Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Frank Connolly, May 13, 2021

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


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00:00:01 - Motivation for joining the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Hello, today is May 13, 2021. My name is Jay Sztuk. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji in 1974 through '76 and today I am going to be interviewing Frank Connolly who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon from 1965 through 1967. --Uh--Frank was in the community development program doing school construction in Gabon.

Segment Synopsis: Connolly recalls learning about the Peace Corps and deciding to apply. He describes how he felt when he got assigned to Gabon in Africa. Connolly also talks about being sent to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for training.

Keywords: Application; College; Cultural training; Language training; OCS; Officer Candidate School; School construction; U.S. Navy

Subjects: Africa, West; Baton Rouge (La.); Community development; Construction; French language; Gabon; Language and culture; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Gabon

00:03:55 - College education

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Partial Transcript: Where--where did you go to college?

Segment Synopsis: Connolly talks about attending Providence College and the political climate of the United States at that time (during the 1960s). He talks about attending the University of Virginia to get a master's degree in urban planning and Southern Connecticut State University to get a master's degree in education and social studies.

Keywords: Career; College; John F. Kennedy; Local government; Master's degree; Social studies; Urban planning; Urban studies

Subjects: Career; City planning; Culture; Economics; Education; Peace Corps (U.S.); Providence College; Southern Connecticut State University; United States; University of Virginia

00:06:01 - Assignment to remote village

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Partial Transcript: At that time--uh--it sounds like they were looking for people who had experience in construction, is it? They actually had a--a school construction program there in Gabon, huh?

Segment Synopsis: Connolly briefly talks about the village he was assigned to and how isolated it was.

Keywords: Gabonese people; Isolated; School construction; Villagers

Subjects: Construction; Gabon; Jungles; Nyanga Province (Gabon); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Gabon; Rural; Schools; Villages

00:08:02 - Training for the Peace Corps/constructing a school

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Partial Transcript: --Uh--let's--let's . . . going back to--to training. --Uh--so you went to--uh--you went to Baton Rouge and you were thrown together with a bunch of people from all over the country.

Segment Synopsis: Connolly talks about his training in Baton Rouge and as well as additional training he received after arriving in Gabon. Connolly describes having to make around 10,000 bricks by hand to construct a school in the community.

Keywords: Funding; Materials; Mourindi (Gabon); Remote villages; School construction; Supplies; USAID

Subjects: Baton Rouge (La.); Bricklaying; Bricks; Construction; Dropouts; Education; French language; Gabon; Nyanga Province (Gabon); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Gabon; Rural; Schools; Tchibanga (Nyanga, Gabon); Training; United States. Agency for International Development.; Villages; Volunteers

00:14:17 - Arrival in village

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so you were sent out to this village. Did the--the people in the village know you were coming?

Segment Synopsis: Connolly describes the reactions of the villagers when he first arrived in Mourindi. He talks about how remote Mourindi was and briefly described what the living conditions were like in the village and what languages they spoke.

Keywords: Arrival; Gabonese; Living conditions; Mourindi (Gabon); Villagers

Subjects: Dialects; French language; Gabon; Languages; Nyanga Province (Gabon); Outhouses; Peace Corps (U.S)--Gabon; Peace Corps (U.S.); Priests; Rural; Villages

00:18:47 - Culture shock/Peace Corps reunion

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Partial Transcript: Well coming from--uh--coming from the--the U.S. and not having traveled outside of the States--um--did you have some culture shock when you hit the ground in the country?

Segment Synopsis: Connolly talks about adjusting to life in Gabon and having trouble coming back to the United States. Connolly discusses the reunion he organized with around thirty other Peace Corps volunteers since they never had a debriefing before leaving the country. Connolly considers what he learned during in his time living in Gabon.

Keywords: Adjustment period; Debriefing; Mourindi (Gabon)

Subjects: Culture; Culture shock; Gabon; Lifestyles; Local government; Manners and customs; Nyanga Province (Gabon); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Gabon; Political stability; Reunions; Travel; Volunteers

00:23:25 - Interacting with the villagers

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Partial Transcript: And how about--um--interacting with the villagers when you got there? Were they accepting of you? Did they like Americans? Was there any--any problem adjusting to--to living in the village?

