Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Charles Brandes, February 18, 2021

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


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00:00:00 - Experiences before joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: --ebruary 18, 2021. This is Randolph Adams who served in the Dominican Republic from 1966 to 1969. And I am interviewing Charles Brandes who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya from July 1968 to October 1970. Charles worked in the water sector within the Ministry of Lands and Settlement.

Segment Synopsis: Brandes graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in civil engineering. Brandes grew up in a liberal family in Los Angeles. Brandes has a mild form of dyslexia which made it hard for him to learn foreign languages and that is partly why he studied engineering and not liberal arts. Several of Brandes' classmates also joined the Peace Corps and were assigned to Kenya, too. There was some uncertainty of how Peace Corps service would be viewed by the draft board in light of the Vietnam War.

Keywords: College majors; Disabled persons; Dyslexia; Family; Los Angeles (Calif.); Military drafts; Uncertainty; Undergraduate education; University of California, Berkeley; Vietnam War

Subjects: Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--1960-1970; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Universities and colleges; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
GPS: University of California, Berkeley
Map Coordinates: 37.871899, -122.258537
GPS: Los Angeles (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 34.05, -118.25
00:07:16 - Parents' reactions to his joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: What was your parents' reaction once you were accepted?

Segment Synopsis: Brandes' parents were supportive but bothered by how distant he would be from home.

Keywords: Distance; Support

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

00:07:51 - Application process

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Partial Transcript: What was the application process actually like?

Segment Synopsis: Brandes recalls a feeling of anticipation while waiting to hear about the result of his application.

Keywords: Applications; Applying; Waiting periods

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

00:08:50 - Pre-service training site

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Partial Transcript: And you, um, left in July. So, that must have been fairly soon after your graduation.

Segment Synopsis: Brandes left the civil unrest of urban Berkeley for a training site at a former cavalry barracks 10 miles outside of Bismarck, North Dakota. The training was conducted by a new company which had the 52 trainees live with Sioux families. Brandes suspects that certain training decisions were made primarily to save money instead of to provide relevant preparation for the trainees. 10 teachers were brought in from Kenya and Somalia.

Keywords: Bismarck (N.D.); Budgets; Criticism; Native Americans; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Rural areas; Traveling

Subjects: Finance; International travel; Kenya; Peace Corps (U.S.); Somalia; Teachers; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Bismarck (N.D.)
Map Coordinates: 46.808333, -100.783611
GPS: Berkeley (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 37.871667, -122.272778
GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
GPS: Somalia
Map Coordinates: 10, 49
00:14:45 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: Let's go through the different aspects of training. Uh, first of all, you said there were Kenyans and Somalis, um, doing language training.

Segment Synopsis: Brandes was relieved because by the end of pre-service training, he felt he had an adequate mastery of Swahili. Part of the cultural training was living for 2 weeks with Sioux families on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Brandes' host family had a cattle ranch on which he spent all his time there helping out.

Keywords: Cultural training; Fluency; Host family; Language skills; Language training; Letters; Native Americans; Standing Rock Reservation (N.D. and S.D.)

Subjects: Emotions; Kenya; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
GPS: Standing Rock Indian Reservation (N.D. and S.D.)
Map Coordinates: 45.75, -101.2
00:19:31 - Technical training

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Partial Transcript: When you, um, received your invitation, did they tell you then, uh, what the job was going to be like or what the job was?

Segment Synopsis: All the trainees received some instruction related to agriculture. Trainees in the water project also received some instruction related to using plastic pipe. The teacher was a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and the concepts were easy for Brandes. Some of the cultural and technical training involved role playing. Brandes is satisfied with his pre-service training but Brandes feels there could have been more instruction on how to cooperate with others.

Keywords: Cooperation; Preparation; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Techniques

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

GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
00:24:41 - Arrival in Kenya

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Partial Transcript: At, at what point, um, were you aware where you'd be placed? Was this during training or once you got to Kenya?

Segment Synopsis: Brandes notes that pre-service training should have included practice driving on the left side of the road. Brandes discusses the history of Kenya in the 1960s as it transitioned from a British protectorate to an independent nation. Brandes was assigned to an agricultural cooperative outside the town of Nyeri. For the first 3 or 4 months, Brandes lived with a Volunteer from an earlier cohort who was in a health program. The essential goal of Brandes' project was to build a system to deliver water from its existing location to a village several miles away where dairy farming was occurring. Brandes found his work satisfying as he could see the tangible results.

