Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Valentine’s Day Message from Kathleen

I Peace Corps

Up ahead in the distance I saw a shimmering light…

My reference point of early Peace Corps experience is ‘Hotel California’. In March of 1977, that was a #1 hit song which along with various other themes considered destiny; and in its faded status amongst San Francisco hotels, Hotel California was where we bivouacked in anticipation of departure to Thailand. Now in 2010: 33 years have passed and having joined Peace Corps at 33 years of age, I can’t help but notice the symmetry of Peace Corps at the heart of my lifetime.

What I received via Peace Corps can’t be quantified, it’s so vast; and what I gave back is so small that it’s equally immeasurable. Much richness came from the members of Group 58. I believe our common sharing in time and space on the Peace Corps path forged an eternal bond with each other as well as with the country in which we served. There was a healthy dissonance in our Group that yielded harmony: I didn’t observe this in other Groups at the time. I think we are special…when we meet we are kin and the country is home. How nice it would be today to see you in passing and find out how you’ve been. [By the way, I discovered why I’m so quirky and that’s because I was born in the year of the Monkey: it’s my nature to find almost everything a source of fun. Sorry.] So today we would no doubt find ourselves laughing over some Peace Corps moment that we alone would understand.

What stellar good fortune allowed me to make the acquaintance of Thailand? In 1977, I needed to look on a map to find it. Some among us found absolutely extraordinary ways to devote themselves to Thailand’s development even in ’77—80. I admire the ‘pioneers’ of Peace Corps who had few resources other than President Kennedy’s vision; our Group as ‘mid-century’ Volunteers broadened and refined those contributions; now, with the deluge of resources that can be accessed via www technology there seem to be few impediments to today’s achievements by Volunteers. Incredibly, such sizable projects still fall within Peace Corps’ original goals: So long Board of Directors/Hello Peace Corps Volunteer. And what good luck we share in that we have the opportunity to maintain our own Group 58 weblog.

Coming home in 2001, I found all of life rather difficult and I thought what if I had NOT joined Peace Corps and worked overseas: a mainstream career, a home purchased when prices were affordable, a community of close knit friends… And then recently, I read that a book entitled, A Round-Heeled Woman* was re-written as a stage play, a working production in San Francisco was en route to New York City, etc. I got it into my head that I had to read this hilarious, happy-go-lucky autobiography by an independent, avant-garde female adventurer of my same age. Merging with the author’s point of view, I found that I was reading about my own home town, my neighborhood, my circumstances, my affinities, my reactions to society… As I completed my self-imposed reading assignment, I realized that the author was an incarnation of who I might have been had I not joined the Peace Corps. Not a reader’s reverie…a nightmare.

It is easy to remember Peace Corps days. Apparently that’s true for others—people say, thus and so happened and it reminded me of Peace Corps—which signals whatever the risk the unknown implies, it’s going to be OK. When we landed in Hong Kong, Chuck Hobbie took a few of us aside and told us to be certain to look after Jane that evening. On the elevator up to our rooms, Jane dropped her Braille typewriter on my foot; and later we found out that Chuck had taken a few of the Group to the Bottoms Up Club…

Peace Corps is like The Hotel California:

You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave

KH, February 14th 2010

*[Please, this is not a recommended book…the content came as a revelation to me, but would be an unlikely fit with any member of our Group: A 66 year old woman placed an ad in the New York Times Review of Books personals column expressing her desire for liaisons with men and offered her capacity to discuss Anthony Trollope should the subject be of mutual interest. A thin but popular book was the result of her experiences. And, my advice, don’t see the play either.]