What does it take to be a Peace Corps Volunteer? Idealism? Adaptability? Perseverance? I thought I had what it took when I joined the Peace Corps in 1964 until I came face to face with the reality of living and teaching in Anatolia, Turkey. From my first experience with Turkish cuisine to my attempts to emulate America recipes, from my first meetings with Turks to my final good-byes, these forty-five short stories highlight the ups and downs of a fresh-out-of-college, know-it-all female Volunteer attempting to find her place in the conservative town of Konya, Turkey.
I thought that being a Peace Corps Volunteer would be a piece of cake. I admit I didn't have the idealism typical of many Volunteers in the mid-60s, but I knew I was adaptable. After all, I had survived seven different elementary schools and student teaching in an all-black high school in Washington, D.C. But my own experiences and the lectures and insights I received in training did not prepare me for the reality of living and teaching in Anatolia, Turkey. How do you find a place to live in Konya when no landlord would rent to a Western female? How do you justify your existence as a Volunteer when the principal of the high school you were assigned to doesn't give you enough teaching hours? And how do you respond to an upstairs Turkish neighbor woman who wants to know if you're a virgin?
There was a lot I had to learn: how to get along well with three roommates for two years; how to tend a coal stove to get heat without being asphyxiated; and what was the best way to cook a stringy, tough chicken. But there was so much I discovered: the joy of reaching the hearts of forty-three middle school girls; learning that teaching English was a skill I was good at; and of knowing that despite my misgivings and lack of adequate language, I could conform to a conservative culture but not lose my Western ideals. From the fear of being sent home in disgrace, to my triumphs in the classroom, from my first day at Robert College in Istanbul, to my last day in Konya, these forty-five stories reflect my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Turkey.