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Peace Corps Volunteer Experience

Writer's Workshop Submission

Peace Corps Volunteer Experience

by Mary Angotti

The year was 1964. I just completed eight weeks of training as a Peace Corps volunteer and I was sent out to Nigeria - Western Region. My assignment was to teach at Remo Secondary School, a boarding co-ed school of Methodist background and to teach French and also world history, as needed.

As I got to know my students, it was very important to get to know their names and to know the meaning of their names. One of my students, Sesan, was called "Prince" by others in his class. Curious about this name, I questioned Sesan about this. "Why do the others address you as" Prince" instead of your given name?" He responded, "My father is a king - The Odemo of Ishara." After a moment's silence as I digested the explanation of "Prince," I simply stated, "I very much would like to meet the Odemo.

No further explanations followed but several days later a gleaming, shiny Mercedes pulled up in front of my house and a chauffeur in a white uniform came up to my house. "The king invites you to lunch in his palace in Ishara."

In an excited response I jumped into the shiny Mercedes and off I went for about a half-hour ride to Ishara to meet the King, the Odemo of Ishara. I knew that he was a native chief, king of an area which included about eight towns, one of which was the town of my school, Sagamu. I knew also that he was a well-known politician who was involved in the independence negotiations of 1960. Now we would be having lunch together.

On arrival I was escorted up three flight to the top floor of the palace. There he stood, dressed in very regal native dress and presenting a person of great wealth as was obvious through his large stately figure. His greeting to me was warm and cordial as he led me to the lunch presentation which was European-style rather than Nigerian fare. As we chatted through lunch he talked about his role as king of his territory and how caring he was for his people. Family was also very important to him as he proudly talked about his 13 wives and more than 20 children.

After lunch the Odemo invited me to take a tour with him in his Mercedes through the streets of Ishara. As we drove through the streets, local people cheered and waved to him and called out to greet me as well. They enthusiastically called out "Oibo!" which is the term to greet Europeans. So I guess they were happy to see him with a white woman since the attitude of colonialism lingered even four years after independence.

After our regal tour we returned to the palace and the Odemo presented me with a surprise proposition. "Mary, I would like you to be my wife."

Speechless and stunned, it took me a moment to respond. "But you already have 13 wives! Why another wife?"

"But you would be the white wife and more important than the other wives. They would wait on you and do anything you wanted."

We talked back and forth about the proposal but he soon accepted my refusal of marriage.

As we ended our visit, the Odemo cordially invited me to come back to the palace another time and to bring other volunteers with me. Incoming months I did go back to Ishara with two other volunteers who loved their visit to this regal presence and enjoyed taking photos of the Odema and some of his children. As I was leaving from one of the visits, the Odemo took me aside and asked, "Please tell my son, Sesan, to write to me soon. He doesn't keep in touch as he should. Bad boy!" He suppressed a little laugh as he spoke.