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Local author writes about the fun side of the Peace Corps

Don Clement shares stories of his time in the Peace Corps in a recently penned book.

Ellen Pill

It was 1966. Don Clement had just graduated from Seattle Pacific University with a B.A. in psychology. "The Vietnam War was in full swing," Clement said. "I saw friends being taken right and left of me, so I decided not to fight it and signed up with the Air Force."
 
Then something changed the course of his life entirely. Clement met a Peace Corps recruiter and signed up.
 
It took weeks to get an assignment. Finally the invitation came to travel to Turkey. After learning everything the young grad could about the country, his life changed again. Turkey was cancelled due to political turmoil.
 
And that's how Clement ended up going to India to be a chicken farmer. "As far as I was concerned," Clement said, "an adventure was an adventure. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to make myself feel uncomfortable. I got what I wished for."
 
The journey began with a stop in the U.S. Virgin Islands for training. "The climate there was similar to India," Clement said. "It was a great time."
 
The rigorous three-month program included everything and anything about chickens as well as learning the local language Malayalam. There also was time for enjoying the islands and for beginning lifelong friendships.
 
Fifty years later Clement's day-to-day experiences in India along with many off-duty adventures ultimately became the material for his first book.
 
"We worked hard, and we played hard," Clement said. "There were people in my group who didn't want me to write this book. It's unorthodox."
 
Those unusual adventures include everything from a trek to see the sunrise over Mt. Everest to a visit to an area where pornographic scenes are carved in stone.
 
There was no refrigeration where Clement lived. The only thing available was water buffalo milk. "It had to be boiled first, and we had to drink it fairly soon," he said.
 
With no radio or television, entertainment came from local students dropping by in the evening to talk, play board games and practice their English. 
 
"Everyone had a real curiosity and thirst to hear about America," he said. "All they knew was what they had seen in the movies. They thought everyone was rich, drove Cadillacs and lived in big, beautiful houses. I did as much as I could to dissuade them of those ideas."
 
During his adventures Clement kept a daily journal and sent detailed letters back home to his mother. It was through these writings and similar writings of some of his cohorts that the book, "Hot Milk on My Cornflakes," took shape.
 
After the Peace Corps, Clement ended up as a teacher in the Cleveland Public Schools. He met his wife of 48 years, a Wooster native, at that time. The couple has been back in Wayne County for 11 years.
 
Clement's adventures didn't stop when he left the Peace Corps. Through his work with the schools he became very involved with desegregation. 
 
"The Cleveland schools were sued by the NAACP," Clement said, "and found to be guilty of intentionally segregating the schools." A sixth-grade teacher, Clement took his class downtown to the federal courthouse to see the trial in progress.
 
He later took a leave of absence from teaching to work with the desegregation process. "I parlayed that into an administrative job with the school system."
 
Clement is still in touch with a few of the men he served with in the Peace Corps. "My best buddies I'm in touch with almost daily," he said.
 
Recently Clement was touched to hear from the son of the night watchman at the poultry farm. "He was 10 at that time and would come to my house to practice English."
 
Clement wrote to him using an address that was 50 years old. "I got an email from him," he said. "He is in his 60s and has a family and a nice house. I was so happy to hear all that. It totally blew my mind that after 50 years I could use that same address and mail would get to him."
 
His time in the Peace Corps shaped Clement's life in ways he never could've imagined. "I became very broad minded as far as accepting different paths to spirituality. That changed me fundamentally as a person. I became welcoming of diversity. It opened up a curiosity and thirst to know about other cultures that has lasted throughout my life."  
 
Clement's book, "Hot Milk on My Cornflakes," is available on Amazon.
 
There will be a book-signing at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 25 at Common Grounds Coffee House, 131 N. Market St., Wooster.
 

Published: November 14, 2017
New Article ID: 2017171109922