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.)
Map Coordinates: -13.5, 34
GPS: Holyoke (Mass.)
Map Coordinates: 42.204167, -72.616667
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
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.
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
Map Coordinates: -13.5, 34
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.
Map Coordinates: -11.0632788, 33.9135518
Map Coordinates: -13.5, 34
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.
Map Coordinates: -30, 25
Map Coordinates: -13.5, 34
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
Map Coordinates: 51.507222, -0.1275
GPS: University of Kentucky
Map Coordinates: 38.033333, -84.5
Map Coordinates: -15, 30
Map Coordinates: -13.5, 34
J. WILSON: The new recorder.
A. WILSON: --is October 4, 2007. And I am Angene Wilson. And I aminterviewing a returned Peace Corps volunteer, Ken--
J. WILSON: Wilson.
A. WILSON: Wilson. How could I forget that? Ken Wilson tonight for thePeace Corps Oral History Project. So Ken, what is your full name?
K. WILSON: It's Kenneth Edward Wilson.
A. WILSON: Kenneth Edward Wilson. And where and when were you born?
K. WILSON: I was born on June 27, 1964 in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
A. WILSON: Okay. And can you tell me something about your family andgrowing up? And whether there was anything in your growing up that relates to joining the Peace Corps?
K. WILSON: My dad was air force, so we traveled a lot domestically. Mywhole family wanted to go abroad during some station, but each time that my dad would get orders to go to Europe or something, my mom was too far along in her pregnancy for them to move us. So the farthest 00:01:00we got was Canada. But my two older siblings, I'm the one that always wanted to travel. And I guess I got that from my mom, who always wanted to travel herself. And I just remember always wanting to see the world and thinking that the little air force base, whichever one we were always at, in the Midwest, or on the east coast, there had to be something more out there that I needed to see.
A. WILSON: And did you talk to your dad when he came back from beingoverseas? Or were there other, were there kids or families on the air force bases who had traveled? So was that part of it, too?
K. WILSON: In growing up on a base, we all went to the same littlecommunity school, air force school. So all my peers were all, of course, naturally, air force kids, who had traveled all over the world. And here I wanted to travel, and we were just going to places like Oklahoma City and Tampa, Florida. So I'd hear about where they had been. Germany was the big place. Germany and England. And I missed 00:02:00being born in England by just, because my mom was pregnant with my middle brother. And had she just been a few months less pregnant, than they would have went to England. And they were there for four years, and I would have been born in England. But instead, they got sent to Massachusetts domestically. But I always wanted to travel. And I'd hear my school friends all talk about, "Oh, we were in Saudi Arabia. We were over here." I was like oh, we were in Oklahoma City. (laughs)
A. WILSON: But did your dad sometimes bring back things or talk abouthis--
K. WILSON: He wasn't much of a traveler. He loved the military, becauseit got him out of his small town in South Carolina. But--
A. WILSON: But he didn't get to go, either. None of your family--
K. WILSON: No, no, no. Japan was the farthest he went. That was beforehe even met my mom and married her. But he was kind of scared to travel. So he was, you know, he wasn't the adventurer that I wanted to be. So, yeah.
A. WILSON: So where did you graduate from high school?00:03:00
K. WILSON: Hershey High School in Wichita Falls, Texas.
A. WILSON: Oh, okay. And then what after that?
K. WILSON: I got a track scholarship to Angelo State University, and wentinto this little town called San Angelo, West Texas. And I was there a year. And I was a journalism major. I wanted to be a travel writer and travel the world that way. And then some family things happened, and so I had to come back to Wichita Falls. And wasn't able to go back to San Angelo. So I enrolled in a Midwestern state university there in Wichita Falls. And just through the course of college work, they wanted me to be a newspaper reporter, not a travel writer or whatever else. Anything else besides that. And I got so disillusioned by just the way they were trying to turn me into a newspaper man that I just changed majors. And four majors later, and several years later--
A. WILSON: And so what were these four majors in between?
K. WILSON: I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist. But my science00:04:00and math background wasn't very good. But I wanted to save the whales. Which would have been an adventure in itself.
A. WILSON: Sure.
K. WILSON: Then I decided I wanted to get into advertising. Then Ithought I'd be a private investigator. So that's criminal justice. And then I took a couple of years off, because I was self supporting the entire time. So I could only take like one class a semester, so it was taking me forever. And then just through some friends who went to drug rehab back in the '80s, and seeing what the whole social service, meeting social workers for the first time, involved in their life, helping them in recovery, I found out about social work and I thought, hmm. And I ended up going back to the university, majoring in social work, loved it. And that turned out to be my ticket to travel around the world.
A. WILSON: And so you graduated with a degree in social work.
K. WILSON: With a bachelor's of social work.
A. WILSON: In what year?
K. WILSON: 1995. I started my college career in the fall of '82, and I00:05:00graduated in June of '95.
A. WILSON: So you had a lot of interesting jobs in between?
K. WILSON: Um, struggling jobs in Wichita Falls. The pay wasn't verygood, so I was making basically minimum wage jobs. And because I didn't have a degree, it was hard to find a well paying job. And I was living on my own. And then also leaving the very protected environment of my family to suddenly being on my own in the world, it led me to different experiences that I'd never been around. So those were rather distracting times. Hard knocks, but I learned a lot. And got refocused later on in the early '90s. Got back into social work college full time with grants, because I had to find a way to pay for it.
A. WILSON: So then did you go into Peace Corps right after graduation?
K. WILSON: No. I had tried to go to Peace Corps in San Angelo, myfreshman year in 1980, fall of '82. I saw a little poster saying 00:06:00"toughest job you'll ever love." I thought oh my god, Peace Corps' exactly what I want to do. And I'd been thinking about it since I was fourteen. So I tore the little postcard off, and I filled it out, and I mailed it off, and received a reply about two weeks later saying, "Thank you very much, but most of our Peace Corps volunteers are college graduates. Call us in three years." My three years turned out to be thirteen. So as soon as I graduated in 1995, I wanted to do Peace Corps. For getting through college finally getting a degree, finally being a qualified social worker and reward myself, I got braces for a year. So I couldn't go to Peace Corps until I got braces off. So a year after graduating, I applied to Peace Corps and it was about a year, well, a year process, so I left in April of '97 to Peace Corps.
A. WILSON: Okay. And did you ask for a particular country or part ofthe world?
K. WILSON: I wanted to go to Africa. As a child watching National00:07:00Geographic specials and just seeing the bush of Africa and just that expansive sky. And watching, seeing the bush, and seeing people who hadn't really been affected, in my world, by what we was call modern day technology. I just thought, what a peaceful way of life. I wanted to experience that. But I wanted to experience it by living in that environment, not go and take pictures in two weeks and go back home. So my first choice was Africa. My second choice was Papua New Guinea, because it sounded exotic and it would be near water. I never got to ever live near water. And then I wanted to go to Eastern Europe, because it sounded so exciting, you know, post communist and everything.
A. WILSON: So lots of possibilities. And so was Malawi the first thingthat you were offered?
K. WILSON: It was. I'd been told in my general application process, inthe interview, that you didn't have to take the first thing you were offered, but if you didn't, then they'd put you back on the bottom 00:08:00of the list, and you may never get offered something. And I was desperate, wanting to get in the Peace Corps, and to get out of Wichita Falls. So I didn't really care where I went, even though they were talking about Latin America at first. I would have went, but I wanted to see Africa. And thankfully that's what they offered me right off the bat. And I had no idea where Malawi was.
