Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Darlene Yule, October 17, 2020

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Life before Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Hi, Darlene. Today is October 17, 2020.

Segment Synopsis: Yule grew up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania, which qualified her for agricultural and environmental work in Peace Corps. Her undergraduate degree is in sports medicine. After working in that field for a few years, she decided that she wanted something else from life, so she applied to Peace Corps.

Keywords: Dairy farms; Description of her background; Sports medicine

Subjects: Families.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Pennsylvania
Map Coordinates: 40.8781, -77.7996
00:01:56 - Reasons for applying to Peace Corps and family's reactions

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Partial Transcript: Alright. So, can you elaborate on why you joined the Peace Corps?

Segment Synopsis: Yule applied to the Peace Corps as she completed her undergraduate work. She applied to Earth Watch and spent 3 weeks in a very remote village in Kenya working alongside the health officer there. That experience drew her to global health issues and work, which led her to the Peace Corps. Yule's family members were jealous. Her mother worried about her safety, but they were supportive, overall.

Keywords: Earth Watch; Experiences before Peace Corps; Family members' reactions to decision; Global health issues; Kenya; Supportive

Subjects: Families.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:05:20 - Application and acceptance into Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Um, what was the application process like for you?

Segment Synopsis: For Yule, the application process was not onerous; rather, the post-acceptance processes of the health screening challenged her. She remembers that 8 months passed between completing her application and her acceptance. Upon her acceptance, she explored health-related opportunities within Peace Corps, so when she found out that she was going to Panama in agriculture, she was surprised.

Keywords: Health screenings; Panama; Post-acceptance

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in horticulture; Volunteers

00:07:05 - Arrival in Panama and early training in-country

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Partial Transcript: And, and you got together with the others in your cohort.

Segment Synopsis: According to Yule, she spent three days in Washington, D.C. for staging, starting out with a group of about 36 people, a combination of agriculture and environmental conservation. Yule describes her first impression of Panama as being "hot and sticky." Because of the military presence in Panama, it was "Americanized" to Yule. The Peace Corps office was in a former military housing area, which seemed ironic to her. She and her group were there about a week, and, then, they were trained in open-water rescue and survival, along with language training. Although she had studied Spanish in school, Yule started at the lowest level language class.

Keywords: Agricultural and environmental conservation; First impressions; Initial training; Language training; Military presence; Open-water survival training; Staging

Subjects: Acculturation; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in horticulture; Volunteers

00:10:35 - Pre-service training and living with host family

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Partial Transcript: So tell me about training after that.

Segment Synopsis: Yule's group stayed in Santa Clara (not the city along the coast), a small, closely-knit community with running water and electricity, where they lived with host families. The first thing each morning during training was language instruction, followed by the technical training. Living with her host family was challenging for Yule because of her limited language proficiency; it prohibited communication among them. Her host father worked at the Panama Canal, returning home on weekends, and he was the one who engaged her the most in conversation. One of her host sisters came back to the house on weekends, too, and she connected with Yule, also. Yule was told that she was very opinionated during training; she says hers was a group of willful women among the men. Although Yule grew up on a farm, she knew nothing about tropical agriculture. The training really helped her. When given a choice of where she'd like to work, she requested that she be placed in the mountains. Her language teacher bonded with Yule and her classmate.

Keywords: Host families; Host family; Language training; Mountains; Panama Canal; Pre-service training; Santa Clara (Panama); Technical training; Tropical agriculture

Subjects: Acculturation; Interpersonal relations; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in horticulture; Volunteers

GPS: Panama Canal
Map Coordinates: 9.08, -79.68
00:16:08 - Getting to her site

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Partial Transcript: So, how did you get to site?

Segment Synopsis: Before leaving for their sites, Yule and her cohort met with their counterparts in another community; each volunteer was told how to get to their respective sites. The counterparts left, the group had more training, and, then, followed the directions given to them by their counterparts to arrive at their sites. For Yule, she took a bus from Panama City to the provincial capital, then a bus to El Cope, a small town, and then a small pick-up truck taxi to get to her community. The trip took 5 hours from Panama City.