Segment Synopsis: Connolly talks about how the villagers treated him in Mourindi. Connolly recalls throwing a party for some of the village leaders and having to kill some chickens and prepare them for the meal they ate. Connolly describes some of the spiritual practices that he witnessed in the village.

Keywords: Beliefs; Canned rations; Evil spirits; Mourindi (Gabon); Slaughter; Spiritual practices; Villagers

Subjects: Alcoholic beverages; Chickens; Culture; Gabon; Interpersonal relations; Leaders; Masks; Nyanga Province (Gabon); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Gabon; Villages; Wine

00:27:21 - A typical day in the village

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Partial Transcript: So--um--other than making bricks all day wh--what--how uh what--what was your typical day like there in the . . . in the village?

Segment Synopsis: Connolly describes what a typical day was like in Mourindi. He talks about obtaining a projector for the village and showing the villagers movies for the first time. Connolly recalls the new clothing drive that his mother organized for the villagers.

Keywords: Avocados; Clothing drives; Daily routines; Gabonese; Mourindi (Gabon); Movies; Resources; School construction; Self-sufficient; Villagers

Subjects: Beach Boys; Bricklaying; Bricks; Community development; Construction; French language; Language and languages; Mother; Music; Nyanga Province (Gabon); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Gabon; Projectors; Schools; Teaching; Villages

00:30:23 - School in the village

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Partial Transcript: Now was there school in operation at that time in the--in the village or--or did school only start when you finished construction?

Segment Synopsis: Connolly emphasizes the importance of the school building he constructed since it was the first one in Mourindi.

Keywords: Mourindi (Gabon); School construction

Subjects: Classrooms; Community development; Construction; Education; Gabon; Nyanga Province (Gabon); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Gabon; Schools; Teachers; Teaching

00:31:10 - Leisure activities

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Partial Transcript: What other kind of--uh--local activities did you guys--?

Segment Synopsis: Connolly considers what he and the other volunteers did for entertainment, including reading and listening to BBC Radio. Connolly talks about spending his time with the locals and drinking local wine.

Keywords: Activities; BBC; Entertainment; Free time; Fun; Gabonese; Local wine; Locals; Mourindi (Gabon)

Subjects: Books; British Broadcasting Corporation; Gabon; Jungles; Leisure; Music; Nyanga Province (Gabon); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Gabon; Reading; Recreation; Television; Wine

00:34:00 - Traveling in Gabon/secondary projects

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Partial Transcript: Did--uh--did you have much interaction with them? Or--

Segment Synopsis: Connolly talks about being required to travel to Libreville in Gabon once a year, emphasizing how difficult the trip was. Telecommunications were so scarce that Connolly had to drive to the city to make a phone call. Connolly remarks that he occasionally visited with other volunteers. Connolly also briefly mentions that he did not have much time for projects aside from constructing the school.

Keywords: Busy; Gabonese; Mourindi (Gabon); Polaroids; Projects; School construction; USAID

Subjects: Construction; Education; Gabon; Infrastructure; Libreville (Gabon); Nyanga Province (Gabon); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Gabon; Telephone calls; Travel; United States. Agency for International Development; Volunteers

00:38:05 - Memorable experiences in Gabon

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Partial Transcript: Alright, what are your--some of--some of your most memorable experiences--uh--of living out there in the village?

Segment Synopsis: Connolly discusses a hunting trip where they killed a monkey and prepared it to eat. He describes some of the foods they tried, like elephant meat and plantains Connolly briefly talks of having to learn basic mechanics to work on his vehicle.

Keywords: Daily routines; Doctors; Elephant meat; Gabonese; Hunting parties; Monkey meat; Mourindi (Gabon); Plantains; School construction; Spicy; Vehicle maintenance

Subjects: Bricks; Food; Gabon; Hunting; Learning; Meat; Mechanics; Monkeys; Motor vehicles; Nyanga Province (Gabon); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Gabon; Physicians; Villages

00:43:02 - Contributions to the village/life after Gabon

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Partial Transcript: So--um--you feel like you made a--uh--significant contribution there--uh--to the village?

