Carolyn Nickels-Cox, RPCV Correspondent, Group 34
A student entered the English office and told me I had a farang visitor. I asked who it was, and she just said it was an older man. I stood up from my desk, where I had been correcting student notebooks, and went to the window.
In the drive in front of the school, I saw a bright, canary-yellow Ford compact, with a Thai man sitting in the driver’s seat. Aside from the fact that the car’s color reminded me of the time I saw Kirk Douglas on a Oahu golf course dressed in bright, canary-yellow from head to foot, I had never seen such a car color anywhere, and certainly not in Kalasin.
I descended to the Ajaan Yai’s spacious office. My Ajaan Yai stood up and returned to her desk, while I took the chair where she had been sitting opposite the slight, balding farang,. He was dressed in very subdued clothing that resembled Mr. Rogers, right down to the beige cardigan.
He introduced himself as a USIS officer in a town south of Khon Kaen. I told him he was the first official American, including anyone from the Peace Corps office in Bangkok, to ever visit me during my year and a half on site. Then, I asked the reason for his visit.
“Well, I am making you warden of the province, just in case there is a CT attack. You know the more remote areas of Kalasin are crawling with CT groups.”
Communist Terrorists were a big deal, though I had never knowingly encountered any! But that was not from a lack of trying. Peace Corps would occasionally send a telegram to us with strict instructions not to travel over such and such a road in remote Kalasin because of a report that CTs had been spotted in the area. Though that would indicate someone close by, with connections to a US snooping agency or two, was diligently on the lookout for CTs, all we did was immediately hop onto our motorcycles and go out in search of the road and the CTs. Who the heck knew what we would find? Of course, I did not tell Mr. Roger’s twin that!
“Why me? There are two other PCVs in Kalasin.”
“Well, your school is the first one after entering town.”
The thought of driving too far into the province and meeting up with some hostile CTs was more than this fellow could handle. I guessed that is why no one had ever visited before.
“Well, you might have chosen a car with a less conspicuous color,” I wanted to say. But I held back. Some people made no sense.
“So, what does a warden have to do?”
“Good question. That is why I am here.” He handed me a piece of paper. “In the event of an imminent CT attack, we will send you a telegram. Then, you will contact the other six Americans in the province and tell them to meet you in the field past the store on the road leading south out of town.”
Wait! What on earth was this guy talking about?
First, there was the obvious problem of contacting anyone directly. We had no phones in Kalasin, except for the crank telephone at the old hotel downtown, where our telegrams came from.
Second, how was it he knew about the two guys living in the sticks, the ones who had gone AWOL from US Air Force bases in Isaan years before, and had taken up with their Thai girlfriends? We had heard about them from a former volunteer, and had run into each of them once. One guy was stopped alongside the Kalasin-Khon Kaen highway when we were passing by, and we spoke to him for a few minutes. He was preparing to harvest a bit of salt. He was friendly enough, and we told him to stop by our house if he were ever in Amphur Muang. He never did. I spied the second guy at the market one day. When he saw me, he quickly ducked into a shop, and disappeared.
In addition to the two AWOL guys, there was the elusive Baptist couple up the road at a leper colony I had only heard of, but had never seen. The woman once drove past me in her Land Rover on the way to the post office. That was all I knew of them.
The other two were my husband, a teacher at the boys’ school and a fellow PCV, also of Thai 34, who taught at the Ag school on the road to the East.
“Once you have all the Americans assembled, you will contact this number and tell them to send in a helicopter to pick you all up.”
This was starting to sound like an episode from “The Twilight Zone.”
“And while you are waiting for the helicopter to arrive, you will start a fire in the field in the shape of a huge triangle. So the pilot will know where to land.”
I was speechless. Okay, so I was supposed to somehow get all seven of us to that rice field south of town, while carrying a can full of gasoline.
“Do you understand?”
“I think so. I just have a couple questions for you.”
“Given that the CT problem has existed for years, why did the US government wait until I had been on site 18 months before they made me warden and issued me my responsibilities?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Fair enough. Okay, so how is it you know about those two AWOL guys?”
“We know everything.”
“Fair enough. So, what if there is a bit of a helicopter tangle should the CTs decide to attack Amphur Muang?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you must know about the UNFAO experimental farm up the road at Hoi Si Tone. Let me see,” I counted on my fingers. “There are two Swiss, one German, three Egyptians, five Israelis, one Italian, and four Belgians. And then, there are all the Thai UN personnel.”
“Well, if every country sends in its own helicopter to evacuate its citizens, the skies above Kalasin are going to be kind of crowded. It could get kind of dangerous.”
It was a lame point to make. But it was about as idiotic as what this man was telling me I had to do as warden.
“Well. I will have to get back to you on that.”
He never did. I never saw him again. I never had to gather the Americans for an evacuation. I never had to call the number for a helicopter. I never had to light a fire in the field south of town. AND, I never did see a CT, as far as I knew.
But when she asked, I did promise my Ajaan Yai she could go with me in the helicopter when it came. Yes, she had understood all of the conversation.
A month or so after his visit, telephones arrived in Kalasin. My school got one. My Ajaan Yai said I could use it when the CTs attacked.