January 29, 2002 - Knoxville News-Sentinel: Volunteer rushed from Uzbekistan

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 01 January 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: January 29, 2002 - Knoxville News-Sentinel: Volunteer rushed from Uzbekistan

By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, April 09, 2002 - 12:29 pm: Edit Post

Volunteer rushed from Uzbekistan

Read and comment on this story from the Knoxville News-Sentinel about Uzbekistan PCV Salissa Wahlers and how she wants to go back to Uzbekistan at:

Sept. 11 changed lives of Americans overseas; Volunteer rushed from Uzbekistan *

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Sept. 11 changed lives of Americans overseas; Volunteer rushed from Uzbekistan

Jan 29, 2002 - Knoxville News-Sentinel Author(s): Ken Garland, News-Sentinel Blount County Bureau

MARYVILLE -- Ten days after terrorists crashed hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Salissa Wahlers received a call from her Peace Corps supervisors and was told to be ready to leave.

Several days later, Wahlers was at her father's home in Blount County minus some of her luggage. But she wants to go "back."

"Back" is Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia. An independent nation since 1991, it shares about 90 miles of border with Afghanistan.

Wahlers is a 25-year-old Peace Corps volunteer who worked in Uzbekistan teaching English to Uzbek students for 13 months prior to being evacuated.

"They said it was urgent," Wahlers said of the Peace Corps officials who ordered the evacuation. "They were just being proactive. We never knew when we were leaving. We were just told to show up in a compound and wait until we could leave."

She said she and the other Peace Corps workers showed up at the compound in the capital city to await evacuation. It took days because they had to wait until they could get seats on commercial airliners.

"Even after Sept. 11 everything was still peaceful," Wahlers said. "We were just told to go. This was particularly hard on us because we had bonded well with our host families."

However, she and the other workers got on the plane and flew out of the country they had come to love. Wahlers said she arrived at her home without several pieces of her luggage. She said she doubts some of it will ever be found.

Immediately after terrorist attacks, the people of Uzbekistan were supportive of the United States, she said.

"It was really strange," Wahlers said. "We didn't have a television, and I didn't have my radio on. We had some students call us, but I didn't know what they were talking about. I thought they were confused."

A short while later, she said two of her Peace Corps colleagues showed up at her front door, which was unusual. The father of one had an office in the World Trade Center, and she was worried about him. They went to the home of a friend, who gave them a phone and told them to make as many calls as needed. They discovered the father was away from the office on vacation when the terrorists struck.

She said the reaction of the local Uzbek people was startling.

"We didn't expect the reaction," she said. "A lot of people were giving us condolences. ... People would walk up to us on the street and say, 'I'm so sorry.' Some people were openly crying. I don't think a lot of people know how people feel about America. For a lot, it was like someone had wounded a close friend."

She said the Uzbekistan people, even though they are predominantly Muslim, did not side with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban and that they "look down upon Afghanistan."

"Afghanistan is where a lot of the drugs ... come from," she said. "Also, a lot of Islamic fundamentalists come from there."

Wahlers said she coaxed a baseball team in Uzbekistan and was named baseball coordinator for the entire country. She said she wants to form more teams but lacks the equipment to do so.

Wahlers said anyone who wishes to donate or help her buy equipment can call her at (228) 896-5814 or e-mail her at salissa76@hotmail.com. They also may leave a message at her father's home in Maryville at 981-9947.

Ken Garland may be reached at 981-9117 or garland@knews.com.

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