A. WILSON: When they told you.
K. WILSON: At first I thought Maui? Hawaii? (laughs) They're going tosend me to Hawaii? So I found an encyclopedia, found Malawi. And then when I told I'm going to Malawi, they had no idea, same reaction I had. But it soon became my second home.
A. WILSON: So the time that elapsed between applying and going was?
K. WILSON: Almost exactly a year. I applied in March of '96, and I leftApril ninth of '97.
A. WILSON: And what was the application process like?
K. WILSON: Rather grueling. I didn't have a computer, and didn't know00:09:00anyone with a computer back then, so I used a typewriter, which I'd had through undergrad, to type my application. And I wanted it so desperately. I felt like I was campaigning for president. I wrote so many personal statements, and told my whole life story and, you know, how my life experiences, and working my way through thirteen years to finally get a degree, just how much that had taught me. And it was really hard. The medical part seemed really difficult. I was very honest in my medical application. And I told them that my back wasn't very good, and I'd been to a chiropractor before thinking this is it right here, it's the ruin. They never mentioned at all. Of all the medical things, they never mentioned my back. But they through one of my medical exams, they, it was suggested by a doctor that I might be infertile. So that's what Peace Corps wanted to know, to make sure that I understood that I might be infertile, and that once I got on the 00:10:00government's payroll, as they called it, I wouldn't want it reversed. So I needed to acknowledge that yes, I know I may be infertile right now and I won't claim for the government to fix me afterwards. But they didn't care about my back. And the first thing I did, within a month of being in my village, was pull my back out by drawing water at the borehole. But I made it. (laughs)
A. WILSON: Oh, dear. So what was staging like? Where did you--
K. WILSON: We went to Washington, DC.
A. WILSON: Washington, DC.
K. WILSON: For three days. And I remember I'd moved right before, I'dleft Wichita Falls and moved to Austin, Texas. Plan B, in case Peace Corps didn't call me. So I was there, living with a friend who was in her final year of university there, at UT. So I left on a rainy, cold April day. I was scared to death, but absolutely, I was terrified, but also just euphoric on my whole adventure. And I got to Washington and took a cab to the hotel and I was so excited. But instantly 00:11:00intimidated by the whole thing. I'd never had a passport before. And just walking, I'd never been to Washington, DC before. And it was just amazing. I kept thinking, Charlie Brown's going to the Peace Corps. Just amazing. They'll never believe this.
A. WILSON: How many people were in your group?
K. WILSON: Including me there were thirty.
A. WILSON: And this group was--
K. WILSON: All health.
A. WILSON: All health.
K. WILSON: All health, and there were six, I think six environmentalworkers. And everyone else was health.
A. WILSON: And was this project, health project, related to AIDS?
K. WILSON: Of the health workers, half were going to be HIV/AIDSeducators, and the other half were going to be child health educators.
A. WILSON: Which were you?
K. WILSON: I was, even though all my experience was in HIV, just throughvolunteering and that kind of stuff, I was chosen for child health. So I said sure, whatever. But they kind of told me it was kind of create your own job anyways, depending on, when you get there. So I 00:12:00was initially going to go and teach women who were expecting children or had a child that was five years or younger.
A. WILSON: So the thirty of you flew off to--
K. WILSON: On a Sunday we flew from Washington, DC, on a Sunday night,Saturday night. Saturday night. We flew to Amsterdam. We had a twelve-hour layover and I was so excited that I, I'd never flown, you know, trans-Atlantic before. I had no idea what I was doing. But I was so excited I talked to the girl next to me the entire way, didn't sleep. And we landed, and as soon as we landed it was like six AM in Amsterdam. And suddenly I was exhausted. So everyone's bounding off the plane, all going to go into town, into Amsterdam and see everything for our big layover. And I was in a coma. I was so exhausted. But I went. I don't remember hardly anything except the Van Gogh Museum. But that was, and then I came back to the airport and slept a little 00:13:00bit. Then we left from Amsterdam and went overnight on eleven-hour flight to Johannesburg. And Johannesburg to Malawi.
A. WILSON: To Blantyre or to Lilongwe?
K. WILSON: We were supposed to go to Lilongwe, but there was a civilservice, or civil union, civil service strike the day, the hour that we were supposed to be arriving. So mid-flight we get an announcement from our pilot that there was a strike, which meant that the emergency vehicles could not be at the airport, so we were having to be diverted to Blantyre. And of course that freaked everybody out, because we didn't know, because everyone was expecting us. You know, the Peace Corps volunteers already in country, the country director, all with their big signs waiting for us in Lilongwe. We didn't show up there. We were five hours away in Blantyre.
A. WILSON: And what happened next?
K. WILSON: Well, we landed. And I thought my God, I'm in Africa!I'm actually in Africa! And there was this little tiny ramshackle corrugated metal hangar, and that was the airport. It was amazing. 00:14:00And just, you know, just trees, bamboo, not bamboo, the big palm trees. Banana trees everywhere. And I thought, I'm in Africa. And it was a million degrees. We walked off the plane and I thought we must be a mile from the sun. (laughs) And we waited in line. And that's when we discovered the, I think it was an African tradition, but the Malawi tradition, definitely, of stamping everything a million times. Our passports were stamped until I'm sure they were bruised. (laughs) A million times for us to get in the country. And we got in, and we'd always been told that we should always have water, toilet paper, a camera and a book with us. And as soon as we get in the country, I was dying to go to the bathroom. So I found the closest one I could find, which was outdoor. No toilet paper. I thought oh, step one, I've already failed. I don't have toilet paper. 00:15:00
A. WILSON: You didn't have toilet paper. (laughs)
K. WILSON: But we waited two hours for a bus. And all the tourists, orwhoever, the people who were not Peace Corps that was on our flight, they all got a bus immediately. Real fancy, air conditioned bus. And they were whisked off. And we were told stay, because we had a different bus coming. And about two hours later, this coughing, exploding diesel engine with black smoke everywhere, this big, giant metal thing lurching down the street showed up for us. And it said, on the side was painted an advertisement for something called tomato oil, which I guess was maybe ketchup in Malawi. And I thought, my God, we're going to die. (laughs) So we all loaded up on that. And five hours later, but we were thrilled, especially when we saw the first Malawian lady with a pot on her head walking down the road, we, the whole, all thirty of us cheered. And then we saw our first hut and it was like little children spotting things, like, "Oh my God, there's a 00:16:00mud hut! Oh my God, there's a village! And Oh my God, that little kid!" Cameras flashing. I think our driver was probably just thinking we were insane.
A. WILSON: And then you got to Lilongwe.
K. WILSON: We got to Lilongwe about midnight. Of course by then, allthe thrill of our arrival had died down by our awaiting party, and they were just like, "Okay, welcome to Malawi. Go to your room. Eat something. And we'll see you tomorrow." And the next day we were carted to something called the NRC, which stands for National Resource Center, I think. And that's where we'd be in training for like the next eleven weeks.
A. WILSON: And what was training like? What did it consist of?
K. WILSON: It was, our group was a new, it was a new method they weretrying. And the whole thing was all based about cultural diversity and language. And for eleven weeks, basically, all we talked about was cultural diversity, about getting along with each other as Americans, and accepting each other. But also accepting the Malawian culture, 00:17:00explain everything, and language. Language, language, language.
