Truth? I’m scared to death. I am leaving everyone and everything I know to live in a village in Africa without running water and electricity for two years. And at 56 years old, with 30 years of marriage and a comfortable house in suburbia, that’s asking a lot. But with the world in crisis and the future uncertain in so many ways, staying put is no longer a viable option for me, for reasons I don’t fully understand and have learned to not question.
And so I am preparing to leave a metro-Atlanta suburb where my husband and I somehow ended up after we relocated from New York City so many years ago, for the Equator-straddling East African country of Uganda where I’ve accepted a position with the Peace Corps as an Agribusiness Specialist.
I will learn a tribal language that won’t be useful anywhere else in the world but will be necessary for my survival. I will defecate crouched over a pit latrine and kill mango maggots on my clothing and boil water so I don’t get sick (although I’ll get sick — everyone gets sick). I will go to bed scared at night of scorpions and sexual assault. I will worry about my elderly parents, husband, and daughters so, so far away. I will discover what skills I could possibly have to offer to strangers from a culture completely unfamiliar to me, and what I have yet to learn from them about community and resiliency. And perhaps, through experiences I cannot yet imagine, I will ultimately discover exactly what I am made of and what my Maker wants me to do in the limited time I have left on this earth.
Meanwhile, having just received medical clearance from the Peace Corps after two months of nonstop doctors appointment (including a life-and-death test to see if I was really allergic to penicillin, my first colonoscopy, and the required Yellow Fever vaccination), I begin to pack up life as I know it and clear space for what’s ahead.
I grab a saw and chop down my garden so it doesn’t swallow my husband whole while I am gone. I empty closets and clean out the garage and sell my books. I donate clothes and tools and furniture. I face some things and fix some things and forget about trying to change some things. I figure out how to step out of the life I built while somehow remaining committed to those I love.
And as I sit quietly on the driveway at the bottom of the hill in suburbia, where I feel I’ve become increasingly irrelevant professionally and personally, I gaze at the stars above, knowing that in just five months I’ll be looking at the vast night sky of Africa. And then I do what perhaps every aging person has done at one time or another — I mutter these opening lines from a poem by Dylan Thomas:
Do not go gentle into that good night;
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
There is a moment in every season of the reality television show Survivor when each contestant must make a bold decision that will solidify alliances and alter the entire rest of his or her game. Joining the Peace Corps is my bold decision. It is the solidification of my alliance with my husband about our dreams for our shared future beyond this place where it’s easy to get stuck. It is my rave at close of day; my rage against the dying of the light.
When I was faced with the decision about whether or not to reapply to the Peace Corps for where they needed me most after being rejected from my first choice (Jamaica), my husband said to me, “Aren’t you curious?”
Yes, I am curious.
Let’s see what happens next.
If interested, you may enjoy my books.
UPDATE (several months later): I’m no longer scared.