Sunday, March 7, 2010

Inspiration for the Masses

Let's be honest here....Africa was not my top choice on where to serve. When I first decided to apply this time, I was visualizing rustic cobblestone roads and cute, homey cottages in one of the Eastern European countries still fighting for their own identity after the demise of the USSR. But I can say that I am truly excited about where I will be spending the next two years. What swayed my opinion?

Again, I do not have just a simple answer (see post 1: nothing is ever simple inside my rambling head). I can pinpoint the force behind the fascination I did initially have with Africa. I had only been at my current job about a year when I got to work with Hollis Chatelain. She and her family lived several years in Africa and that time inspired her art beyond description. Below is a clip from her artist statement on her website

"The twelve years I lived in Africa have deeply influenced me. Six months after moving back to the United States, my longing for Africa was so great that I started to paint African images in order to put me back into the life I loved so much. I feel Americans should know more about the joy, harmony, and pride of the African people, rather than only hearing about the suffering and turmoil so commonly depicted in the media. I would like viewers to see my African imagery as a tribute to a people I truly admire and respect."

I can still remember picking her up at the airport and spending the drive back to the museum talking about her upcoming visit with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She was preparing to meet with him personally to help in the creation of a quilt she was to make depicting Tutu. I have still yet to meet anyone more perceptive to their surroundings, and her art allows others to see what she sees. It is simply amazing.

As things have a way of strangely working out, Hollis has long since finished the quilt and included it in the exhibit Imagine Hope, which will be debuting at the museum April 9-May 25. I am quite excited about getting to see her mere weeks before starting my own African journey!

Not only will I get to see her, but last month Tutu himself spoke at Murray State University. (I know, it is crazy how these things happen!) Included with this post is a picture I took at this event. The image is not a great quality but does show how packed RSEC was. It was basically standing room only....much like graduation for anyone who went to MSU. 

To say the least, it was one of those rare moments when a large group of all ages and nationalities come together to hear something inspiring from a world leader who is clearly not just giving a scripted speech to get votes. Not to be repetitive, but it was simply amazing!

Monday, March 1, 2010

49 and holding....

Happy Peace Corps Day! On March 1, 1961, President Kennedy signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps. Three days later, Sargent Shriver became its first director. Deployment was rapid: Volunteers arrived in five countries during 1961. In just under six years, Shriver developed programs in 55 countries with more than 14,500 Volunteers. - courtesy of the National Peace Corps' Facebook status

Jessica's Note: I once read in a book about Kennedy that he chose Shriver as the first PC director because it would be easier to fire a family member if it did not work!  

Jessica's 2nd Note: Just realized I will be serving when PC celebrates its 50th anniversary. Too cool!!

Serious Training: Day 1

I have a feeling it usually is not correct blog etiquette to write two posts back-to-back. But the first one was mainly setting the scene for the whole a novel's foreword!

Speaking of novels, I had a literary moment of my own today. Over the past few years I have gained a little weight....ok, those of you who know me realize "little" is putting it nicely. During my medical exams last summer, I realized just how bad it has gotten and that I really need to be healthier, if only for the purpose of living in an under-developed country. Well, now it is the end of February and nothing has really changed. (Seriously, how does time fly by so quickly?)

So today I have started my Serious Training. I cleaned the horse barn which is great for the arms and then set off for a walk to get the ol' heart beat racing. This is when I had an epiphany! In Africa, I expect to be walking on rougher terrain than a nice concrete road. I should really train to be ready for that....I should walk through our fields! 

I set off in a jaunty mood. (Though I am not sure of the definition of the word jaunty, I feel that is how I would describe my mood.) Jane Austin could do no wrong in my mind, and she always had her characters walking through woods and moors. So how bad can it be? I envision myself as Elizabeth hoping to run into Darcy.....or maybe Emma off to check on a crazy matchmaking scheme.

By the time I make it up the second hill, I am feeling much more like Gwenyth Paltrow's character in Shallow Hal than her portrayal of Emma. My back and knees hurt, and the wind was causing my nose to run and I had no tissue. Plus, the cows' angry glare was much more scary than what I expect to find on any of the animals in Africa.

