WILSON: Peace Corps Oral History Project, interview February 2nd with
Carolyn Cromer. Carolyn, if you would please, give me your full name
and where and when you were born.
CROMER: Carolyn Elaine Cromer, born November 19th, 1969 in Louisville,
WILSON: And did you grow up in Louisville?
WILSON: Tell me a little something about that. You're family
background, schooling and so forth.
CROMER: I grew up in the Highlands which is a more eclectic, fairly
liberal open minded neighborhood or area of Louisville and I would
describe my family as such as well. I'm Caucasian and came from a
family of two parents and a sister and fairly average white, middle
class American family. A lot of exposure to international students
00:01:00growing up. We didn't have extended family who lived near us so
our Christmases were spent inviting international students who were
studying in the United States to spend Christmas Day with us and that
really was probably my first experience of bringing the world to my
door and the, all the different countries that the students for years
that came to our house that we learned about and their cultures and
languages, etc. and then, when I was a sophomore in high school, a
Swedish exchange student lived with us for a year and that was more
wonderful interaction with the rest of the world.
WILSON: How did you happen to have the contact with the international
students? Was some member of your family associated with a university
or with a program at the university?
CROMER: I don't know if that was a program through the University of
00:02:00Louisville or if it was through a Presbyterian Church. My father
worked at U of L and we belonged to a Presbyterian Church but it was
operated out of Harvey Brown Presbyterian and it was just something
that my parents were interested in doing and signed up for, I would say
we did that for five or six years.
CROMER: My parents are also well read and pay a lot of attention to
what's happening in the news and current events and globally and
that transferred to my sister and me and so we were aware of and
cared about global issues growing up even though we weren't traveling
internationally ourselves. We were aware of them.
WILSON: But you had this exchange student, when did you say? Your senior
CROMER: No, I was a sophomore--
WILSON: You were a sophomore--
CROMER: In high school.
WILSON: I'm sorry.
WILSON: Okay and how was that?
CROMER: It was wonderful and my first experience traveling and living
abroad was my junior year in college when I lived in Britain and I
spent Christmas and New Year's with that Swedish exchange student's
family in Stockholm so it was a really wonderful relationship, one that
still exists and that was an important experience with people living in
other cultures and countries.
WILSON: Where did you go to school in Louisville?
CROMER: I went to high school at Atherton.
WILSON: At Atherton, okay, so the exchange student went there with you
CROMER: No, she attended high school with my sister at Seneca--
CROMER: Later, we also had a German exchange student who lived with us
for a month and she did go to Atherton. I think that was my senior
year and then, we had another relationship with a Guatemalan. He sort
00:04:00of adopted our family, I think this was through U of L, for two years
while he was a student at U of L and then, most recently, my parents
have had a ten year relationship with a Chinese family, actually, two
families who came to Louisville to study and my parents were their host
family and I've spent a lot of time with them as well.
WILSON: So had your parents traveled internationally before all of this
sort of started or--?
CROMER: Not, my father had through the Navy but I'm not sure how
intensely he got into the cultures since he was just on a ship that
was docking for a while at each of these ports. My mother had traveled
almost none internationally. I think by that, by the time I was in high
school, I think she had spent a week in Spain and that was it. They
just, they're very educated people who have a very global awareness and
00:05:00also have a strong sense of giving back, you know, the blessings or the
good fortunes that they have, have had, they like to share with others.
WILSON: Okay, let's stop for one second and do a sound check--
[Pause in recording.]
WILSON: So where did you go to college?
CROMER: Northwestern University in Evansville, Illinois.
WILSON: And you were saying you took your junior year abroad in England?
CROMER: In England, right. One of the things that was important to me
when I went to college was the student abroad program there and that
was I mean, from my memory a direct influence from those international
students who had shared our lives for a brief time so I spent a year
living, at the University of Sussex at Brighton.
WILSON: And what did you study at Northwestern?
CROMER: English Lit is my major.
WILSON: Okay and when you graduated, then what?
CROMER: Well, I had attempted to find a way to get to Africa not
through a government or religious organization and had written letters
to consulates and programs and schools, and there's a book called
Alternatives to the Peace Corps, and I had a copy of that and learned
that you either have to pay a lot of money or you have to have a
marketable skill which I didn't much at that point or you have to go
with, tie yourself with a religious organization so probably round
about the end of the summer, beginning of fall after I graduated from
WILSON: Which would have been?
CROMER: This was in 1991.
CROMER: I gave in and said looks like it's the Peace Corps.
WILSON: Why Africa?
CROMER: Because of a PBS program I had seen on Beryl Markham who was a
female pilot. She was the first person to fly from Africa to the, the
west coast of Africa to the east coast of North America. And she grew
up in Kenya and I was fascinated with her life there and after learning
about her, which I was in high school at the time, read books about
Africa, took classes in college about Africa, and for me, I really
wanted to be in
WILSON: Okay, so you, you gave up on doing it on your own--
WILSON: And that led you to the Peace Corps.
CROMER: Yes. I headed to Eastern Kentucky after graduating from college
and had a job there as an environmental educator and working in a
00:08:00community outreach center in Appalachia and it was during my time there
that I applied for the Peace Corps so that application process occurred
while I worked--
WILSON: Where? Where in Eastern Kentucky?
CROMER: Well, the P.O. Box was in Beverly, Kentucky. It's a place
called Red Bird.
WILSON: Red Bird Mission, it used to be called, right?
WILSON: Right, okay and how did you happen to get into an environmental
ed. program from an English Lit degree?
CROMER: I was supposed to be the bookmobile lady which would have been
wonderful but right before I got there, they cut that program and they
had, I had also written down on my application with this program which
was through the Presbyterian church that I had been involved in a
00:09:00Student Conservation Organization in college and so they asked me about
starting a recycling program for the campus, the school and people, two
hundred people who worked there at the medical offices, etc., and also,
doing an environmental education program so that's what I did.
WILSON: Okay so it's from there that you applied to the Peace Corps?
WILSON: That was in the summer? Is that what you said? Of '91?
CROMER: It was in the fall of '91
WILSON: Fall of '91, okay and what was that application process like?
CROMER: Well, it was fairly easy for me because I was living in the
boonies so my interview was over the phone. I didn't even realize it
was my interview until after it was over. I never met my recruiter who
was out of Atlanta. It was, you know, the medical part, I had access
00:10:00to a medical clinic where I worked so that was no big deal. I think
the Peace Corps application process is very arduous and I certainly had
my bumps along the way but all in all, compared to some people, it was
WILSON: Arduous in what ways if the two things you mentioned were easy
CROMER: Well, they wanted me to pull eight teeth out for instance.
WILSON: Eight? I've heard of two but eight?
CROMER: I believe eight. Well, all my wisdom teeth, maybe they wanted
eight filled. Maybe they wanted my wisdom teeth pulled and eight
teeth filled and I had to get something from a dentist saying these
calcifications have been there for years and they're not going to
change, etc., etc. I think that was relatively minor. The biggest
00:11:00thing that was when I was finally offered Morocco in May of 1992, I
turned it down after some thought because primarily because it wasn't
sub-Saharan Africa and I had also understood that I was allowed to turn
down two countries and still have an opportunity for another invitation
before I had to reapply. I was told, once I turned down Morocco, I was
told that that was too bad. That was nothing else available and that I
could reapply in a year which I, looking back, I think I was the victim
of ignorance and probably--
WILSON: Arm twisting?
CROMER: Some numbers games happening in the office which was unfortunate
in that I didn't end up in sub-Saharan Africa but fortunate in that
I ended up in a wonderful place in a part of the world I probably
00:12:00wouldn't have ever explored on my own and it's hard to complain. I
ended up extending for a year so in the end, considering the kind of
experiences I could have had, I really have no room to explain.
