For two years I taught math. I tried to dispel the image of "The Ugly American" by sponsoring singing groups and extra-curricular activities. I helped to write a series of modern math textbooks that ended up being adopted in Ghana, Jamaica and Uganda, conducted student community service projects in nearby villages and took students on cultural exchanges to nearby countries, including Nigeria.
Communications were limited to blue lightweight air letters and small reel-to-reel tapes. There were no computers, no internet. In fact, there was often no electricity. Several months after arrival and early one morning, one of my students breathlessly rushed to my Chattanooga to say the troops from the next door army base were "moving".
The next thing I knew was that Nkrumah, who was in Hanoi on an effort to resolve the Vietnam War, was deposed. He ended up in Guinea with Stokely Carmichael of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) fame, thereby breaking up the Pan-African effort to form a Ghana-Guinea-Mali political union. A few days later, the Army truck came to the school. Ivan, Alex, and I sat on the stoops of our houses. We all knew somebody would be picked up. Ivan and Alex were ordered into the truck. My code word never came. And that was the day I decided that I needed to know much more about who was doing what to whom and why.
Somehow I heard that there was a new Ph.D. program in economics at West Virginia University. Arriving in Accra at 4 a.m. after a muddy eight-hour trip, I took the Graduate Record Exam four hours later. WVU accepted me and assigned me to William H. Miernyk, a Benedum Professor who headed up WVU's Regional Research Institute. WVU had a major interest in East Africa and perhaps thought I could help out. Needless to say, I was not impressed with my first research assignment, which was to assist two professors studying the economic use of cow dung among the Masai. Fortunately, assignments improved, and soon I became involved with labor issues and projects related to the recently formed Appalachian Regional Commission.
After WVU, I landed at WVU Tech. Leonard Nelson was President and Jack Robertson was the dean. They were actively involved with War on Poverty projects, including affordable housing, Appalachian Research and Defense legal aid, Black Lung counseling, and similar projects. I fit this mold, and a year later became chairman of the newly created Department of Social Sciences and Public Administration.
My Ghanaian connections came along. One of my Ghanaian colleagues obtained his Ph.D. in economics at Indiana University and I asked him to join me at Tech. After Tech, he became head of the Ghanaian Bank for Housing and Reconstruction. The student who alerted me about the troop movement also came to Tech, became an officer in the Student Government Association, and is now a government figure and businessman. He then sent his daughter to Tech, who recently graduated in Health Services Administration. The most recent former student who arrived at Tech is Solomon Addico. Addico, who currently is the chief financial officer at WVU Tech, was in my first math class in Ghana.
Four of the six of us who arrived in Ghana are still close friends. John became a biochemist and researcher at the University of Iowa; Bob became a chemist with Schering-Plough Pharmaceutical; and Paula went to teach math on the Pine Ridge Reservation and then became a health professional near Boston.
As you can imagine, there is more to the story. But this is enough to say "Thanks" to John F. Kennedy and "Congratulations" to the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps made a major difference in my life and the lives of many. I am forever grateful that the Peace Corps experience was not the end, but became only the beginning of my journey to West Virginia.David, a Gazette contributing columnist, is a professor at WVU Tech.