By Don Watson


Sargent Shriver ’38 gives a talk at Yale recruiting for the U.S. Peace Corps.  I am one of three of our class of thirteen 1962 B. Arch graduates to join the Peace Corps in its inaugural year. We depart for training on the day of graduation. Arriving in Tunis, capital of Tunisia, North Africa, we meet with Habib Bourguiba, President of the recently independent Republic and new member of the United Nations.  In formal line, he shakes each of our hands.


I am stationed in the south of Tunisia, far from the capital, designing and managing construction of schools and housing, among the first to be built in rural regions that had minimal economic and social services. Bourguiba travels through the region in a rare but grandly anticipated visit. Local officials dig foundation excavations to favor funding for “shovel ready” projects. I am asked by the politically-astute mayor of a small village called Jebaniana—then consisting mainly of a school with soccer field, a few shops and municipal office—to make a model for a community center and central market. I did so, cutting the cardboard tubes of toilet paper as vaults in a traditional construction that could be built of brick without wooden formwork. I am also invited to present the model to the President when his entourage comes through the region.

I travel to the village in a local taxi, called a louage, more accurately described as a battered old jalopy. As it approaches the village, crowds along the road see me with suit and sunglasses and, mistaking us for the front car of the expected government retinue, start to wave and greet us with high-pitched trills of ululation.  In panic, the driver stalls in the middle of the soccer field where bleachers are set up as the presidential review stand.  Someone opens the door. I step out holding the model for their new center. The high-school band starts to play the Tunisian national anthem and I am saluted by the soccer team. They quickly see I am not their President and stop, sort of petering out a few notes. The only person who knows me, the mayor, scoots me to the reviewing stand, finding a seat two rows back from the chairs reserved for the President and his wife.  They arrive. Apparently a bit bored with just one more round of speeches by local pols, Bourguiba leans back and practices his English with me, saying, “How are you?… How is Mr. Shriver?”  

The community center became the first of numerous civic projects that I designed and saw built during my Peace Corps tour, extended to three and a half years 1962-1965.


I can see the market today on Google maps of Jebaniana, located at 35.032432n, 10.909990e, marked by a shopping cart symbol and labeled “Marché,” now with dense and closely fit buildings and streets around it, but its vaults easily identified. One would normally stop here for a rich cup of Arabic coffee, but another prompt tells me the market is currently closed due to COVID-19.

DW 08-12-20


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2 comments on Jebaniana

  • Kent Hackmann

    Don, I found your contribution worth reading. Lots of humor and a slice of Peace Corps life.



  • John Gardenier

    Great story about a great and worthwhile contribution. Mine, although obscure, hopefully advances the cause. I am a charter member (no caps) and supporter of the Science and Human Rights Coalition at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The Coalition especially supports Article 15 of the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, with a focus on the human right to science and to the benefits of science.

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