Tomorrow I am taking my Serious Training to the gym, and next weekend I will be walking around the corn field where there are not any cows!

Peace Corps! Peace Corps? Peace Corps.

"Greetings, I come in peace." Actually, it is more like "I come on behalf of the Peace Corps" but I could not help saying it the first way. This blog is to capture my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer. In exactly 105 days, I will be traveling to Tanzania, Africa, where I will serve as an Environment Extension Worker for PC's program titled Environmental Education and Sustainable Agriculture in Rural Communities....yep, I am still having to read it off my assignment booklet in order to get all the words right!

To start I will briefly answer the most asked question "Why?". This is also the question that plagues me the most. I feel like it sets the stage on how people will judge my decision to join the Peace Corps, and I honestly do not have one exact reason as to why I am doing this. It is more of a whole bunch of things that culminated to this one point in time.

Peace Corps was something I guess I always knew about but had never placed much thought. Then about seven years ago while I was living in Texas I read a magazine article about a guy who had served. I immediately checked out the website and as luck would have it there was an informational meeting that night. I went to meeting and was amazed I had never seriously considered it. The program seemed like an unbelievable way to experience the world while really doing something beneficial to help.

I immediately started the application process and made plans to travel home to break the news to my family. They were definitely surprised....and not in a good way. Since I had found every opportunity to come home while living in Texas, the first question they asked was how I thought I would ever be able to live in a different country for two whole years. My dad reminded me that at my then age of a ripe old 23 he already had several years seniority at his job, plus a family and home. When was I going to settle down? A part of me did want to move home and find a good long-term job. So that is what I did. 

Fast forward six years.....something scary happened. I turned 29-years-old and consequently in just 12 months I would be 30. Now I am not tenacious enough to think that 30 is really old, but it is a point that a person starts to re-evaluate one's life. I had done what I was suppose to do: established myself in a respectable job that lasted for more than a year, joined several worthwhile civic organizations and a great church, and made some fabulous friends. I still had not married....but that is another blog of its own. I could not help but stop and ask "Is this it? Is this what I have been working towards? Isn't there suppose to be something more fulfilling?"

Peace Corps had always stuck in the back of my mind as something I would do once I retired. Now that I was an adult who owned a washer and dryer and had a cat that depended on me, I could not possibly take off and travel across the globe for two years....could I? Finally, one Saturday morning I woke up and just knew. The time was right. The next day I completed the on-line application. In early June, I had a phone interview with the regional office out of Chicago. During which, I was informed that due to the high volume of applications the next available spot was not until the next June so my hopes were dashed for a quick getaway! But I still believed that the Lord had sparked it in me at this particular moment for a reason.

So I agreed and started the whole medical review. After seven trips to my general doctor, two trips to a local hospital for blood tests, a full set of 18 x-rays from my dentist and a review from my eye doctor, I finally received medical clearance just before my 30th birthday. What achievement! During this time, I also moved back home to live with my dad and his wife in order to pay off the average credit card debts and to build savings. I got to experience being a 30-year-old loser living at home....which could also be a blog of its own.

Much to my regret, I had to be very careful about who I told during this process because it would not be official until the PC Placement Office cleared me and sent me an invitation to serve. Luckily for me, an opening for a program leaving in March became available in January, so I was able to be processed a little early. Though I did not get the March opening, they were able to issue the invitation for June! Which I am so excited for because now I can attend my sister's wedding in May!

Well, this may not seem like the "brief answer" I promised but it actually is! I could go on and on about the long nine months of waiting, but I will save you all from that. I will also not elaborate on the power of prayer and how I truly feel spiritually moved to do this, in addition being so motivated by Obama's inspiring acceptance speech in November 2008. And I will not bore you about how I am motivated by my frustration with politicians who instead of doing something positive cannot get past their bipartisan bickering. 

Instead, I will end here with an explanation of this post's title. The use of the different punctuation marks describe how my emotions have evolved through this process and in turn how people's reactions usually progress. There is the initial excitement, soon followed by questions and doubt. Then, for me at least, it settled on a peaceful feeling of "Yes, I understand it will not be perfect and ideal at all times. But it is going to an exciting adventure, and I will hopefully do a little good through it all."