Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with David Day, April 22, 2021

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


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00:00:03 - Life before Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: It is April the 22nd, 2001. My name is Joyce Jenkins.

Segment Synopsis: While still at Adelphi College, Day took the Peace Corps exam. Originally, he was offered a posting in Venezuela, then Kenya. Day had been exposed to "things exotic" in college, which included meeting Margaret Mead.

Keywords: Adelphi College; Adelphi University; Exams; Kenya; Margaret Mead; Parents; Reactions; Urdu (Language); Venezuela

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

GPS: Adelphi College, Garden City (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.72, -73.652
GPS: Venezuela
Map Coordinates: 7, -65
GPS: Kenya
Map Coordinates: 1, 38
00:04:54 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: And what, uh, what was it comprised of? Your training?

Segment Synopsis: Day's pre-service training in Nairobi was comprised of psychological, cultural, and linguistic training in Swahili. Also, there was cooperative law segment because his work was in land settlement, to assist people in settling in the Kenyan highlands where there is rich agricultural potential. He was taught to work with cooperative societies, and to provide veterinary assistance (disease prevention). He implemented a mass program for cattle dips.

Keywords: Cattle dips; Cooperative law; Kenyan Highlands; Land settlement; Nairobi, Kenya; Swahili (Language)

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

GPS: Nairobi, Kenya
Map Coordinates: -1.286389, 36.817222
00:09:39 - Housing and work in northern Kenya

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Partial Transcript: Well, when you got to Kenya, did you arrive in Nai--Nairobi?

Segment Synopsis: Upon arrival, the group was housed in Nairobi. In the inn, nightly, the rooms were sprayed for mosquito control. He marveled at the stars that he could see outside of the city on the equator at night. Once he had his assignment about 120 miles north of Nairobi, his job was to help the settlement officer. He lived in one wing of a former plantation house at an elevation of over 9,000 feet with flowers growing on its roof. The cook also lived in this compound. He was issued a motorcycle ("pikipiki" in Swahili) to use to travel around the area. In the rain, the motorcycle tires would cake with mud. Often, he would stop by the police department and developed relationships with this group over time. The government's ultimate goal of his work was to engender the notion of Kenya as a united nation with a flag and a national language: Swahili. Day was invited to attend a meeting of high-powered politicians where Day suggested that they plan an agricultural fair as a part of a national celebration of unity.

Keywords: Agricultural fairs; Living conditions; Mosquito control; Motorcycles; Nairobi, Kenya; National unity; Plantation houses; Settlement officers; Work with police

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Nairobi (Kenya); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:23:57 - Work as a settlement officer in Kenya / Early departure from Kenya

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Partial Transcript: Uh, well, so your day-to-day work was? How would you describe it in one sentence?

Segment Synopsis: Day described his day-to-day work as "unpredictable." He would ride his motorcycle to the settlement house, a part of the International Bank for Development (now, the World Bank) where settlers waited in line with money to give him as payment for materials, often ending up with sacks of money. He dispersed some of it directly to the settlers to buy material for their settlement. Other times, he'd take the money to Barclay's Bank in Thompson's Falls, the largest town north of Nairobi, on the western escarpment of the Rift Valley. Day deposited the money with a teller whom he befriended. Day was often deputized as a settlement officer and connected with these men. Towards the end of the first year, Day was notified that he was being moved to a water hydraulics project on the eastern region. After training in Nairobi with the chief hydraulic engineer of Kenya, Day began work with cooperative societies using a tribal language as well as Swahili. On the eastern escarpment grew pyrethrum, a chrysanthemum-like plant, the chief ingredient in mosquito repellent formula. The settlers, then, were taught how to plant it. Day suggested best practices in setting up huts/settlement plots to settlers, with the outhouse downstream from the house. These projects were in addition to the hydraulics project. Getting water for the pipeline that was his major project using money from the World Bank. He bought and used 21 miles of pipeline to move water from its source to the settlement, driving his Land Rover to transport the crew and materials into the forest at 11-12,000 foot elevations. With the help of the cooperative societies, he built weirs to retain the water and the pipes to stream the water into the valley. Day became friends with the local police but, still, there was some suspicion about Day's work in Kenya. Paul Theroux wrote about incidents in Kenya and Tanzania that tainted Day's work there. In fact, the American ambassador was recalled to Washington, D.C. when an action on Day's part looked as if it might have been a bribe to a policeman who was a friend of Day's. One month before his departure date, the country director suggested that they invent a reason for Day's premature departure: an infection that required medical treatment in Bethesda, Maryland. Day's policeman friend, the recipient of the supposed bribe, was taken to the prison. In letters from friends there, Day understood that the water project was successful; people had running water. On the plane back to Washington, D.C., there were numerous Indians who had been expelled from Kenya for keeping their stores open on the president's birthday, people who had moved to the new country and had sent remissions to their families in India. The new Kenyan government wanted that money to stay in Kenya, so exiled these people who didn't respect the holiday, in the eyes of the Kenyan government. Day met with "high-powered people" to get to the bottom of the situation.

