Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Ken Wilson, October 4, 2007

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Growing up / Beginning of his time in Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: --is October 4th, 2007 and I am Angene Wilson and I am, uh, interviewing, uh, a return Peace Corps volunteer, Ken Wilson.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts. His dad was in the Air Force and they traveled a lot domestically. Wilson always wanted to travel and he heard his school friends discuss traveling and he felt envious. He graduated from high school in Texas. He got a track scholarship to college and majored in journalism for a year before family problems occurred prevented him from completing his studies there. He describes his struggles through the rest of college and ended up graduating with a degree in social work. He describes the process of applying for Peace Corps, stating that he wanted to go to Africa. He was offered time in Malawi. He mentioned to Peace Corps that he had a bad back but they focused on the fact that he might be infertile. He went to Washington, D.C. for three days for Peace Corps. He was chosen for child health. He describes his trip to Africa.

Keywords: Bad backs; Child health

Subjects: Air travel.; Amsterdam (Netherlands); Children--Health and hygiene.; Education, Higher.; Flight.; Holyoke (Mass.); Malawi.; Maternal health services.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.). Africa Region; Social work & counselling; South Africa.; Texas.; Travel.; Undergraduate; United States. Air Force.; Washington (D.C.)

GPS: Malawi
Map Coordinates: -13.5, 34
GPS: Holyoke (Mass.)
Map Coordinates: 42.204167, -72.616667
GPS: Texas
Map Coordinates: 31, -100
GPS: Washington (D.C.)
Map Coordinates: 38.904722, -77.016389
GPS: Amsterdam (Netherlands)
Map Coordinates: 52.366667, 4.9
GPS: South Africa
Map Coordinates: -30, 25
00:13:51 - Training in Malawi / Peritonitis

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Partial Transcript: And, what happened next?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson describes his first impression of Africa. He had been told he should always have water, toilet paper, a camera, and a book and he immediately tried to go to the bathroom and didn't have toilet paper. The tourists got a modern bus and the Peace Corps volunteers used the local transportation. They arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi and the next eleven weeks involved training on cultural diversity and language. His group learned Chitumbuka and the rest learned Chichewa language. He also got taught about the more laid back approach to time. They were taught about the modesty of the culture, derived from the Protestant Christian missionaries, as well as how to handle toilet paper and how to handle social interactions. He describes how he and the villagers dealt with his vegetarian diet. He was sent to the remote village of Mpherembe; he would go to Mzuzu for provisions. His house in the village was the nicest house. He developed appendix issues. His Malawin supervisor coincidentally had a scheduled appointment to see him that day and took him to the next town to contact Peace Corps and then took him to South Africa. He went to the operating room in Johannesburg and had his appendix removed.

Keywords: "Africa time"; Chichewa (Language); Chitumbuka (Language); Cultural diversity; Ekwendeni (Malawi); Mpherembe (Malawi)

Subjects: Appendectomy; Appendicitis.; Appendix (Anatomy)--Diseases; Books.; Cameras.; Chewa dialect; Christianity.; Cultural pluralism.; Johannesburg (South Africa); Language learning and language teaching; Lilongwe (Malawi); Malawi.; Missionaries.; Modesty; Mzuzu (Malawi); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.). Africa Region; Peritonitis; Protestantism.; South Africa.; Surgery.; Toilet paper; Training.; Tumbuka language; Vegetarianism.; Water.

GPS: Mpherembe (Malawi)
Map Coordinates: -11.2866234, 33.612602
GPS: Ekwendeni (Malawi)
Map Coordinates: -11.366667, 33.883333
GPS: Lilongwe (Malawi)
Map Coordinates: -13.983333, 33.783333
GPS: Mzuzu (Malawi)
Map Coordinates: -11.45807, 34.015131
GPS: Johannesburg (South Africa)
Map Coordinates: -26.204444, 28.045556
GPS: South Africa
Map Coordinates: -30, 25
GPS: Malawi
Map Coordinates: -13.5, 34
00:32:39 - Life in Bwengu, Malawi

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Partial Transcript: So they said, they did say, okay, you can, you, you can move and, uh, one of my health--one of us--one, one of the six tumbukas she did not want to be a health worker at all, she wanted to be a teacher.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson moved villages to be closer to the main road and replaced another worker in Bwengu. Peace Corps told him to take it easy because he had just had major surgery. He thought this village was a better match for him because he had felt uncomfortable in his former village because of the rampant alcoholism. The villagers drank a beer called chibuku and often came to work drunk. In Bwengu, he had a three room house that the ministry of health had built for the health workers. A typical day followed the cycle of the sun. He woke up to the noises of the villagers working. When he didn't get to work on time, the other employees didn't know what to do. He mentions that the women never gained weight when pregnant and he would try and tell them to gain weight and not work as hard. He would go home for two hours for lunch. When he got home, he would take an ice cold bucket bath. His favorite time of day was watching the sun go down. His recreation included traveling to see a friend who taught him how to quilt. He started off doing an applique on a ten by ten square and got hooked on quilting.

