Friday, September 21, 2007
East Village, Sept. 2007
My blog pal Reya asked me yesterday why I joined the Peace Corps in the first place. Kind of a long story!
I joined in 1992, after about three years working for a mid-size newspaper near Tampa, Fla. I had grown up near Tampa, went to college in Tampa, and I’d never been out of the country except for a week in the Canadian Rockies a few years before.
But as a kid, I’d collected stamps, and those stamps got me dreaming about all sorts of exotic destinations, from Albania to Zimbabwe. I knew there was a whole world out there that I wasn’t seeing. I also felt frustrated in my job and unhappy with a relationship I had at the time, and I felt the need to make a dramatic change. I wanted to rough it for a while, get away from my cushy American existence, learn and grow.
Helping people, to be honest, was almost a secondary motivation. It was part of the equation - I liked that I could be of help while challenging myself too - but mostly I wanted to shake up my own life.
Peace Corps requires a two-year commitment for most jobs, so this was no small step. I applied in summer of 1991, and drove down to Miami for an interview with a recruiter. I told my bosses what I was doing; they were supportive.
Being a language person, I thought I would wind up teaching English. But the recruiter said the teaching programs required more experience than I had, and suggested I pursue health instead. She said I could get qualified for health by volunteering at a local hospital and getting CPR training.
So I did that. I worked in the Emergency Room at Tampa General Hospital for about six months, and took a CPR course. In the spring of 1992, the Peace Corps invited me to Morocco. I had told them I’d go anywhere in the world, but I really wanted Africa - so Morocco sounded great to me!
And it was exactly what I wanted. It was challenging in ways I’d never expected, and helped me grow dramatically. I had the true “mud hut” experience, living in a one-room rock house in a tiny village that had no electricity or running water. I loved it - the simplicity of my life, the long days just hanging out with the Moroccans, the excellent food and amazing hospitality. I did a number of projects with another volunteer living nearby and some on my own, and traveled a lot in Morocco and West Africa. My world grew exponentially!