A. WILSON: So did they teach you different languages depending on whereyou were going? Or you learned Chichewa?
K. WILSON: It was decided by, I guess the organizers, that six of uswould be going up north and speaking something called Chitumbuka. And the rest of us, the rest of the group would be learning Chichewa, which is a national language. And I was picked to be in the group of six. So it was five women and myself. We were all health volunteers, no environmental people were picked. So we were immediately, the first full day in Malawi, were sequestered and separated from everyone else to learn a different language. So we were known as the Tumbukas. And we couldn't speak to anyone else, because we would confuse them. They were learning Chichewa. So it was kind of weird, because suddenly we were almost ostracized from the rest of the group. But yet we bonded, it made us bond, because we were sticking together. And it was amazing. 00:18:00I was horrible at languages. Horrible. I'd learned German in high school, and immediately just took to it like a second language. But English is a Germanic language. Tumbuka is a Bantu language. And I'd, of course, had never heard of it in my life. And it was very, very different. And of my five peers, a fifty year old woman named Linda Tucker, who is now still my dearest friend in life, she was as bad as I am in language. So we struggled together, but we also had each other's support. Like, we're horrible, but we had life experience compared to these young kids who are picking this language up so fast and are fresh out of college. So we had other talents, we kept telling each other.
A. WILSON: What about the cultural part of the training? What kinds ofthings did they teach you about Malawi?
K. WILSON: About Malawi and Malawi time, which is Africa time.
A. WILSON: Right.
K. WILSON: Because Americans, we are all productive driven, you know,time, time, time. You work eight to five, you do this. Whereas 00:19:00Malawi, it's a different way of thinking, and really no one, once I got to my village later on, no one had a watch except me. And you may make a, they were preparing us for you may make a meeting time with village chief, and you may be the only one there because everyone else had something else that became more important. And that was very hard for us to understand. And later on, I saw it every day. But you would organize a village chief meeting. And you'd show up for maybe two weeks in a row and no one would be there but you because, "Well, it's time to do our planting." Or, "I'm sorry, someone came by for tea." Or someone came by and offered them tea. And at least in Malawi, if you were on your way out the door and someone showed up, you forgot why you were leaving. You immediately became a host and offered that person tea and sat down with them and visited because that was so highly valued. And for Americans like myself and our group, we were like what, but, but, but-- So it was very hard. It became quite refreshing 00:20:00afterwards, like wow, they value people, not--
A. WILSON: Not time.
K. WILSON: Not time.
A. WILSON: Can you thin of other examples of cultural things that theywere good at preparing you for?
K. WILSON: Modesty. Modesty. Because a lot of, I'd come from a veryconservative family. But in our group of thirty, we're all mix of people. And a lot of them were younger. Our youngest person was twenty-two. Our oldest person was sixty. So in different ways, our own different culture. But they were talking about how Malawi had been basically Christianized and colonized by the British, and by Protestants. And so shorts were not worn. And women always wore skirts or dresses. And they had something called a chitenje, which is like a sarong. It's two meters of cloth. And women, even if you wore pants, trousers, you still had, a female still had to put a chitenje around her waist to cover any sight of her thighs. So in a way I was 00:21:00kind of jealous that the women automatically got something cultural to do, cultural dress. And the men dressed in khakis and a shirt, just like British men or Americans would do. And I thought well, I don't get anything, I don't get anything indigenous to wear at all.
A. WILSON: (laughs) No chitenje
K. WILSON: I was kind of mad. But we were told about that. And someof our group, they were very health oriented, and wanted to go jogging. And they had to give us a lesson about you do not go, well first of all, Malawians didn't understand jogging. You work all day. Why on earth would you want to go exercise more? But you would, a female would not wear a tank top or shorts, because they'd be scandalous. And out of respect to your community, you would not do that. And then, toileting. Because toilet paper is not so widely available. And you know, it's expensive. And if you're in a rural village, you need to put food on the table, not worry about going to town and getting recycled toilet paper. So we were told about how that was handled in 00:22:00the bush. And about, if someone invites you into their home, it's a very big honor. And about some of us, at the time, I was vegetarian. And the situation might come up that someone may slaughter a chicken in your honor. And meat was highly prized. And we were seen, because we were Western, we were automatically rich. And if you were rich, you had meat. And meat is, you know, it's very revered. So what would you do as a vegetarian if someone offered some meat?
A. WILSON: And so what did you do?
K. WILSON: Well my, my response was I would do whatever. If someoneoffered me food, I would, regardless of what it was, my mom, being very Southern, had always taught me whatever it is you eat it and you thank them. And you say it's the best thing you've ever had in your life. And you clean the plate. You know, I was vegetarian, I had many 00:23:00future experiences where I ate, I don't know what was slaughtered in my honor, but at least a chicken and a pigeon and a cow.
A. WILSON: And fish? Did you eat chambo?
K. WILSON: Fish. Fish. And I, of course, being naive, thinking mydad, I was raised with fried catfish. Of course, I'll eat fish with no problem. Didn't expect the entire fish, and nothing but the fish. Head and all, with a big eye staring at me. That had maybe, after being brought in from Lake Malawi, an eight-hour journey to my village, because I lived far from the water, by then it's very dry and no telling what had landed on it. And it's just thrown into a frying pan for about two seconds with tomatoes on top of it. And I was offered that, well, I was served that in my village. And my family was so proud that they had got fish for me, because I wasn't eating meat and they were like, think I was going to die.
A. WILSON: Yeah.
K. WILSON: And so I said, "Well, okay, I'll eat some fish." And my00:24:00village father disappeared for about two days. I didn't know where he went. He had walked to Lake Malawi--
A. WILSON: To get you fish?
K. WILSON: He walked eight hours, an eight-hour journey. Walked to LakeMalawi and walked back with a basket of fish, and was so proud of it. And then I see it, and I'm about to throw up.
A. WILSON: Right.
K. WILSON: I ate every bit of it, and thanked him. And meanwhile, thenwent to my little private area and just about died. But it was things like that I just think oh, these people care about me, they love me, I am their family.
A. WILSON: Right. So talk a little bit about what your, whatyour village was like where you were stationed, and your living arrangements. After, were you in training for eleven weeks?
K. WILSON: For eleven, for eleven weeks.
A. WILSON: And then you were sent to a site in the north?
K. WILSON: I was sent to a little village called Mphreembe.00:25:00
A. WILSON: And why don't you spell that.
K. WILSON: M-p-h-e, -r-e-e-m-b-e. Mphreembe. And it's up in thenorthern, up country, up in the north.
A. WILSON: Is it north of Mzuzu?
K. WILSON: It's north of Mzuzu.
A. WILSON: Off of the main road?
K. WILSON: Off of the main road two hours by bush taxi, or by truck. SoI traveled up the M1, which is like the only main road there in Malawi. Went the M1 to Mzuzu. Caught a--
A. WILSON: And Mzuzu is M-z-u-z-u
K. WILSON: M-z-u-z-u, yeah. And that's where I ended up doing mybanking. And if I wanted to get Western food like cans of tuna, pasta, dried pasta. Anything that was Western, that's where I would go. And I'd be with my friends, Peace Corps, sometimes. But I was stationed there. So once I got, went from Lilongwe to Mzuzu, Mzuzu to the turn off point, which is a little tiny settlement called Ekwendeni, which is E-k-w-e-n-d-e-n-i, and there was a Scottish church settlement there 00:26:00of nurses. But that was the main turning point. So then from there I would have to hitchhike two hours off into the bush by car, down sandy roads onto the bush. So I was in this, when I finally arrived, it's very sandy. And I was replacing a health volunteer. But she decided to extend as well. And she was doing HIV. So there was a small little health community there, health center there. Little market that was basically just sticks with canvas over them. That's where people would do their shopping. The health center was just basically an open area with one private room for the medical person to examine people. And my 00:27:00house was the nicest house in the village, which was kind of bad. But that's where the person I was coming to replace, who was interesting, she and a female secondary school teacher were living. And it was a brick house with a corrugated metal roof, cement floor. And the internal walls were cinderblock. And it was five rooms. And it was huge. Huge. It didn't have plumbing or utilities or anything. There was an outhouse in the back, and there was also a little shower room, which was just basically a private concrete closet where you put a hole in the floor. But it was there in the village. So I stayed there. And I was there for Tana, the HIV person, she moved out into her own little mud hut out in the village. And so I was in this house by 00:28:00myself, which made me feel very guilty. I was told that I'd be getting a roommate when the next teacher group came in. So, it may look big, but you'll have a roommate later on, so don't feel bad. But I got there in June and on October 8, 1997, I woke up in dire pain, and my appendix was in the process, it became gangrene, not gangrene, perineal--
