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August 12, 2003

PEOPLE by Jennifer Brummett

Vivian Kincaid has had an adventuresome decade-and-a-half. She worked two stints with the Peace Corps in the 1990s, and moved to Danville from Jonesboro, Tenn., in May. Kincaid is quite the world traveler, as she hails from The Netherlands originally.

She spent 1991-93 in Poland and 1998-2000 in Kenya. Kincaid, 72, says being a naturalized citizen of the United States of America led her to the Peace Corps.

"I got so much from this country. ... I wanted to give something back," says Kincaid, who moved to Danville to be closer to her daughter in Louisville. "People (in this country and others) forget that you really need to give."

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In her softly lilting voice, Kincaid says she had asked for Africa but was offered Poland in 1991.

"Ten days later, I said 'OK,'" she notes. "Poland had just made the transition from communism. It was exciting. People had more freedom to do things."

The Peace Corps paid for Kincaid to teach foreign language - she is fluent in Dutch, German, English and French - and she made about $350 per month. In the Polish currency, that amount was in the millions.

"That's the only time in my life I've been a millionaire," she says, smiling.

One of the strongest memories of Poland is the cohesiveness of the households.

"There was a sense of family there," Kincaid notes. "Those people went through so much, but they never lost their sense of family.

"I thought Poland was great. ... The fact you are with the people and learn about the culture is great."

But it had its problems and quirks, too.

"Sometimes I was without water and electricity, like the Polish people," she says. "And I could not find any peanut butter in Poland until right before I left."

In 1993, she returned to Charlotte, N.C. She received the Peace Corps newsletter and worked at a home for the mentally ill. Then, she decided on another Peace Corps stint, which took her to Kenya as an English teacher.

In the late 1990s, Kenya was filled with governmental corruption and greed, as well as pervasive poverty.

"I hope it is changing now with the new president," she adds soberly.

She remembers playing language games with the children in the school, and a short play they performed. She recalls a girl, Everyn, lying in the grass one day, complaining of a headache. Kincaid sent her home.

"She went home and died with cerebral meningitis," Kincaid notes. "Her mother took her to a clinic that had no medication.

"That's what's constantly going on (in Kenya). There is no water in the clinic. The students come to school with a cup of tea only (for breakfast). Some travel 10 kilometers. They get caned for infractions."

She pauses, obviously reflecting.

"Kenya was really a situation where I felt so involved," Kincaid explains. " I spent much of my stipend on the students.

"In Kenya, many times I had almost no water. During the dry season, the girls - never the boys - were sent almost a mile with big tanks on their heads to get water."

She learned to perform many tasks as the Kenyans do, and taught them as well.

"I introduced the staff to varied cooking," Kincaid explains. "I invited them over, two by two, and made lasagna and fried rice - things like that, which were easy to make.

"I learned about the people and still have friends and students who write to me and I write to them."

She also experienced frequent electricity outages between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

"The computer program at school didn't go because we didn't have electricity during the day."

She isn't planning any more Peace Corps stints and is settling into life in Danville. She likes the Whimsy in Weisiger concert series and the townspeople.

"I have not met any people here who have been ugly or nasty to me. ... It is very friendly.

"I bank at Farmers (National Bank) and the two receptionists know my name."

She hopes to get involved in volunteer work, and has applied to Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center and Friends of the Library. She also is considering tutoring, which she did when she lived near Charlottesville, Va.

"It is so satisfying to see them realize that without their diplomas, they're not getting anywhere," Kincaid explains. "I make sure they understand the aspects of English that they need."

Kincaid came to the United States in 1953. Her husband was an American from Gastonia, N.C.

"That was a big culture shock," she notes. "Gastonia was a very small textile town, and culturally, there was nothing. I was used to Amsterdam."

Gastonia's class system - "almost caste," Kincaid says - in 1953 disturbed her.

"I had real problems with it," she explains. "My parents were helping people during World War II, and I find there's this subculture (in the United States) that doesn't rate the same as human beings. ... Things like that were not (from) just the people with educations, but also the intelligent people."

|8/11/03***

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