I asked my mom to write a bit about here experience, but gave no further direction than that. So here's what she has to say:
Anna invited me to write her first guest posting as we let her loose on the world of Peace Corps Togo in less than 48 hours. I have been rather tearful this week thinking of her leaving for over two years with slim possibilities of seeing her during this time. Yet she has managed to live in far off corners of the world in Senegal and two parts of France, navigating the culture and the bureaucracy just fine. She is fluent in French and has a good head on her shoulders and I am sure she will not only do just fine, she will thrive and be an asset to whatever community and family she finds herself in. All the same, it is still hard to say goodbye to my youngest child.
But I did the same thing to my mother in June of l975 when Bill and I left for possibly the same staging hotel in Philadelphia in order to venture off as Peace Corps English teachers in Tunisia. I had trepidations and hesitations, but I always knew it was the right step for us to take. And it was as that step to join the Peace Corps led to all sorts of opportunities and experiences in our lives. But I also remember being dreadfully jet lagged, and tired of living out of a suitcase by the end of training. We ended up in southern Tunisia teaching English at the high school and night school in Houmt Souk, Djerba, Tunisia. We called home after an appointment and hours of waiting at the post office only a few times-for Christmas and to tell the family that I was pregnant and when I had baby Kate (July 4 of course) We received sporadic letters and a few care packages and that was it. I still feel a gap in family relationships in that I do not remember or know what other family members were really doing during those years. On the other hand I developed a closer relationship to a cousin who was living in Japan teaching English too. Even though communication will be difficult in Togo, I still look forward to knowing more of what is going on in Togo through emails, blog postings and maybe a cell phone Skype call every now and then. A lot depends on where Anna is stationed and that is still a mystery. I think it would help in packing, planning, settling in and adjusting to know where you will be beforehand, but not knowing still remains a hallmark of Peace Corps organization.
I told Anna to look for the line of weirdoes at the hotel and she would see her fellow PCVs. Really that wasn’t fair to the volunteers, but in our group there were a wide variety of people who had their quirks. However, many of these people who I thought I would never see nor hear from again when we left, have become lifelong friends. At our 25-year reunion in Washington, D.C., I was so impressed by the atmosphere of gentle, contented, competence and satisfaction that the group exhibited. These were people who had found peace in their life and souls and could live in peace with themselves. There was a real aura of specialness about these former volunteers in the way they greeted each other and shared the lives they now lived. I didn’t sense this during out training or the few times we were all together, but I have to credit the Peace Corps experience for helping we ordinary Americans with an abnormal wanderlust to become such peaceful souls with an appreciation of the vagaries and ironies of the world.
Do I have any advice for this new group of volunteers? After recently reading Cheryl Sandberg’s book Leaning In. I would suggest doing just that. Grab every opportunity you have, create new opportunities when one door shuts, remember that life becomes of value because of who you are, not just what you do, laugh often, embrace the absurd, endure the necessary and don’t forget to write your mother.
To Anna and this new Peace Corps Togo group, I salute you who are let loose on the world and wish you the best adventure and the deepest insights Your life will forever more be a global one if only in your mind and outlook and you too will someday see that the value of your Peace Corps experience wasn’t just what you did, but who you became.