WILSON: So you turned it down, then, when they told you too bad, apply
in a year, you said oops?
CROMER: I said let me think about this over the weekend. And I talked
to a recent returned Peace Corps volunteer from Morocco who was a
friend of a friend of a friend and through soul searching and talking
with other people who had experience with Morocco, I decided it was
worth not having to wait another year. It was worth going for.
WILSON: Okay, so you said yes then sometime in late spring of '92.
Then, what happened?
CROMER: I had five weeks until I was to leave the country so I think I
worked for two more weeks and then, quit my job and had three weeks to
WILSON: And was there some staging or medical stuff before you left or
how did that work?
WILSON: Yes, we, we met in Philadelphia? It's almost so fuzzy now--
CROMER: I think we, everybody met at a hotel in Philadelphia and this
was a, Morocco had been evacuated because of the Persian Gulf War
rather that the Peace Corps program in Morocco had been evacuated in
'90 I believe. '91 was the first year that they brought volunteers
back so I think people were evacuated, the program was evacuated for
a year. The first program in '91 or the first group back was small,
00:14:00maybe 27 people. My group had, I think, 41, 42 people in it. Now,
later, I think they had more like 60 people in but we were a moderate
sized group for that, you know, for what the country's program had been
up to them so about forty of us met and I think we got some shots in
the states and they shipped us off--
WILSON: Straight, straight from Philadelphia?
WILSON: And what happened next?
CROMER: We had a ten week stage in Rabat and that took place at a
school for teachers that was empty during the summer so we were not
living with families. Now, I think they do in the Morocco program
which is better so we were living together on a compound and did all
of our language and cultural and technical training there. I was in
00:15:00the health and sanitation program. They had, Peace Corps had, had
encouraged me to teach English. I didn't want to teach English because
I wanted to be as remote as possible. I didn't want to be in an urban
area. I didn't even want to be in a town. What I told them was I want
to have to take a vegetable truck to the end of the road and then walk
which is essentially what happened so I felt like health and sanitation
was going to, I had a better shot at that type of experience than if
I was teaching English. Plus, I had some philosophical issues with
teaching English so anyway, I ended up in health and sanitation.
WILSON: What was your, what was your language there?
CROMER: Oh yes, well, Morocco has two official languages, French and
Arabic, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic which is called Darija but sixty
00:16:00percent of the population is Berber and I was going to a Berber region
so I was taught Tamiazight. I actually spoke something that was closer
to Tashelheit which are both dialects of Berber or actually, I think
the politically correct term is not Berber but Tamiazight.
WILSON: And so you had ten weeks of language training plus what other
components of the training?
CROMER: Medical classes but I think the medical part only lasted
six weeks. Cross- cultural training and then, technical training
and for the health and sanitation group, we left for a month to go
00:17:00to the town of Essaouira which is on the coast and we did a very
concentrated, technical and language training there and we were doing
things like teaching people, doing education programs about water,
treating water so it was potable, building latrines, building wells or
treating water in wells, contraceptive education, hand washing, germ
transmission routes, pretty basic stuff so we learned stuff like how
to put a concrete cover on a well or how to build a latrine and the
more technical of these issues. It was in the Essaouira province that
we got our first experience actually teaching classes out in health
clinics and we got to practice our language skills.
WILSON: And how, how proficient did you feel in the language at the end
00:18:00of your training period?
CROMER: Well, not very. First, I had been taught, well, the dialect I
had been taught was not exactly dead on. It was close enough though to
where I actually ended up living. I remember when I went to my site,
that I could say things like "hello, how are you? Do you have a sister?
I have a sister and parents. I need water" so you know, the most
rudimentary. I think mostly what the training did, it taught us the
Arabic alphabet which was crucial for getting around in Morocco. Now,
people who are learning Berber are first taught Arabic for a couple
00:19:00weeks, just street Arabic. My group was the last group, well, we were
the first group learning Berber and the last group that only, that
had ten weeks of only Berber and no Arabic and because Arabic is the
language that's spoken most heavily in the cities, it is an advantage to
have at least some working knowledge of Arabic so that, but, you know--
WILSON: Did, did you have any French?
CROMER: I had taken two years of French in college. They did not teach
us any French during our language training and actually, I didn't need
French. I spoke Berber with everyone from the villagers where I lived
to the Governor of the Province where I lived and I don't think he was
Berber but his assistant was so there were, I was much more comfortable
in Berber than in French or Arabic and by the time I was setting up
00:20:00those kinds of meetings with government officials or high government
officials. Really Berber was the preferred language for me and there
were always Berbers around to translate. Inevitably, somebody was
Berber. Oh! We didn't know you were Berber. Yes, I'm Berber and so
they could translate for me.
WILSON: So at the end of the training, what happened next in terms of
your assignment so forth?
CROMER: Well, I'm trying to think when we learned what our site
assignment was. Maybe the sixth or seventh week into our training,
we got our site assignment. I was very happy with mine. Again, it
was a remote site, probably, the most remote of the ten people I was,
I think ten, nine, ten people I was training with. I lived in the
00:21:00village of Amejgag near the town of El Kelaa M'Gouna in the Province of
Ouarzazate and to find it, you, from Rabat, the capital, you would go
to Marrakech, the most direct route is to go to Marrakech and then, go
over the High Atlas Mountains to Ouarzazate which is about a ten hour
bus ride and then, take a grand taxi three hours east on the road that
runs between Agadir and Er Rachidia to M'Gouna which is where I picked
up my mail. That was the nearest, not hospital, but health clinic with
any kind of facilities. Then, I would get on a, well, when I first
arrived in 1992, it could be a truck like a large truck that could
haul animals or any kind of supplies or a van. Either in the van or on
00:22:00top of the van, three hours straight up into the High Atlas Mountains
where I would let off in the village of Alamdoun and then, walk thirty
minutes east to Amejgag.
WILSON: So you're description of what you wanted, it fit.
CROMER: Yes, yes, I was very pleased.
WILSON: Fit pretty well and so you made that first trek on your own or
did somebody take you or go with you?
CROMER: I, I'm trying to think. I went to Agadir straight out of stage.
A group of us who were on our way to sites went together to Agadir.
The first time I ever traveled alone in Morocco was when I went from
Agadir to Ouarzazate which is about a ten hour bus ride. That was,
00:23:00that was a rather heroine ride because my senses were all on high alert
and I was misinterpreting situations and being paranoid and etc., etc.
I believe I was met by a person named Rick Neal in Ouarzazate. Rick
was a really special kind of volunteer. He had been a Peace Corps
volunteer for two years teaching drama and this was a very limited
program. He was teaching drama in Casablanca and he became proficient
in French. Then, he was evacuated or the program was evacuated in I
guess '89 or '90. I guess it was '90. The Persian War didn't happen
until '90 or '91. We invaded in '91.
I guess it was evacuated in '91. Anyway, he went back to Morocco on his
own while Peace Corps was evacuated so that he could work in a program
for CEDA for Aids in Casablanca. So he lived on his own without Peace
Corps support for six months in Casablanca and became proficient in
Arabic. He's very good with languages. He had wanted to re-up as a
volunteer as a health san-- volunteer, a health and sanitation volunteer
and when the program got started again in '91, he was able to do that
for a year and he had a friend who was from the area where I was, that
eventually became my site. This was an area that had been hit hard
with typhoid in '91 and Rick saw a need there for or the possibility of
some Peace Corps volunteers could do some work there and so he actually
00:25:00founded this site for Peace Corps in '91 and had lived in Amejgag for a
year by the time I arrived so and where he had learned Berber so he was
very knowledgeable about the country and the government and could move
around easily teaching languages, almost any language spoken in Morocco
so Rick took me back to our site. I remember going up with him for the
first time and then, I lived with Rick for a couple months when I was
first or maybe a month, when I first got to Amejgag, he slept in the
courtyard and we made it known he was sleeping in the courtyard and I
was sleeping in his mud home, his one room and during the month that I
was, first got there, Rick helped to introduce me to people, he helped
00:26:00to initiate me to the projects that he had been working on and that I
could continue if I wished and also helped me to get housing and just
really made that transition process much easier for me--
WILSON: Mm hmm, okay
CROMER: But then, he left.
