Monday, January 29, 2007

Excitement Wanes, Now the Mundane

The excitement of getting our Peace Corps Invitation and learning the country of service and date of departure is quickly passing. People have decreasingly responded with words of amazement and statements of praise for such a worthwhile endeveaour. Most have never heard of Samoa before, others think it is where S'mores originated. Their lives continue as before, some wondering what it will be like without the Shuraleff's around.

Now there is a sense of panic on my part about all the things we yet have to do. Along with the Invitation came a lot of paper work for new passports, visas, statements for the Samoan government about our "aspirations", FBI investigations into our background, and a few manuals about Peace Corps policies and rules (Failure to wear a bicycle helmet is a serious infraction and may result in administrative separation.).

We are filling storage boxes and moving them to the garage in hopes that a nearly empty house is more attractive to a prospective buyer. It is a difficult process trying to determine what to keep, what to give away, and what is simply trash. There are no rules to guide you. After twenty years in a house you and your children can accumulate a lot of stuff.

"Staging" a house for sale is something I liken to celebrities walking down the red carpet before the Oscar Awards. Image is everything. Mary is our resident "Stager". She continues to paint, then repaint rooms. She has done redecorating wonders. The house looks great! The stage is now set to put up the "For Sale" sign.

We have been reading the blogs of other Samoan Peace Corps Volunteers to get a feel of what we might expect (see Samoa, Peace Corps Journals link on our blog). None comment about what their Peace Corps job is on Samoa. It seems like the "Samoan Way" does not include work. Why work when you grow your food, catch fish, easily build a shelter (house), and make your own clothing out of a sheet? Maybe it really is paradise!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Minnesota Winter's Day

The realization during this third and traditionally coldest Minnesota week in January of living in a place where the temperature never varies between 75 and 85 degrees F, the days and nights are almost always the same length, and wearing clothing is purely decorative, makes me want to record my thoughts of winter before they disappear on that tropical isle.

A New Snowfall

How glorious it is to first look out your window after a new snowfall! You are inside all cozy and warm while outside the world is suddenly transformed as if by white magic fairy dust. The day is brilliant and objects sparkle in sunlight. You listen for the expectant sound of scraping snow plows, your neighbors snow blower, the whir of spinning automobile tires to break the muffled silence. This is the moment you know that is unique to you and those others who share this winter's day.

Ice SkatingYou put one stockinged foot into a boot with a steel blade on it, then the other foot. You lace up your boots tightly. You hobble out from the warming house and step onto ice. Ice that wonder of nature! Ice that is water or is it water that is ice? You are now gliding along, pushing one leg in front of the other. The air bites at your face, but you laugh at it. You are embracing the cold world and defying rational thought. You are ice skating.

Lanterns of Ice

Lanterns made of ice emit an opaque glow to light the long winter night. Like the cold, they disappear in spring.

Monday, January 22, 2007


It's Samoa!

Talofa lava (Greetings)

Today we received by FedEx the news that we are going to the
island country of Samoa in the South Pacific Ocean.

This is what we know:
Orientation: June 4-5, 2007, Los Angles
Pre-Service Training: June 6- August 22, 2007 (In Samoa)
Learn Samoan language & customs, live with Samoan family.
Dates of Service: August 22, 2007-August 22, 2009 (subject to change)
Job Duties
Program: Village Based Development Project (started 2001)
Job Title: Village Development Worker
Work with the "Samoan Division of Internal Affairs of the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development" and closely with village pulenu'u and chiefs matai to help organize various civic projects.
Location of Job
A village
Cultural Attitudes and Customs
Little English is spoken in villages and meetings are held in Samoan. Peace Corps volunteers are expected to learn the polite forms of the language and to understand the cultural protocols. Rules of conduct vary from village to village. Volunteers need to be aware of these differences and adjust accordingly.
Dress Code
Both men and women wear lava lavas (sarongs). For business and meetings, women wear them with a fitted blouse, men with a dress shirt. At home or day-to-day, t-shirts are worn with lava lavas.
Living Conditions
Volunteers live with a family in a room in the family's house or a small faleo'o (traditional thatched house) in the family compound. A few volunteers may live in a house provided by the village. The facilities are often limited and modest. Married couples live together.

To learn more about Samoa and about the Peace Corps in Samoa, check out the other sites listed on this blog.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Sell Our House?

Our House in Minnesota

The decision to sell our house is not an easy one. Yes, the house is too big for just the two of us, and costly to maintain. But, one's house is not just a building. It is memories. Memories permiate of our children growing up, the five exchange students living with us, the gatherings of family and friends, and the protection from the elements and the outside world. To sell the house is to remove the symbol of those memories and a place to return. Yet, sell is our decision. We know the memories this house provides will outlast our ownership.

Waiting for The Peace Corps Invitation

After almost a year from our first orientation, applications, interviews, and medical exams, we are on the verge of learning where we are to be assigned (called an invitation). The Peace Corps office in Washington, DC called Mary a few days ago and asked us a few questions, then said our invitation packet would be mailed to us this week. Mary asked where are we going, but the Peace Corps person could not tell us. We had to wait for the mail. You figure it. I guess this is another example of what we can expect.

We know our assignment is in the South Pacific, one of six possible countries. Mary thinks it is the Kingdom of Tonga, based on nothing other than good female intuition. I think it is Vanuatu, based on nothing more than male certitude. Since we once thought it would be Africa or Central Asia, who knows where we actually end up. This waiting is the pits.

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.