Peace Corps Postcards: Tunisia

In 1989, my mother and father, then 59 and 61, joined the Peace Corps and were sent to Tunisia to work on a poultry husbandry project. For the training period, July- September, they were based in Hergla, a fishing village on the Bay of Hammamet.

On some of my recent visits to my parents, I’ve been reading some of the letters my mother (and a few my father) wrote that I saved.  They took Arabic lessons and my mother, always a quick language learner, still sprinkles her conversations with Arabic expressions, that she says, have no English equivalents.

Just a couple years older than I am now, my parents joined an organization mostly associated with younger people. Before the Internet, Skype, and inexpensive telephone plans, the world seemed much larger and they seemed so far away. My own sons – the only grandchildren they had at the time—were 4 and 2.

Intrigued by the letters, I asked my mother to write about some of their experiences that I’ll share in a couple of posts. I’ll also include some excerpts from a few letters.  Welcome, guest writer, Barbara W. Klein.

On the way to the market.

On the way to the market.

Making Coffee

I make coffee using old -fashioned top of the stove percolators.c01aa1b38d88c1d79c1d2397a38394a0

In Tunisia, we shared a villa, (a single story house) with two Tunisian teachers and two other Peace Corps volunteers. Since I’m an early riser, I usually put up the coffee. Our coffee maker looked like my four -cup percolator but it didn’t have a stem.  The basket fit closer to the bottom of the pot. Lattifa, one of the teachers, told me that the coffee should be steamed. I put the ground coffee in the basket, the water in the bottom of the pot, and brought the water to a boil. Much to my surprise, the water remained clear. I experimented by pouring the hot water through the grounds and “Voila!”; I had perfect drip style coffee. That is probably the way the pot was supposed to work, or maybe I should have poured cold water over the coffee grounds. Since our only cups were about the size of a three ounce juice glass, and since the coffee was the strong Tunisian style, there was enough to serve six. During our entire training “Stage”, pronounced “stahge”, I used the drip method for coffee. It worked, but still wasn’t as good as the percolator.

One morning, at class, our young language teacher, Kais, remarked that he heard that I make great coffee.  To be appreciated by a local, made my day!

From letters:

…”Everyday living is a new adventure. I’m learning to improvise. There’s a three -burner range that sits on the counter and no oven. I inverted a baking pan over the burner and baked a cake….We’re living without phones, cars, cornflakes, Chinese food, rye bread, washing machines and hot water. What your father misses most is a newspaper. If people are coming from Tunis they bring him a day old International Herald Tribune.  We wash our clothes by stamping on them in a bucket and hang everything on the porch to dry. The toilets are a hole in the ground; we have to squat.”


About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. ( I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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19 Responses to Peace Corps Postcards: Tunisia

  1. What a lovely story. Your parents were so adventurous. I have often thought of doing that. Medicine is a little harder to do but very rewarding. I love the coffee story. It is very difficult to make a good cup of coffee. Barbara what persistence and determination you demonstrated.


  2. Barbara Klein says:

    People with medical expertise are needed. There are qualified doctors and good medical facilities but they are not always accessible. Try the Peace Corp and other organizations. We had good experiences with Americorps. I appreciate your comment. Thank you and good luck


  3. Gosh how wonderful of your parents! Love the squashing of the clothes in the bucket. And the photo of your mom is wonderful. I blew it up so I could study it.


  4. Lisa you have an amazing and rich family history! I think it’s just wonderful that your parents did this at their age. You must have worried about them while they were out there though.


  5. All of these years you never mentioned this, Lisa — Your folks have such a unique and adventurous spirit. We all get used to our creature comforts, and to step outside of their lives to make a contribution was no small thing. Can’t wait to read more.


  6. How brave and courageous to join the Peace Corps at that stage in your parent’s life. Bob often wishes he had done it. No Skype to check in on them! I wonder what prompted the move?


  7. My mother has always made the BEST cup of coffee – limited and/or primitive provisions were never daunting to her no matter what the task! She made a coconut cream pie on the GRILL during a power outage! Of course she did! Phenomenal!


  8. Barbara Klein says:

    Thank you, Madeline. You’re just a predjediced daughter. D’on,t change, I love it.


  9. Barbara Klein says:

    You are all wonderful. Thank you for your praise. I was only a year older than Lisa at that time.
    We were young and vigorous. We enjoyed our comfort but were adaptable. Thank you again.


  10. Barbara Klein says:

    Correction, one year older than Lisa is now.


  11. judy says:

    Lisa, this is so fascinating!! How brave and adventurous. Martin and I have often thought of doing the same thing at some point. Very inspiring. Since i grew up overseas I also have expressions i still use in Portuguese that have no translation. I enjoyed hearing that your mother does the same. Thank you for sharing these stories!


  12. Pingback: Peace Corps Postcard #2-Cultural Exchange | cyclingrandma

  13. This is so inspiring! Smart Guy and I want to do Doctors Without Borders some day, and this makes it seem really possible… what an amazing couple!


  14. What a treasure to uncover. And what unusual stock you come from. They sound like really interesting people!


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