Keywords: Cohorts; Driving; Extensions; Goals; History; Jomo Kenyatta; Living situation; Nyeri (Kenya); Post-colonial; Pre-service training; Roommates; Running water; Rural areas

Subjects: Kenya; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in community health services; Volunteers

GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
GPS: Nyeri (Kenya)
Map Coordinates: -0.416667, 36.95
00:33:46 - Daily routines

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Partial Transcript: Can you give me a, a typical day's activities? What would your typical schedule be like?

Segment Synopsis: Brandes learned that the water system for his co-op had already been designed under the guidance of a previous Volunteer. But the construction phase had stalled because the previous Volunteer had alienated the leadership of the co-op. Initially, after meeting his counterparts, Brandes mostly waited. Brandes suspected that the previous Volunteer had run into opposition by being too bossy. Eventually someone from the co-op council came to Brandes and asked for some input. Having successfully completed his co-op's water system, Brandes returned to Nairobi. Subsequently, Brandes was sent out to assist other water project Volunteers who were experiencing difficulty. When Brandes was at his first work site, he did not have any servants. However, Brandes reports that most Volunteers hired a cook.

Keywords: Amenities; Apathy; Behavior; Flexibility; History; Housing; Leaving; Living situation; Local people; Locals; Nairobi (Kenya); Peace Corps directors; Problems; Returning; Running water; Site visits; Support; Traveling

Subjects: Finance; Interpersonal relations; Kenya; Lifestyles; Mental health; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
GPS: Nairobi (Kenya)
Map Coordinates: -1.286389, 36.817222
00:43:39 - Impact of his service

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Partial Transcript: During down time, did you have an opportunity to develop any friendships, relationships with Kenyans?

Segment Synopsis: Brandes developed some casual friends among his various co-workers. At times, Brandes was homesick and questioned whether his service was worthwhile. Halfway through his service, Brandes was unable to evaluate his impact on life in Kenya but felt positive about his own growth in cross cultural awareness. Brandes and others in his cohort felt that their service was worthwhile alone for this cross cultural sensitivity and its potential impact back in the U.S.

Keywords: Cohorts; Personal development; Questions; Relationships; Third Goal

Subjects: Emotions; Friendship; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:46:52 - A new career path

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Partial Transcript: It was a very important two years. It was sort of like, um, when I would hear later, or even before then, um, hearing veterans of World War Two talk about how the war affected them. You know, changed their lives? So, I think, that's how I felt about the Peace Corps experience. That it had that kind of profound effect on me, um, you know, in a good way.

Segment Synopsis: Some of the Volunteers whom Brandes was assigned to help needed technical assistance. However, for other Volunteers the issue was an emotional problem. Following his Peace Corps service, Brandes, subsequently, developed a career as a psychologist.

Keywords: Peace Corps staff; Problems; Support; Traveling

Subjects: Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Mental health; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:48:47 - Highlights of his time in Kenya

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Partial Transcript: Do you have any memorable experiences?

Segment Synopsis: Brandes recalls the turning on of the water at the completion of a water project. Brandes climbed Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro. Brandes and a foreman were chased through the jungle by a large, unidentified animal. Brandes was in-country when the Kenyan vice president was assassinated and there was concern about possible civil war. Kids would come by Brandes' house in Waraza and use the swings that he had built. Brandes visited Olduvai Gorge. Brandes was in a group of 6 people who were the first to hike the entire length of the Aberdare Mountain Range.

Keywords: Aberdare Mountain Range (Kenya); Dangerous; Dangers; Deaths; Emergency action plans; Mt. Kenya (Kenya); Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania); Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania); Peace Corps directors; Regional conflict; Running water; Safety; Transportation; Traveling

Subjects: Children; International travel; Interpersonal relations; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Tanzania; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in education; Volunteers

GPS: Mount Kenya (Kenya)
Map Coordinates: -0.150833, 37.3075
GPS: Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania)
Map Coordinates: -3.075833, 37.353333
GPS: Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania)
Map Coordinates: -2.993613, 35.35115
GPS: Aberdare Mountain Range (Kenya)
Map Coordinates: -0.62765, 36.70832
GPS: Tanzania
Map Coordinates: -6, 35
00:55:22 - Vacations

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Partial Transcript: Did you take vacations while you were a Volunteer?

