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LGB RPCV NewsLetter - May 2000 
1
NewsLetter
May 2000In This Issue
u
Crisis Corps
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Gay in Thailand
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Lesbians in theRussian Far East?
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Return to Panama
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HIV Project in Moldova
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Partnership ProgramAIDS Projects
Crisis Corps: Keeping Active with Peace Corps
You can learn moreabout Crisis Corps underthe Returned Volunteerspage at
www.peacecorps.gov/ crisiscorps/index.html
Last year I completed my fourthPeace Corps and second Crisis Corpsassignment: this time in El Salvador.The last three tours have not been afull two years, but each has served asa vivid and concentrated reminder of the challenges and rewards inherent inthe Peace Corps. As an early PCV inColombia (1963-65), I have clearmemories of suspected gay volunteersbeing “selected-out” during training.Very few of us made it to Colombiaand other countries during thoseyears. It has been quite a differentatmosphere in my recent assignmentswith the Crisis Corps where, andprobably also influenced by tenuredacademic job security, I have beenable to be myself and to talk openlyabout my longstanding partnershipback home.Crisis Corps is a two-year-oldPeace Corps program designed to giveformer volunteers an opportunity todo international relief work. It is alsoan opportunity to re-immerse andexperience again the personal chal-lenges and rewards - with perhapsmore knowledge and maturity than thefirst go-around. Crisis Corps assign-ments vary from three-month directrecovery efforts immediately followinga disaster to, in my two assignments,community risk assessments andrecommendations for disaster preven-tion and mitigation completed withshort-term in-country investigationswith follow-up reports once I returnedhome. It was my experience that theentire emotional roller coaster ride of the typical two-year Peace Corpsexperience is repeated in a muchcompressed time period.My latest Crisis Corps assignmentin El Salvador had the additionalbenefit of being able to interact withon-going Peace Corps programs thereand the chance to collaborate andcompare notes with volunteers in thefield. This included a new volunteer inEl Triumfo who had worked with meback home during the previous yearon a research project at Iowa StateUniversity, where I teach, to assessemergency management activity forthe State of Iowa. I was also able tohelp with closeout advising for aforestry group soon to return to thestates.My Crisis Corps assignment was toassess disaster response activity incoastal villages on the Bahia deJiquilisco in southern El Salvador. Itbecame quickly apparent that theproblems experienced in these coastalvillages were the result of environ-mentally damaging developmentalpractices throughout the watershed,including deforestation, channel-ization of rivers, and a rapidly growingurban population living ever closer toenvironmental risks. I was asked todevelop a broad picture of disasterprevention and response activity inthe region. Old skills were revisited asit became apparent that the report wasbest written in Spanish. It was latertranslated into English using transla-tion software.A highlight of the experience wasparticipation in a Crisis Corps spon-sored conference in San Salvador that
- by Bob Findlay, RPCV 
M
ay’s issue opens with Bob Findlay’s report on how he stays active in thePeace Corps with short-term, Crisis Corps assignments.
q
Tammie Ostrombemoans assumptions about her love life in Thailand.
q
Karen Kowal asks,“where are the lesbians in the Russian Far East.”
q
Kevin Webb experiences a magicalreturn to the village where he lived in Panama.
q
Feedback on a Partnership Programproject in Moldova that’s been assisted by the HIV Prevention and Education Fund.
Continued on page 6
 
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - May 2000 
2
Gay in Thailand?
- by Tammie J. Ostrom, PCV 
“She always tells me I am the daughter she never had.I am comfortable with her. Details of my love life havenever come up in full text. She has been the only Thaifriend who has never pried. But as we sat in that templeand she talked about Madeline, something inside of mefelt ashamed for not having told her before.”
