January 1, 2005: Headlines: COS - Guinea: Return to our Country of Service - Guinea: Topeka Capital-Journal: RPCV Gary Lortscher makes trip back to Guinea

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Guinea: Peace Corps Guinea : The Peace Corps in Guinea: January 1, 2005: Headlines: COS - Guinea: Return to our Country of Service - Guinea: Topeka Capital-Journal: RPCV Gary Lortscher makes trip back to Guinea

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RPCV Gary Lortscher makes trip back to Guinea

RPCV Gary Lortscher makes trip back to Guinea

RPCV Gary Lortscher makes trip back to Guinea

Ex-Peace Corps volunteer makes trip back to Africa

By Matt Moline
Topeka Capital-Journal
Topeka, Kan.
January 1, 2005

BERN - A pet python figures prominently in a photo taken in 1964 of former Peace Corps volunteer Gary Lortscher, who served a two-year tour of duty in west Africa beginning in 1963.

The photo shows a 23-year-old Lortscher displaying the snake to an audience of children gathered outside the home where he lived in the village of Kissidougou, in the nation of Guinea.

Last month, the Nemaha County native brought the photo along on a return trip to Guinea, marking his 40th anniversary of Peace Corps service in the nation of 10 million people.

Although the little village had mushroomed in four decades into a city of 1 million inhabitants, Lortscher found one of the photo's youthful subjects at Kissidougou's Hotel Mantis -- a middle-age man who now works as a hotel accountant.

"He told me he was one of the kids standing on the front porch of my house," Lortscher said Friday, "and he remembered seeing this white man with a snake wrapped around his neck."

Lortscher, who owns Lortscher Agri-Service Inc., at Bern in Nemaha County, received a degree in agronomy from Kansas State University in the spring of 1963 and joined the Peace Corps four months later.

Now 63, Lortscher initially embarked on this year's Guinean odyssey in search of two godchildren born to Guinean families who had worked with the Nemaha County native at an agricultural experiment station. Although Lortscher wasn't able to learn the fate of one of the namesakes -- named Robert, which is Gary Lortscher's actual first name -- he was told the other had died as a youngster.

Time also had claimed the life of an old Guinean friend, Mansare Kemon. The tractor mechanic died last summer at age 59.

But Lortscher was able to connect with Kemon's 20-year-old son, Sarama Kemon, and provided a cash gift to erect a headstone to mark the elder Kemon's grave.

"I wanted to know if Mansare had ever been able to buy a tractor of his own," Lortscher said. "When I worked with him, he always would have me hold half his pay from the garage where he worked, and when I left he had not yet saved enough to buy the Massey-Ferguson that he wanted. Sarama told me his father eventually did buy a tractor, but it was a Ford."

Life has changed dramatically for Mansare's descendants, who are no longer tied to agricultural pursuits. Sarama Kemon is known as a telecommunications pioneer in Kissidougou, and as the first local entrepreneur to offer satellite telephone service in the sprawling city, Lortscher said.

Lortscher also met other Guineans who identified themselves as having watched him wrestle the python, including a former secretary of agriculture for the government of Guinea.

"As I would pass around this picture, people would get these big grins on their faces as they recognized themselves as children," Lortscher recalled. "And then they'd say things like, 'Well here's a white person who actually came back to Africa.' "

Lortscher's plan for a 40th anniversary trip to Guinea developed after attending a reunion last July in Boston of Peace Corps alumni who had worked in Guinea.

A Lutheran minister in Nemaha County -- Marvin Kohlmeier, of Sabetha -- read a newspaper account of the get-together and invited Lortscher to join an agricultural mission trip to Guinea last month sponsored by the Kansas District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Topeka Capital-Journal

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Guinea; Return to our Country of Service - Guinea



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