US Peace Corps @75

A seed of an idea rumbling around in my brain for so many years came to the for.  Why then?  Why 2006?  Sometimes we find ourselves in confounding situations that have a multiplicity of  elements.  So I applied to the US Peace Corps at age 75.

I was,  after a lengthy  process, invited into the US Peace Corps passing over about 7000 other applicants for that year.  One does not join the Peace Corps.  One is invited.  I was invited.   I treasure my letter of invitation and my letter from the President. I treasure my memories.

A full year of process for most persons (sometimes more) is required, encompassing many Essays to be submitted and many medical appointments, finger printing and perhaps investigations  about which I do not know. Formal meetings were often held in downtown Chicago.  It is also a year of socializing with the PC persons who have served and those who are in process.    Get-to-  gethers  at restaurants and covered dishes at parks were great fun and enriching.

It was to be a two year stint.  As the story unfolds you will see that, I was blindsided by the PC Country Leader who informed me  prior to graduation that his decision was that I should not go to my village post.  This after shipping all of my gear out to my assigned Village.  I had opened a bank account in my “not to be” Village– an action required.  I had visited the Village and been greeted with flowers and spend many congenial hours with some Thai residents and office personnel.  Then returned for graduation.  The PC Country leader did not want me to proceed to the Village.  I would never have willingly left my Peace Corps duties. Never.  Never.  Never.  It broke my heart that a dream followed by such intense preparation should be ended and not by me.

To look for reasons, one can always extract some whys.  True, I was slow learning the language but a Nun lectured at training and revealed that she had never leaned the language and still served for two years.

The second big event was my having a small stroke while at a vigorous morning event.  It was very hot. I collapsed  briefly and not much was thought of  it.  Soon after I fell over again with a brief black-out but then discovered that I could not use my left arm and hand.   I was take to a local hospital but quickly put in ambulance and driven for hours with sirens blazing- to a Bangkok  hospital called, Bumrungrad International Hospital where I was treated by a Thai doctor who had studied in the US and regularly run along the Lake Shore when in Chicago .    This doctor came to see me daily while I was in the hospital.  The  stay at that hospital (a  resort type place) for a many  days while a battery of tests were given.  My hospital room was replete with small  kitchen along with a sitting room and balcony.  It was a luxury stay fit for Royalty.  The attention received by flights of nurses every day dressed in starched uniforms was impressive.  For safe guard measures  I was then booked into a luxury hotel in Bangkok not far from the hospital   where I was served meals at a private dining room in the most elegant of manner. This was followed by a number of days stay at the home of one of the female PC teachers.  No one could have had better care throughout this mini-stroke episode.  Finally, I got the all clear and returned to my group in, Uthai Thani.  and later to another village where I lived with a Thai family for those three months right across from the mammoth Chai Pria River.

True, being in the PC is a never ending competitive experience but after a time I was sure that I was a shoe-in.   I had and still have a certain built in naivete.  (Perhaps I should have gone with a religious group to serve overseas.)   Who knows?    There were in the main a sterling group of genuine persons  in my group of 52.  Many of these became friends and gave me a handwritten book that I still have with lovely farewell thoughts.  A group took me out to dinner the night before I left, bestowing quite an honor on me since there was another dinner in Bangkok  being thrown by a former diplomat.

An amazing bon voyage story.   I had met a former PCV in Chicago who gave me the name of a friend who was older but also a PCV.  This older person was an executive in the office of the Queens’s Philanthropic affairs.  This Mr. Z invited me on my last day to have lunch with him and he would show me his office at the Queens’s Foundation.  Since this man is a loyal and  continued supporter of  PC it was not difficult for him to commandeer a car and driver from the PC pool to   transport me to and fro the luncheon.  As it turned out, that driver had to cool his heels for many hours while I was entertained by Mr. Z and a business friend  both at  a restaurant  and Foundation visit.  This Mr. Z had serious considerations of becoming g Catholic Priest but upon entering the PC in Thailand, he decided to spend his life in Thailand serving the Royal Family.  So on this last gracious day, a Prince from the line of Rama who contributed to the efforts of  the Queen’s Foundation  arrived at the Foundation Office.  Mr. Z said to simply stand still to see what would happen and that the Prince might decide  to speak to me.  The Prince did approach me with a dignified smile and offered his princely  hand to me.  He then thanked ‘Beautiful Lady’ (that would be me) for visiting his country.

All these outstanding events were balm to a spirit suffering extreme shock and disappointment at not being able to finish my two years with the PC.  So back to the PC Office in Bangkok to get my plane ticket and go to another grand hotel to rise in the middle of the night and be taken by an arranged taxi to the Airport and back to the USA.

On the plane– my mind tried to capture what I had seen in Thailand.  There was not a week that went by that some extraordinary trip was arranged for the Peace Corps trainees.  Angkor Wat in Cambodia and  Monkey Town,  a whole town with reasonably tall buildings inhabited by monkeys.  We were told that the monkeys had factions and that one sect would not dare to cross the street into the domain of the other sect.  Monkeys were hanging out windows of tall buildings and scurrying around the streets.  We were glad to be inside our secure buses.  We passed through that town on our way to a Buddhist Monastery turned hospital since all the Monks had Aids.  We went in and chatted with the Monk/Patients for  a while.  We saw Temples with ceilings so high it hurt one’s neck to look up too long. glittering it was spell binding. I was able to run out to the street and give a scoop of rice to a passing Monk.

We seemed to attend parties or events on a  regular basis.  Peace Corps trainees have a lush and wonderful time while in training  until they go to the rigors of their respective remote villages.  My gear had gone to my village but I was flying  home with unbelievable attractive memories encased in a broken heart  and to an uncertain future.

I suppose adventures are like that in that we buy into an uncertain future  where we discover  more of the world, more of self,  and more of  others.
Would not have missed it.



~ by mosswood on October 2, 2012.

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