Keywords: Buses; Counterparts; El Cope, Panama; Panama City, Panama; Taxis; Transportation; Trucks

Subjects: Acculturation; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in horticulture; Volunteers

GPS: El Cope, Panama
Map Coordinates: 8.62, -80.6
GPS: Panama City, Panama
Map Coordinates: 8.983333, -79.516667
00:18:25 - Living and cooking at her site

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Partial Transcript: So what was it like at site?

Segment Synopsis: Yule lived in a small mountain town adjacent to the Omar Torrijos National Park. Her house was at about 800 meters, and her work site was up the mountain another several hundred meters. In town, there was a pool and small store, along with a solar-operated phone which worked only when there was sunshine. Communities are scattered along the mountains. Yule rented one of the only brick houses in her community, sharing the latrine and shower with the owner's brother. A three-sided kitchen was built for Yule. The house was near the river where she washed her clothes, and also enjoyed quiet time along it. Yule bought a stove with a toaster oven-sized oven which ran on propane. She had no refrigerator, so she tried to cook Panamanian food and then adapted into making pizza or she bought waffle mix from stores in Panama City. Yule had to be mindful of the weight of the food that she bought since, if she missed the bus, then she walked uphill for hours carrying the food. Rice was readily available, as were beans and produce. Starch was the mainstay of her diet: plantains, cassava, and yucca. Usually these were boiled and put into stew or soup with or without chicken.

Keywords: Brick houses; Cassava; Cooking; Omar Torrijos National Park; Plantains; Solar-operated phones; Washing clothes; Yucca

Subjects: Acculturation; Food habits; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in horticulture; Volunteers

GPS: Omar Torrijos National Park, Panama
Map Coordinates: 8.62, -80.6
00:26:26 - Working on site

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about your counterpart and your organization and, and the work that you did.

Segment Synopsis: Yule's host mother was the matriarch of the community, which was unusual in Panama. This woman became her counterpart. Despite being a religious community, women drank alcohol. Yule worked with the local coffee co-operative, analyzing how to improve the businesses largely inherited from owners' parents. The trees were not maintained, so the coffee was export-quality but sold to local buyers who mixed it with lower quality beans. The co-op members didn't know of a buyer with connections to mix their beans with other export quality products. Yule and others worked with the Ministry of Agriculture to train the growers in the region to manage the trees and process the beans. As a result of the training, growers pruned some of their trees, and, now, the beans are consistently of export-quality. Coffee pays the bills in Panama; the money is used to send kids to school. Yule worked with community farms to increase sustainability and new agricultural methods to decrease the use of pesticides, among other issues. She taught kids cooking and health-related projects. Annually, physicians came to conduct routine check-ups for community residents, and Yule traveled with them into the mountain communities. Yule was able to treat her own medical issues, particularly when, while using a machete, she nearly cut off three of her toes on one foot. In her medical kit, she had bandages that she used while the cuts healed. She also nearly drowned in the river when shrimping at night; by grabbing hold of a large branch, she kept from being swept away in the current. Another time, she nearly fell off a horse while riding it.

Keywords: Agricultural co-operatives; Agricultural processes; Alcohol; Co-ops; Coffee co-operatives; Coffee cooperatives; Coffee trees; Counterparts; Dangers; Export quality coffee beans; Machetes; Medical issues; Ministry of Agriculture; Near-drowning; Physicians' annual visits; Safety; Women

Subjects: Acculturation; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in horticulture; Volunteers

00:40:01 - High and low points during service

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Partial Transcript: What would you say was your high point?