A. WILSON: Oh, yeah, peritonitis.
K. WILSON: Peritonitis.
A. WILSON: Woo! That's serious.
K. WILSON: It was very serious. So that led to, I had no idea whatwas happening to me. I thought I was just dehydrated. Because I'd go get water from the borehole. And it was very sandy, so we had to boil it and put it through cheesecloth, strain it, and it still was full of sand. But I thought I was just dehydrated because I hadn't been drinking enough water, because it was so much work to get clean water.
A. WILSON: Right. Right.
K. WILSON: And I had a biking accident a week prior to this happening,where I was coming back from the bush doing a measles vaccination with 00:29:00one of the nurses. And I had, I was holding, in my right hand I was holding the big sterilizing pressure cooker. The left hand, I was holding the bicycle handlebars. And I went off the road, went down a hill, and I went off the road and fell full on the road on the bike. And so I thought that's what was hurting me. But it turned out it was more than that. And it was very strange experience because I woke up and I thought I'd use the bathroom. I was in severe pain. But I went back to bed and Edith, my Malawian supervisor, I'd been, I was three months out of training. And she had an appointment to come to my village, which was seven hours by Land Rover, you know, she had private 00:30:00transport, to come visit me. She was scheduled to come to my village to do a three-month checkup on me to see how I was assimilating into my village that day.
A. WILSON: Oh, you were lucky then.
K. WILSON: Yeah. And she showed up around eleven AM. And I had 101temperature, I was delirious, sweating. I don't even remember her being there. She thought I had malaria. And she just threw me in the back of her Land Rover. It took us an hour to get to the next town that had a phone, where she was able to call Peace Corps and say, "I have Ken Wilson and I think he has malaria. We're on our way back." So eight hours later we arrived in Lilongwe.
A. WILSON: So she took you all the way to Lilongwe.
K. WILSON: She took me straight there, just nonstop, going down thepotholed roads, the M1.
A. WILSON: Why didn't they stop in Mzuzu, or stop at Ekwendeni Hospitalor something?
K. WILSON: Because she didn't know it was my appendix. She thoughtI had malaria. And then I fell asleep and couldn't wake up. She couldn't rouse me. And so she thought we've got to get him-- and Peace Corps, no one, unless you were a Western doctor, you could not touch us. So they were, that's why Lilongwe. So they medevaced me to South 00:31:00Africa. And it turned out to be my appendix. And I remember I was terrified. I had no idea what was happening to me. All this, once the doctor diagnosed it, Peace Corps went into full emergency, there were files being grabbed--
A. WILSON: They're good at that.
K. WILSON: Yeah. It was amazing. And within an hour, I was on aplane headed to South Africa, to Johannesburg, the closest Western, I guess, medical facility. And I remember the doctor coming and looking in the emergency room in Johannesburg and saying, "You should be dead." He goes, "I cannot believe you're here." He goes, "You should be dead." And that was amazing. And I remember being wheeled off to the operating room, not knowing, my family didn't know. I told the physician's assistant from Peace Corps who went with us, I said, "Don't tell my family. What can they do?" You know, they're in Texas; they can't do anything. So I went to sleep and before the operation thinking, I may never wake up. And I woke up a couple of hours later 00:32:00with no appendix and twenty-one staples in my stomach.
A. WILSON: And how long were you in Johannesburg?
K. WILSON: I was there a week. And I went back to Lilongwe and PeaceCorps looked after me in their guesthouse, the Peace Corps, for two weeks, for me to get my staples out and make sure there wasn't an infection. And I went back to Mpherembe on Halloween of 1997. And they don't like you to change villages. But that kind of freaked me out a little bit about being so far away. And had Edith not shown up, I would have--
A. WILSON: You would have.
K. WILSON: And the doctor said, "You would have been found dead."Because Tana was away on training.
A. WILSON: Peritonitis is very, very serious.
K. WILSON: So they said, they did, "You can move." And so one of the sixTumbukas, she did not want to be a health worker at all. She wanted to be a teacher. So she complained enough and made our life miserable to where Peace Corps said okay, you can become a teacher. So they let her change programs, which was highly irregular, I'd been told. So I got to replace her in my village called Bwengu, B-w-e-n-g-u, which 00:33:00was right on the main road, right by, close to Rumphio. So I arrived on October thirty-first. They said, "Take it easy. Go on half days. You've just had a major surgery, and you're in the tropics. So you need to recover." I said, "Okay." I have to find the village, where I have to find everything. Arrange transport, pack up my house and move. I did it in four days. So by November fourth, I was in Bwengu, meeting my new village. And that's where I was for the rest of my time. And it was such a better match for me. It was very good. I loved Bwengu. Bwengu was a great place.
A. WILSON: Why was it a better match?
K. WILSON: It was better because my coworkers were a little more focusedon why we were there. There was a maternity ward, so there were two matrons there that, midwives, so, and they were very friendly to me. My village seemed to accept me more. And in Mpherembe, because it's 00:34:00so isolated, there was a high rate of alcoholism. And it would make, they'd make this Malawian beer called Chibuku that came in like about a half gallon milk carton. And it was, it was just, it was cheap and unrefrigerated. And all the men in Mpherembe really drank a lot. And I had never, I came from a very strict, conservative family. And so I had never been around drinking at all. And seeing my coworkers come to work drunk and treating patients drunk. And seeing, having my coworkers come up to me asking for money when I know they'd been to the bottle store, it was very, for me it was a very hard thing to handle. Because I didn't, I drank, but I couldn't tell them I drank, because it was a different way of thinking. Drinking meant something totally different to them. It meant I would drink till I passed out. And that 00:35:00wasn't what I did. So it was very hard for me to see the women, my female village colleagues, seeing them go without food, or having not enough money for their children because their husbands had drank it all. And that was really hard for me. And trying to, you know, Malawi is very patriarchal. Patriarchal?
A. WILSON: Right.
K. WILSON: Yeah, yeah. Society. So try to empower women, it was a hardthing for me to see. Whereas Bwengu was totally different. Alcoholism was not a problem at all. There was a bottle store. But no one I knew really went there. And it was just a much better fit for me.
A. WILSON: Situation. Right. Right.
K. WILSON: There was two schools there, an elementary and a secondary.And it was closer to the road, which made me, I must admit, feel better.
