Dave Wilson reflects on his Peace Corps assignment in Afghanistan

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By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, June 28, 2001 - 12:44 am: Edit Post

Dave Wilson reflects on his Peace Corps assignment in Afghanistan

Dave Wilson reflects on his Peace Corps assignment in Afghanistan

Peace Corps Volunteers Reflect on Their Experiences

Cara Pesek

Daily Nebraskan - U. of Nebraska - Lincoln , (U-WIRE)

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LINCOLN, Neb. -- When he was young, Dave Wilson kept a scrapbook of the Kennedy presidency. Among the newspaper clippings and other mementos, there was information about the Peace Corps, a program started by the Kennedy administration in 1961. Wilson, now an associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, decided he wanted to eventually join the organization.

Then he went to college and forgot all about it.

Years later, Wilson said, that changed as a result of a conversation with a friend in a bar. They talked about future plans, and the friend mentioned he was joining the Peace Corps. Wilson said he remembered his childhood goal and decided he also wanted to join.

"Something just clicked," Wilson said, "and I remember thinking, 'Yeah, that's what I want to do.'"

In January 1977, Wilson left the United States and began his Peace Corps assignment in Afghanistan. Although his family had expressed concerns about Wilson's leaving, Wilson said he didn't realize what he was getting himself into until he was on the plane that took him to the Peace Corps assignment.

Wilson said he remembered sitting between two businessmen on the flight. Eventually, one of the men asked Wilson where he was going. When Wilson explained he had joined the Peace Corps, the man asked Wilson to stand up.

"He announced where I was going and what I was going to do to everyone on the plane, and everyone stood up and applauded," Wilson said. "I was appalled."

It was at that moment that Wilson realized he would be spending two full years away from home in a completely foreign place.

After two months of training and a short period of teaching English in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, a Peace Corps teaching position opened in a province. Wilson applied for the position and got the job. He taught English at a boys' high school. Although he was respected by the students and other teachers, he said he was often lonely.

Wilson decided to take action. "I was sitting in the teacher's office one day, and I decided I was literally going to pick a friend," Wilson said. So he did.

Wilson began to bicycle home with another teacher after school each day. Eventually, Wilson said, he and that teacher became good friends. Later, Wilson became close to that teacher's entire family.

Then, communists took over Afghanistan in 1979, and Wilson's life, as well as the lives of everyone around him, changed completely. Because he was an American, Wilson was looked at suspiciously as an outsider. "I was pulled off my bike and questioned with a gun to my head or my stomach," Wilson said.

Worse, Wilson said, was that his new friends were tortured because of their association with him. Still, they remained his friends. "They always took me in as one of thei r own," Wilson said.

Despite the danger and violence all around him, Wilson was able to find beauty in his surroundings. He said the time he was able to spend on his own helped him realize who he wanted to be.

And of course, there were the friendships he formed. "The coolest things were the relationships and a totally different sense of self," Wilson said. "I sort of grew up there, I think. I was one of those people who always thought I was weak. If I was captured by the enemy, I would be the first to give away the secrets. But I'm not. I'm strong."

When Wilson's time as a Peace Corps volunteer was up, he didn't want to go home. However, he made the difficult decision to leave. "At the end, I knew I needed to leave because I was hurting the people I loved," Wilson said. "I knew I would never see them again, so I didn't want to go."

And because of the chaos caused by the political turmoil in Afghanistan, Wilson said he never did see most of the people he met through the Peace Corps again. "Almost everyone I taught with is dead now," Wilson said. "The school where I taught was bombed."

When he returned to the United States, Wilson said he found it difficult to relate to Americans, and he had a hard time talking about all the things he experienced. "For years, I didn't talk about it. I couldn't. It was just too powerful," Wilson said. "I just sort of spoke in general terms that it was a great experience."

Then Wilson encouraged his brother to join the Peace Corps. His brother applied, was accepted and also loved the challenge the Peace Corps provided him. Now, Wilson invites Peace Corps recruiters to talk to his classes each semester, in hopes that a few of his students will make the same decision he did.

Courtney Wickham, a 1999 graduate of the Teacher's College, decided to join the Peace Corps after Wilson and others encouraged her to do so. Wickham teaches English as a Foreign Language in Ternopil, Ukraine. She is one of 64 Nebraskans currently serving in the Peace Corps.

Wickham said she is glad that Wilson and others encouraged her to join before she got tied down with other things. "I'm loving it," Wickham said of her Peace Corps assignment. "It's hard, but I'm learning so much. I have no doubt that this is the right time for me to be here."

Wickham said the most rewarding thing about her experience is the feeling that she is making a difference in many students' lives. "My students know that I believe in them or else I wouldn't have traveled so far, leaving behind my friends and family who I love and miss so much," she said.

Wilson and Wickham agree that their decisions to join the Peace Corps were among the best decisions they ever made. "It was the coolest thing I've ever done," Wilson said. "It completely changed my life."

-- 03/27/2000

By drgreg ( on Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - 3:18 pm: Edit Post

I was also in Afghanistan in 1977-78 and my experience parallels Dave's. I was the only PC volunteer to live with an Aghan family during that time. It was an experience that has changed my life forever.

Greg Burts, RPCV Afghanistan 1978

By Horst Bill (n3020.n.pppool.de - on Tuesday, March 07, 2006 - 4:31 am: Edit Post

Hi there,

I'm looking for former Peace Corps volunteers who played flag football on the Newman Field in Kabul in 1978/79 +.
I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Horst Bill

By Richard UK (lutn-cache-4.server.ntli.net - on Tuesday, December 05, 2006 - 9:17 am: Edit Post

I met a couple of Peace Corps volunteers in Nuristan in June/July 1978. They were travelling a Toyota Landcruiser that had been painted by local Afghan artists - they had bought it when the PC mission in Kabul shut down. I have a photo but have forgotten names. I was in N Afghanistan for a month in 1978 and have deep regard for the people I met on my travels in these remote regions and across the border in Pakistan (kalash valleys, Gilgit, Chitral etc).

Will post photo if anyone is interested and tells me how - am digitalising transparencies from that era.


By caryn giles lawson (c-24-6-139-251.hsd1.ca.comcast.net - on Thursday, December 21, 2006 - 6:05 pm: Edit Post

Hi Richard,
The Peace Corps withdrew from Afghanistan in the spring of 1979. I would be very interested in seeing your photo as I am trying to organize a reunion of PCV's from those last years of PC Afghanistan. If you would be so kind can you send it to brnx2579@yahoo.com or cjlawson56@comcast.net.
many thanks,
Caryn Giles Lawson Kabul 1977-79

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