who, for various reasons, left the program to return home before the end of training. Freeman mentions that there was also physical training in the Peace Corps, describes this training, and recalls the vaccinations that trainees received every week at UCLA. Freeman discusses the psychological interviews that trainees had with psychiatrists to determine their mental fitness for the Peace Corps. Freeman remarks that the selection process was the part of training for the Peace Corps that he was least impressed by since it seemed that many trainees who should have been selected were deselected and vice versa. Freeman details a few examples of this. Wilson asks Freeman to talk about his job/assignment in Ethiopia. Freeman explains that he knew nothing about his job after he finished training except that he was going to be a teacher in Ethiopia. Freeman describes the plane trip to Ethiopia and getting acclimated to the climate and elevation. Freeman details a story that occurred after his arrival in Ethiopia about adjusting to the elevation. Freeman describes the enjoyment of going to the market in Ethiopia and utilizing his skill in the Amharic language only to find out that he was being sent to the (then) province of Eritrea where Amharic wasn't spoken by the majority of the population. Freeman mentions that he and other volunteers in Eritrea had to stay clear of political discussions regarding the sovereignty of Eritrea.

Keywords: Acclimatization; Amharic language; Cultural education; Cultural training; Education classes; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Peace Corps; Peace Corps selection; Peace Corps teachers; Peace Corps trainees; Peace Corps training; Peace Corps volunteers; Physical training; Teacher training; Teaching styles; University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); University of Utah

Subjects: Acclimatization; Amharic language; Education in Africa; Education.; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Freeman, Harold D.; Freeman, Harold D.--Interviews; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Eritrea; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ethiopia; Training.; University of California, Los Angeles

00:46:39 - Teaching in Eritrea

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Partial Transcript: Side two, tape one of interview with Harold Freeman, Peace Corps Oral History Project, February 18th, 2005.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Freeman what he taught and where he taught in Eritrea. Freeman replies that he was sent to a town called Adi Ugri (aka Mendefera), south of the capital Asmara to a high school called Saint George Secondary School. Freeman again describes the condition of education in Ethiopia at the time and mentions that the high school he taught at was the only one in the town of around twelve thousand people. Freeman discusses the utility systems in Eritrea that were largely left over from Italian occupation and how electricity usage was limited. Freeman explains that his group of Peace Corps volunteers, around seven individuals, were not the first in the area and that there were other volunteers who had been there for two years already before his arrival. Freeman states that volunteers were assigned to teach higher grades since Ethiopian teachers struggled to teach some grades which they themselves may not have experienced, so he ended up not teaching the 7th grade at all. He adds that he taught four math classes and was able to see the first graduating class at the high school graduate. Freeman describes the exams that students had to take for graduation, comparing it the New York regency exam. Freeman mentions that he ended up being assigned by the school's headmaster to help the 7th grade science teachers teach their twelve classes and that this ended up being one of the most fulfilling assignments he had ever been part of in his entire life. Freeman explains that he had to help teachers to train themselves in testing students for skills other than memorization. He provides an example of this. Freeman expresses that he doesn't think that he conducted his math lessons as well as the science lessons and thinks that, if he went back, he would have tried to make them more interactive. Freeman discusses how English was used in instruction in Ethiopian education.

Keywords: Adi Ugri, Eritrea; Education in Eritrea; Education in Ethiopia; Electricity access; Eritrea; Eritrean high schools; Ethiopia; Ethiopian teachers; Language in education; Language use in education; Math teachers; Mendefera, Eritrea; National exams; Peace Corps; Peace Corps teachers; Peace Corps volunteers; Science teachers; Teacher training; Teaching strategies; Teaching styles

Subjects: Adi Ugri (Eritrea); Education in Africa; Education.; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Freeman, Harold D.; Freeman, Harold D.--Interviews; Language in education; Mendefera (Eritrea); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Eritrea; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ethiopia; Training.

01:04:27 - Daily routine in Eritrea / Housing utilities / Diet

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Partial Transcript: So what--what would a typical day have been like, uh, for you from the time you got up onward?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Freeman what a typical day would have been like for him during his time in Ethiopia. Freeman replies that the experience was different from what people usually thought the experience of being in the Peace Corps was like. Freeman states that he was paid $125 a month along with a rental allowance for all of his living expenses. He adds that he and other recent volunteers were assisted by the Peace Corps office in Asmara in negotiating a lease so that they wouldn't be taken advantage of by local landlords. Freeman describes the volunteer house he lived in as having tile floor, being of Italian design, having a stucco exterior, including a bougainvillea surrounding the exterior, having running water and electricity (although limited by usage costs), describes the old Italian style toilet in the bathroom, the shower setup, the kitchen utilities, the bedrooms, and mentions that the house had a maid. Freeman explains that many teachers in Ethiopia, including the volunteers, had someone who did all of their food shopping and preparation for them since there wasn't any kind of refrigeration available. Freeman states that daily life was very time consuming and describes the household chores he had to do. Wilson asks Freeman what he normally ate. Freeman responds that he often ate scrambled eggs and bread from a bakery not far from the volunteers' house, but also ate a lot of Ethiopian and Italian style food. He adds that he ate a lot of pasta made from locally grown vegetables and describes the difficulties volunteers went through in adjusting to the spicy food often made in Ethiopia. Freeman states that, overall, food and living accommodations were not really problems, but that the water was often unsafe to drink. He describes the precautions taken when preparing safe drinking water and the precautions against eating salad at other homes since people may not be educated about hygiene and safe water preparation. Freeman mentions the medical kit given to all volunteers by the Peace Corps and how it had different levels of pills for varying degrees of illness caused by drinking unsafe water. Wilson asks Freeman about what sort of recreation he participated in. Freeman replies that daily life was recreation to a certain extent because everything was new and exciting to volunteers. Freeman states that, if you made an effort to interact with and be a part of the local community, you were largely welcomed by locals. Freeman describes doing all his traveling on foot or on bicycle since most Peace Corps volunteers weren't given cars, and describes his experience in coaching a local basketball team along with the social life he participated in. He adds that there were books provided by the Peace Corps to read and that volunteers had radio access, but there was no TV.