I’ve been asked what it’s like to begay in Thailand. Just this morning,one of my co-workers wished me toinform him, when the time came, of myplans to marry when I return to theStates so that he can attend mywedding. I’m wondering if he’d cometo a lesbian wedding. Until recently, Iwasn’t terribly bothered by the (yes,constant) queries regarding my lovestatus. Do you have a lover? Do youwant a family? You can be his mis-tress. Aren’t you lonely, etc.? It is agiven in Thailand that you will beasked about your love life and giventhe appropriate advice on how toacquire a mate if you don’t yet haveone. Unfortunately, for me, the Thaiwould want that mate to be male. I’vetried every reply to the persistentstatements/inquiries except the honestone. “I don’t have the time.” “Ihaven’t thought about it yet.” “ Ihaven’t found the right one.” Myexcuses are running thin these days.My lover Madeline has been toThailand three times in the year or sosince my service began. On her mostrecent visit Madeline, and P.A. myclosest Thai friend, and I went to visitsome temples nearby. The three of uswere sitting in one of the temples,although Madeline was out of earshotof a conversation I was having withP.A. She commented that Madelinewas so “riap roi” (a Thai term that’sused to describe someone who ispolite/appropriate). “Thai men wouldlove her - she’s so calm and polite.” Iturned to P.A. and said, “there’ssomething important I need to talk about with you, but I would like to talk with you alone at another time.” P.A.asked me if I was okay and I said Iwas, but that it was something that Ifelt strongly about sharing with herwhen the time was right. The time isright, but more than that, it is neces-sary. I haven’t told any of my Thaifriends and colleagues aboutMadeline. My office just refers to heras my friend, and I’m certain theydon’t have a clue about our relation-ship.P.A. has from the beginning of ourfriendship been the most real andnatural individual to me. Often in thiscountry I feel like the privilegedforeigner (which I am) and receivemore than enough special treatmentfrom the Thai. With P.A. it goesbeyond all that. She has shared somuch of herself and her family withme. She always tells me I am thedaughter she never had. I am comfort-able with her. Details of my love lifehave never come up in full text. Shehas been the only Thai friend who hasnever pried. But as we sat in thattemple and she talked about Madeline,something inside of me felt ashamedfor not having told her before. “Thaimen would love her,” kept ringing inmy head. What I wanted to screamand hear echoed throughout thetemple was: “Yes, Thai men wouldlove her, but she’s with me and noThai man will have her as long as I’maround!!” - not exactly the serenethoughts one should be having whilesitting in a temple.What were those precepts again?Knowing that I am only temporarily inthis country and that when I finish myservice I will be returning to mycommunity; this has kept me fromsharing too much of my personal life. Iam American; I am a woman; I am alesbian, not necessarily in that order.This is not who/what I am all about. I
PO Box 14332San Francisco CA 94114-4332lgbrpcv@yahoo.comhttp://www.geocities.com/lgbrpcv
EditorMike LearnedLayoutKevin H. Souza
The LGB RPCV Newsletter ispublished quarterly by the Lesbian,Gay, Bisexual RPCV Organization,an affiliate of the National PeaceCorps Association. We exist topromote Peace Corps ideals andacceptance of gays and lesbiansthroughout the world. Submissionof articles or graphics to be pub-lished in the newsletter is encour-aged. The right to use or editmaterials remains with the editor.Copyright remains with the author.Send submissions or inquires to theabove postal or e-mail address.
sift through the pile of myself andshare what feels natural with those Icare about.•
Tammie Ostram can be reached (infrequently) at 
tammie_ostrom@hotmail.com.
 
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - May 2000 
3
The Russian Far East - Where Are the Lesbians?
by Karen Kowal, PCV 
“Its hard to leave thehouse some morningswith this desire to seesomeone like me. Some-times I just pretend tosee a lesbian. It’s a gameto make me feel better.”