Keywords: American ambassadors; Barclay's Bank; Bribery; Bribes; Immigrants from India; Indians; International Bank for Development; Invented reasons; Moorlands; Paul Theroux; Pipelines; Political outcomes; Premature departure; President's birthday; Rift Valley; Thompson's Falls, Kenya; Water hydraulics; Weirs; Work with settlers; World Bank

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Nairobi (Kenya); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Thompson's Falls (Kenya); Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:58:42 - Bovine medical emergency

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Partial Transcript: If it's okay with you, you let me know I'll go on to the second part of this.

Segment Synopsis: On the western escarpment, a plot holder had a sick cow. A medical treatment team from Nairobi arrived and taught Day and others to treat the cattle.

Keywords: Authorization; Inoculation; Medical treatment teams; Nairobi, Kenya; Treating cows

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

01:00:14 - Peace Corps newsletter

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Partial Transcript: Um, and you also said in passing that you wanted to talk about the Peace Corps newsletter.

Segment Synopsis: "The Aralen," the newsletter, was printed erratically. It was named after the drug hydroxychloroquine, which volunteers were told to take weekly on Sundays. One volunteer committed suicide by consuming his bottle of tablets. The story of this death was printed in the newsletter.

Keywords: Death of a volunteer; Hydroxychloroquine; The Aralen (newsletter)

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

01:01:37 - Meeting politicians in Kenya

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Partial Transcript: Is there anything else before we leave, uh, Kenya, um, that you want to say particularly about that experience?

Segment Synopsis: The ability to go to Nairobi and to see the president of Uganda arriving to meet with the president of Kenya was meaningful to Day. Being in such close proximity to these politicians is unheard of in the U.S. On one occasion, he met Tom Mbyoa, who helped found the country of Kenya, in Thompson's Falls.

Keywords: Leaders; Leadership; Nairobi, Kenya; President of Kenya; President of Uganda; Tom Mbyoa

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

01:03:19 - Work in Washington, D.C. and joining Peace Corps India, Cohort 34

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Partial Transcript: Well after you were--got back to Washington and were debriefed, I guess would be the way to--

Segment Synopsis: In Washington, D.C., Day worked in the Peace Corps headquarters where he helped obtain visas for volunteers going abroad. He met Imelda Marcos, and the president of Burma. Day, then, was offered to join a group of RPCV's going to Micronesia, however, training didn't start for 8 weeks, so he declined. He joined another group going to northern India: India 34. He was cautioned not to tell what happened in Kenya; in fact, he lived in a cottage apart from the other volunteers during pre-service training in Albany, New York. The group learned the Hindi -Urdu language and started agricultural training, as well as the requisite medical vaccinations. He was sent with two other males to a remote village where he remembers the camels and bullock carts, and the green parrots that flew in and out of their residence. Going to the village well, he discovered that interacting with women presented problems. He had to pull up water from 100 feet below in a well, and then haul it to their home in Uttar Pradesh.

Keywords: Camels; Hindi-Urdu (Language); Imelda Marcos; India 34; Joining India 34; Micronesia; Parrots; Peace Corps headquarters; President of Burma; Uttar Pradesh, India; Water wells; Working at Peace Corps headquarters

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Uttar Pradesh (India); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Albany (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 42.6525, -73.757222
01:13:12 - Work and travel in India

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Partial Transcript: Okay, and what were you doing there? Your job?

