January 25, 2004 - Victoria Advocate: John Meitzen, of Port Lavaca was one of the first Peace Corps volunteers in Sri Lanka

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Sri Lanka: Peace Corps Sri Lanka: The Peace Corps in Sri Lanka: January 25, 2004 - Victoria Advocate: John Meitzen, of Port Lavaca was one of the first Peace Corps volunteers in Sri Lanka

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-35-236.balt.east.verizon.net - on Sunday, January 25, 2004 - 3:19 pm: Edit Post

John Meitzen, of Port Lavaca was one of the first Peace Corps volunteers in Sri Lanka

John Meitzen, of Port Lavaca was one of the first Peace Corps volunteers in Sri Lanka

John Meitzen, of Port Lavaca was one of the first Peace Corps volunteers in Sri Lanka. He was there in 1962-64, and the country was known as Ceylon.

Meitzen was 34 when he left to teach at Tholangamuwa Central College in Kegalla, a small village in the southwest part of the island. He already had experience teaching high school in Del Rio when he joined. "I decided I wasn't going to get rich teaching school so I might as well have a good time."

He chose Sri Lanka because it was halfway around the world. The island country is off the coast of India.

In Kegalla, Meitzen taught math to older students and English to younger students in grades six through 14. Before he went to Sri Lanka, he went through a four-month intensive language training class at the University of Pennsylvania, where he learned Sinhala, the main national language of the country, spoken by about 74 percent of the people. The Sinhalese are the major ethnic group in the country. The other national language is Tamil, spoken by 18 percent of the population. Tamil is also the second most common ethnic group.

For the most part, Meitzen said, he didn't have any problems speaking Sinhalese. "I had a hard time getting them to speak Sinhalese, because they wanted to speak English."

The Peace Corps is no longer in Sri Lanka because of instability in the government and tensions between the Sinhalese and Tamil. The two groups began fighting in the mid-1980s and, since then, tens of thousands have died in a war that continues today.

During Meitzen's two years there, he didn't experience any of the violence. Every weekend he traveled to surrounding villages and did carpentry work and other chores for people.

"I helped plant rice or just visited with people," he said. "They gave us so many coconuts I got sick of it."

Meitzen said coconut juice and tea were the most common drinks, and rice was eaten for almost every meal. The motto he lived by in dealing with food was, "If you can't peel it or cook it, don't eat it. I ate mostly rice and curry with chili peppers. They were Buddhist so they didn't kill anything. I dropped about 20 pounds when I first got there."

He lost so much weight because the Sinhalese at first gave him a big spoon to eat with and the big gulps of chili pepper gave him the hiccups so he didn't eat as much.

"Everyone else ate with their fingers, so I started eating with my fingers, too, so I could get enough food in my stomach."

Meitzen wasn't the only volunteer in Kegalla. Another man taught biology and, together with Meitzen, started a physical education class at the school. Meitzen taught boxing and track. "We started something new there. It gave the kids something to do."

Meitzen remembers the children were very serious students and nothing distracted them. "They didn't get off the subject, because an education meant the difference between working in the rice paddies or doing government service."

He taught the younger students in a thatched-roof, open-air room. It was called "the fish bowl" because everyone came to watch how Meitzen spoke and taught English.

Meitzen said his true passion is the water, and every chance he got he headed toward the ocean, where he taught locals how to body surf. There was also a lagoon he liked to swim in until one day when he ran into a large pair of crocodile eyes.

In his free time, Meitzen met with students and even provided first aid. "I sewed up a few cuts. Everybody ran around barefoot."

He also traveled frequently to the country's capital of Colombo and did work at the Colombo Technical College.

When he moved back to Texas, Meitzen settled in Port Lavaca because his older brother was there. He continued his teaching career at Crockett Middle School, where he taught for 28 years.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Victoria Advocate

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Sri Lanka



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.