Saturday, October 17, 2009
You can spend your whole life working, playing, planning, travelling, studying, wondering, winning, losing, and oftentimes knowing everything and nothing at all. Or you can join the Peace Corps.
Here I am, in Brusturoasa, Romania, in the heart of Moldavia, thousands of miles away from my home in Charleston, South Carolina, USA. It's been over forty years since I heard the call to action of President Kennedy and a lifetime of memories that I've collected.
I imagined many times what life in the Peace Corps might be. First set in a jungle, then the desert, a tent city, a wattle and daub hut, a houseboat, a high-rise. I imagined muddy water, no water, and cold water from an old well a five-mile hike too far. I imagined dark forests, sandstorms, isolation, crowded trains, and dirty bathrooms. I imagined that I would be eating insects and raw fish, riding camels, living in fear of hidden bears and poisonous snakes and living in wonder of stately elk and gliding eagles. I imagined sleeping on a hard straw bed, having little food or heat, and being lost in the wilderness. I imagined having no electricity to read, no phone to communicate with my loved ones far away, and nothing but blank stares from the crowd of onlookers curiously eyeing my presence there.
Now, after four months in country and one month here in my village, I am experiencing none of this and all of it. The feelings have ebbed and flowed, peaked and sunk, and are those that mirror the ones in my dreams long ago. Yes, I have been cold, anxious, entertained, awestruck, calm, satisfied, challenged, overjoyed, deeply honored, exasperated, cautious, hungry, lonely, content, empowered, heartbroken, and inspired. Every day has been a journey of change after change, many days in minute by minute increments. Seeing the world for the first time again and doing the same for others in my company. Learning new things, revisiting the old, utilizing resourcefulness gained from years of experience. Having the courage and conviction to live every second to the fullest and remaining committed to the belief that goodness is out there and is mine for the asking.
It has been a truly personal mission, one that has taken me to the highest of heights and the lowest of lows. Taking the oath of service, speaking yet another daughter language of Latin, managing daily chores without amenities now commonplace in the US, learning to navigate new areas with and without transportation, making time go further, trying to find private moments alone to reflect, actively being a part of the community, learning to live with sometimes as much as six new people at once, eating things I absolutely don't want to, sharing in nature everyday, being unable to properly grieve while losing my best friend across the ocean to cancer, walking the funeral procession for a child killed in a tragic accident here, receiving heartwarming mail from friends, being able to hold on to my primary relationship back home without fearing too much, reaching hundreds of children and helping them to believe in their future, and so on.
The list is long and interesting. I cannot fully express the details of how much I have been changed for the better by taking the leap of faith and coming to Romania as a Peace Corps volunteer. I realize that I have not done any of this alone and have thanks for all who believed in me both here and in the US and that offered their assistance, knowledge and love unselfishly.
In closing, I would like to leave you with some more anecdotes and observations that might give you a small window into my unforgettable life here in Brusturoasaland. For me, it is all so personal, unique, invigorating, necessary, spiritual, and hour by hour, very rewarding. Then I hope you will write your own story.
You may not be a fan of ciorba, but you can savor the taste of the most delicious tomatoes on the planet.
You are never alone for long and privacy means a few short minutes when you can catch your breath by the riverbank.
You can wash your hair with ice cold water outside by the herb garden while the sheep bleat nextdoor, a lonely cowbell rings, and the train whizzes by and whistles.
Everyone thinks you are rich, but you know that they really are.