I’m sitting here at the computer onthe morning of New Years Eve andwriting. My Russian friends wouldthink that I am crazy if they knew. Firstof all, I have to admit that it is nice tosay that I have friends. I’ve been atsite for only three months and I knowthat many of my fellow volunteerscan’t say the same. It seems this thirdmonth is some sort of marker. Theholidays are here and whether wewant it or not some level of homesick-ness occurs, but for the most part wehave overcome those early stages of culture shock. Though things aresurprising, aren’t they?It surprises me to sit in my apart-ment and wonder what’s the matter,especially when things appear to gowell. I have some friends, as I havealready mentioned. My job as ateacher at a university is good. It hasits ups and downs as teaching does.Essentially my city is great in manyways.I write home and like to compare itto Madison, WI, the city of my collegedays. It is about the same size and auniversity town as much as a Russiancity can be. It sits between two riversnot two lakes like Madison. That’swhere the comparison may end for themost part. Madison is liberal andwould boast a gay-friendly atmo-sphere. They elected Tammy Baldwinto Congress on her merits and as abonus she’s a lesbian. I wonder if thisatmosphere exists here.These feelings I have seemunexpected in some ways. I don’t liketo believe that I came here withblinders on or naively because Iexpected for the most part not to findour gay culture here. I didn’t expect tobe confronted with the notion that Iwould miss that gay atmosphere. It issomething that I didn’t predict myself.I wouldn’t define myself as a gay-activist in anyway. I’m not a flagwaver or a banner carrier. I’m notstriving for the toaster oven. I findmyself longing for that comfortablelifestyle and wish I had some fore-warning about this gay culture shock sometimes. We didn’t address anygay issues in training. We onlyreceived the LGB RPCV newsletterand I read an article by a woman inLatin America. I felt sympathy andthought, God, it’s going to be hard.I’ve come to realize that sympathy islike sunburn on a hot day in someways. You’re sitting outside and yourfriend looks at you and mentions howred your skin is. You reply that it onlylooks bad and it doesn’t hurt. Thenyou are home alone the next day andrealize damn, this hurts like hell. It’snot painful to be homosexual in theRussian Far East maybe just lonely.Its hard to leave the house somemornings with this desire to seesomeone like me. Sometimes I justpretend to see a lesbian. It’s a game tomake me feel better. There are enoughbeautiful women here to keep itinteresting. Essentially though there isthis sense of constraint. Some days Ifeel like I’ve entered a time machineand I am having the same experiencesas I had ten years ago. I seem to beunder the rubric “don’t ask, don’ttell.” I first felt it in training. There isthe anxiety of losing these new friendsand just the general fear of alienationif found out. With these possibilitiesin mind, it would lead to a long twoyears. I monitor my speech whentalking to people and classes. I havegone back to playing the pronoungame and generally hoping thatcertain subjects don’t come up inconversation. Then there is the idea of being conspicuous. As an American Iam automatically conspicuous. Do Iwant to be doubly conspicuous? Ilook in the mirror daily and wonder if Ishould be wearing some lipstick. Am Ia lipstick lesbian? Did I dress toomuch like a lesbian today? I asked thisto one of the other volunteers hereand she replied, Maybe you think thatbecause you ARE a lesbian!!Oh yeah, I AM a lesbian. Whoshould know this fact though? It ispainful to look at people I know andpeople I am developing potentiallydeep friendships with and know thatthere is already a line drawn in thesand. You can only come this close.I’ll only let you hold me at armslength. We have a culture bump thatexists and do you notice it? I feel likeI’m involved in a crapshoot and Iwonder if it’s worth the gamble. Theloneliness is in not knowing howmuch credit to give people. This isn’t just towards the Russian people butalso towards the other volunteers herein the Russian Far East. I find myself longing to be with the other gayvolunteer because I know he under-stands and has been through thesame things I have been through.Sometimes it isn’t simply the desire totalk to him but the comfort of sittingnext to him simply because he knows.I realize at times that I have digressedto the past again. I don’t give othervolunteers a chance like I did with myfriends at home after coming out, tobuild a different sense of trust. Theseold statements return to my mind.They only think they know. They onlybelieve they understand. They don’thave the answers I’m searching for.They are the same old questionswhich are now of a different color.
Continued on page 6

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