Noy of Nakohn Panome
By James Jouppi
Noy of Nakohn Panome is a Vietnam era memoir written by a former Peace Corps Community Development volunteer who was stationed in a military town in Thailand, seventy-five miles from Vietnam itself. Although it focuses on the day-to-day life of being a Community Development Department volunteer and the author’s relationships with volunteers, Thai villagers, government officials, and, of course, Thai bar girls, the book also makes mention of the larger Intelligence community controlling his Peace Corps life.
“It started after a year in-country when I submitted a report to the Peace Corps office in Bangkok,” Jouppi says. “At the time, there was no formalized contact between CD volunteers and the PC Thailand administration, and I thought that my technical advisor, at least, should know what was going on. After that, perhaps coincidentally, the CIA began to try to reign me in. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that there were more of them (CIA operatives) than there were of of us (PC volunteers) because they were all under cover. I never even knew who they were, and, from what I’ve read, they (the CIA) also had human assets. I didn’t know who they were either. There were also those who were going with the flow, and, as one volunteer told me after my tour was over, and after the operative in his province had been outed by the Thais, he was ‘staying happy by keeping other people happy’. At the time, the term CIA wasn’t even being used, and I’d believed, as a volunteer, that American Intelligence, whatever that entity was, really had our best interests in mind.
It was a bit like the Truman Show, and I felt a bit like Jim Carey. Everyone, including my girlfriend Noy, was just trying to make nice and wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t accept the niceness of my fantasy Peace Corps world more graciously; this after all my projects had been designated off-limits.”
The CD program Jouppi writes about is still in existence today although it’s gone through some evolution. While funding for their projects is still a challenge, the CD volunteers–unlike the volunteers in structured teaching programs–are still considered to be blank scrabble pieces who can help facilitate whatever is needed in rural settings.
To the consternation of current Peace Corps administrators, Jouppi, now forty years out of Peace Corps, still has his own ideas insofar as how the Thailand CD program should be structured. “The CD volunteers need to learn the language for a year at AUA (see algworld.com), and they need to intern with farmers for another year before they even think about projects,” Jouppi says. Yada, yada yada.
Noy of Nakohn Panome tells the volunteer story, as Jouppi experienced it, at a time when he didn’t know what was going on. He’s also written a longer memoir, entitled War of Hearts and Minds (also available from the author or online), which goes into his research more deeply.
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