WILSON: Ha and you were on your own?
CROMER: I was on my own.
WILSON: And indeed, you were the only volunteer then at that site?
CROMER: Right and I, my site, my official site was all the villages that
were served by a small health clinic near the suk, near the commune
or the market and there were forty-eight villages that were served by
this little health clinic. This is different than the one that was
in El Kelaa M'Gouna where I said I got my mail. This is up in the
mountains. Two nurses worked there. They had almost no equipment.
00:27:00They had some needles, you know, some syringes, some immunization,
they had some prescription medicine, one type of antibiotic, a pink
pill they handed out like candy and some contraceptives and not a lot
more than that but they did the best they could and so my role was as
a liaison between the people and the two nurses and the health clinic
and so my job was to be out in the villages supplementing their work
through health education, through contraceptive education, and I handed
out contraceptives. I ended up carrying the pill with me, well, not
condoms because men there don't use condoms but I ended up carrying the
pill with me. Do you want me to go into--
WILSON: Yeah, sure, go ahead
CROMER: Well, my job, what ended up working best for me was a lot of
00:28:00one on one work with primarily women, although, I certainly talked to
men and children too but what I would do is-- I had, first off, I had
wells and cisterns that I treated with chlorine bleach and I did it, I
tried to hit those maybe once a month but it didn't always happen and
that was in maybe six or eight villages that were around the clinic
that were in about a one and a half, two hour walking distances from
the village where I lived so I might spend the day in one village and
go around to all the places where I knew they had wells or cisterns and
talked to them about have they been treating their water with chlorine
and why it was a good idea and typhoid, etc. and then, we would
measure the water together and treat it with chlorine bleach that they
00:29:00have on hand that they used to wash clothes with and--
WILSON: So that was something they had?
CROMER: Exactly, yeah and I was measuring the water in the well with a
rock and a string and so it wasn't high tech at all and the idea was
that they would get in the habit of treating their water. The people,
most of the villages in this forty-eight village area didn't have wells
and cisterns. They got their water from the river so I also talked
to people about using chlorine in their drinking water and how much,
how many drops they would put in what quantity. The water treatment
program was only mildly successful if that. I think the greatest
success I had there was with the people who I was close friends with
and I think they did it because they liked me, and wanted to make me
feel better but then, I also had, a lot, you know, a lot of time what
00:30:00I would do is just go on trips to different villages and, you know,
the reason for a trip might be as random as I had been to the Peace
Corps office in Rabat and they had gotten a shipment in of vitamins
and oral rehydration solution from UNICEF and so I would take these
vitamins and put them in a backpack and head down a river valley and
be gone for three or four days and just walk through villages. Enter
a village, hang out until someone invited me for a meal or for tea and
then, invited me to stay the night and I would just go to kitchens and
sit and hang out with the women and I would get a feel for how many
kids they had in the family, how health were the kids, how healthy were
the women. The men were usually pretty health. It was usually the
women and kids who were suffering from any malnutrition or more day
00:31:00to day medical needs. Were the women using contraceptives? I talked,
I approached contraceptive use from the angle of spacing kids rather
CROMER: Right, rather than you shouldn't have more than ten kids. You
know, talked a lot about giving their bodies a rest, letting their
babies get healthy before they have another child, etc. That was
a very, the contraceptive and the pill, kind of pushing the pill or
teaching people about contraceptive use was probably my most successful
program because there was an interest in not having so many mouths
to feed especially, ever since immunizations came to Morocco in the
mid-eighties, kids weren't dying as much as they didn't need to have
00:32:00any many kids in order to ensure a survival rate that you know, you no
longer needed to have fifteen kids for eight to live.
WILSON: But there was no cultural or religious barriers to contraception?
CROMER: Certainly some people didn't want to use it and I think religion
was one reason. Most people were very receptive and in terms of my
going door to door and talking to people about all kinds of things, in
three years, in over three years, I only ever had the door shut in my
face once and that was in a very remote area.
WILSON: But it was oral contraceptive for women?
CROMER: It was, yeah, what I had was oral contraceptives. Now, I also
went on health campaigns with the nurses sometimes. This was maybe
twice a year where we would travel to villages either by vehicle or
00:33:00by mule or by foot because most of the villages I served, there was
no road getting to them so we had to walk or usually we took a mule
and that was usually, that was, we had immunizations with us so that
was polio and mumps and measles type of vaccinations and then, the
female nurses on those trips would also talk to the women about IUDs
and in fact, were prepared to insert IUDs if the women were open to it.
They almost never were because there were huge urban myths and rural
myths about IUDs and what they did and indeed, these were women who
participated in a lot of physical labor and IUDs didn't always work for
them. Sometimes they fell out so yes, oral contraceptives was my--
WILSON: And I think you said that you, initially, that you did have
condoms but the condom program wasn't successful because men would not
use them. Is that right and was AIDS not an issue?
CROMER: Well, first of all, it was much, it was really difficult for me
to talk to men about condoms--
CROMER: I don't know if I ever even did that. I maybe talked to the
wives about condoms--
WILSON: Ah huh.
CROMER: But this was, that was just not something that the men were
going to go for. Morocco at that time, officially, had no AIDS.
Of course, we know there were people with AIDS. I have been truly
shocked that Morocco hasn't exploded with AIDS because so many of the
men in Morocco worked in Europe and I know, we know that they used
prostitutes there and then, came back to Morocco and slept with wives
00:35:00and prostitutes in Morocco and so, the transmission route was obvious.
And I don't know what the AIDS statistics are in Morocco currently.
WILSON: Well, I asked that question because I don't think I've talked
to anybody who's been a health volunteer who has dealt with oral
contraceptives with women--
WILSON: Particularly in a Muslim society so that, that's interesting.
CROMER: Yeah, I know there were women who were using oral contraceptives
and that, it did help them with spacing. I think that the bigger taboo
with oral contraceptives was not Islam but that it gave the impression
that it would allow women to sleep around. And in fact, I know of one
case where that was true so I think this was the fear of the husbands.
WILSON: What about your living situation? You said this other volunteer
helped you get a house. Where did you live? What did you have as
CROMER: Well, in the village where I lived, there were mud homes,
adobe, this was a very dry climate. These were in some cases three
and four story mud homes. They were, some of them were built like the
in capitals in Europe called casbahs and so the building that I lived
in, I lived on the second floor of a mud building. I had one room
which was maybe twelve feet by fourteen feet with a small closet and
00:37:00two windows and then, I had access to, I had a private roof. Roofs
were used quite a bit in Morocco as another room so I had access to my
own roof and then, the main roof of the building, I had access to as
well and then, the bathroom, I had built as part of the agreement for
me living with this family and to get to it, I went downstairs, two
flights of stairs, out the door, into another door of a whole other
courtyard and a whole other building, through the courtyard and then,
it was a pit latrine with a concrete squat plate that worked great
and this family took the opportunity to build it and create a bath,
a bathing room next to it and they could in fact create a mini-sauna.