Keywords: Chores; Community involvement; Daily routines; Diet; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Ethiopian cuisine; Ethiopian diet; Ethiopian food; Food preparation; Household chores; Housing; Living accommodations; Peace Corps; Peace Corps diet; Peace Corps housing; Peace Corps medical kits; Peace Corps salary; Peace Corps volunteers; Recreation; Routines; Water quality; Water safety; Waterborne illness treatments; Waterborne illnesses

Subjects: Community participation; Diet.; Education in Africa; Education.; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Freeman, Harold D.; Freeman, Harold D.--Interviews; Housing.; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Eritrea; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ethiopia; Recreation; Water Quality.; Waterborne infection

01:20:20 - Travel outside of Eritrea while on assignment

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Partial Transcript: Did you, uh--on school breaks or anything, did you travel within the country or elsewhere?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Freeman if he ever traveled during school breaks. Freeman replies that he did and that travel was encouraged by the Peace Corps. Freeman states that you could travel to other African countries, but even Eritrea was very different depending on what area of the country you went to. Freeman describes his experience of visiting an Eritrean town near the border with Sudan. Freeman also describes visiting the coastal part of Eritrea. Freeman recounts being called to the Peace Corps office in Asmara and expresses how much of a rarity it was to be called to the office. He explains that the director told him that his roommate had been killed by a crocodile while visiting southwestern Ethiopia and describes the shock that he felt at the news. Freeman returns to discussing how the Peace Corps encouraged traveling and conducting a month long project. Freeman explains that, for his project, he traveled to Addis Ababa and worked in a mental hospital, the only one in the country of Ethiopia at the time. He describes how he would come up with recreational things for the patients to do. Freeman also mentions a trip he took to British East Africa (today known as Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania) and describes going on safaris and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with other volunteers. Freeman states that the ascent up the mountain was the most taxing physical undertaking he had ever experienced in his entire life, even during his time in the army. Freeman depicts the scenery of Mt. Kilimanjaro and describes both the guides who packed the volunteers' equipment and the other climbers he met on his ascent. Freeman mentions that he also took a trip to Mombasa, a trip to Nairobi, and a steamer trip across Lake Victoria.

Keywords: British East Africa; Emotional trauma; Eritrea; Eritrean geography; Ethiopia; Ethiopian mental hospitals; Kenya; Lake Victoria; Mental hospital patient recreation; Mental hospital patients; Mental hospitals; Mombasa, Kenya; Mount Kilimanjaro; Mountain climbing; Mt. Kilimanjaro; Nairobi, Kenya; Peace Corps; Peace Corps accidents; Peace Corps deaths; Peace Corps projects; Peace Corps volunteers; Recreation; Tanzania; Travel; Uganda

Subjects: Accidents.; Animal attacks; Education.; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Freeman, Harold D.; Freeman, Harold D.--Interviews; Kilimanjaro, Mount (Tanzania); Mental health.; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Eritrea; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ethiopia; Recreation & travel

01:40:54 - Tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea / Return to the U.S. / Involvement with international exchanges

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Partial Transcript: So you spent two years. Uh, you came to the end of your term in '67?

Segment Synopsis: Freeman discusses the political tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia that existed because Eritrea didn't like being a part of Ethiopia, while Ethiopia viewed Eritrea as one of its provinces. Freeman mentions the school's headmaster who had been stressed due to the lack of funds he had for providing supplies to teachers at the school and states that the second most shocking event of his trip in Ethiopia was when the headmaster was found to have killed himself. Freeman explains that there was a funeral procession for the headmaster and recalls one student being taken away by police for questioning in their involvement in anti-government activities. Freeman states that hearing about what the student went through during interrogation was also upsetting.

