Interview with Christina Thuemer, March 9, 2022

Project: Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project

Interview Summary

Christina (Tina) Thuemer served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zaire from 1973 – 1975 in Education focusing on English as a Second Language instruction. As a youth, Tina lived in various places throughout the world, as her father was a journalist and a CIA worker. She lived in Bombay for five years, Ghana for three years, Munich for two and a half years, and Delhi, where she attended high school. She attended Bard College back in America. Because she had met Peace Corps Volunteers while overseas, Tina had always felt an urge to become one of them, and since she had done degree work in English and in French, she was a strong candidate for placement and was accepted to go to Zaire. Tina, with 111 other PCVs in the Zaire 2 group met in Philadelphia for some indoctrination about Zaire, then flew to England, and then stopped in Entebbe, Uganda to refuel. After they took off again, the pilot was warned that the plane would be shot at if they did not return to the airport, and their charter plane, with 112 PCVs, was then held hostage by Idi Amin. For two days they were kept at the terminal under armed guard while their persons and their baggage were searched thoroughly. Amin had declared that the volunteers were Israeli mercenaries. Later, the group was released to the Lake Victoria Hotel where they were visited by Marines from the Embassy. Only after President Richard Nixon’s administration and President Mobutu of Zaire vouched for them were they allowed to proceed to Zaire. Finally, they left for the town of Bukavu for training for an additional two months, while staying at a local boarding school. They had language lessons in French, especially grammar, and pedagogical training for teaching methods. At last Tina arrived at the town of Sona Bata where she began teaching at the high school level. She taught ESL for 28 hours a week in classes that were 55 minutes in duration. Her school day started at 7:30 am and finished at 2:00 pm with a half-day on Wednesdays. Only about one-fourth of the students were female. In her second year, she was able to create her own lessons. Students were divided into two academic sections: a “scientific” group and a “pedagogic” group determined by exams when they were in middle school. Most of the learning the students encountered was rote memorization aimed at preparing them for state exams to be eligible for the one state university. She learned early on that cheating on the exams was an acceptable practice. There were two other PCVs also assigned to her school. Tina lived in a concrete house having open-air corridors, paired with another PCV teacher, and they had a bathroom, bedrooms, and water from a rain barrel. They could fetch water also from a stream down the hill from them. The PCVs had electricity, but after the first three months, the generator failed, and Tina and her housemate had to use lanterns for lighting. They also had a kerosene stove and refrigerator. During a summer break from teaching, Tina traveled to Paris to meet with her parents, and she also went with three other women to East Africa and bussed to Kenya and Tanzania. Rides lasted up to 19 hours and once they were involved in an accident. In Zaire, Tina spent some of her vacation time in Matadi, a beach town, in a facility run by Christian monks. Her health was good, for the most part, although she suffered from some depression, especially during her teaching in her final year, and she left her assignment early in February. Tina learned a lot about herself in her two-year assignment and felt that the mutual relationship she had with her students was very uplifting. Back in America, Tina connected with a boyfriend in New York City and began work with the Anti- Defamation League as a secretary and worked in fund-raising. She then worked as an admissions secretary in a private school and went on to teach English for seven years in a Grades 5 – 8 school. Another move took her to Long Island, and she finally settled near Washington, D. C. where she taught and was an administrator at the Washington International School, where she worked for 31 years until she retired.

Interview Accession

2022oh0289_pcrv0546

Interviewee Name

Christina Thuemer

Interviewer Name

Donald C. Yates

Interview Date

2022-03-09

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Thuemer, Christina Interview by Donald C. Yates. 09 Mar. 2022. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.

Thuemer, C. (2022, March 09). Interview by D. C. Yates. Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington.

Thuemer, Christina, interview by Donald C. Yates. March 09, 2022, Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.





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