After significant positive encouragement from a Peace Corps recruiter; submitting the application (with full support from my daughters, husband, and elderly mom) with three really generous and wonderful references; legal approval to proceed (specific to the nature of my hubby’s government-related Intelligence experience, for which they needed to rule out conflicts); a two-hour interview, and receiving a fingerprint kit, I’ve been walking around for two really long months now (while checking email every ten minutes) with the possibility of leaving everyone and everything I know in March 2020 to serve as a Sustainable Agriculture Facilitator (interfacing among farmers, nonprofits, government, and community) in a village and on farms in the mountains of Jamaica for more than two years. . . . and then I just got the answer.
I didn’t get it.
My heart feels literally broken. I can’t even put in words how much I wanted to serve in this way. Here is an excerpt from my application essay that led to my interview:
After the planes flew into the Twin Towers in 2001 and no one knew what was going to happen next, I took the only action over which I felt like I had some control. I planted seeds and grew food. I soon fell deeply down the rabbit hole of sustainability, and I fell in love with it. Over the next 18 years, I grew food, community and knowledge and, in doing so, served my family, my city, various communities in need, and whoever may have read my books, blogs, and articles.
Two and a half years before I was born, President John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Now, with my children grown and gone and my husband having a few more years before retirement, it is time for me to do that. We are currently facing a global climate crisis, and a crossroads of chaos as a nation. Negativity abounds and forward progress often feels stagnated, or even impossible. I am concerned about the world’s view of Americans and our willingness to be part of the solutions, and I consider myself to be the kind of positive, optimistic person who can bring creativity, commitment, and cooperation to shared objectives that cross cultural and political borders. I think, perhaps, when the World Trade Center fell, I expected Americans to be called to serve our country the way my mother’s generation did during World War II — through Victory Gardens, conserving resources, and truly working together to find creative solutions to common, everyday challenges that built our resiliency. But we were never asked to do that as a nation.
I did not serve in the military, and I want to do my part while growing my skill set so that I am increasingly helpful to our country and world as we face our future together. I value the training that the Peace Corps offers, the challenges of the service itself, and the opportunities for educational and career advancement that follow service.
Yes, I was concerned that Jamaica has such a high crime rate (don’t Google it — it ain’t pretty, but then again, have you looked at the USA headlines lately?) and that so many questions the interviewer asked me had to do with how I felt about being harassed multiple times a day. Plus, I know reported and unreported rape in the Peace Corps continues to be a definite issue, and that is, shall we say, a concern of mine. Yet I was still willing and excited to pursue this, and following Peace Corps volunteers on social media who currently have the assignment for which I applied was only making me more convinced it was the right calling for me.
Even before the interview, I had started learning Patois/Patwah (in which fluency, mostly taught during the first three months there, would be required, if selected); I was growing callaloo and other common Jamaican crops; and I had bought, cooked, and eaten breadfruit, akee, jackfruit, and more (mostly to ascertain whether or not I had any allergies) (and I was tutored by a lovely Jamaican couple I met on how best to do all this). I was “smalling up myself” (“small up yuhself” is a Jamaican Patwah term meaning to “make room”) in three ways: getting rid of stuff I possess, letting go of ego and expectations, and dedicating time and effort to continual physical fitness (knowing the job would be demanding) during more than 50 days of over-90-degee Fahrenheit (32-degee Celsius) summer heat and humidity. And I was keeping all this mostly secret (which, as a writer, is a very hard thing to do). In short, I was busting at the “seems”: seems possible; seems like I could be helpful; seems like a good idea with short and long-term benefits.
From what I hear on the PeaceCorps 50+ Facebook page (where I originally reached out to a few people who had served in Jamaica for their rubber-hits-the-road experiences in relation to my concerns before I applied*), Jamaica is super competitive (close by, English-speaking, Bob Marley effect) and that I may have more luck if I agree to go wherever they need me (which is what most of the folks have done). That may be something I consider someday. (Note: there is no someday — if you are thinking of taking a risk, take it. There is no guarantee that we each get 80 years. See my review of the Steve Jobs book, if you need a reminder.) This place, this assignment, and this timeframe worked for my life for some very specific reasons that will change. However, I do know my path forward has been altered by having taken this risk, even just as an applicant:
- My bonds with my family are deeper;
- My gratitude for those who provided recommendations has grown;
- My desire to use my skills and passions to make a measurable difference in the world is stronger than ever;
- And, yes, my belief in trusting the (damn) journey is reconfirmed because I know, in my heart, that this all happened for a reason yet to be revealed.
And yesterday, after getting the news, I planted more seeds (as I always do after hearing bad news either personally or in the world, which I why I live in a jungle now).
And today, you will most likely see me somewhere Traveling at the Speed of Bike.
* the Peace Corps has been actively recruiting folks over age 50 for the past few years, by the way, since their significant lived experiences are proven to be valuable. The Peace Corps even has a category called Peace Corps Response for shorter-term professional-skill service (such as medical and teacher training). However, people over age 50 still only represent about 4% of all active Peace Corps Volunteers.