They had a way to heat water so that it was steaming. It made a great
00:38:00steam room and they could get really clean there so that was good. I
felt like that was an asset. The family I lived with had about twenty-
seven people, excuse me, and I think maybe a couple, three of the men
might have used the latrine sometimes but I was definitely the only
person consistently using the latrine out of those people. Obviously,
the idea was that I would also doing education about latrines--
CROMER: Yeah, this was a village that they got their water from the
river and there were no latrines in the village when I moved in. Well,
that's not true. I think there was one, out of a thousand people,
maybe a hundred homes in the village, a thousand people living there
so I think one person had worked in Europe in for a while had built a
00:39:00latrine before I got there. Now, as more men have worked in the cities
and become accustomed to latrines and come back, they've built latrines
for their families. There are a lot more than there used to be. It's
still not the primary use and most people just go outside so those were
pretty much and then, I cooked food on my own. I was invited to eat
with my family I had rented a room from if I wanted but I usually only
ate breakfast with them in the winter when it was cold and they had a
fire going and I didn't but otherwise, I pretty much ate on my own than
WILSON: And what was the food like and how did you adjust to that?
CROMER: Food was great. There wasn't much adjustment needed. Where
I lived, they usually had a first breakfast of coffee and yesterday's
00:40:00bread and then, the women would go out to the fields and collect
fodder for the animals, just weeds. They used the river, they had a
very complicated system of irrigation canals that allowed them to grow
food and irrigate so the paths in between the fields and along the
irrigation canals would grow weeds and that's what grass, that's what
they would cut and feed their animals with so the women would go out
and collect that, come back for second breakfast which was maybe around
ten or ten thirty. That was usually somebody had stayed home or when
one of the women who'd gone to the field got back, she would bake bread
quickly and then, have fresh bread with it could be eggs with tomato
and cilantro and green pepper or it could be a vegetable stew with a
00:41:00little bit of meat and bread or it could be some kind of pasta with
olive oil or butter poured over it--
WILSON: Flat breads or raised bread?
CROMER: Flat bread.
CROMER: Yeah, well, but yeast breads. In the village, in most of the
villages in this area, it was yeast bread. There was one area -- is
that true? -- of the forty-eight villages I served that didn't use
yeast and then, you know, maybe they'd then go to the river and wash
clothes which was another thing I was trying to discourage from pouring
soapy water into their drinking water but anyway, that didn't work
either. Maybe they'd wash clothes or maybe they'd separate rocks out
of whatever grain they needed to have milled for flour that day or
00:42:00you know, any number of tasks that need doing and then, they would eat
lunch around 1:30, or two or three, between 1:30 and 2:30 and that was
again, some kind of meat. Usually, meat and vegetable stew with bread.
Pretty consistently just a plain vegetable stew with bread or a meat
vegetable stew with bread called tyme with the food or tagine is what
it's more commonly known as here and tagine was just the pot it was
cooked it. Then, more food around four thirty, coffee and bread and
this was to prepare for going back out to the fields to get more fodder
for the animals and maybe, if the corn was ripe, maybe collect the corn
and bring it back and then, dinner was served around anywhere from 8:30
00:43:00to 10:30 I'd say and that was usually a couscous and the area where I
lived, most people ate corn couscous with some kind of greens either
alfalfa was the most common green and corn couscous with alfalfa became
my favorite food there. I just adored it. Never got tired of it.
Sometimes, this region grew figs and almonds and walnuts so sometimes
there were baby figs that were ready and we'd eat that with couscous.
Sometimes it was wheat or barley couscous with some kind of vegetable,
a lot of turnips--
[Tape one, side a ends; tape one, side b begins.]
WILSON: Side two of Peace Corps Oral History interview with Carolyn
Cromer, February 2nd, 2006. Carolyn, you were talking about food and
00:44:00couscous and alfalfa being your favorite. Go ahead if there was more
if wanted to add to that--
WILSON: Oh, you were talking, also, talking about I guess fruits and
CROMER: Right, this was an area that had a lot of different food.
For instance, in the summer, when it was hot, people would usually,
for dinner, eat just a corn, it was a corn mush that they would eat
with butter milk. This is an area that did have cattle. Maybe like
a family that was doing well might have one cow and so they would
milk the cow and have fresh buttermilk and they would eat that with
couscous or they eat that with this corn mush or you could just drink
it straight. You know, there were special foods. Ramadan provided
a whole host of special foods that when people broke fast and where I
00:45:00lived, they would eat dried figs that had been beaten so that people,
older people without teeth could gum them and so that brought out a
different flavor of the fig and then, special tea. They, the main
drink was not coffee at all. It was this sweet green Moroccan mint tea
that people drank probably twelve to fifteen--
WILSON: Which was grown locally?
CROMER: No, the tea was not grown locally.
CROMER: The mint was.
WILSON: The mint was, okay.
CROMER: Sometimes, it was mint. Sometimes it was wormwood. Sometimes,
other plants that I don't even know what they're called in English but
you could use to enhance the tea. Pennyroyal was used in the coffee.
Pepper was used in the coffee, special spice mixes that you could get
from local grocers in town you could put in coffee. You know, fried
breads were a popular breaking fast food, sort of like our beignets
00:46:00or a donut that's not as sweet. One of my favorite dishes was baghrir
which is sort of like pancakes and then, they would pour honey or jam
over it and you'd eat it with your hands and it was just heaven--
WILSON: Heaven. The food was great, you know, I never went hungry and
most people didn't--
WILSON: Well and it sounds like there were really, what? Four or five
small meals a day?
CROMER: Well, right, at least five. They needed a lot. These were
people who were heavy, heavy laborers. They were always working and
needed a lot of power to sustain that. I never saw obese people.
There was one obese lady in town and it, I don't know, she just sat
00:47:00around the house and didn't have to go to the fields anymore but most
people were pretty--
WILSON: And what were the cultivated crops? Corn, you mentioned.
CROMER: Corn was harvested in the fall. In the spring, they planted
barley and wheat and harvest that in the summer.
WILSON: All by hand?
CROMER: Right, all by hand and actually, that was an important and
beautiful process that still goes on that when they would harvest the
barely and the wheat, they had threshing floors throughout the village.
Each family had a threshing floor that they either had access to or
was part of their compound so I have very distinct memories of summer
nights, they would wait until night when the breeze would start to blow
and then, they would drive the mules over the grain to separate, you
know, the grain from the shaft and then, they would throw it up in the
00:48:00air with these gray light wooden pitchforks and the wind would blow
the shaft away and you know, that was happening all over the village so
good memories of that.
WILSON: Let me take you back a step, what would you say was the hardest
thing to adjust to?
CROMER: I'm not sure. I don't remember having a hard time adjusting.
I was very open to learning about their culture and being a part of
their culture and I was guilty of experiencing that pendulum swing
when you're more native than the natives are and you know, almost got
00:49:00a tattoo on my forehead and things that now, in perspective, I'm glad
I didn't do. I, so, I don't think, I mean, certainly language was an
adjustment but you know, you learn it over time. I wasn't homesick
a lot. I didn't miss Americans much. I saw them as much as I wanted
to. In fact, I was one of the people who tried to be at my site as
much possible and I think the longest I ever went was six weeks without
leaving the village or without leaving that area and the mountains and
without seeing Americans which is not that long so you know, I got as
much American culture as I wanted. I think the most difficult period
was a period that happened about six months into my service, six to
00:50:00nine months where it was a political situation where Rick Neal and
I had been soliciting the preventional government to build a well in
Amejgag because we didn't have one and we needed one we thought and
indeed, finally, the Department of Agriculture sent workers into build
a well, dig a well with the justification that that water could be used
to water animals. Of course, it would serve people, too, and the sort
of like the county judge of the village of where I lived wanted credit
for that well, for bringing that well to Asmagad, for the well being
built and that coupled with a comment I made to people who I thought
were allies where it was derogatory joke about men sitting around doing
nothing while the women, you know, work. It was a lesson in it's okay
00:51:00for them to joke about themselves but not okay for an outsider to make
the same comment that now I understand and that, that, my joke got back
to the county judge. He used to it his advantage and essentially, some
of the town, the village leaders wanted to ride me out on a rail and
I was able to work through that situation and did sit down and talk
with them and that particular politician was pretty much of a foreign
ball all around. I never respected him and, but I think I was able
to, I stayed in the village and I was able to move beyond that and
still be able to do my work and live there and have some meaningful
relationships with people.
