Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Beginning or Why?

Well this isn't really the beginning, but rather the start of this blog.

Why would a 65, and 62 year old, well-established white middle class, midwestern couple decide to join the Peace Corps for 27 months in some third world country? This is a question not only asked of us by others, but a question we often ask ourselves. Some have ascribed humanitarian aspects to our decision, others patriotic, still others charity. There is some truth to these guesses. However, the most driving reason is just the quest for adventure. There are only a few times in life when the opportunity presents itself to do something for the pure thrill of it, and now is one of those rare chances. We want to go for it!

Like many new couples, Mary and I tried to think about what we wanted out of our lives. We decided on children, on being self-employed, able to support ourselves, and later in life to travel. As to what people would say about us when we died, we just wanted them to say that we were OK and that our children turned out OK too.

What influenced us the most about spending a prolonged period of time abroad was our experience hosting and meeting high school aged foreign exchange students. Each one of the exchange students we hosted in our house, Arnaud from Belgium, Adriana from Venezuela, Sonya from Russia, Dilmurod from Uzbekistan, and Quentin from France brought a new perspective on life. We shared their excitement, loneliness, homesickness, and cultural adjustments as they coped with living for a year in a different country with people they did not know. When it was time for them to return home, we felt the sadness of them leaving. After they returned home, we learned of the difficulty they had readjusting to their own families, country, and culture. We came to see that they had become “World People”, people whose cultural guideposts had been forever altered, people who viewed the world much more opaquely than before. They gave us the courage to make the big Peace Corps leap.

Living abroad in a third world was an idea I had long talked about. Our trips to Latin America and Africa showed us how even in poorer countries there was vibrancy amongst the people and human qualities we much admired. Life existed without the “stuff” we in the United States took for granted or desired to have. I never thought that life was better on the other side, just different. Mary agreed with visiting, maybe even staying for a few months in another country, but never living aboard.

The whole fantasy was just my big Walter Mitty dream, until last winter when Mary read in an AARP newsletter about seniors who had joined and were encouraged to join the Peace Corps. She said her perspective on living aboard changed once our children became adults and left home. We thought it sounded like a good idea. As they say, the rest is history. She made the initial Peace Corps contacts, orientations, and application procedures. After over twenty-eight years of marriage, I still do not fully understand my wife’s capability for surprise and awe.

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