Segment Synopsis: In Uttar Pradesh, Day worked in the block development office to help farmers increase food production. The block development officer with whom Day worked asked a Norwegian missionary woman to cook for Day. She and her husband lived in a villa. In the village, the officer asked a head-man to house them in a concrete three-room building with an outhouse nearby. He had one wing of the house, and his roommate the other, with shared space between them where the cook worked. His first project was to map the village to gain visibility within the village and to acquaint him with the villagers. The village was comprised of Hindu and Muslim people; the caste system was evident there. His work entailed working with those in the warrior caste. One man taught Day and his roommate vernacular Hindi-Urdu so as to better communicate with the villagers. Day's work involved introducing hybrid seeds to farmers, as well as a bee-keeping project, the first of its kind in the region. In Lucknow, the regional capital, Day met with the agricultural officials who arranged sending the materials to Day in his village. Eventually, he succeeded in making honey, a sacred substance in India. Day also tried to introduce beets to farmers, but they were not popular. The water buffalo produced dung used as fuel in the village. One fell into a village well, and it was a grim scene extricating the animal from the deep well. In his second year in India, Day traveled to Mogadishu, Somalia during the height of the cold war between Kenya and Somalia. Along with other volunteers, Day went to Eritrea. He and his colleague also went to Nepal after communicating with Hope Cook, an American married to a man in Sikkim, a state in northeastern India. Day and his roommate were unable to meet Cook because of local terrorists, although they did enjoy the views of the spectacular mountains. Day was able to see the Taj Mahal, which was awe-inspiring to Day. Day describes a Fourth of July celebration sponsored by the ambassador, held in Delhi.

Keywords: Additional projects and travel; Bee-keeping; Block development offices; Caste system; Eritrea; Fourth of July; Hope Cook; Hybrid seeds; Increase food production; Lassi; Lucknow; Mogadishu, Somalia; Sikkim; Taj Mahal; Uttar Pradesh, India; Warrior caste; Water buffalo

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Interpersonal relations; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Mogadishu (Somalia); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Uttar Pradesh (India); Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Uttar Pradesh, India
Map Coordinates: 26.85, 80.91
01:37:06 - Comparing work in Kenya with that in India

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Partial Transcript: Uh, David, we have about twenty minutes before we're going to be cut off.

Segment Synopsis: Day says that Kenya was "soft," in that any development plan ought not to depend upon governmental money. The mantra there was: "building from below." In Kenya, collaboration was common; he worked with local laborers. In India, the British civil service, on the other hand, structured how people worked along caste lines. He and his colleague worked with the village elders and politicians to dig a well for the villagers. The elder who "divined" the location for the well turned out to be correct in his determination for the location of a 95-foot well. A group of women from the "untouchable" caste dug the well. Day learned to carry 8 bricks on his head during this project. He also had a demonstration garden to share with villagers, showing how to plant seeds, in particular. Irrigation canals were vital to moving water from the well to the fields. The village, in essence, was a feudal community. In Kenya, Day lived an easy life in comparison to life in India. On a trip with his supervising block development officer, Day, by chance, got a view of Stalin's daughter who was also in the villa of the Minister of Defense.

Keywords: "Building from below"; British Civil Service; Collaboration with workers; Demonstration gardens; Digging wells; Diving water; Stalin's daughter

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Interpersonal relations; Language and languages; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:55:09 - Demographics of Day's cohorts

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Partial Transcript: What was the--you know, as a last question, what was the demographic make-up of your groups?

Segment Synopsis: Day's group was comprised mainly of white volunteers in Kenya. One Black volunteer expressed gratitude for being accepted by Black Africans. However, Day's Kenyan colleagues said outright that that volunteer "was not one of us." The ratio of men to women was mixed. In India, there were restrictions for female volunteers, especially if they were single. The only mode of communication was aerograms on onion paper, which Day later donated to the Peace Corps archives.

Keywords: Aerogram letters; Archive at American University; Black volunteers; Composition; Restrictions on females

Subjects: Acculturation; African Americans--Social conditions; Culture; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kenya; Race discrimination; Race relations; Sexism; Voluntarism; Volunteers