WILSON: Did you feel that your Peace Corps training prepared you well or
00:52:00not well for the job and situation that you found yourself in?
CROMER: I do. I think, in my case, first of all, I had a job. I had a
very discernable job, you know, a lot of Peace Corps volunteers don't
and so I felt useful and I woke up every morning knowing what needed
to be done. I wasn't, I wasn't being held back because of bureaucracy
or you know, big fish in a little pond except for that one occasion I
mentioned and I think that the training that I had in stage as well as
the cultural and language training were very useful for what I did.
WILSON: What, what about your role as a woman from the outside? How was
00:53:00that? How were you perceived? How did you function? You've mentioned I
guess one difficulty with a male politician--
CROMER: Right, well, I mean, I don't really know how I was perceived. My
perception of how I was perceived is an anomaly. As a woman, I could
do a lot and go a lot more places than an American man could have. I
had access not only to the men, or not only to the women but also to
the men whereas an American man really wouldn't have had the same kind
of access to women in the same situation so yes, I was a woman but I
was an outsider. I had different colored, actually, there were a lot
00:54:00of Caucasians or a lot of light skinned. It was a mixture of different
skin colors where I lived. It wasn't, I wasn't necessarily a different
skin color but I was clearly different. I was a foot taller than
most women in town and anyway, it gave me access and plus, I had, you
know, I had a piece of paper from the Moroccan government that said I
was allowed to be there and the government carries a lot of weight in
that country without any questions asked by the people so it wasn't an
issue of whether not I was going to have access to places. I just did
because I was working with the government.
WILSON: Did you, did you dress as Moroccan women dress? Did you have to
or did you wear head cover and so forth?
CROMER: Moroccan dress, especially for women, was very different, area
00:55:00to area, region to region. Where I lived, the women certainly did not
veil. They didn't have time for that kind of silliness. They wore
a remnant of a more traditional Berber costume which they did wear a
dress, a polyester dress which was pretty new, only about twenty-five
or thirty years had dresses been worn. Over the dress, they wore what
was called a tajedad which looked like a toga except it was made of
usually black net. Originally, women, I say originally, thirty years
prior, women would have only worn two tajedad, sort of like two togas
that would have covered everything that would have been covered and
then, their coats, in the winter were just wool blankets. They draped
around their shoulder and would have fastened with a particular type of
00:56:00jewelry, excuse me. When I got there, I remember wearing the polyester
dresses, usually one black net tajedad and then, pantaloons and then,
their hair, there was a distinctive style for unmarried girls and a
different style for married women so and I'm using the term girls for
any female who was unmarried and women, a female who was married and
then, so the hairstyles particular and then, a scarf would go over
that with a woven string, sort of like a woven rope that would keep
the scarf held on similar to what we're used to seeing Saudi Arabian
princes or Yasser Arafat--
WILSON: Ah huh.
CROMER: Wear to hold on the scarf. What I wore was a modification of
what the other Berber women wore. I wore a skirt or a dress. I also
00:57:00wore pantaloons. If I hadn't worn pantaloons, it would have been as
if I wasn't wearing any underwear so I wore pantaloons and I did wear a
tashdaff for a lot of reasons. One, I had felt like there were enough
cultural barriers and language barriers between the people I was trying
to talk and live with and education and myself. I didn't feel like
how I dressed needed to be another barrier for them. It wasn't a big
deal for me. Plus, the tashdaff helped keep my clothes a little less
dirty. The tashdaff could, took that first layer of dirt and protected
me a little bit more. Plus, it was handy for carrying things. There
are lots of good reasons for wearing them, a toga or tashdaff here.
I did draw the line was the scarf. I wore a scarf in the winter. It
was really cold where I lived. We had snow and snowball fights and I
00:58:00mean, it, the song that says there won't be snow in Africa is just dead
wrong. We were freezing in the winter so I did wear a scarf then but
in the summer, I just, I couldn't deal with the scarf so sometimes I
wore it and sometimes I didn't and you know, that was not a big deal
for people. They could get beyond that pretty easily.
WILSON: What did you do for recreation?
CROMER: I hung out with people and talked. I did a lot of hanging out
with people. I didn't have any privacy. There was no lock on my door.
People came and went whenever they wanted and I, the last year, I was
in the village three years and the last year, I don't ever remember
cooking dinner for myself which is pretty pathetic but I was just
always eating out at friends' houses and spending time with them even
though the village had a thousand people, we were living on top of one
00:59:00another and it was very densely populated so there were always people
in the streets right below my window talking and conversations and
activities happening and you know, there was just a lot going on that I
tried to participate in.
WILSON: Weekends, holidays, did you go to towns or cities? You mentioned
some place in terms of contact with other Peace Corps people.
CROMER: Well, I didn't differentiate between weekends and weekdays.
First of all, their, their church day, if you will, their mosque day
CROMER: So and it's just, you know, it was a, I was living there and
so there were no such things as weekends. Holidays, it depended,
01:00:00some holidays, some American holidays, I just spent in the village
and didn't worry about it but you know, if there was a party coming
up or something that, or I wanted to see some Americans, I would, I
would usually head down to Ouarzazate, the, Ourazazate, which was the
province capital which again, for me was about a five, six hour trip
from where I lived and there--
WILSON: So you had to want to do it?
CROMER: Yeah, I did. There were Peace Corps volunteers living there
and I was friends with them and would drop in on them. At that time
in Morocco, the hepatitis B shot for gamma globulin that you had to get
every three months, that, you know, when the hepatitis B shot become
a series of what? Two or three and then, you're done for ten years
totally changed the social scene of Peace Corps volunteers in Morocco
01:01:00because no longer did you have together every three months. I mean, I
had to go to the capital every three months. It was a pain. It was a
long trip. It was a fifteen hour trip for me straight and you know, it
took two days so it forced me to interact with my American friends and
I had a lot of really good friends. I wasn't anti-American. I wasn't,
there certainly were Peace Corps volunteers I knew who didn't want any
interaction with Americans and I was not like that. I just wanted to,
I wanted my primary experience there to be with Moroccans and--
WILSON: Did you, did you travel elsewhere in Morocco or out of Morocco
during your time?
CROMER: Well, Morocco was, because of its geographic and political
location, most volunteers stayed within Morocco. To the south was
01:02:00Mauritania and the Sahara desert and it was very difficult to cross
into Mauritania and to cross the Sahara. To the east was Algeria
which that border had been closed by the Moroccan king because of
the insurrection, political insurrection in Algeria so we couldn't
go east. To the north was the Straits of Gibraltar and a whole other
country so you had to leave the country to go north and of course,
west was the ocean so we were fairly locked into Morocco unless you
took vacation and left the country and made a big deal out of that
so most, most Peace Corps volunteers in Morocco stayed within Morocco
and vacationed within Morocco. It's a gorgeous country. It has very
diverse topography and climates and mountains and deserts and oceans
01:03:00and everything in between. There's plenty to see and do there and I
took advantage of that. Did a lot of traveling and I did leave after
two years, excuse me, I did travel for five weeks in West Africa with
some other friends but then, I had extended for a year so I went back
to Morocco and did travel to Italy and the United States as, I guess
when you extend, you get what? A month off so--
WILSON: So tell me about that decision to extend for a year. How did
that come about?