Freeman then transitions to discussing where he went in Europe before he returned home to the U.S. He briefly mentions his desire to have traveled to Israel during his trip back home but discusses how the 1967 war thwarted his plans. Wilson asks Freeman if he returned to Tennessee after his European travels. Freeman responds that he did and that he was as aimless and directionless as he was when he left for the Peace Corps originally. He describes how he was asked by a former teaching assistant he knew from Tennessee Tech if he would be interested in teaching some introductory journalism classes. Freeman states that he worked at the school in this position for a year or so but didn't stay because he knew he didn't have the education to be teaching his students and because he knew many of his students were in his classes not because they wanted to be there, but because they had to be. Freeman explains that being a teacher protected him from being drafted for the Vietnam War and he was immediately drafted into the service once he was no longer a teacher. He describes how he wasn't comfortable with taking an oath of service without knowing what the oath was and how he had to write to a Senator in order to find out the contents of the oath since the Tennessee draft office refused to give it to him. Freeman states that he didn't take the oath because he wasn't comfortable with its contents but was inducted into the service anyways. Wilson asks Freeman if he actually went to Vietnam. Freeman replies that he did and describes how he was chosen to be a "paperwork warrior." Freeman details the aspects of his position in Vietnam and discusses the issues with civil affairs companies. Wilson asks Freeman what he has done since he has returned from Vietnam. Freeman responds that he left the military as soon as he came back home, met and married his wife, and went on a trip back to Ethiopia with his wife. He explains that his wife developed a taste for international travel and joined the Hospital Corporation of America which sent both of them to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Freeman discusses how his wife went to obtain her doctoral degree and her involvement in a government cooperative that helps develop hospitals in former Soviet republics. He mentions that he and his wife have kept many international students through exchange programs. Freeman states that he returned to college at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta and he worked on the hospital newsletter while he was in Saudi Arabia.

Keywords: Civil affairs companies; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Hospital Corporation of America; International exchange programs; International students; International travel; Interrogation; Journalism teachers; Oath of Service; Paperwork warriors; Peace Corps; Peace Corps volunteers; Political violence; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; School funding; Suicide; Teaching; Torture; U.S. army draft; U.S. army enlistment; Vietnam War

Subjects: Draft; Education.; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Freeman, Harold D.; Freeman, Harold D.--Interviews; Hospital Corporation of America; International travel.; Interrogations; Journalism teachers; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Eritrea; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ethiopia; Political violence.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

02:08:37 - Peace Corps' impact on Ethiopia, Eritrea, and individuals

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Partial Transcript: So what do you think the, the impact, uh, of Peace Corps was on Ethiopia or your particular time there?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Freeman what impact he thinks the Peace Corps had on Ethiopia. Freeman responds by saying that he thinks his two years in the Peace Corps were worth more to him than any master's degree he could have gotten at the same time. He discusses the long-term effects in Ethiopia and Eritrea of the Peace Corps and mentions that there have been two wars between them. Freeman talks about how Eritrea lost almost an entire generation of men in the wars and talks about how schools didn't operate during the wars. Freeman discusses the American Field Service foreign student exchange program and the need, he thinks, that there was for more general education in Ethiopia at the time he was there than there was for education in specific subjects. Wilson asks Freeman what the impact of his experience was on himself. Freeman replies that it exposed him to a much greater diversity of people than what he grew up with in a protestant, predominately-white Tennessee town. He states that the Peace Corps made him aware of cultural exchange and the many ideas there were in the world. Wilson asks Freeman what he sees in the future and in travel as a possibility. Freeman responds that he doesn't know, but that he'd like to see more of the United States. Wilson asks Freeman what the overall impact of the Peace Corps has been over the last forty-five years. Freeman replies that there are now a few hundred thousand individuals in the country who know a lot more about the world than they did before joining the program and there are probably a few million people in other countries who can say that they have met an American who was not a soldier, not on the TV, or in a movie and that this is all for the good. Freeman states that the gender disparity in education in countries like Ethiopia needs to change because it was a problem and still is. He stresses the need for education in water treatment and usage as well as in sustainable agriculture.

Keywords: Cultural exposure; Cultural perceptions; Diversity exposure; Education; Effects of war; Eritrea; Eritrean War of Independence; Eritrean-Ethiopian War; Ethiopia; Future plans; General education; Health education; Impacts of war; Peace Corps; Peace Corps impacts; Peace Corps volunteers; Personal impacts; Sustainable agriculture; Water treatment

Subjects: Education.; Eritrea; Eritrean-Ethiopian War, 1998-2000; Ethiopia; Freeman, Harold D.; Freeman, Harold D.--Interviews; Health education.; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Eritrea; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ethiopia; Sustainable agriculture.

02:26:50 - Peace Corps stories

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Partial Transcript: Uh, and that's all, uh, the sort of structured questions I have but, uh, what have I missed?

Segment Synopsis: Freeman talks about whether he would do it all over again if he could. He tells a story about his second roommate's experience with a kidney stone in Eritrea and details his struggles to find a doctor. He talks about his encounter with a dog in the compound in Eritrea. He talks about what kind of information he would not include in letters home to friends and family.

Keywords: Eritrea; Ethiopia; Peace Corps; Peace Corps volunteers; Police

Subjects: Education.; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Freeman, Harold D.; Freeman, Harold D.--Interviews; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Anecdotes; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Eritrea; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ethiopia