I Am Water, You Are the Sea
By Erica Burman on Wednesday, December 21st, 2011
I have a special interest in Peace Corps-related films, so this summer when I saw an intriguing tweet about a film project called “I am the Water, You are the Sea” I just had to track down the director, Malachi Leopold. The film, for which he has so far successfully raised $25,000, tells the true story of his Returned Peace Corps Volunteer uncle who served in Iran in 1967, and met and fell in love with an Iranian Muslim man. They kept their relationship secret for 10 years. When the Iranian revolution happened, his uncle was forced to leave. But they kept in touch, kept their love alive, and now, 34 years since their separation, they will finally being reunited for the first time in March 2012.
Following is a Q & A Malachi shared with us, between him and his uncle. You can learn more in this recent Chicago Tribune article.
1: How did you first learn about the Peace Corps?
“I was just 16 or 17 years old during JFK’s presidential campaign and still 17 when he was inaugurated, but I came from a progressive and Democratic family that was active in politics, and I keenly felt the change in the air from his presidency. During the summer of 1963, working on my BA in political science in Kentucky, I went to Washington as a White House summer intern. The last program, in early September, was on the White House south lawn, and the President himself came out onto a raised, bare platform, with a small Marine band playing “Hail to the Chief,” and reiterated to those of us still in Washington (most had already returned to their colleges) the purposes of the summer’s program. He concluded with a strong plea for us, above all, to consider joining the Peace Corps.
He stressed that the real benefits of the Corps were not to the host countries but to our own, as returned Volunteers would ‘see America as the rest of the world sees us;’ he quoted the Chinese saying that ‘You cannot see the mountain except from afar,’ meaning that we would never understand America until we lived outside it. It certainly made sense, and strongly appealed, to me. I vowed then and there, standing in the small crowd, that I would join the Peace Corps.”
2. What made you choose Iran?
“When I went to Washington in the summer of 1964, I met and soon became friends with a young Iranian guy, then a student at American University. I had never known anyone from another country, certainly not a place as exotic as Iran, about which I’d know nothing. He had been educated in Switzerland and England and was as fluent in English as I was. He was extremely bright and personable and we seemed to somehow complement each other.
During my last term at Georgetown, I concentrated on Iran, for my research project.
After taking the Peace Corps aptitude tests in 1967 I received my first service invitation—to go to [South] Korea to work in rural community health. But my interest was still Iran. I had a housemate at the time whose girlfriend had a friend who worked at the Peace Corps headquarters. She was recruited to carry my file around to see if she could find a program in Iran for which I was eligible. There was nothing in rural community health or development, only in ESL—English as a Second Language. Finally, by mid-1967, I got an invitation for Iran, to teach English in a high school. I accepted at once.”
3. What was the most valuable take-away from your experience in the Peace Corps?
“Comfort traveling throughout the world. Iran was my very first foreign destination; since then I’ve visited around 40 countries. Nowhere am I uncomfortable. I do not believe in national borders as any sort of “finite” demarcation. We were often—usually—perceived as American agents of one kind or another, but with little effort, we could make friends and perhaps undermine the usual perception of the US as the 20th century’s imperialist power.”
4. Why would you recommend the Peace Corps to others?
“Why, it seems to me, would any bright, ambitious, curious, psychologically unfettered person NOT want the experience the Corps affords?—a job, and training for it: language, culture, practical guidance to living there, a “living wage” and money kept aside for the end of two years of service? A complete preparation for, and provision for, living abroad for a couple of years. “The toughest job you’ll ever love” was, for me, not even so tough. The extension of my life into that of other parts of the world was the most rewarding aspect of Peace Corps service. It was an incredible and beautiful experience.”