CROMER: Well, it was pretty easy actually. We had a training, I can't
remember if this was for my whole stage group or if it was just my
health and sanitation group but it was in the spring before I was
supposed to leave at the end of two years and everybody was talking
01:04:00about what they wanted to do and quitting, etc. and I just, all I
could think about was my next health campaign and what was happening
in the village and it was clear that I was at a really different place
mentally than they were and it was pretty obvious to me that I wasn't
ready to leave yet so I did end up extending for thirteen months.
WILSON: So you felt you had some particular projects that you wanted,
yet to accomplish or it was just going on with the same job?
CROMER: It was more going on with the same job. I just wanted to be
there longer. There were some projects that were happening that I was
excited about but it wasn't that I was finishing a particular project.
Now, as it happened, the last summer I was there, so this would have
been in'95, I was asked to be the coordinator or the head trainer for
01:05:00the health and sanitation volunteers. I was cheap labor for Peace Corps
and ran that program with another, with an assistant so I was working
stage that summer so I was out of my village for those ten weeks.
WILSON: Now, tell me something about this month of traveling in West
WILSON: Where did you go? What did you do? How did you travel and with
CROMER: I went with three other friends, American friends who, this was
their COS trip so we flew from Casablanca to Bamako in Mali and spent
maybe three weeks in Mali and had a wonderful time. I loved Mali.
Again, this was, remember, I had always, I wanted to go to sub-Saharan
01:06:00Africa so this was my first opportunity to do that and I was eating it
up so Mali was wonderful and we stayed with Peace Corps at the maison
de passage and that was easy and then, we went into Burkina Faso for
a week. My friends continued south to Ghana and I had to fly back to
Morocco so, from Bamako so I went back into Mali and ended up, we had
met a Mali Peace Corps volunteer on the flight to Bamako and she had
invited us to come to where she lived so I ended up doing that on my
own and in fact, she was at a training for her, you know, for her, I
think she was also a health/san volunteer. She was at a health/san
training so she ended up leaving me a note and the key to her house
and kind of directions on how to get to her village and whom to ask for
01:07:00so I ended up just going to some random village on my own. That was
another harrowing experience where I was acting paranoid and making a
lot of bad assumptions and had a wonderful time with sort being her for
a few days and then, went back to Bamako and flew back to Morocco.
WILSON: If you're comfortable in doing so, tell me something about, in
more detail, either that experience or the first one that you referred
to about making bad assumptions and paranoia and so forth. Sounds like
a good tale.
CROMER: Well, I think that first trip, the one from Agadir to Ourazazate,
I happened, this was the only time, save one I think but I was on a bus
by myself with the driver and the driver's assistant. There was nobody
01:08:00else on the bus and it was at night and you know, that's sort of,
and as we were going through areas where there wasn't a soul. People
didn't live in the areas where we were going so they could have pulled
the bus over and done whatever they wanted so my, just my intuition as
a woman was on high alert because of those situations that I was in.
Plus, I wasn't as comfortable culturally with the language as--
WILSON: Yeah, you were new.
CROMER: Right, I was new--
CROMER: Definitely and as I said, it was the first time I had traveled
on my own. In Mali, you know, it had taken me a lot of different
transportation routes and, or methods to get to the village. I ended
up walking into the village as night was falling and there were drums
playing and we don't have, we had drums in Morocco but they sound
different. First of all, they're designed differently and you know, my
01:09:00every racist thing you heard about African drums beating in the jungles
of cannibals and that, you know, was on high alert and I was exhausted.
I was really tired which I think also contributed. Anyway, I got
there. I got pointed in the direction of where, of this family that
I was supposed to meet. Of course, I had in my mind what am I doing?
I'm walking into a village in the middle of Mali. I know nobody there.
There are drums playing. What am I walking into?
WILSON: And language--
CROMER: Oh, I hadn't, I couldn't speak their language.
WILSON: Yeah, I was going to say Berber was probably not anything that
was going to help.
CROMER: Nor French, nothing was going to help me--
CROMER: So it wasn't like I thought I was going to get eaten or anything
but again, you're, I mean, what the heck, so I went in and got settled
in her house at the very gracious, with the gracious hospitality of
01:10:00the family that she lived with there. They were wonderful to me and
her young brother, her seventeen year old brother/friend, invited me
to go to the dance where the drums were and wouldn't that be fun? And
of course it would be fun but I was so tired, I said no thinking this
happened every night. Well, it didn't happen every night. It was a
special occasion and I missed it so of course, that's a regret but you
know, you do the best you can.
WILSON: Yeah, yeah, okay so then, you went back for the third year. And
what about that third year?
CROMER: I think it was just more of an even richer experience doing
the same kind of things that I had been doing. Obviously, I got even
more comfortable with language and by this point, excuse me, I had
some very solid friendships with the people I was living with or some
01:11:00people I was living with and in fact, I've been back twice since then,
since I left in '95 and I think the first time, I was in the country
for five weeks and was four weeks in the village where I lived. The
second time, I guess I was there six weeks and was spent like four and
half weeks in the village where I lived. Just, I just and was very
fortunate to end up with people who I really got along well with and
they were very accepting of me and very hospitable and you know, I
considered them some of my closest friends.
WILSON: Okay but then, it came to an end, right?
WILSON: Did you come straight home? Did you travel?
CROMER: I traveled. I went back to sub-Saharan Africa.
WILSON: Okay, tell me about that.
CROMER: I went to east Africa. I went to Kenya for about three weeks
and I went to Tanzania or sorry, to Uganda for a month and Tanzania
for a week with, this is with another Peace Corps volunteer for
most of that time. She was there two months and I was there three
and had a wonderful time. Just had a great time, you know, you've
probably experienced but the Peace Corps network is, I can't think of
a better traveling network of places to stay and interesting places
and interesting cultures and this was no exception so that was great.
Then, when to Europe for about a month to Britain and visited friends
from when I had lived there and they, bless their heart, had to deal
with my culture shock and you know--
WILSON: Your return--
CROMER: The initial culture shock--
WILSON: Yeah and tell me about that.
CROMER: Oh I'm sure I was a pain in the ass and certainly, my one
01:13:00friend, I did go to Italy after being in Morocco about two and half
years. That was the first time I had left the country. This was even
before the trip to ----------(??), that can't be right. I must have
gone to West Africa by that point. I thought, I remembered it was
the first time I left Morocco but that can't be right. I guess it was
the first time I left Africa in two and a half years and I met her, I
left my village on a Tuesday and I met her Friday in Milan and she was
trying to be Euro-chic and I was a bumpkin from you know, podunk Africa
fresh off the vegetable truck--
CROMER: And acted it. It was horrible. She had to deal with the
most, you know, I was haggling over taxis, you don't do that and I was
haggling over the price of oranges. You don't do that either so it
01:14:00was not a pretty picture and I don't have a lot of memories of what
my friends of Europe had to deal with regarding my culture shock. I
probably didn't go into a lot of grocery stores and was spared the more
classic tales of grocery store shock but--
WILSON: So you spent, but then, you spent the month or several weeks in
England and then, you came back to Louisville?
WILSON: And how was that?
CROMER: Wonderful. By that point, I had decided, I had sort of reached
a point in my third year where I realized, you know, I've spent three
years now trying to get to know this culture and these people, investing
of myself and then, I've got a family too. I've got my own people back
home that deserve my energy and my time so I was really ready mentally
01:15:00to go back and embrace my culture and my people here so it wasn't a
big hardship to come back. The hardest part was the adjustment to the
isolation in our society, the everybody sitting in their little box.
