Page 23 - Marist Magazine Winter 2011-2012

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two-week stay in a “primitive” Asian
village. The village was constructed
in a primeval valley of the island of
Hawaii, a location which had been
an early Hawaiian settlement. Here
we used straw sleepingmats, bathed
in a stream, tended and butchered
livestock, ate lots of rice, and used
a rather primitive toilet. Of the 100
people who entered our training
program, about fveweredeselected.
Up until that point in Peace Corps
history, that was the best record of
training survival achieved by any
group. Upon arrival in Malaysia,
another four deselected themselves
from service, deciding it was too
hot. In retrospect, I thought our
basic training, which was much
like an Outward Bound experience,
prepared us well for the challenges
that lay before us.
Our groupwasMalaysiaVII, the
seventh to serve in Malaysia and up
until that time the largest group of
volunteers sent to the country. We
consisted of teachers, nurses, and
radio technicians. Some teachers
were generalists, open to any assign-
ment, others were math and science
specialists, and still others were
chosen as special Teaching English
as a Second Language instructors.
The nurses would run rural health
centers. The radio technicians were
chosen to establish a radio station in
theMalay stateof Sabahon the island
of Borneo. While we were requested
by the Malaysian government for
specifc tasks, we would always end
up also doing many other things
as required by circumstances. So
during my vacation periods, I found
myself working for FELDA, the Fed-
eral Land Development Authority,
surveying land for jungle settlements
and consulting on the building of
access roads to remote villages in the
Borneostateof Sarawak.Evenduring
our vacations, we were expected to
doPeaceCorps projects. Iwelcomed
these opportunities as they gave me
a chance to travel and experience
much more of the country.
M
alaysia had been a former
British colony, Malaya, and
achieved national independence
in 1963. The country’s primarily
triracial society consisted ofMalays,
Chinese, and Indians. The Malays
were the indigenous people, while
the Chinese and Indians were
imported by the British as labor-
ers. Each ethnic group lived and
functioned socially isolated fromthe
other groups. This unique situation
was sometimes a causeof social strife
but also provided the opportunity
for us as visiting Americans to
experience three different cultures
on their own terms. In the same day,
I might eat breakfast in an Indian
roti shop, haggle for my vegetables
withaMalaymarketwoman, and, in
the evening, attend a Chinese opera.
The cornucopia of sounds, smells,
languages, tastes, and interactions
was wonderful.
Eventually, I was transferred
to Teachers Training College in the
northern part of the country. Here I
trained teachers, ran workshops on
the “new mathematics,” instituted
a national journal for science and
mathematics teachers, and coached
sports. During school breaks, I
worked on rural development
projects.
During one of my frst excur-
sions to aMalay kampong (village), I
was greeted by the people as “Tuan,”
an honorary title for a gentleman or
superior. The movie
Lord Jim
, based
on the novel by Joseph Conrad, had
just appeared, and in it the hero,
played by Peter O’Toole, was called
Tuan by the local people. So, just
as Jim had become Lord Jim, I had
become “Lord Frank.”
Over our twoyears of service,we
got to know the people of Malaysia,
and the people of Malaysia got to
knowus.We, young Americans, did
not match our Hollywood or tabloid
images. We were not glamorous or
rich, great athletes or oversexed,
but rather average people just like
them. We struggled daily through
the heat and humidity, overcom-
ing multitudes of frustrations to
accomplishwhat needed tobe done.
The teachers taught and enriched
schools by introducing new ideas
such as school libraries and student
counseling, and new sports such as
softball. The nurses ran their rural
clinics, birthed babies, trained local
nurses, inoculated the popula-
tions, and thwarted epidemics.
The radio techs built their station.
Our activities were not glamorous
or overly adventurous at the time
but in retrospect, they grew more
memorable and worthwhile.
A
t times, there were dangers,
but they were usually over-
looked as a fact of life. I recall one
incident where in visiting a long
house in Borneo accompanied by
two companions, we bathed in the
local river. As we washed up to our
necks in the murky waters, the local
children gathered on the adjacent
dock towatch us. They had seen few
whitemen.Uponmovingupriver the
next day by dugout canoe, I noticed
crocodiles sunning themselves
on the riverbank. I commented to
the boatmen that on the previous
night, we had washed in that river.
He replied that we had no worries
as his people had eaten the large
crocodiles and the small ones were
harmless to humans.
Really, the biggest danger we
encountered was crossing the street
or riding in a taxi. Driving accidents
accounted for far more deaths than
cobra bites, elephant stompings, or
tiger attacks put together.
Since returning to the United
States, my wife, who was also a
volunteer, and I have kept in close
contact with our Malaysian friends.
I’ve returned to the country on sev-
eral occasions to conduct research,
run workshops, and assist in the
development of new universities.
I have facilitated the exchange
of students and faculty between
Malaysia and the United States. We
were present when Peace Corps
Malaysia 100 arrived.
During my tour of service I
learned many things: the power of
simple conversation; the comfort
from shade or a clean drink of
water on a hot day; the fact that
every individual has a worth and
dignity that is deserving of respect.
I learned that I know so little and
have much yet to learn. I also much
better appreciate the opportunities I
have as an American.
n
Dr. Frank Swetz ’62 is professor
emeritus ofmathematics andeducation
at thePennsylvaniaStateUniversity.He
retired fromthe university’sHarrisburg
campus, where among his varied
responsibilities he served as chairman
of the Mathematical Sciences Program
and director of international and inter-
cultural activities. During his career,
he was awarded four Fulbright grants
for teaching and research abroad. He
is particularly recognized for his work
in the history of mathematics and his
efforts to incorporate that history into
the teaching of mathematics. Author of
21 books, he remains active in lecturing
and writing.
Photos taken among
the Ibans in Sarawak.
Our group was Malaysia VII, the seventh to serve in Malaysia and up until that time the largest
group of volunteers sent to the country. We consisted of teachers, nurses, and radio technicians.
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