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!


Anonymous said...

Wow - and thank you!! What a story! I think working in an ER could be just as dramatic as two years in Africa. You are extremely brave!!

But it sounds like it was a wonderful experience, just right to shake up your life and show you how huge and diverse the world is.

My trip to India did that for me - it was part of a journey all the way around the world, but the month in India was the most profound. That was in early 1990, so again, even though you and I are as different as two people can be in lifestyle, background, age, etc. we were on the same wavelength even then! Wow!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,
I can't wait until we can actually sit down and talk about all we have in common! Our peace corps experiences in Africa, photography, etc. etc. etc. Anyway...thanks for sharing your PC story.

Anonymous said...

What a great experience you had. Thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Steve for sharing your touching and inspiring story. It's great to be reminded we need to listen to ourselves and shake things up once in a while. Peace.

Anonymous said...

i sensed a whiff of philatley.....