Betty Boyd Pyle

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My husband Richard and I served in Lucea, Jamaica as relative "newlyweds" --- far off the tourist path. We both were assigned to education projects, but our work also evolved into meeting other community needs, like teaching adult literacy and, for me, home economics and surreptitious sex education to young women who had very little accurate information about their bodies. I also got very involved in helping at the local hospital, especially in the "pediatric ward" fleshlight where two and three terminally ill infants would be sharing the same crib. I will never forget caring for a dead baby whom the staff feared to touch because its eyes were still open. Health standards in general were abysmal. I got amoebic dysentery and became so ill that a local "missionary" from the US stood over my bed and pronounced the "last rites." Obviously, I got better, once the PC doctor became involved in providing the necessary medications!

We lived on a subsistence allowance in a modest little house high on a hill the first year --- with a cat to catch the lizards and a mosquito net to discourage the insects from feasting on us during the night --- got our food on the weekends from the market, cooked with a kerosene stove, boiled our water, and walked everywhere or rode our bicycles (it was very hilly). The local kids saw our house as the "youth center" and hung out with us on the porch most nights. When it became impossible to get any running water up on the hill, we moved down to a sea level very open tiny cottage. No phones, no electricity ... we read a lot of books and played a lot of board games! We felt very much a part of the community and were invited to innumerable celebrations and events --- to be served saltfish & ackee, green-colored curried goat, rice 'n peas, fried plantain, breadfruit and escoveatch fish. They taught us to be more laid-back with their "soon come" approach to life. Their island motto "Out of Many, One People" became eye-opening and real to me, a midwestern girl raised in a WASP-y suburb. We developed such a love for our neighbors and found it hard to leave them after our two years. There were tears on all sides.

Over the years since then, Richard has been able to set up "service learning" programs with some of the colleges/universities with which he has worked so that students can go to Lucea, live with families, help in the schools, and experience life in a third world country. Many have gone on to join the Peace Corps or become involved in other service-oriented professions.

Our Peace Corps experience changed our lives and the commitments we have made for the past 40+ years since then. To top off his career, Richard is once again working for the Peace Corps at DC headquarters, in the office of special services --- mostly providing crisis counseling as needed, often in African countries. Our four now grown children are well aware of the need for cross-cultural understanding, respect and sensitivity. Our home has welcomed foreign students to live with us, and we welcome opportunities to share adventures and learn other perspectives. That keeps us young!

Joining the Peace Corps was the most significant decision I ever made (along with accepting the proposal to marry the man who shared my ideals in 1965). While my two years in Jamaica hardly made a dent in solving their deep-rooted problems, the experience changed me and my desire to be a more compassionate citizen of the world.