September 22, 2019

Randy exhibited his book in the REACH Pavilion at the

Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, greeting hundreds

of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

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Randy (center) with fellow RPCVs

November 28, 2020

Randy delivered a Zoom presentation about the history of Princeton University, Peace, the Peace Corps and his book to the Princeton Club of Fairfield County, Connecticut. 

Author reflects on his time in Peace Corps during

midst of Gaddafi coup d’etat

By

ANDREW HARRISON, Staff Writer

 

The Princeton Packet: November 17, 2020

  

When author Randolph Hobler was in his early 20s, he embarked on new journey that took  him to country he had never experienced before: Libya. The former Princeton resident and Princeton University graduate, who now lives in Norwalk, Connecticut, had this new experience due to an opportunity to serve in one of the Peace Corps Libya contingents in the late 1960s. He reflected on his time in Libya through a recently released memoir of not just his experience, but that of fellow Libyan returned Peace Corps volunteers, whom he interviewed. Those interviews of 101 fellow volunteers and his own experience are spotlighted in the memoir, “101 Arabian Tales: How We All Persevered in Peace Corps Libya.” Hobler’s time in Peace Corps Libyan contingent would only last from 1968-69, as his and that of his fellow volunteer colleagues time in the country was cut short with Muammar al-Gaddafi seizing control of the Libyan government from King Adris, through a bloodless military coup in 1969. He would not relinquish his authoritarian rule over the country for more than 40 years, until his death in 2011.

“When we were there we had no idea something was brewing in the form of revolution. It was a surprise,” Hobler said. “Half of us were out of the country on vacation when it happened. I was in Lebanon. I was able to return to the country, as did others, even though it was difficult to get back in. There was concern from the state department and Peace Corps and also curfews at night and a lot of shooting in the air in jubilation of coup.”

After the coup, it would take two months for Hobler to exit the country with fellow volunteers once they did return to Libya. When asked why he joined the Peace Corps in his early 20s in the 1960s, Hobler said there were four reasons: being inspired by President John F. Kennedy to serve in the Peace Corps, his interest in foreign cultures and travel, to do good before responsibilities of life made it difficult to have enough time to do enough good, and the Vietnam War.

Northern Africa and Libya in particular were not on Hobler’s radar as a possible destination for his time in the Peace Corps when he first applied. He was looking to Latin American for a destination, because he already knew some Spanish from studying the language while at Princeton University. “They told me that all of the Latin American countries were taken care of, so we are going to assign you to Libya. So of course at the time, I did not know where Libya was and had to look it up on my globe,” he said. “I knew absolutely nothing about this place, so I was really starting from scratch.”

Hobler would enter three months of training in Clearfield, Utah, for the Peace Corps during the summer of 1968. “I was in the second Libyan contingent group there were 150 of us in Clearfield, Utah, and another 150 people in Arizona. They chose Clearfield because there is a hot and dry climate, very much like Libya,” Hobler said. “There were a lot of pros and cons to the training. There was a lot of mismanagement involved in Utah. We were supposed to be speaking Arabic all the time time and there was very little of that. There was a cadre of psychologists there – they had teachers, they had brought on 30 Libyan nationals who came to learn English from us and they taught Arabic to us.”

He would be trained on how to learn TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), and practice taught at the Navajo school down in Arizona. Volunteers were spread out on reservations to teach English and to practice teaching their English. “Training was very spotty, but once we got into Libya, we were able to cope,” Hobler said. When arriving in Libya the main part of his formal job was to teach English (TEFL) to fifth grade classes in Libyan villages. “We were teaching English to students who had never been exposed to the language. We also were encouraged to do community projects,” he said. “We were also to make friends and be friendly with the local community and be a part of the local community.”

One of Hobler’s regrets is not being able to start and complete his project to help fight against the disease called trachoma for his designated village in what would have been in second year in the Libya. According to the World Health Organization, trachoma is a disease of the eye responsible for blindness or visual impairment. “80% of the people in my village had it and is a disease carried by flies. Along the way, I learned there was a form of antibiotic in the form of something like Chapstick that you could put in your eyes that would cure the trachoma in the village,” he said. “I was looking forward to doing that as my project for my second year and one of the greatest disappointments in my life is to not have been able to do that, because all of our plans were upended by the Muammar al-Gaddafi revolution that hit us on Sept. 1, 1969.”