A. WILSON: Sure.
K. WILSON: So I was able to get transport to Mzuzu. And there was,00:36:00yeah, I just liked it much more.
A. WILSON: So what kind of living conditions did you have there?
K. WILSON: In Bwengu I had a three-room house that, the Ministry ofHealth had built some houses for all the health workers. And I, they were brand new, and I had one. It felt nice because my coworkers at the health center, they had the same house I did. So that made me feel much, not being, I wasn't being favored. Yet I was a single man with no roommate, because Bwengu was so small. So I had a three-room concrete floor, cinderblock walls, corrugated roof. But one of the midwives, she had a family of five. And she was in the exact same house next door to me. So five people living in the same house I was living in by myself. And that, again, made me feel kind of weird. But I was able to integrate with her family and with my community. And it was okay. 00:37:00
A. WILSON: What was a typical day like when you were living in, I mean,focus on where you lived most of the time.
K. WILSON: I would wake up. My whole life was ruled by the sun. Thesun and the moon. I would, because I had no electricity or anything, depending on the season, when the sun went down, within an hour of the sun going down, I would have my candles lit, and I would try to read, but reading by candlelight would put you to sleep. So I would go to bed very early. Naturally I'd wake up probably around four AM, hearing the women, the children of the village, pounding corn. [pounding sound] And hearing that. And because my windows were open 24/7, you know, you could hear everything. And I always thought roosters not, being a military air force base boy, I had never been around livestock before. And I thought roosters only crowed at sunrise. I had no idea they crowed twenty-four hours a day. (laughs) So they crowed 00:38:00constantly. And then hearing the children pound corn and the women sweeping the dirt, I would get up around six. By the time I'd get up, and that would be late. And I had to be at work by half seven, seven thirty. And I would get a two-hour lunch. I'd get to work at 7:30, and I would be the first one there. And on the day that I would happen to like for some reason be delayed, everyone, "Oh, Wilson, you were not here. You were not here at 7:30. What was there to do?" I mean, we didn't really have anyone waiting at the door. But they started work at 7:30. And we had a clinic every day of women, who some of them had walked maybe five miles to get some outdated aspirin, maybe some TB medication that may or may not be expired, and a health checkup, or to have their baby looked at. And it was very hard for them to come because like measles, it takes, to do it in a couple of series. And they had to make a choice when they woke up after pounding the 00:39:00corn and walking maybe two miles to a borehole or a well, a hole in the ground, to get water, leaving their village and being a productive village woman, which women rule, the women rule that country as far as work force. And then have to walk, and take that time away to bring her child or for herself, if she's pregnant, to come to clinic. And a lot of them struggled with that. And I struggled with them not being there. But they would say, "You want me to come here to get someone to look at, and get weighed, and maybe get a health talk, but meanwhile, my crops need to be planted. And my husband is needing me to work, and I've got so many chores to do." But we had a clinic every day. We would weigh the women. And they never gained weight. So I'd give my little speech in Tumbuka about gaining weight, the importance of, you know, "There's two of you now. And you need to gain weight." And try and tell these women not to work so hard, to take it easy. In the village in training, my village mother was, I didn't know until I left, she was 00:40:00eight months pregnant, and she gave birth the day after we left.
A. WILSON: And you didn't know she was pregnant.
K. WILSON: I knew she was pregnant, but I didn't know how far along. Andthat woman worked from sunup to sunrise to get firewood and water and cook me food. And of course I couldn't help her, because culturally they wouldn't let me. I'd hang out with men. But she gave birth the day after we left. So I would do a health clinic, I'd weigh, I'd give a speech. Go home for two hours for lunch, which sounds fun, but by the time you get your firewood together, build a fire, cook something, clean up, go get some water if you needed it, you were exhausted and it's 110 degrees outside, and then you rested for a minute, it was time to go back to the clinic. And then in the afternoons we would either stay around the health center and wait for people to come by who maybe needed TB medications or something. Or we'd go into the village with 00:41:00my counterpart, who was Malawian, and do health talks. For the health talks in the afternoon, I tried to focus on HIV. That's what I knew most about. So we would go to the village chiefs and the surrounding attachment areas and just do HIV talks. And I would get off at 4:30.
A. WILSON: And then?
K. WILSON: I'd go home and take an ice cold bucket bath. Which I wouldcompletely bathe in probably about three gallons of water. And then take and watch the sun go down, which was my favorite time of day to watch the sun. Across from my house and on the horizon was a huge mountain. So the sun would go behind, set behind the mountain. And as soon as it went behind the mountain, you could almost hear the (hisses). And suddenly, it was, you know, the sun set.
A. WILSON: Got dark quickly.
K. WILSON: It got dark very quickly. So I had to have all my stuff,because I was so blind, I had to have my wood all ready and everything to cook so I wouldn't be walking around and fumbling, trying to cook 00:42:00my meal. And then I would be in bed, especially during the winter, when it got dark so quickly, I would be inside and basically in for the night, if not asleep, by eight o'clock. And that was my day.
A. WILSON: And what about for recreation or going into Mzuzu or what,what other things did you have a chance to do? Any travel inside Malawi?
K. WILSON: I did travel. I traveled to see my friend, my closestfriend, Linda. She was in a Catholic mission in a Catholic mission village called Ketete, which is right about an hour outside Lilongwe. So I would travel to see her, or she would come up and see me. And of all things, of all the bizarre things that I learned to do in Peace Corps, she taught me how to quilt. She was a quilter, and she'd always quilted. And all this fabric, all these chitenjes walking around, 00:43:00she goes, "This is beautiful. Ken, we should make a piecework quilt for you, so that you'll have this forever." And I thought, you know, Linda, I've got enough problems without someone calling me a quilter, you know? (laughs) And she goes, "Oh, just try it." So we did something called applique on a ten by ten square. And it was in the shape of Africa from a piece of beautiful fabric. And I did it, I poked myself and bled everywhere. And I finally managed, after hours, to finally applique this one silhouette of Africa on a ten by ten square. And I thought oh my God, if I do thirty-five more of these, I can have a queen-sized quilt, and I'll have it forever. And I became obsessed with it. And so I thought I don't care what people say, this will be a quilt, and I'll have it forever. So she taught me how to quilt. And I, well, quilt top. So I made thirty-six squares, all from different fabric. And it was interesting because each square ended up telling a story. My favorite T-shirt that I had brought with me that had eventually just shredded off of me because it had been washed on a rock, 00:44:00what had survived of it, I cut it up in the shape of Africa and put it in my quilt. We did a Habitat for Humanity build. And in the place that we were staying was some little resource center. And the curtain was just a piece of fabric, and it was about four, maybe about four feet longer than the window was. So I thought well you know, I felt kind of bad, but I cut it in a straight line. I cut some of that out and I put that on my quilt for my Habitat for Humanity build. So all of the fabric, except my T-shirt that shredded, came from Africa. And after I did my thirty-six squares, she took it to the village tailor -- which is a man, he sewed -- in her village, and he did the most amazing job of putting it all together and making this huge queen-sized quilt top that I later took back to America with me. And my sister-in-law, who is from a family of quilters, her cousin hand quilted it for me.
A. WILSON: Oh my goodness.00:45:00
K. WILSON: And it's on the bed right now.
A. WILSON: Oh, what a special thing.
K. WILSON: And it's probably the most, if my house caught on fire--
A. WILSON: That's what you would get?
K. WILSON: That's what I would grab.
A. WILSON: Oh, my.
K. WILSON: And run out the door with it.
A. WILSON: Oh, that's great. That's great. Well, where, so where elsedid you travel in Malawi? Did you get pretty much all over the country?