Segment Synopsis: Brandes' vacation excursions included climbs on Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro and touring various game parks.

Keywords: Mt. Kenya (Kenya); Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania); Traveling

Subjects: International travel; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Tanzania; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania)
Map Coordinates: -3.075833, 37.353333
GPS: Mount Kenya (Kenya)
Map Coordinates: -0.150833, 37.3075
GPS: Tanzania
Map Coordinates: -6, 35
00:56:23 - Program changes

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Partial Transcript: Um, any regrets? Anything you wish you could have done that you weren't able to?

Segment Synopsis: Brandes reports that Peace Corps successfully put pressure on the Kenyan government to make training of native counterparts part of the water project Volunteers' mission. Pre-service training for the cohort which replaced Brandes' was held in-country in Mombasa. Brandes was invited to become part of the training staff for that cohort. During pre-service training, rather than having the staff de-select people, the emphasis was on having the trainees decide if Peace Corps service was a good choice for each of them.

Keywords: Attitudes; Choices; Cohorts; Counterparts; Decisions; Education; Empowerment; Improvements; Invitations; Mombasa (Kenya); Peace Corps staff; Political pressure; Pre-service training

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

GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
GPS: Mombasa (Kenya)
Map Coordinates: -4.05, 39.666667
00:59:42 - Three goals of Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: If you had to assess your service, in light of the 3 goals of Peace Corps, um, providing technical assistance, learning about others, others learning about us, um, how would you view your service from that perspective? Do you think you reached those goals?

Segment Synopsis: Brandes feels he addressed all 3 goals, especially, personally, the third goal of learning about others. Brandes learned later that the Kenya programs of his time of service were specifically used to argue in Congress for continued Peace Corps funding. Brandes also discovered that the pre-service training site in North Dakota was selected because a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer was from a Sioux tribe and there was a dispute at that time with the government about how that facility would be used in the future. So, having the Peace Corps there for 3 months gave the Sioux time to organize their arguments and to acquire the site.

Keywords: First Goal; Funding; Native Americans; North Dakota; Politics and government; Pre-service training; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Second Goal; Third Goal

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

GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
GPS: North Dakota
Map Coordinates: 47.4501, -100.4659
01:02:45 - Coming home

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Partial Transcript: What about after you left Peace Corps service? Were you able to, over the years, keep in touch at all with Kenya?

Segment Synopsis: Brandes has not maintained contact with people in Kenya but still has a few contacts with other Volunteers. Because Brandes had a low draft number, the military required him to have a physical exam which took place on a base in Livorno, Italy. Eventually, Brandes was granted a military deferment. Brandes entered the University of Pennsylvania to study environmental planning. Subsequently, Brandes did environmental planning for the government in Montana for several years. This led to Brandes' becoming the Deputy Director of the Office of Planning and Research in California during Governor Jerry Brown's administration. Brandes decided to return to graduate school and is now a psychoanalyst.

Keywords: California; Career paths; College majors; Difficult; Doctors; Graduate schools; Holidays; Jerry Brown; Jobs; Livorno (Italy); Montana; Peace Corps staff; Re-entry; Readjustment; Traveling; Uncertainty

Subjects: Culture shock; Health; International travel; Italy; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Universities and colleges; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Livorno (Italy)
Map Coordinates: 43.551944, 10.308333
GPS: University of Pennsylvania
Map Coordinates: 39.95, -75.19
GPS: Montana
Map Coordinates: 47.0527, -109.6333
01:08:27 - Reflections on the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: It's been a--it, it was a very important experience for me.

Segment Synopsis: Peace Corps service had a significant impact on Brandes' life and he is glad that he served. Brandes feels that Peace Corps' programs have changed in appropriate ways. Brandes comments on the effect service has on the Peace Corps Volunteers and feels that more of that cross cultural sensitivity is needed in the U.S. In Brandes' experience, the idea that the Volunteers were "white saviors" was not prominent. Rather, since the Volunteers felt they were perhaps getting more than they were giving, was their service a form of selfishness? Brandes argues that part of pre-service training could deal with this issue of the Volunteer's role in the community.

Keywords: Attitudes; Community; Impact; Pre-service training; Social interactions

Subjects: Emotions; Intercultural communication; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers