Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Tondalaya Gillespie, April 27, 2021

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


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00:00:00 - Influences on her decision to join Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Um, hello. I'm Peggy Walton.

Segment Synopsis: While taking a class in civics in high school, Gillespie read an article in the Guam newspaper about John F. Kennedy's speech at the University of Michigan announcing Peace Corps. At that point, she knew that she wanted to join.

Keywords: Civics classes; Guam; High school civics classes; John F. Kennedy; Speeches; University of Michigan

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

00:03:58 - Pre-service training at St. John's College, Maryland

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Partial Transcript: Um, where, where did you do your, uh, pre-service training?

Segment Synopsis: Gillespie's pre-service training was held at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. In her estimation, it was "like a semester of graduate school" because the faculty had a long history with India. It was the "brain child" of Harris Wofford, a founder of Peace Corps. Her group consisted of 105 Volunteers.

Keywords: Harris Wofford; Pre-service training; St. John's College, Maryland

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

00:05:01 - Reactions of her family to her decision to join

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Partial Transcript: Um, so, what, what was the reaction of your family when you said--announced that you were going to India?

Segment Synopsis: Gillespie had lived internationally so it was not a surprise to her family that she decided to join Peace Corps. Several members of her family also served. Her parents received a letter from Sargent Shriver asking if they also wanted to join.

Keywords: Family's reaction to decision; Lived internationally; Other family members served; Sargent Shriver

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

00:06:12 - Completion of pre-service training in Israel

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Partial Transcript: Um, so the pre-service was in St. John's.

Segment Synopsis: During her pre-service training in the summer of 1965, the war between India and Pakistan broke out. The group was poised to depart for India at the airport outside of New York City when they were told that they were unable to fly to India. The group was then housed in the city for a week while staff at Peace Corps figured out what to do with them. In the end, the group continued training in Israel for 6 weeks, an experience that "solidified" her group. The war ended and quickly the group flew to India.

Keywords: India; Indo-Pakistani War of 1965; New York City (N.Y.); Pakistan; Pre-service training; Wars

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

00:11:25 - Work site and living situation in India

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Partial Transcript: Wow. And do you remember what your initial reactions were when you got to India?

Segment Synopsis: Gillespie initially felt relief at being in India. The group stayed in Old Delhi for a week; after, each took a train to their site. Gillespie was posted in Solapur, a municipal center south of Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra, where other Volunteers worked. She lived in house with four apartments with a squat toilet; electricity and running water were sporadic.

Keywords: Apartment houses; Living arrangements; Living conditions; Living situations; Maharashtra (India); Solapur (India)

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

00:17:39 - Work in poultry development

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Partial Transcript: Um, so your work was in agriculture?

Segment Synopsis: Gillespie's group was in poultry development, as well as community development. She says everything was about chickens. It was outdoor work that she enjoyed and involved traveling to other areas, allowing her to meet many people. She worked mainly with men, but wives, children, and grandparents wanted to meet her, too. She helped design chicken feeders, analyzed disease specimens, and administered vaccinations, among other activities. Being a Hindu country, people didn't eat eggs and a challenge for her was educating people about the nutritional value of vegetarian (unfertilized) eggs. Another challenge was marketing the eggs that were produced. Gillespie and others founded a cooperative that sold eggs in the cities: the Dhosi Egg with the Peace Corps stamp on every egg, which still exists.

Keywords: Chickens; Dhosi (India); Dhosi Eggs; Egg cooperatives; Eggs; Hinduism; Poultry development; Religion; Religious beliefs

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

00:24:48 - Description of a typical day

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Partial Transcript: Is--was there--or--can you describe a typical day?

Segment Synopsis: After breakfast, Gillespie took a bus or rode her bike to a village, then often took a bollock cart to the farms. Much of the time was spent talking with people and attending festivals, as opposed to actually working. During the monsoon seasons, she was often trapped in her house due to the rain. However, there were always people interested in talking with her or looking at her.

Keywords: Daily life; Monsoons; Transportation

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

00:28:02 - Languages spoken

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Partial Transcript: Um, what language did you study?

Segment Synopsis: Gillespie was trained in Hindi, however, at her site, people spoke British English, the official language of India. In her state, people also spoke Marathi which is associated with Hindi. She wanted to gain fluency in Hindi. She also learned many words in British English.

Keywords: British English (Language); Hindi (Language); Marathi (Language)

Subjects: India; Language and culture; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:31:46 - Filling downtime

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Partial Transcript: Um, how did you handle the monsoon seasons?

Segment Synopsis: During the monsoons, Gillespie entertained people, and visited them in their houses. Also, Peace Corps gave each Volunteer a foot locker filled with books to read. She also listened to "Voice of America" on the radio at night. On Radio Ceylon, she listened to popular Western music. It was there that she heard "California Dreamin'." In addition, she tutored kids in English. In her block development office, she talked with the officials there. Loneliness was rare in India. She says hers was an ideal assignment as she was the only Volunteer in her area.

Keywords: Activities; Books; Leisure activities; Loneliness; Monsoons; Radio Ceylon (Radio station); Voice of America (Radio program)

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

00:34:50 - More on training

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Partial Transcript: We couldn't leave our assignment, uh--our sites, the first six months we were there.

Segment Synopsis: Volunteers were not allowed to leave their sites for 6 months. After 9 months, Gillespie traveled to Goa, India. Periodically, all members of her group were brought together by Peace Corps; one of these meetings was held in Varanasi, the holiest city in India where she saw funeral pyres and bodies in the Ganges River. Gillespie credits the pre-service training for preparing her group for life in India.

Keywords: Ganges River; Goa (India); Pre-service preparation; Traveling in-country; Varanasi (India)

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

GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: Goa, India 15.2993N, 74.1240E Varanasi, India 25.3176N, 82.9739E Ganges River 25.3215N, 83.1145E
00:38:41 - Gillespie's accomplishments as a Volunteer

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Partial Transcript: Um, so when you look back on your service, what you do think are your major accomplishments?

Segment Synopsis: For Gillespie, the friendships that she made were her major accomplishments. She and her husband, also a Volunteer, were married in India. The egg cooperative is still in existence. To them, India is their "second home."

Keywords: Accomplishments; Closeness; Egg cooperatives; Friendships and connections; Husbands; Marriage

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

00:42:43 - Insights from her Peace Corps experience

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Partial Transcript: Is there anything that, uh, you would have done differently if you could?

Segment Synopsis: Gillespie was determined to work internationally, so, had Peace Corps not worked out, she'd have found another route to her goal. Gillespie says from her service she learned how to sit and do nothing; she learned not to be bored, and to be satisfied with herself. She also learned to be culturally sensitive with others. India was "tailor made" for her.

Keywords: Careers; Insights; Interest in working internationally; Lessons learned; Personal insights

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

00:47:48 - Reflections on Peace Corps' three goals

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Partial Transcript: Um, so in terms of the three Peace Corps goals, um, how would you assess yourself?

Segment Synopsis: In terms of the technical training, Gillespie had tools to use, it was just a matter of implementing them at her site. "Demonstrate to motivate" was the motto. She broke down barriers with people at her site. Because Gillespie looked somewhat Indian, people were attracted to her, thinking that she'd been Indian in a previous life. Gillespie belongs to Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) organizations; she's spoken about Peace Corps in schools and community groups.

Keywords: Community outreach; Evaluation of three goals; Physical appearance; Reincarnation; Technical training

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

00:52:38 - Reflections on the role of Peace Corps in her life

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Partial Transcript: So let's see. So, what would you say has been--have been some of the effects of Peace Corps on your life?

Segment Synopsis: As a result of Peace Corps, Gillespie chose to live an international life. She and her cohort members still deeply appreciate their pre-service training; they have strong ties to St. John's College. They've had reunions over the years. During training, she was challenged about her own assumptions.

Keywords: Assumptions; Pre-service training; St. John's College; Value of pre-service training

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

00:55:47 - Work as a Peace Corps staff member

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Partial Transcript: Um, well let's talk a little bit about your staff work.

Segment Synopsis: Gillespie's first staff assignment was while she was still a Volunteer in India in which she extended her service to assist with training groups coming to India. She helped set up the training site itself, and finding sites, counterparts, and housing for the incoming Volunteers. She was also involved in matching a Volunteer to a site. As a result of this work, Gillespie traveled in much of India, particularly tribal areas. Penn State University hired Gillespie to be the cross-cultural coordinator for India 26, a 3-month program. Gillespie trained another group in Hemet, California, an all-female group in tribal agriculture. Following these stints, she returned to college in Hawaii. The Experiment in International Living hired her to lead a group in India. Gillespie's family had lived in Micronesia, and Peace Corps Washington called to ask her to assist with a program there, in which her fiancé was involved. They stayed 2 1/2 years there after being married. It was there that Gillespie met a teacher of hers from high school. To complete their 5-year commitment to Peace Corps, they went to Malaysia, a blend of cultures and sectors in Peace Corps, where Gillespie taught English to local students.

Keywords: Cross-cultural coordinators; Experiment in International Living; Hemet (Calif.); Peace Corps staff; Peace Corps staff assignments; Penn State University; Pennsylvania State University; Staff assignments; Teachers; Teaching; Training groups

Subjects: Culture; India; Malaysia; Micronesia; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--India; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Malaysia; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Management; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Micronesia; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Hemet (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 33.7475, -116.971944
01:09:33 - Challenges of navigating cultural expectations

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Partial Transcript: Let me see. Have I overlooked something?

Segment Synopsis: When Gillespie first arrived in India, she was told to dress locally and appropriately. The Volunteers already working with the farmers called a meeting to introduce the new Volunteers. The farmers didn't expect those first Volunteers to be replaced by women. During the meeting, a boy brought out a tray with a pack of cigarettes and matches, brought especially for Gillespie and her friend, another Volunteer. They'd been told not to smoke in India; the Indians thought that American women would want them. In order not to insult their hosts, they smoked the cigarettes: the gifts presented to them. One challenge was getting people to accept what she knew would help them. Giving time to others can also be challenging. The Big Island of Hawaii was once the largest Peace Corps training site; Peace Corps has a history there.

Keywords: Cultural exchange; Cultural expectations

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