K. WILSON: I tried to. I became really ill a lot. And because of myappendectomy, my immune system was really suppressed. And a month after, I arrived in my village on Halloween, after my appendectomy. And for Thanksgiving, I went to my new, excuse me, nearby village, where my friend was staying, on Thanksgiving. And something I ate was contaminated, that I cooked for her. And we both got sick. But I was not healthy. And so it stayed with me. So I lost my vision for two hours, completely blind. They were giving me a tour of the Rumphio hospital. And all of a sudden I started, it was right after lunch, it was a million degrees outside, and everyone I was being introduced to 00:46:00had deformed faces. I thought, oh, I'm so sorry, you're face-- I didn't say anything, but I was thinking like, what's wrong with your face?
[Side a ends; side b begins.]
A. WILSON: --two of an interview with Ken Wilson, who was in Malawi.Ken, you were talking about being sick.
K. WILSON: And so suddenly everyone I was shaking hands with had adeformed, disfigured face, and I thought well this is strange. And then I got tunnel vision. And then I realized it wasn't them, it was me. And it was black. And I couldn't see. I stopped the man I was with and said, "I can't see. I'm blind." And it lasted about two hours of pure, tunnel vision, and then went to pure black. Of course, everyone thought it was malaria. So I was seen by the doctor there who said, "Oh, it's malaria. You've become too hot." So about two hours later, it came back. My vision came back and I was kind of sweaty. They said, "Well, you just need to rest, because you're from America, so you're fragile. So I went back to my friend's house I was staying 00:47:00with, and she had gone off to do an HIV speech. And she had passed out during her speech. And then later she came back. She was dehydrated, she got severe diarrhea and was hallucinating, and she got really sick. So my symptoms were just, I lost my vision. I had always had diarrhea, well, I had it the whole time I was in Malawi. So it kind of went unnoticed that I was sick, besides the bizarre incident. But she was sick for two full days. So we went to Lilongwe. I escorted her, as being the healthy one. And she was seen, she was dehydrated, put on some antibiotics, and then she was fine. But her body, in hindsight, her body was flushing out the parasite that I eventually had for eight months.
A. WILSON: Oh, gee.
K. WILSON: So, and it just kept my immune system suppressed. So forthe next eight months, I caught everything. I got dengue fever, which prevented me from going on to Zanzibar with Linda and my friends. And then I got dysentery. I'd been tested for malaria, because they 00:48:00thought I had that, but they weren't quite sure. The test lied, the blood smear I did, something was wrong. I started getting migraine headaches for the first time. I would stand up and pass out. So eight months later, I was basically sick for eight months. It was finally determined something was wrong. So I got a free trip back to South Africa, and went to a hospital. And I was there a month. Because they were thinking, they said, "What do you think is wrong with you, Ken?" And I said, "I think I have colon cancer and a brain tumor." Because I was having migraine headaches, which I didn't understand what they were. And I was having horrible pain down there.
A. WILSON: Pains.
K. WILSON: So after a month of tests, and all kinds of invasive things,it turned out it was a parasite that had been with me for so long that it gave me toxemia. Toxemia went to the central nervous system, which went straight up my spine to my brain, which is why it was giving me the migraines, and the visual disturbances. I was seeing things.
A. WILSON: And so they gave you--00:49:00
K. WILSON: They gave me a colonoscopy, cleaned me out of all myflora and fauna, as they called it. Put me on some new things, and reintroduced that. And basically just flushed out my intestines and put me back together.
A. WILSON: And then you went back to Malawi?
K. WILSON: They wanted to send me home. They said, "You know, somethingis not right with you. Africa is not agreeing with you. You need to go home." And I said, "I'm in South Africa. I left my village. They think I'm dead. I have got to go back. I promised, have closure. I've got to say goodbye. I just can't disappear." So I begged and said I'd drink bottled water and canned food. And I promised I wouldn't eat anything wrong. And so I went back under that proviso. And within twenty-four hours of being back in country, I was, Linda came up, because I was devastated that I was having to leave my dream of being in Africa. I was being medically separated. So she came up. I collapsed on the floor and was bawling. And she packed up my whole house. My village came by. I told them what was happening. We had 00:50:00very quick closure, some picture taking, a lot of crying. And I was carted away in a truck back to Lilongwe and put on a plane, sent back. I was 117 pounds. And I went over there being 150.
A. WILSON: And so how long were you there?
K. WILSON: I was there totally, all said and done, sixteen months.Fifteen, sixteen months.
A. WILSON: Sixteen months. Good gracious, Ken.
K. WILSON: But it was the most amazing thing. And even after ten years--
A. WILSON: You'd still do it.
K. WILSON: I would still go. And I had planned, my mission went Iwent over there, my thought, I'll never leave Africa. After Peace Corps, I'll do it again, so I'll stay another extra year. And then I'll go back in and do another tour. And then I'll just join an NGO or something so I can stay in Africa. And I just loved it. And I was devastated that of thirty people, I became the poster child for parasites and infection. 00:51:00
A. WILSON: Oh, dear. So the next question here is what are severalparticularly meaningful and memorable stories. And I think you've already told them, and you've already told about how you came home. I'm looking back here, talk a little bit about your interactions with host country nationals and your counterpart when you were working in either place.
K. WILSON: My counterpart was, he was about, I was thirty-three, andhe was probably about twenty-five. He was married with two children. When I first met him, I said, "Oh, you have children." He goes, "Yes. But they're just girls." He had no boys in his family, and he was very upset about that. But it wasn't his fault. It was his wife's fault. And I asked him, I said, "Well, you know, it's a mutual thing." I said, "What will happen if you can never produce a boy?" He said, 00:52:00"Then I will tell my brother to come be with my wife, so maybe that can produce a boy." So that was quite interesting. But my counterpart wasn't the most motivated of men.
A. WILSON: And this was in--
K. WILSON: In Bwengu. But he was very nice. And everyone in my villagewas very nice. And once again, the midwives worked from sunup to sundown. And if a woman was going to give birth in the middle of the night, they were the ones that were summoned, not the men. We had been told in Peace Corps to try to hire within our village to help the economy. So I hired someone one morning. My first day in Bwengu, my door's being beat down by someone. So I answer the door and it's this little short bald man telling me he needs a job. I'm like, "Who are you?" He goes, "I will do anything. I'm a gardener. I'm a watchman. I'm everything." And I didn't know who he was, and I was half asleep, 00:53:00and he just wouldn't leave me alone. I said, "Okay. Build me a fence. A grass fence." Because the chickens were eating my garden. Well actually he said he could make me a garden. So he said he would build me a fence and he would build me a garden. So after, later that day I found out he was the village drunk. And no one would hire him, they all thought badly of him because he smoked chamba, which is marijuana. And that makes people go insane, was the theory. So anyone who smoked pot in my area, you were looked down upon. And he was alcoholic, which was very strange going from one village that was full of alcoholics into a village where you were looked down on if you drank. So no one would hire him. So I find out I just hired the town drunk. But I told him, "You're working for a Westerner. And this is how, I'll pay you well, but this is what I expect of you. And what you do outside of my house, I don't care. But you cannot ever come to my house drunk." So 00:54:00the village, it became quite the curiosity that he was working with me and doing all these things, and he was staying sober. And they said, "Oh, you've worked miracles." I thought, I haven't done anything. I was just very proud of him. And we've been told about, you hire for life. Once you hire someone, you cannot fire them. And I told him if, you know, this is what is going to happen if you come drunk. And eventually, after about five months, he started showing up drunk. Just stumbling drunk. So I had my intervention, it didn't work, and I had to let him go. And that was scandalous in my village. But they all understood.