And the boxes next to each other and the lack of community and you
know, I had been so accustomed to all, you know, community, community,
community, all the time, never alone and I was mostly alone when I came
back from the United States. That was by far the hardest thing I had
to deal with. I still am resentful that our society is like that.
WILSON: And what did you do when you came back?
CROMER: I lived with my parents about eight months in Louisville. I
worked part time jobs about six months while I looked for a full time
01:16:00job and then, I got a full time job in June of '96 and working for
a local alderman in Louisville so I entered local politics and city
government which was really wonderful. It was more community service
and community outreach kind of activities and you know, eventually got
my own place and moved out.
WILSON: And so what are you doing now and how did you get into that?
CROMER: Now, I have a house that I bought with, but I bought it with the
intention of having a housemate or two. I do have a housemate. I'm
trying to do communalism and I live in the Highlands where I grew up
because that's a great place to live. It's very community oriented.
Not as much as Africa but better than some places. For a job, I
01:17:00worked for State Nature Preserve in Kentucky, Blackacre, and I work for
the non-profit organization that manages that preserve and I spend my
time trying to be involved in the community.
WILSON: What do you think the impact of your service was in Morocco?
CROMER: Well, I think like most Peace Corps volunteers, I think the
biggest impact was the relationships I had with people. Yes, I know
that I successfully helped women with spacing of kids. Yes, I know
that I helped with some dehydration and diarrheal diseases in infants
either through oral rehydration solution or some education or vitamins
01:18:00etc. To my pure astonishment, when I went back to visit my village the
first time, lo and behold, my friends had treated their water without
knowing I was coming. I still, that's gone back with me because I
didn't think I had been successful on that front. Minor success, very
minor so I think mostly it was the relationships and introducing people
in that area to an American or an outsider, a foreigner and what that
person might be like in their lives.
WILSON: And the impact on you?
CROMER: Hahaha, oh, much greater, hahaha, much greater I think.
WILSON: In what ways?
CROMER: Well, I think because I do have these strong relationships with
people there and I tested though relationships by going back and indeed
01:19:00was, found that it was mutual. It wasn't just on my side. There's
certainly a part of me that is always thinking about my friends in
Morocco and always thinking about being there and going back and when
am I going to go back to visit next and the lessons that I learned
there about what it's like to live without running water and without
electricity and where you grow your own food and it's a little more
self-sustaining lifestyle, a lot of important lessons there but also I
think again like most volunteers, the National Geographic photos have
named their personalities and the romanticism of how hard it is to live
without amenities like running water and electricity got blown to bit
01:20:00and questions of development of place in that kind of a picture and the
place of how do you hold on to culture and some of the wonderful songs
that are sung by people while they're hand harvesting the field. What
happens to those songs when you get a combine? Those are important
questions but suddenly, they, you know, for me, they have a lot more
meaning and depth than they had before.
WILSON: You mentioned going back and that was a question I had, sort of
related about those, about continuing contacts. Tell me something more
about how many times you've gone, who the contacts are with, that sort
CROMER: Well, let's see, I left in '95 so it's been eleven years. I've
been back twice. I'm hoping to go back this year in 2006. I don't
01:21:00keep in letter writing contact with my friends partly because they're
not a very letter writing culture partly because my closest friends are
illiterate and also because I'm lazy and it's hard to write Berber in
an Arabic alphabet and I get out of practice and I get lazy. Recently,
with the phenomenon of cell phones and even land lines ----------(??)--
[Pause in recording.]
WILSON: I think you were talking about communication changes and that
impact in terms of your relationship, continuing relationship with
folks in Morocco.
CROMER: Right, now, I do have the cell phone numbers of several friends
in Morocco. That doesn't mean I can reach them, hahaha, but there's
01:22:00the possibility of reaching them by phone now.
WILSON: That makes me think, I'm digressing a little bit but what about
communication when you were in country as a volunteer? What kind of
communication did you have with family in the United States or with
Peace Corp staff or others?
CROMER: Well, there was no email at that time. There were no Internet
cafes. There are now but there were not when I worked there or when
I lived there. It was all by post. I don't, I did get to talk on
the phone, by phone to the United States when I went to the capital
and sometimes when I was in the province capital in ----------(??) but
most, I mean, it was overwhelmingly by letter.
WILSON: Okay, so any other since you've come back, you talked about
01:23:00going back to Morocco twice and anticipating a third trip, any other
kind of international travel or international interest particularly?
CROMER: Well, I have been back to Britain a couple of times since
then and my sister recently moved to London so I'm hoping to go back
not to London but maybe to Sweden and meet my sister there and visit
the Swedish exchange student who lived with us. I've been to Mexico
briefly and duh, where else have I been? Hahaha, oh--
WILSON: It's alright
CROMER: I'm totally blanking. Anyway, oh, I was going to say that next
year, I recently had two friends who joined the Peace Corp and are in
Paraguay and I would like to go visit them next year so I strive to do
01:24:00an international trip every year but it doesn't always work out.
WILSON: What has the impact of the Peace Corp experience been on your
family would you say?
CROMER: Well, it's definitely opened up a world for them as well. They,
my parents came to visit me with my aunt. They were there for two
WILSON: Two weeks?
CROMER: Yeah, two weeks and went to the village and met my friends
so have this experience of seeing where I was living and meeting the
people I had written about and both of my parents have you know, they
pay a lot more attention now to Morocco when it's in the news or the
people they might meet or the foods and the culture and they enjoy
01:25:00it probably as much as I do. My sister also came to visit when I was
living there and then, she went back with me the second time and we
traveled around for a week together or when I went back to visit in '99
so I think my family has been very supportive of my experience there
and also the relationships I've formed there.
WILSON: Did the Peace Corp experience have any impact on your career
CROMER: Only is as much as what little I considered working
internationally centered around reforestation efforts because I saw
such deforestation happening in the area where I lived. People cooked
using firewood and as population levels rose, they were deforesting
at rates that were not sustainable so I certainly considered that. I
01:26:00thought about Fulbright, examining the plant life in cemeteries in the
area where I lived. Cemeteries were the only places which goats and
sheep were not allowed to graze so the plants were protected there so
I think someone should look at that, the diversity that is there and
the species but you know, I purposely avoided a health career when I
came back to the United States. That's not the path that I wanted.
That was more a means to an end for me in the Peace Corp than it was
a career goal but I think the community work and the community outreach
that I started in Appalachia and continued in the Peace Corp has been
of meaning and careers that I've had.
WILSON: Have you done any more academic study since--?
CROMER: Since the Peace Corp?
WILSON: Mm hmm
CROMER: Yes, I went to graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin and got a
Master's degree in Forestry and Land Resource Management.
WILSON: Okay and when was that?
CROMER: I graduated in 2003.
WILSON: Okay and then, so you came back and took this job with Blackacre?
WILSON: Okay, okay--
[Tape one, side b ends; tape two, side a begins.]
WILSON: Tape two of Peace Corp Oral History interview with Carolyn
Cromer, February 2nd, 2006. Let's see Carolyn, I think what you were,
you had said something about completing some graduate work and what
I was about to ask you next was what do you think the impact of your
01:28:00Peace Corp service has been on the way you think about the world?