Segment Synopsis: For Yule, the coffee seminars and training were a high point because she knew that the information would be helpful to the growers. People came from around her community, so the content being taught could have a large impact on the region. Also, when growers conferred with her about sustainability issues and visited her in her house, she felt helpful and valued. When the kids visited her in her house, she felt valued and appreciated. Yule had a vegetable garden and the kids picked and ate her produce, which she enjoyed. Her host father was the local butcher and, through him, she met many other people. Her host grandmother made sombreros from fibers and, often, Yule would stop and visit with her. Yule thinks that she learned more from the people in her community than they did from her. She cooked with the mayor's wife and grandmother, too; they drank a lot of coffee and shared stories as they worked together. Her host family gave a party for Yule's 30th birthday party. For it, a lot of fermented corn drink was made. She asked another volunteer to bring chickens from El Cope for dinner; there was no refrigeration so the chickens spoiled. Only volunteers got sick, not any Panamanians. The country director knew that the volunteers were at her birthday party and got sick there. This was a low point for her. Her lowest points were the three months-long rainy seasons in Panama with constant rain. Mud and wetness were difficult for her; she read a lot of books during those seasons.

Keywords: 30th birthday party; Children; Coffee seminars; Conferring with growers; Food poisoning; Kids in her home; Rainy seasons; Sharing cooking with other women; Sharing herself with others; Spoiled chicken; Value of seminars

Subjects: Acculturation; Food habits; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in horticulture; Volunteers

00:49:05 - Serving in Peace Corps and her sexuality

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Partial Transcript: How did, how did being a lesbian impact your service?

Segment Synopsis: During her service, Yule was not out as a lesbian with her community; she was out with her volunteer cohort, though. In her house, she had pictures of fake boyfriends around for others to see. Her partner at the time visited Yule, and then they returned together in 2013. No one asked about her sexuality; it didn't interfere with her work or her integration into her community. Only when Yule became a diversity trainer for Peace Corps did it surface.

Keywords: Coping strategy; Diversity trainers; Not out lesbians; Pictures of fake boyfriends; Visit by partners

Subjects: Acculturation; Coming out (Sexual orientation); Interpersonal relations; Lesbian couples.; Lesbians; Lesbians--Identity.; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama; Sexual minorities--Identity; Sexual minorities.; Sexual minority community; Sexual orientation; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in horticulture; Volunteers

00:50:54 - Completing service as a diversity trainer for new volunteers

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Partial Transcript: Yeah, I was just going to ask you about that. Tell me about that part of your service.

Segment Synopsis: Towards the end of her service, as the new cohort was about to arrive, Yule became a diversity trainer, a new position with the Peace Corps staff. Yule worked with the new volunteers around issues related to being a member of the LGBTQ+ community and being a person of color in Panama. Bias was prevalent in the society, as well as machismo behavior and so the training centered on learning to respect the culture and customs. The gay and lesbian clubs in Panama City were safe places for volunteers to go to. This was a good way for Yule to complete her service, in her estimation. This role took her away from her community for the final three months of her stay.

Keywords: Bias; Completion of service; Culture; Diversity trainers; Machismo

Subjects: Acculturation; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama; Sexual minorities--Identity; Sexual minorities.; Sexual minority community; Sexual orientation; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Panama City, Panama
Map Coordinates: 8.983333, -79.516667
00:54:14 - Leaving her community

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Partial Transcript: So how was it for you to leave?

Segment Synopsis: Leaving her community was difficult. Yule considered buying a coffee farm, but didn't. It felt as if it were her community. One of her neighbors was renovating his kitchen and there was a wasp nest in it; a giant black wasp stung her on one of her eyes, so she could see out of only one eye at her going away party. All of the pictures of that party show Yule with a swollen eye. Yule is in touch with some friends from her community, especially the teachers and her counterpart. There still is no electricity there, which enhances the closeness of community members as they continue to share cultural customs such as singing and drumming. Television decreases the likelihood of these activities, in her estimation. She communicates with friends via phones, when people are in the city where phone connections are available. If she stood on a high peak near her town, she could get some cell phone connection; otherwise, she had to wait until she was in a larger town or city.

Keywords: Cell phone connection; Coffee farms; Communicating with friends and colleagues; Drumming; Going away party; Going-away party; Singing; Swollen eyes; Wasps

Subjects: Acculturation; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:59:20 - Reverse culture shock upon returning home

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Partial Transcript: Wow. And what was it like returning to the States after being in that no-electricity village for two years...