A. WILSON: And this was in the second village.
K. WILSON: Second village, yeah, yeah.
A. WILSON: What about people that you were working with at the health--
K. WILSON: The health center?
A. WILSON: Yeah. Right. Your supervisors and counterparts.
K. WILSON: There was only one, two, three, there was only five of us.00:55:00There was something called, it was called an MA, which is like a medical assistant, maybe? And he was the one that was basically seen as the doctor. I don't know what kind of medical training he had had. But he kind of kept to himself. He had several wives, and so that kept him pretty busy. So he would come to work, and he didn't really socialize with me too much. But in the afternoons when we had time to visit, the two women, Amama Moyo and Amama Mkhandawire, we would all talk about our own lives, what we came, where we came from, what our lives were like. They all had children. And the woman, Mrs. Mkhandawire, who lived next door to me with a family of five, her husband was a banker. But he lived in Mzuzu. So they didn't, he would come to visit every couple of weeks, but they were apart. And then Amama Moyo,, her husband was dead. And then my counterpart was married 00:56:00with two kids, and the medical assistant had several wives. And when I went back in 2005 to visit, the medical assistant was dead.
A. WILSON: Of AIDS?
K. WILSON: From AIDS, yeah. Yeah.
A. WILSON: Well, that's a follow-up question I was going to ask you iswhat kind of contact you've had with any Malawians that you worked with since? And so maybe this is a good time, also, to talk about the fact that you actually went back.
K. WILSON: I wrote to my village and never got a reply back.
A. WILSON: Just to the village in general?
K. WILSON: Yeah. Yeah. So I think, I wrote it to the health centersaying, you know, I'm back in America, I miss you all, yada yada. And I never heard from them. So I thought well maybe Malawi, maybe that letter just never arrived. Or postage is so expensive, because the economy was just going, inflation was escalating. Never really heard 00:57:00from them. So straight from Peace Corps, I moved to Kentucky. And then went to grad school. And in 2004, I graduated in August, 2004, from UK.
A. WILSON: With a master's in social work.
K. WILSON: Master's in social work. And September sixth, you know,thirty-two days later, I had moved to England. London, England. So I was there for two years. And during that time, because traveling was much easier, because I made better money, I was in a better traveling hub, being in London, I was able to go back. So Linda, my friend from Peace Corps, she had done Crisis Corps and was in Zambia. So I went to see her in Zambia and we went all over Zambia, backpacked, basically, hitchhiked to Malawi. And then went back to Bwengu. And it was amazing. The MA, I found he had died. Several people had died. The 00:58:00postmaster died who I always got my mail from. Mr. Suku, he was dead. And I was like a mailholic. I wrote letters constantly. So by doing that, I got letters constantly from the States and from abroad, my friends. So the post office and the mail system was a huge part of my life. So I was at the post office every day, checking my box. And so we became very good friends. He had died. And Amama Mkhandawire,, the one that lived next door to me with five kids, she was now the medical director, I guess. And when I walked in to see her, I always think at times like that I could say something nice and profound, or eloquent. And I burst out crying. And all the women, she was examining some women, or they were in line, the women start laughing. Because all of a sudden there's this white man crying. And he just appears out 00:59:00of nowhere, and he's crying. And she's like, she looked at me and she goes, "We thought you were dead." And they had received the Peace Corps, not the Peace Corps, the Malawi telegraph, I guess, system of news that I had left Bwengu so suddenly because I was sick, recovering. That I died, I went back to America and died.
A. WILSON: Oh, my gosh.
K. WILSON: So they thought I was dead. And so my letter probably neverhad arrived. And they had thought I was dead.
A. WILSON: So what a homecoming!
K. WILSON: That was quite a homecoming, so that was quite interesting.And my counterpart was no longer there. He had been transferred somewhere else. And so the assistant that had been doing like the field work, he had been promoted to where my counterpart is. And a new Peace Corps volunteer was there, but she was gone for the day. She didn't, of course no one knew I was coming. So she was gone. So I got to see my house, well, what was formerly my, and it was totally different from how it was when I left it. Because it was brand new 01:00:00when I was there, dirt everywhere. So she of course, after five years, no, it was eight years, there was trees and everything everywhere now. But she was gone, which was kind of nice, because it would have been different seeing another Peace Corps volunteer there. So I went in to see the field worker that I had met. His name was Lazarus. And he was very nice, and he welcomed me into the house. And I'm sitting there, just talking away. I'm going, "Oh, Lazarus, Bwengu, blah, blah, blah." He had no idea who I was. Because I had long, my hair had grown out, I had a beard. And then my hair was real short when I went back. He had no idea who, he thought I was, the current Peace Corps volunteer, he thought I was a friend of hers who just swung by, and she wasn't there. And finally I said my name. And he goes, "Wilson? Ken Wilson? You're Ken Wilson?" I went, "Yes. Of course, Lazarus."
A. WILSON: But you didn't look like him.
K. WILSON: Yeah, I didn't look like, I went from 117 when I left, and Icame back, I was 160 when I came back. So my hair was different, you 01:01:00know, everything. So once he realized who I was, oh, there was lots of hugging and picture taking, and his wife came out, and kids, all this family portrait. And with him I still write him letters and we are in contact. I help their family. I agreed to help put his kids through school. Because he had two children with his wife. And his wife had had a child out of wedlock before she met Lazarus who had special needs, and was in a school for hearing impaired and mute children there in Lilongwe. So that child was there. And then, so I said, "I will help you. I would love to help you." And then, shortly afterwards, his wife's sister and her husband, who were parents of two children, they both died of AIDS. So now, suddenly, he's got even two more children. 01:02:00But so with the American dollar, at the time it was pounds, British pounds, I was in England, you know, converted to kwacha, you know, for school fees, the next generation for education.
A. WILSON: And school fees are now what? Like 150, 175 a year, forsecondary, I guess. Is that right?
K. WILSON: For secondary school, yeah.
A. WILSON: Yeah. So you gave him some money.
K. WILSON: For education.
A. WILSON: Right. Well, so that answers the question in what ways areyou still in contact with people from your Peace Corps experience. What do you think the impact of your Peace Corps experience was on the country and people? And what was the impact on you?
K. WILSON: On the country, I don't know. I mean, collectively, I thinkPeace Corps has been doing great work. We definitely have a reputation 01:03:00of Peace Corps teaching self sufficiency. Because we all have that same experience of why aren't you giving me this when other NGOs would just come in, deliver some piece of equipment that ownership was never passed onto, or funding for its upkeep. And they leave, and it just sits there. And we were kind of like, "Let's do this together." So I think Peace Corps did a lot. Myself, I quickly went from on the hill of the world to if I could just help one person. And for my village, I think I was very different from Americans that they had maybe heard about and had met before. Because just my mannerisms, and I was very conservative. Conservative as in I didn't do a lot of things that the younger Peace Corps people would do. Or they would see being done. 01:04:00And I was very quiet. And I was thirty-three, I wasn't married, and I didn't have any children. And that was a huge thing, you know. The questions were always, "What religion are you? Are you married? Do you have any children?" So that was kind of an interesting thing I did, if anything that I taught besides health care, you know, HIV prevention to my village, I taught all the women how to make tortillas. And to get an empty Coke bottle, which you could get Coca Cola bottles from the bottle store, because fresh bread could not make it up. It wasn't fresh. It would be stale and hard. The yellow buns, they called them. They were awful. But they were great fresh, but we would never see them fresh. So I, coming from Texas, I said, you know--
A. WILSON: And you had the corn.
K. WILSON: Because I made tortillas three times a week, becausethey kept, they didn't spoil very, and it was basically flat bread, basically. So I taught the women in my health center how to make that. 01:05:00And it was a thrill for me, because I love tortillas, and I was able to teach them something.
