Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Maurice White, November 1, 2005

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Personal background / Peace Corps recruitment and application / Peace Corps training

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Partial Transcript: --November 1st, 2005 with Maurice White. Maurice if you would start please just by giving me your full name, where, and when you were born.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks White about his family background and upbringing. White states that he grew up in Stoughton, Massachusetts with two brothers, two sisters, and his parents and went to school there until going to college at Wyndham College in Putney, Vermont. Wilson asks White what he studied in college. White replies that he originally intended to study biology, but ended up graduating with a degree in sociology because he got off track with his credits through abroad programs. White states that he graduated from college in May 1974 and went into the Peace Corps in June. Wilson asks White how he became interested in the Peace Corps. White explains that it was something he had talked about with friends and his college advisor before applying his junior year of college. White elaborates that it was after a senior year visit to Washington D.C. and a meeting with a Vermont senator that the Peace Corps sent him his letter of acceptance. Wilson asks White if there was ever any explanation for why it took his application so long to be processed. White responds that the usual response he got was that the paperwork was being processed and for him not to worry about it. Wilson asks White if he had any recollection of knowing other Peace Corps volunteers or how the idea got into his head. White replies that he thinks the idea really got into his head after his abroad program in India because he was profoundly affected by his experience there with the poverty he saw. Wilson recounts that White was accepted into the Peace Corps and sent to Afghanistan before asking White if he had asked to be sent to this part of the world. White answers that he had initially asked to go to India, but he was fine with being sent to Afghanistan. Wilson asks White about the training program White went through. White backtracks to talk about the pre-training and selection process all volunteers went through before being sent to their assigned country. White remarks that he felt pretty good about having made it through that process. He discusses the immersion he had during his Dari language and English teacher training in Afghanistan. Wilson asks White how long he spent on the language component of his training. White responds that the training was almost all day initially and consisted of a silent method of teaching. Wilson asks White what he means about a silent method. White explains that it is up to the students to work together and learn as a group while the instructor used a series of rods to serve as cues on the structure and grammar they were using. Wilson asks if there was cultural training happening simultaneously with the language training. White replies that there were cultural components, but the main focus was the language component. White discusses how the language training was meticulously planned through the viewing of video tapes.

Keywords: Afghanistan; English teachers; Family life; Language learning; Language learning methods; Language training; Methods of language learning; Peace Corps; Peace Corps recruitment; Peace Corps training; Peace Corps volunteers; Personal backgrounds; Stoughton (Mass.); Study abroad programs; Teacher training; Training; Upbringing; Wyndham College; Wyndham College, Putney (Vt.)

Subjects: Afghanistan; English teachers; Language transfer (Language learning); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Afghanistan; Training.; White, Maurice F.; White, Maurice F.--Interviews

00:11:42 - Living situation / Work at Lycee Bakhtar

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Partial Transcript: Were you--what was, what was your living situation at that point? Were you living together or with families or--?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks White what his living situation was like during the training period he went through in Afghanistan. White states that the volunteers were living in a dormitory in Kabul, Afghanistan at the time. Wilson asks how long this went on for. White replies that this was his living situation for a few months before having to spend time with volunteers who were already established in the country. Wilson asks White what his assignment was and were he was sent. White responds that he went to Mazari-Sharif, Afghanistan, a fairly large city in Afghan terms. White describes how he found a place to live and how he initially integrated himself into the local area. White remarks that he was extremely close to the family he lived with in the city. He explains that his identity as an American teacher gave his host family a bit of status in the area. White mentions that one of the family's sons was in the class he taught and another son sought to emulate him and learn English from him. He adds that the mother of the family was a nurse and always spoke French around him since she thought it'd be better for him as an English speaker and that the father was a retiring military official with standing in the community. White also discusses the servant family that lived with him, which helped him learn the Farsi language fairly quickly. White goes into detail about how being a black person of mixed heritage helped him pass or pretend to be Afghan on several occasions. He recounts a story about passing as an Indian doctor in a clinic and another as an Afghan on Russian military compounds. Wilson asks White to talk about his job at the school. Wilson states that he worked at a boy's lycee, Lycee Bakhtar, teaching seventh and twelfth grade for the two years he was there. White describes the respect he got as a teacher in Afghanistan. White remarks that teaching wasn't very stressful for him and discusses his project of starting a library at the school with books he received from the Asia Foundation. White states that he was the only non-Afghan on staff at the school and most of the other teachers were either Pashtun or Tajik. Wilson asks White what it was like to teach classes of 70 students. White replies that it seemed daunting at first, but the preparation and training he had received adequately prepared him for taking on the job. White remarks that most of the students behaved very well and the only problems he experienced arose from his lack of understanding for the socio-economic issues of the area. He adds that this caused problems with the principal, some of the students, and some fathers because he graded upon merit rather than social standing. Wilson asks White how the principal dealt with his lack of cooperation. White explains that it was made clear through underlings that he should pass certain people but, when he still refused to, he ended up being blackmailed towards the end of his term about his expeditions to Russian compounds.