Segment Synopsis: Re-entry for Yule was depressing. She was happy to see family members and friends, but they had no idea of her experiences. People wanted the short synopsis, and didn't really understand what she'd been doing and how she'd been living. She returned in November after traveling for three months with other volunteers through Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, which she says was a good way to leave her service behind. November was winter at home, a stark difference from Panama, plus the darkness and the isolation from nature. However, she found her way. What was overwhelming to Yule were the grocery stores in the U.S., and the selection of items that she was, then, unused to. The stores in Panama City were not like those at home in the States. She was used to eating mangoes off of the tree, and citrus fruits from the farmers' markets. The food transition being at home was equally hard as it was going to Panama.

Keywords: American grocery stores; Colombia; Depressing; Ecuador; Peru; Re-entry into the United States; Transition in diet returning home; Winter at home

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture shock; Food habits; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Panama City, Panama
Map Coordinates: 8.983333, -79.516667
01:04:23 - Two trips home while in service

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Partial Transcript: You just talked about the sort of post-Peace Corps vacation that you took.

Segment Synopsis: While in service, Yule returned to the U.S. twice, once for a wedding and the second when her mother was ill. She spent three weeks at home when her mother had surgery. Being at home for the first time was easy since it was early in her stint. The second time was late in her service; she was concerned about what was happening in her community in Panama.

Keywords: Mothers; Surgery; Two trips home during service; Weddings

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:06:51 - Travel through South America after service

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Partial Transcript: How about the post--how about the post, uh, service trip?

Segment Synopsis: When traveling after service, Yule and her friends took a boat to Colombia and spent five days on a sailboat. At night, the passengers watched for barges so that they didn't sail into one. They spent time at a beach resort in northern Colombia, followed by a sail to Colombia with no fresh water. They spent six weeks in Colombia hiking the Lost City trek there; the trail originated in Santa Marta. They also hiked Machu Picchu in Ecuador. They took buses as transportation, even overnight buses since they were in a group.

Keywords: Buses; Colombia; Ecuador; Lost City trek; Machu Picchu; Peru; Sailboat trips; Traveling

Subjects: Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Ecuador
Map Coordinates: -2, -77.5
GPS: Colombia
Map Coordinates: 4, -72
GPS: Peru
Map Coordinates: -10, -76
GPS: Machu Picchu, Peru
Map Coordinates: -13.163333, -72.545556
GPS: Santa Marta, Colombia
Map Coordinates: 11.241944, -74.205278
01:12:25 - Reflections on her service

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Partial Transcript: What do you think Peace Corps has meant to your life and how has it affected your choices since you've gotten home?

Segment Synopsis: For Yule, her service was difficult but rewarding with many memories from it. She learned the advantages of "slowing down." The rainy season forced her to sit still; life doesn't have to be a rat-race, she realized. Celebrating life is important. Looking at life from other perspectives is important to her. She knows who she is as a person; she knows her values now and makes decisions based on them. Peace Corps allowed her to reflect on her life. Yule now is a manager for a non-profit organization, Heart for Food Systems, which works for food justice and food security.

Keywords: "Slowing down"; Current work; Introspection; Memories; Reflection; Reflections on service; Self-knowledge; Values

Subjects: Acculturation; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:15:34 - Additional stories

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Partial Transcript: Cool. Is there anything more that you'd like to add?

Segment Synopsis: Yule's wife didn't visit her while in Colombia, although they were friends at that time. She tells of confusing Spanish words that was embarrassing. For Thanksgiving, she and other volunteers rented a cabin and cooked a full holiday dinner. Between Christmas and New Year's one year, they went to the coast of Panama and ate delicious crab sauce made by an older man. They missed their bus; another man drove them to another town where they could catch a boat to the island. It was a gorgeous island vacation with hiking. At one point, they fished a package from the ocean only to realize that it was a package of cocaine.

Keywords: Celebrating Thanksgiving with other volunteers; Coast of Panama vacation; Confusing Spanish words; Drugs; Embarrassing experiences; Hiking; Package in the ocean; Thanksgiving; Trip between Christmas and New Year's

Subjects: Acculturation; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Panama; Voluntarism; Volunteers