A. WILSON: Right.
K. WILSON: And so that's, hopefully, what I contributed to my village.
A. WILSON: Were they still eating tortillas when you went back?
K. WILSON: They didn't mention it. They didn't mention it. And sincethem, Amama Mkhandawire, the woman who had five kids that was, I got a letter recently she had a stroke.
A. WILSON: Oh, gee.
K. WILSON: She has diabetes, high blood pressure, and she had astroke. So she is now not working at all. She is now at home being convalesced by her family.
A. WILSON: Oh, dear.
K. WILSON: But her kids went off to college there in Malawi, which isamazing. Because education was really huge with her. So tortillas, I don't know. But the impact that my village made on me was something that I probably could not adequately describe. It was the most amazing, life changing experience. And every day I kept a journal. 01:06:00I'm a huge journaler. So I was looking at my journal today before I came, to kind of refresh myself.
A. WILSON: Sure.
K. WILSON: And so many times that I thought, today I realized I'm inAfrica. And don't ever forget this moment. And I remember taking a picture of the mountain and the horizon right outside my front door, where I'd watch the sun go down every night. And I would sit there, coming from flat Texas, I just remember going Ken, don't ever forget the experience that you're having at this very minute. Because you'll never have it again. Even tomorrow, it will be a different moment than you're having right now. And the people I met, they will always be so dear to me. And the whole experience. It was just, a part of me has changed. And even though I was there for such a short time, the impact it had on me has been with me since. And I will always call Malawi my second home.
A. WILSON: Go back again?01:07:00
K. WILSON: I would go back tomorrow if I had the ticket and the timeoff. I would go back immediately.
A. WILSON: Would you do Crisis Corps? And Crisis Corps, I'll say thisfor the tape, is a way that returned Peace Corps volunteers can go back short term. And I know they have Crisis Corps in Malawi.
K. WILSON: If things in my life were different, and the opportunityallowed me to, I would go back. But right now, it's not really, for my life. But if I had, if it was right in my life, I would go back. I would have no qualms about doing it again.
A. WILSON: So you came, we already talked about the fact that you cameto the University of Kentucky and got your master's in social work. And then worked--
K. WILSON: In London. At a hospital, in South London Hospital.
A. WILSON: For two years.
K. WILSON: For two years.
A. WILSON: As a social worker.
K. WILSON: As a social worker.01:08:00
A. WILSON: And then came back here.
K. WILSON: I missed Kentucky so much that I moved here twice. And Icame back just--
A. WILSON: This was in what year?
K. WILSON: I came back last summer.
A. WILSON: Okay. So 2006.
K. WILSON: 2006. I came back.
A. WILSON: And then worked.
K. WILSON: I worked at UK in the infectious disease.
A. WILSON: University of Kentucky, at the infectious disease.
K. WILSON: Infectious disease, as a care coordinator working with HIVclients. And I recently left there. Now I'm working for hospice at the Bluegrass in Frankfort.
A. WILSON: In Frankfort. Okay. And what do you think the experience,has the experience in Africa had an impact, or in Malawi specifically, had an impact on your job? I mean, your career?
K. WILSON: It has as far as in it's amazing it's opened so many doors.It's amazing writing Peace Corps on your CV or your resume. It catches the eyes of employers. And during the interview, so many people will bring it up. And I think, as far as an employee, it's, my 01:09:00future employers and my current one, and in my past, they've got a much more well-rounded employee just from the experience that I was able to get through Peace Corps. And it's just helped me see things. You know, in my work life, my personal life. And the value of recycling. And just, you know, materialism as far as simplicity. And the true value of things. Plus, when I watch the world news, or I'm reading the online international press, that's just not some foreign city outside of my little micro-environment of America. It's a place that I've been out there. And I can relate to it. 01:10:00
A. WILSON: What do you think the overall impact of Peace Corps has been,and what should be its role today? That's the last question.
K. WILSON: On just Peace Corps itself?
A. WILSON: Yeah.
K. WILSON: I think Peace Corps has a great reputation. I saw acommercial just the other day, you know. I hadn't seen a Peace Corps recruitment commercial in years. But I saw one. Basically it wasn't "be all you can be," but "are you ready to take the next journey," something like that. It was amazing. It got me all excited. But I think Peace Corps has a great reputation. And even when I tell people I was in Peace Corps, first thing out of their mouth, "You know, I always thought about doing Peace Corps." Of course, they didn't. But they always say, "You know, I thought about doing that." And I think people look at people, I think people, when you say, "Oh, I was in Peace Corps," they kind of look at you in a different way. But I think 01:11:00Peace Corps as a whole, it's been a really positive thing for America. And I think it gives a very positive, as far as being a positive ambassador. Or a, for the rest of the world who gets to experience a Peace Corps volunteer coming to their village, I think for them a lot of myths get erased about what they think a Westerner really is like. Hopefully. I think the impact of all the professionals bringing their learning to a developing country, I think it's extending a hand and helping. It's like a pebble, the whole ----------(??) of the pebble in the water. No telling what you affect, positive or negative. And in a foreign country, and hopefully it's positive. 01:12:00
A. WILSON: Anything else you'd like to say? Anything you planned to say,since you looked over your journal before you came that you want to say? This is your opportunity.
K. WILSON: Um, no.
A. WILSON: Any stories that you didn't share?
K. WILSON: One thing is, I'd always asked in the health center atBwengu, I'd always asked midwives that if it was ever appropriate with a patient, if they'd ever let me help, assist, or just witness a birth. I really wanted to see a birth, because I didn't have any sisters. And I just really wanted to see that, because it was such a female, you know, the man did not come to the health center. The women would come by themselves from their distant villages, give birth in a totally solitary way with no assistance at all. And expected afterwards to go get some water and cook some food. And if it's a boy, you're husband will come and hopefully look at it, look at your new child. But I wanted to see a baby. So finally, one day Amama Moyo came in and 01:13:00tapped me on the shoulder and said, motioned for me to come back. And I got to go in. And it was the most thrilling experience, probably my top ten, experience that I ever had in my life was watching a new life come into this world, and in Malawi. In such an un-Western way. All I could do was just sit there with my mouth open. And the Malawian women cannot, culturally they can't show any pain or scream out. And they just lay on their back and hold their own ankles, in the missionary position. And I ----------(??) for this woman, I was able to make all the noise she wanted for her, because I was just yelling and screaming, oh my God, that's amazing. And my mouth was open. And I got to announce what time. It was 10:16 AM. I got to scream out the time it was born, and watch the whole thing. And Amama Moyo explained what was 01:14:00happening. And she clipped off the umbilical cord. And I thought that was the most amazing thing. And then Amama Moyo's explaining what's happening, and suctioning and stuff. And then she looks at the woman and she goes, "Okay, push." I thought, push! She's already pushed a baby out. What's left? I had no idea about the afterbirth.
A. WILSON: Afterbirth. (laughs)
K. WILSON: And all of a sudden, it came out. And my mouth fell open.I was announcing the time again, not knowing, but it looked a little bit different. But that was just, it was just so incredible. So I took a picture of the woman and her baby. And I thought she's probably thinking who is this white man just totally freaking out on me giving birth, and here I am naked on this metal table. But for me, I will never forget her or that child or that experience for the rest of my life.
A. WILSON: Thank you, Ken.
K. WILSON: Thank you.
[End of interview.]01:15:00