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Peace Corps Volunteer
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A couple of days ago I let it slip to a coworker that I had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in India in my youth. She asked me what I had done and did I think that any of my efforts made a difference.

No one has asked me that question. Most people ask me if it was fun (it wasn’t) or exciting (sometimes) or difficult (again, sometimes). But no one has ever asked in a thoughtful way had I made a difference.

The answer is yes. I can think of four, maybe five, things that were eagerly adopted and spread from my village to the surrounding villages, even before I left to return to 20th century America (talk about culture shock!).

The first three effects were all about growing kitchen gardens. The men worked the rice fields. The women and children helped at harvest time, but for the most part, that was the extent of their participation in growing food. I started out with a single tomato bought at the weekly market, horrendously expensive by village standards.

I saved the seeds and planted a single tomato plant for myself, watering it with the used dish water after cleaning the dishes. It sprawled all along the side of my hut and pretty soon I had green, then red, tomatoes.

Of course, nothing is private in village India and the women were watching me closely. I made sure to do the following very publicly. I took a very ripe tomato, let the seeds dry in the sun, and then planted a second seed. When it sprouted, I offered the rest of the seeds to my women friends and they all planted tomatoes, too.

Tomatoes were soon followed by okra, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, eggplant and a kind of green leafy vegetable that can be propagated by division. I never learned the English name for it.

That was the first innovation, a big success: kitchen gardens which not only provided nutritious vegetables for the family, but a bit of a cash crop as well.

More later.

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