Saturday, August 8, 2015

Remembering Patty/Tania

1974 was a pivotal year for me. It was my first year at high school, and (like many) I was struggling to find my spot in the complicated social strata that permeates a large high school. Perhaps more importantly, I was also paying more attention to the news, and thus broadening my world view.

In the midst of this turbulent time for me, a major story hit the news and commanded the country's attention for weeks--and I was fascinated as well. Patty Hearst, the beautiful young heiress to the Hearst publishing fortune, had been kidnapped by a group calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Rather than seeking a ransom for themselves, they wanted her rich family to donate food to low-income families. It started off as sort of a modern day Robin Hood story, and I can still remember the details to this day.

As I recall (my Internet access is non-existent as I write this), the family complied with the SLA's demands by organizing a large food giveaway. However, rather than handing over the kidnap victim to her family as previously agreed, the SLA announced that Patty had decided she didn't want to return to her rich family, but instead was changing her name to Tania and joining the SLA. To prove it, she toted a gun during a bank robbery the group made. This story kept getting more and more sensational!

Eventually, the California police thought they had located the group's hideout and surrounded it, demanding a surrender. However, the SLA refused, and fired back when police moved forward. The battle that raged as most of the SLA fought to their deaths was broadcast live on the news, becoming one of the first instances of the kind of "you are there" news coverage we would later become accustomed to from CNN and other round-the-clock news channels. [This highly visible battle also encouraged the development of what became known as police "Special Weapons and Attack Teams" (SWAT).]

While most of the SLA died in that house, Patty and a few others had been out on an errand. She stayed on the run for months before she was finally captured. It was during this ordeal that I learned of "Stockholm Syndrome," which is a term used to describe an irrational bonding between captive and captors. This was a big part of Patty's bank robbery defense, based on the brainwashing that she went through after being kidnapped.

Now, you may be wondering what connection this history lesson about a once huge but now obscure news story from the mid-1970s might have with my service in the Peace Corps? Well, in my first week with my new host family on the island of Dominica, I have quickly bonded with them, just as I had done with my host family on St. Lucia during my previous seven weeks in training there. I feel very blessed to have landed in such gracious host families.

Both of my host moms are only about seven years older than I am. Both have three adult children--two girls and one boy. In both families, two of the three children still live in the household and contribute towards it. My host "siblings" on both islands have proven to be very helpful to my adjustment.

This is not to say that my experience has been exactly the same in both situations. There are some aspects that are a bit different between the two, but they definitely complement each other and combine to give me a very solid base on which to eventually live on my own in my own house later this month. I think the Peace Corps did a great job of screening and selecting my hosts!

I am especially pleased that my new host family on Dominica seems so well respected in this small community. Just like in small town West Virginia, good connections can help to speed up your acceptance in the community. This will be important for me as I try to help out this village that--minus the ocean, palm trees, and other differences--reminds me so much of rural towns in the Mountain State of West Virginia.

I just hope that my quick bonding with both of my home stay families does not mean that I have proclivity towards "Stockholm Syndrome." Unlike real "Stockholm Syndrome" victims who were initially terrorized, I have been treated with nothing but hospitality in both places. Just in case, though, I will do my best to avoid being kidnapped (and no, Mom, I was just joking--there is no reason for anyone to worry about kidnappings here).

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