CROMER: Hmm, well, I think it's a lot easier now for me to put myself in
the place of the other, the other people, you know, I always, we always
generalize about everything and populations and it's usually from the
perspective of an American but Americans are some of the wealthiest
two percent of the people on earth and our perception is skewed because
of that and so in the back of my mind, whatever issues come up, I'm
always thinking well but there are these other people that live this
other way and so I just have much more of an awareness or consciousness
01:29:00of that than people who haven't had that kind of experience or haven't
lived in those conditions or with those kinds of populations. I
became a lot more sensitive to development work. Most development
work I've seen was not successful, development projects, money that
was thrown at UNICEP projects or USAID projects that were not, were not
designed sustainable, weren't designed with, in conjunction with local
populations or there was corruption involved and money taken so that
the project wasn't done the way it was supposed to be done and therefore
was not sustainable so I became a bit cynical about development work
in general and more an advocate of helping people help themselves
than doing it for them. I have, you know, I have serious concerns
01:30:00about certain programs, certain Peace Corp programs in countries like
Morocco. Are we taking jobs away from our host country nationals?
I'm concerned that we are. However, I understand that Peace Corp is a
political tool for our country and I think there are good reasons for
that as well so I guess I think that may answer the question.
WILSON: Well, yeah and that leads me into another question. What do you
think the overall impact of Peace Corp has been and the second part of
that question is or the follow on then is what do you think the role of
Peace Corp ought to be today and into the future?
CROMER: That's tough. Well, I don't know. I would want to see some
01:31:00data about projects completed, schools built, students taught, you
know? I'm sure that Peace Corp volunteers over the last almost forty
years now have had, or maybe it has been forty--
CROMER: I guess it's been forty-five, wow, has had a huge impact on a
lot of people's lives, touched a lot of individuals, enabled them to do
things they couldn't have otherwise. Probably a lot through education.
I hope we've done more good than damage. I definitely think that the
relationships that have been built are valuable and I think and I guess
would be overwhelmingly positive and I think that that should continue
to be a major goal of the Peace Corp. You know, I know that Peace
01:32:00Corp, especially once the Cold War ended, small business skills were
one of the major things that were taught or would help to be developed
in eastern Europe, etc. I think that's great. I also though think
that the Peace Corp should continue to be under the state department,
not under the military or any other department and that it should be
as separate as possible from the rest of the government, one, so that
we avoid questions of suspicion and questions of affiliation with the
CIA that always seem to come up and also, because I think there needs
to be continual auditing and self-reflection of what our goal is with
the Peace Corp. Whom are we serving? Is it, are we serving our need
to develop more markets internationally? You know, capitalist markets
or are we, is it political? Are we trying to develop stronger political
01:33:00ties with countries or are we really trying to feed and house and
educate people and help others do that better so you know and I question
agriculture programs that Peace Corp is involved in where we're trying
to push for ways of doing agriculture that are not sustainable in the
conditions there happening with seeds that you can't, you know, that
are genetically modified and maybe you can't get seed from them the
next year. I just think those kind of questions need to be vigilantly
asked, continually asked. I think it would be a shame if Peace Corp
simply became a tool for some of the shadier sides of democracy rather
01:34:00than some of the best sides of democracy and our country's goals.
WILSON: Okay, let me again backtrack just briefly. Why did you decide
to come back and work in Kentucky?
CROMER: Primarily for the reason I said of one I wanted to spend time
with my family, excuse me. Two, I thought about going to D.C. or San
Francisco, some place that I was going to be surrounded by a lot more
people who thought a lot more like me than probably here in Kentucky
but I felt like I was ready for the good fight and I wanted to come
and make Kentucky more of what I wanted it to be and I thought, think
it has the potential to be so I beat my head against a wall for five
years and then, left for to a much more liberal place to get, ha, re-
01:35:00energized and now I'm back, hahaha.
WILSON: Fighting the good fight
CROMER: Fighting the good fight again hopefully.
WILSON: Given your discussion and your graduate work and what you're
doing now and so forth, do you see yourself staying and working in
Kentucky or do you ever see yourself ever going back overseas to work?
CROMER: I don't see myself leaving Kentucky unless some sort of
overwhelming personal or career, something, opportunity would take me
away. I don't know if I ever would work overseas. I think more of a
chance, more, I can more see myself choosing to live overseas where my
01:36:00focus is on embracing another culture. I'd love to learn Spanish. I'd
love to go to South America and live in a South American country. I
would consider doing the Peace Corp again. I think the Peace Corp is a
great deal and I think they do probably a better job than anyone I know
at being sensitive to culture and sensitive to language and teaching
the people they're sending out under their name, under their umbrella.
I do believe in that part of Peace Corp so anyway, yes, I could see
myself living in another country again.
WILSON: Okay, that's all of the sort of structured questions I have. My
last question is so what questions didn't I ask you that you would like
to answer or do you have just a miscellaneous story or two about your
01:37:00experiences that you'd like to share?
CROMER: Well, I think, I think I was in, no, I can't think of any
particular questions. I think that I was in, in one of those places,
like a lot of places in the world where I really felt like I had gone
back in time and coming from Appalachia especially. In Appalachia, I
was living with people who were talking about what it was like within
their memory where there were roads and people would travel by mule and
people lived sustainable, grew their own food and I was, at the time,
that was so hard to imagine. I would think wow, I wonder what that was
like? And then, a few weeks later, I was living it, hahaha--
CROMER: And that's, you know, that's a pretty incredible experience
for someone who's grown up with the amenities that I have and the
opportunities that I have to find one's self in the Middle Ages which
is pretty much for all intensive purposes what it was like, traveling
minstrels and all and what an incredible opportunity and in many ways,
what a wonderful life, what a difficult life but what a wonderful life
too. I wish if there were some way to make my friend's lives a little
bit easier on a few different levels so that they weren't killing
their bodies with labor and providing them good health care or access
to good health care. I would say they have in many ways a much richer
life than most Americans do and that's not even romanticized. That's,
01:39:00I really believe that in terms of community and relationships and
support for the least of those in those communities and the mentally
ill in those communities. You know, a lot of it is just small town,
small down dynamics but I think a lot of its Africa and just how in
Africa, there's so much less focus on the individual and so much more
focus on family and community and I think it's a better way to live
than a lot of what our society stresses in terms of independent spirit
and individualism so it's been wonderful to experience both of those
dynamics and yeah, and what a beautiful place.
WILSON: Do you have any examples that come to mind about the sort of
01:40:00richness of that life?
CROMER: Well, specifically, you know, in every village in the area
where I lived, there were old ladies who were either never married or
they had been married and weren't able to have kids and were widowed
and who was going to take care of them? Well, the village took care
of them. The village fed them and clothed them and provided blankets
for them and they weren't wealthy but they were okay and that doesn't
always happen in our society here. An old person here could sit in
their house and rot in some places and no one would know about it for
a while in some cases. That's very sad. That doesn't speak well of
how we've structured our society. Another example, and again, I think
01:41:00a lot of this is more small time dynamics than you know, village in
Morocco but one of my friend's brothers was mentally ill. I think he
may have had schizophrenia and he took medication but when he was off
his medication, it was scary. He did things, he could hurt people but
because everybody knew who he was and everyone in the village knew him,
yes, they were afraid of the ----------(??) he had but at least, they
weren't going to hurt him because of it. They were going to try to
help him because of it. He was in a nurturing community and I think
I heard a story well, I mean, in this country, what happens to people
with schizophrenia? Well, a lot of times, they end up on the streets.
They end up homeless if they're not in a situation where there is
someone care taking them or depending on the choices they make for
01:42:00themselves and again, I, you know, it's so easy to be anonymous here.
It's so hard to be anonymous in Africa and I'm generalizing continent
wide based on my own experience but also based on what I've heard from
people who have lived in many different counties in Africa including
Africans as well so I, those are just a couple of examples that come
WILSON: Okay, anything else you'd care to share?
WILSON: Okay, thank you for your time.
CROMER: Thanks Jack.
[End of interview.]