Keywords: Afghanistan; Asia Foundation; Boy's schools; English teachers; Host families; Housing; Libraries; Library projects; Lycee Bakhtar; Pashtuns; Peace Corps; Peace Corps anecdotes; Peace Corps narratives; Peace Corps volunteers; Russian compounds; Social status; Socio-economic issues; Tajiks; Teaching

Subjects: Afghanistan; Asia Foundation; English teachers; Housing.; Libraries.; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Afghanistan; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Anecdotes; Social status.; White, Maurice F.; White, Maurice F.--Interviews

00:25:07 - Gender issues in Afghanistan / Daily routine and diet

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Partial Transcript: Well, uh, let me--let me take you back a, a step.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks White about his first impressions of Afghanistan after his arrival. White talks about how the psychologists during the selection phase were surprised by his lack of reaction to the pictures of poverty and disease in Afghanistan, but weren't aware of his previous experience in India and Mexico. White states that he thinks he was more fazed by the differences in relationships between men and women and their roles in society. White recounts a story about a girlfriend of his who visited him during his first year in Afghanistan and describes why they had to marry due to the pressure of the culture around them. Wilson asks White about the adjustment issues he faced in Afghanistan. White states that one of the biggest issues was having to reconcile having a servant to work for him in his house during the duration of the assignment. He explains that he had a close bond with the servant and servant's family, but it was difficult for him to reconcile as a black American. Wilson asks White what a typical day would have been like for him. White describes getting up in the morning and heating water which would then be used for multiple purposes, then he would tutor students of his in English at his home, and then ride his bike to school and greet the principal and his coworkers before starting work. Wilson asks White about his diet. White describes the food he had while in Afghanistan, remarking that it was very seasonal. White talks about the preservation methods used by Afghans for preserving foods.

Keywords: Adjustment issues; Afghanistan; Daily routines; Diet; Gender issues; Gender relations; Peace Corps; Peace Corps narratives; Peace Corps volunteers; Peace corps anecdotes; Preservation methods; Preserving food; Preserving foods

Subjects: Afghanistan; Diet.; Gender issues; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Afghanistan; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Anecdotes; White, Maurice F.; White, Maurice F.--Interviews

00:33:48 - Recreation and travel / Return to the U.S.

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Partial Transcript: Okay, uh, what did you do for recreation?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks White what he did for recreation. White states that he spent a lot of time in conversation with his host family, fellow teachers, and the many visitors he had at his house. He talks about going to see Hindi movies on the weekends and how their popularity was ironic because they depicted many things you couldn't do in Afghanistan. Wilson asks White if he traveled within the country. White replies that he would travel on occasion with other Peace Corps volunteers or Afghan friends to different areas around the country. He also mentions traveling to various places in Pakistan. Wilson asks White if there are any meaningful stories he would like to share. White recounts a story about a woman and children who were discriminated against and treated inhumanely by the local community. Wilson asks White what it was like to come back to the U.S. White states that he experienced a bit of a culture shock and came back not really knowing what he wanted to do. He mentions that he got a job in the Boston, Massachusetts area and that it was hard readjusting to a working life in America. White also talks about how the overwhelming variety and freedom was also a drastic change from living in Afghanistan.

Keywords: Afghanistan; Culture shock; Hindi movies; Pakistan; Peace Corps; Peace Corps anecdotes; Peace Corps narratives; Peace Corps volunteers; Readjustment; Recreation; Reintegration; Social interactions; Travel

Subjects: Afghanistan; Culture shock.; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Afghanistan; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Anecdotes; Recreation & travel; White, Maurice F.; White, Maurice F.--Interviews

00:39:41 - Impact of the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Okay, uh, what, what do you think the, the impact of, of your Peace Corps service was on Afghanistan or the people that you were there working with?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks White about the impact of his Peace Corps service on Afghanistan or the people he worked with. White thinks that the impact he made in Afghanistan was negligible, but that the impact he made in the area of his town had a large effect. He mentions that his students were exposed to someone of a different culture, to different ways of thinking, and many learned a fair amount of English because of his teaching. Wilson asks White what impact the experience had upon him. White replies that the most important impact on him was being able to reflect on being an American and looking at the country's faults and problems. He believes that the U.S. has a greater role in the world to impact it in a favorable way. Wilson asks White if he still has contacts in Afghanistan. White responds that he hasn't had any close contact with anyone from Afghanistan in a long time. Wilson asks White about the impact his experience had upon his family. White states that his parents had wondered why he wanted to go so far away to help promote development when there was so much to be done in the U.S., but he knew at the time that he had to do something so different for himself. Wilson asks White about the impact on his career path. White replies that he's pretty much stayed in the profession of teaching English since starting out in Afghanistan and thinks that his experience helped spark his interest in his line of work. Wilson and White talk about some of the international experiences White has had since his time in Afghanistan. Wilson asks White about what he thinks the impact of his experience has been on his world outlook. White thinks that the experience opened up his eyes to the rest of the world and made him sensitive to the disparities that exist. Wilson asks White what he thinks the overall impact of the Peace Corps has been. White responds that he still believes in the goal for the Peace Corps and that if you multiply his experience by the other 170,000 volunteers that have served, you can see that the Peace Corps and individuals who join it really do make a difference. Wilson asks White if he thinks there is a role for the Peace Corps in the modern day. White thinks that the professionals that the Peace Corps sends to underdeveloped countries are still very much needed.

Keywords: Afghanistan; Contacts; Cultural exposure; Development; English teachers; Impacts; Peace Corps; Peace Corps impacts; Peace Corps role; Peace Corps volunteers; Personal impacts; Perspectives

Subjects: Afghanistan; Development & education; English teachers; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Afghanistan; Perspective.; White, Maurice F.; White, Maurice F.--Interviews