We left Shreveport as early on Thursday morning as we could muster and set out for the Louisiana-Texas state line, less than a half hour away. It was to be our lightest day of driving at only (!) 369 miles. We also had a visit to my dear friend K in Fort Worth to look forward to before breaking for our final night in Abilene.
I have written about my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in the Republic of Macedonia (2002-2004) on this blog on quite a few occasions. In particular, I’ve written about departing for service, my own challenges with resiliency, how I initially struggled to learn the Macedonian language, excerpts from letters I sent home, the intense joys of getting a washing machine in my village, and even some things I was later grateful for about working at Peace Corps Headquarters (2010-2014). And of course, Peace Corps’ difficult and historic decision to evacuate all PCVs worldwide and suspend its operations earlier this month.
However, this post isn’t about any of those things. It’s about the heartbreak of losing your home when you finish your service unexpectedly, and the joy of one day getting it back. When a PCV says goodbye to their service, no matter the circumstances, it is a loss. But later you come to realize that the home you created during Peace Corps is never truly gone. It will welcome you with open arms for the rest of your life. So this post is in honor of the 7K+ evacuees tonight.
As the end of the Foreign Service bidding cycle came to a close, all of the waiting and ambiguity I thought would end upon that long hoped-for handshake instead deepened into more waiting, frustration, bureaucratic entanglements, and medical clearance issues. I am working on it and hopefully will be able to announce our onward assignment in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the feeling of getting very close to a good outcome, only to keep getting further away while jumping over unexpected obstacles in my path has been dogging me. Someday I will tell that story.
Today, I’ll tell a different story in the same vein, about a day in March 2003 during my first couple of months as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Macedonia. Originally entitled, “All For a List,” I wrote this piece about trying so hard to do something simple and being foiled, and foiled, and foiled some more. I silently raged against the machine, I almost lost patience, I almost let it get my goat. When the most straightforward situations devolve into total clown shows, it is the ability to laugh when you want to cry that keeps you resilient. I meet much bigger challenges more easily now, but for me that day in 2003 still marks how far I’ve since come in learning patience, thinking on my feet, and innovating on the fly. It is a snapshot in time of learning to build resiliency, and finding the calmest path to the destination you want. Don’t miss the scenery along the way!
Between November 2002 and August 2004, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Macedonia doing environmental education and management. At that stage of my life, I was in my mid-20s, single, and a recent San Diego State University graduate who hadn’t seen much of the world outside of California, Nevada, and northern Mexico. Every few years, I take a look back at some of the emails and letters I sent to friends and family during that time. Even though some of the writing is spectacularly convoluted and would have benefited from thorough editing, I do see glimpses within of the person I would become. Some of the letters, while not a complete perspective on my service, are also a heartwarming reminder for me of my young resiliency, hope, and the struggles I had in adapting to my new home. Although some days I succeeded better than others, the prevailing legacy of that time was an openness to seeing life through others’ eyes. I’m sharing a few excerpts of those letters home here.
It’s a little hard for me to believe, but November 11 marked fifteen years since I left my home in California to become a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in the Republic of Macedonia. Me and 19 other trainees attended a two day Staging workshop in Washington, DC before heading overseas, arriving in Macedonia’s capital, Skopje on November 15, 2002. I had pursued my PCV candidacy at that point for about fourteen months: during my senior year in college, beyond the September 11 attacks, and through a bewilderingly bureaucratic set of recruitment hurdles. Being brave enough to get on the plane and leave for the Peace Corps started a process that forever altered the trajectory of my life.
This evening when I came home from the embassy, I directly attacked a pile of laundry that seems to multiply like mushrooms in the dark. Why can’t I be arsed to keep on top of this? I asked myself with annoyance. All I have to do is let the machine do the work. And yet the wash cycle is 90 minutes. And my closet is on the third floor while the laundry room is in the basement. And I hate folding. And I am not supposed to lift more than 10 pounds. And my foot and leg are numb and I have a recent history of falling down the stairs. And, and, and. But then I inadvertently took a trip down memory lane: I looked back at a journal entry from March 2003 when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Macedonia. After I read it, I smiled ruefully and felt a little ashamed.
Last weekend I came down with a cold. My husband was out of town and it was snowing outside, so I got busy with one of my most popular tasks since last fall: sorting items in preparation for my upcoming move to Uzbekistan. While conducting another epic scan-and-shred fest, I came across the journal that I wrote during the Pre-Service Training (PST) which preceded my Peace Corps Volunteer service in the Republic of Macedonia.
Over the last few weeks since the holidays, my focus has begun to shift towards finalizing my Russian studies (I just concluded week 21 of 28), and preparing to depart for Tashkent in less than four months.
This month has been correspondingly busy on the administrative side. The year unfortunately started off with a young lady sliding in the snow and rear-ending my car as I sat at a stop sign waiting for traffic to pass so I could make a right turn out of a parking lot. She did $1,700 worth of damage and then became escalated, hysterical and unreasonable (all conditions I tolerate, but barely), culminating with her dodging my calls. However, my insurance company (props to Travelers!) hunted her down and forced her to be liable. Additionally, I was not injured, nor was she (or the two small children in her vehicle), and all ended well.
The Russian word “счастье” (pronounced schast’ye) means happiness, bliss or luck. That is honestly the way I would summarize both my thoughts and feelings about studying the Russian language.
It’s Flag Day Eve. Yes, as anyone who has entered the Foreign Service knows, that’s a thing.
Tomorrow at 15:30 EDT, in front of friends, family, and classmates, each member of the 178th Generalist Class of new diplomats will be called one by one to the front of a large room and handed a flag, and a folder containing a training schedule. The flag will be that of the country where we will serve our first overseas assignment, and the training schedule will tell us whether we’re going to post in a matter of several weeks, next summer, or anytime in between.
Last Wednesday I said goodbye to my staff position at Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, DC after nearly four years of work. It was bittersweet, but made easier by the knowledge that I only had about a year left on my appointment, and that I was leaving to accept my dream job in the Foreign Service. I was also comforted by the knowledge that I will be eligible to come back someday (after my time out equals my time in).
Recently, I’ve commented to a few people about the day I mailed my application to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It was a sunny Monday afternoon between work and classes during my senior year at San Diego State University. But it was more than that, too.
In this post, I’ll give some background on my aspirations and timeline for joining the U.S. Foreign Service.
For almost a decade, I have wanted to join the Foreign Service and become a U.S. diplomat, specifically doing consular work. At first this goal sounded pretty far-fetched, even to me. I used to think that only political appointees or other well-connected folks could become diplomats. (Not true.) People who have known me for many years, if given ten adjectives to describe me, would not be likely to include “diplomatic” on their list. And I would probably have been inclined to agree, up until about eleven or twelve years ago.
It’s been a very long time since I thought I had something blog-worthy to write about.
Eleven years ago this spring, I was about four months into my service as an environmental education and management Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Macedonia. I would frequently use my laptop to compose lengthy email missives to family and friends about my experiences in Macedonia, back during a time when email was the primary means of non-verbal communication. In those days, if you went online and tried to Google search images of Macedonia, you wouldn’t find much, as I discovered between accepting my invitation to serve and desperately trying to glean a clue about what Macedonia looked like.