Johannes (Jonny) von Foerster was bilingual in German and English and spoke fluent French. This was clearly an advantage when traveling through former French colonies.
He was definitely an adventurer – not just the Peace Corps experience, but the motorcycle trip we took together followed a similar trip (by other PCVs) the previous Christmas that had failed. I traveled 4,000 miles with Jonny the Xmas vacation of 1964-65.
Jonny liked a fast motorcycle. When most PCVs were riding a 50cc Honda and I was riding a 125 cc Honda, Jonny had a 500 cc Triumph – a big bike by any standards at the time.
This big motorcycle got him into trouble more than once. After riding 3,000 miles on dirt roads we finally hit a stretch of paving in Cameroon. If you have ever ridden a bicycle around corners somewhat fast, you may be aware of the question whether the tires will hold, or will you skid. Well, Jonny wanted to test that feeling, to see if it was real or just false perception.
So one day Jonny was riding a bit behind me as we approached our destination for the day. I checked in to the hotel and waited for him. He was a late arriving. When he arrived he was pretty scraped up and explained that he spun out on a corner. He lay face down on the bed and I applied tincture of iodine to the scratches on his back.
The last time his motorcycle got him into trouble was on the way home from a party one night. It was common for the locals to tie their goats or cows alongside the road so they could eat the grass. One such animal had wandered across the road, stretching the rope across the road and nearly invisible in the dark. As I heard it, Jonny hit this rope and was killed.
– Shared with fpcv.org by Jim Ludden (Jim volunteered with Jonny, and his account of their motorcycle trip is available here.)
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