Segment Synopsis: Connolly evaluates his contributions to the village and what he took away from the experience. He talks about observations he made when he came back to the United States that he was previously unaware of before Peace Corps.

Keywords: Contributions; Lessons; Marketing; Material goods; Mourindi (Gabon); Running water

Subjects: Cell phones; Chickens; Communication; Culture shock; Food security; Gifts; Marketing; Medicine; Nyanga Providence (Gabon); Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Gabon; Refrigerators; Schools; Travel

00:47:22 - Speaking tour on Peace Corps experience

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Partial Transcript: You said you spent a lot of time touring--uh--after you came home and talking about your Peace Corps experience. What--what--what kind of things would you tell people about Peace Corps and living in Gabon?

Segment Synopsis: Connolly describes his experiences of touring the United States after leaving the Peace Corps and telling people about his experiences in Africa.

Keywords: Presentations; Talks; Touring

Subjects: Africa; Developing countries; Experience; Gabon; Peace Corps (U.S.); Schools; United States

00:48:40 - Traveling to other countries in Africa

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Partial Transcript: And it wasn't just Gabon. I mean when we got vacation--uh--one of my buddies in another village--uh--he and I took off and we went up into the Cameroons. And we spent three weeks traveling around in the Cameroons.

Segment Synopsis: Connolly talks about taking a trip to the Cameroon during his Peace Corps service. Connolly describes visiting his daughter who was volunteering with the Peace Corps in Benin. Connolly recalls traveling to other places in Africa. One notable travel event was when Connolly rode camels in the Sahara Desert.

Subjects: Africa; Africa, West.; Airports; Benin; Camels; Cameroon; Peace Corps (U.S.); Sahara; Security; Travel

00:51:36 - Life after the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: So--uh--well you've talked a little bit about what you did afterwards what--and your culture shock coming back. Did--did your Peace Corps experience influence--uh--what you did when you--when you came back?

Segment Synopsis: Connolly talks about working in government after the Peace Corps and how he learned patience from his volunteer experience. Connolly considers how he has grown as a person due to his Peace Corps service. Connolly discusses the experiences of his daughters with the Peace Corps and what they did afterwards.

Keywords: Hardships; Local news; Town managers; Town planners

Subjects: City planners; Culture; Daughters; Experience; Families; Lifestyles; Local government; Obituaries; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Gabon

00:56:46 - Visiting Gabon and keeping up with other volunteers

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Partial Transcript: So--uh--between--between the time that--uh--you served and the time that you went to visit your daughters in Africa did--did you ever travel back to--uh--Gabon and get the chance to visit?

Segment Synopsis: Connolly explains why he has not been able to visit Gabon since Peace Corps. He talks about keeping in touch with other volunteers over the years after the Peace Corps. Connolly discusses one of the volunteers he knew that went back to Gabon and his experience there.

Keywords: Contact; Visiting

Subjects: Africa; Gabon; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Gabon; Travel; Volunteers

00:58:20 - Getting drafted

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Partial Transcript: Did we miss anything--anything you wanted--?

Segment Synopsis: Connolly talks about coming back to the United States during the Vietnam War and getting drafted. Connolly recalls obtaining a medical deferment due to being exposed to various diseases in Africa.

Keywords: Medical deferments

Subjects: Diseases; Draft; Gabon; Health; Malaria; Military; Peace Corps (U.S.); United States; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

01:00:13 - Dr. Albert Schweitzer/adjustment period after the Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Gabon was famous in the sixties--fifties, sixties and seventies uh the home of Dr. Schweitzer. Albert Schweitzer . . . the famous doctor that opened up his--um--hospital in Lambaréné on the Ogooue River. . .

Segment Synopsis: Connolly talks about visiting the hospital that notable physician Albert Schweitzer opened in Gabon. Connolly recalls becoming accustomed to modern conveniences like air conditioning even though he had to live without them during the Peace Corps.

Keywords: Albert Schweitze; Doctors; Government; Reverence for Life; Schweitzer Institute

Subjects: Air conditioning; Camels; Gabon; Hospitals; Lambaréné (Moyen-Ogooué, Gabon); Peace Corps (U.S.); Physicians; Sahara; Schweitzer, Albert, 1875-1965