What an amazing weekend I just had. I’m still trying to process it all, but I spent the weekend with my Peace Corps friends on a rafting/camping trip outside St. Louis, Missouri. These friends are true, real people. We have been a “group” since day 1 of Peace Corps training in January 2005.
It always seems like when I talk to people about the Peace Corps, it is a mysterious thing. It kinda is. I can’t really explain what it was like to serve to someone who has never experienced it. Volunteers are sent to rural parts of the world where they are trained to speak the local language and live like their neighbors. Service is voluntary and spans 2 years, with 3 months of intense language and culture training before service. (I now can speak Thai.) My friends and I joined around 200,000 other volunteers to work on issues such as education, public health, professional training, business development and much more. I feel very proud to have served my country in such a diplomatic capacity. It really was a great honor, and I received so much more from my Thai family and the community I lived in, than I feel I gave (which was a lot).
From the Peace Corps website:
The Peace Corps was established by then Senator John F. Kennedy in 1960 on the campus of University of Michigan when he challenged the students to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. You know, the famous speech, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”? From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship.
The Peace Corps’ mission has three simple goals:
- Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
- Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
- Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
The friends I made in the Peace Corps are priceless, and I feel so blessed to have such a solid group of people in my life. Even though we live across the country and at times on different continents, we are all still best friends. It feels like we’ve been friends our whole lives. We know each others’ history. Our relationships are effortless, and our flaws are embraced and loved. We have conversations that are stimulating and that challenge our beliefs. We are brutally honest with each other and love and respect each others’ vulnerable spots. We laugh, cry, and have fun together. We rarely see each other, but when we do, our lives pick up right were they left off. And most importantly, we have lived and experienced something very few people in this country have. For that, we are united.
It’s nice to take a look back to see where our friendship began.
On January 17, 2005 PC Thailand 117 volunteers arrived in country to one of the most amazing welcomes I might every experience. The then current volunteers greeted us at the airport loudly cheering our arrival. If you didn’t know better, you might have thought a group of celebrities just landed at Don Mueang International Airport.
We were sworn in 3 months later, on March 25, 2005 after intense language and culture training, and then sent out to our respective villages to live for the next two years. This is an excerpt from my journal dated March 27, 2005 two days after arriving in my village and leaving the host family I had stayed with previously:
On Saturday at 4 am , Maah, Sao, Choy, Yolk, Yolk’s oldest sister, Tong, and two of Sao’s friends drove me to Ban Chaleang [the village where I was to live for 2 years]. The drive in the back of a truck was the coldest I’ve been since being in Thailand. Once here I moved right into my house, and we had a picnic here in my new kitchen! Shortly thereafter, everyone took off, and we left each other in tears…. I even think Lucky was crying.
I’d be lying if I said the past two days haven’t been hard. This morning I got a message from Sao which made me said.
I slept a lot today… oh that is after the spectacle when I washed my clothes. This afternoon I went to P. Moo’s house which is beautiful. She has a nice big yard with many trees and a huge garden. Her husband is very nice, and she loves dogs.
Then she and her daughter came over and taught me how to make pumkin curry. Aroy! [delicious] I hope I can do it on my own. The fresh coconut milk part where you have to shred the coconut from the shell and then soak it in warm water to press out the fresh milk… yeah, that was so cool. I’m just worried about where on earth to buy food in this little village.
So, I’m a real Peace Corps volunteer now. I just need to live each day with a smile on my face…. look towards the future. I am so fortunate to have two lovely co-teachers to work with for the next two years. Our personalities mesh well. Here I go….
I could share so many journal entries from my two years there, but I thought this one was interesting. This is from April 7, 2005 after a week or two in my village:
Privacy is something sacred to Americans. Well maybe that is a huge generalization. Anyways, privacy is the biggest thing I lack here. At any given moment people just walk right into my house and see the farong [foreigner]. “What are you doing?” they ask when I am clearly sweeping my floor. Or what about when 10 people want to watch me hand wash clothes only to tell me I am doing it wrong. It’s like an announcement went over the village loudspeakers, “Farong washing clothes on Moo 1.”
I guess I shouldn’t get so upset. First, I end up not having to wash my own clothes since they take over and “do it right.” Secondly, they really are concerned about me! I get slightly aggrevated and it definietly has shown…. which is not something I am proud of, but it is just the fact of the matter.
After a few months settling down in my village, I wrote this on September 28, 2005:
Among all the poverty here, I hardly ever notice. The warm and friendly people shine so bright. I look everyone in the eye and tell them a Thai hello, “where are you going?” I wonder how I will adjust living here for 2 years. I’m sure I’ll be fine as long as I keep up the adventures.
Just to give you an idea of where I lived and the smiley faces that made it up, here are some photos:
Okay, so I could go on and on with the pictures, but I think you get the idea. Amazing place. Amazing people. Amazing experiences.
The other half of this experience is made up of my American Peace Corps friends who after training were scattered across the country. We tried to get together every few months in a different spot – whether on an touristy island or in each others’ villages. We could be anywhere and as long as we were together, we could have fun.
(While I was searching around for Peace Corps Thailand information, I found this cookbook that I compiled with a fellow volunteer. Check it out!)
So the fun has continued post Peace Corps as well with these folks. First, two of my Peace Corps friends were married in North Carolina shortly after we returned. It was nice to see everyone all cleaned up after living in America for a few months. However, not everyone could attend. Some of the “group” was still in Southeast Asia working or traveling.
The next big gathering was in Vegas and Zion National Park. We went hiking for 4 days and then celebrated my upcoming marriage in Vegas. September 2009
The next big event was my wedding in Sarasota in February 2010.
And most recently, camping and rafting in the Ozarks in Missouri. I plan to do a post of the whole trip, but here are photo teasers in the mean time.
I hope you have a wonderful week. I’ll do a full post on our trip soon, but this post went down a totally different path than I originally intended. However, it was nice to take a look back at my Peace Corps experience. It was by far the best thing I have ever done in my life. If you have any questions or are considering joining, please don’t hestiate to contact me. I would love to talk more about it. eatlivebewell at gmail.com