Keywords: Bwengu (Malawi); Chibuku; Chibuku beer; Hand quilting

Subjects: Alcoholism.; Appendectomy; Applique.; Art and recreation; Bathing customs; Beer.; Friendship.; Hobbies.; Interpersonal relations; Leanness.; Leisure.; Malawi.; Maternal health services.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.). Africa Region; Pregnancy.; Quilting.; Quilts.; Recreation.; Surgery.; Travel.; Weight gain.

GPS: Bwengu (Malawi)
Map Coordinates: -11.0632788, 33.9135518
GPS: Malawi
Map Coordinates: -13.5, 34
00:45:13 - Illness / Social interactions

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Partial Transcript: Well, where d--so where else did you travel in Malawi?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson discusses his illnesses. Because of his appendectomy, his immune system was compromised. A month after his surgery, he ate something contaminated and lost his vision for two hours; his friend also got sick. For the next eight months, he was sick with everything, including dengue fever, dysentery, migraines, and passing out. He finally went to South Africa and had various tests done over a month and they discovered he had a parasite that had given him toxemia. He lost a lot of weight and was medically separated from the Peace Corps. He had stayed in Africa for 16 months. He proceeds to describe some of the people he interacted with. He discusses his African counterpart, who was upset that he only had female children. The midwives worked at all hours. Wilson had been told to hire someone to help the local economy and accidentally hired "the village drunk." He describes his medical coworkers. He wrote to his village after he left but never got a reply back.

Keywords: Co-workers; Coworkers; Dengue fever; Fainting; Migraines; Passing out

Subjects: Alcoholism.; Appendectomy; Blindness.; Dengue; Diseases.; Dysentery.; Food poisoning.; Friendship.; Immune system.; Intergroup relations.; Interpersonal relations.; Malawi.; Microbial contamination; Midwives; Migraine.; Parasites.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.). Africa Region; Social interaction.; South Africa.; Syncope (Pathology); Weight loss.

GPS: South Africa
Map Coordinates: -30, 25
GPS: Malawi
Map Coordinates: -13.5, 34
00:57:06 - Life after Peace Corps / Impact of Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Straight from Peace Corps, I moved to Kentucky and then, uh, went to grad school and in 2004 I graduated in August 2004 from UK.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2004 with a master's degree in social work and then went to London, England for two years at a hospital as a social worker. He went to see his friend in Zambia and hitchhiked to Malawi. Some of the people he knew had died and his village thought he had gone to America and died. He doesn't know what his impact on Malawi was, but he knows Peace Corps has a reputation for developing self-sufficiency. The impact on him was a change in viewpoint from saving the world to saving individual people. He also taught the locals how to make tortillas for fresh bread. He states his experience was life changing. He returned to Kentucky in 2006 and worked at UK in the infectious disease section as a care coordinator working with clients with HIV/AIDS, and at the time of the interview he worked in hospice care. Peace Corps helped him in his career. He concludes with a story about getting to witness a childbirth and being very excited.

Keywords: Crisis corps; Cultural diversity; HIV/AIDS; Journaling; London (England); Master's degree in social work; Master's in social work

Subjects: AIDS (Disease); Childbirth.; Cultural awareness.; Cultural pluralism.; Death.; Diaries--Authorship.; Education, Higher.; England; Hitchhiking; Interpersonal relations.; London (England); Malawi.; Midwives; Multiculturalism.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.). Africa Region; Self-sufficiency; Social work & counselling; Tortillas.; Travel.; University of Kentucky; Zambia

GPS: London (England)
Map Coordinates: 51.507222, -0.1275
GPS: University of Kentucky
Map Coordinates: 38.033333, -84.5
GPS: Zambia
Map Coordinates: -15, 30
GPS: Malawi
Map Coordinates: -13.5, 34