Thursday, July 7, 2011

Away we go!

Staging started today as we officially checked in for registration with the Peace Corps (PC).  The PC staff didn’t take one look at John and me and tell us to go home, so I guess we are really doing this.  As the PC staff stated, we passed from being “invitees” to becoming “trainees.”  With a bit of work and luck, in two months, we’ll become “volunteers.”  There are 57 people in our cohort (aka SA24, which stands for 24th group to go to South Africa) and they are a great, diverse group of people. I can’t wait to get to know them better.  After several hours of orientation this afternoon, the getting-to-know-each-other has actually started with a bang.  Lots of group activities, most of which turned out to be quite fun and effective.  Tomorrow we load up the buses and head for the airport with lots of luggage in tow.  Speaking of luggage, it was fun sitting in the lobby a bit over the last day or so and watching people come in.  We were often able to correctly guess who was and wasn’t a part of our PC group based on the amount of luggage they were carrying.

After this entry, I will most likely not be able to post anything for a couple of months.  The training period is pretty intense and they want us to concentrate on learning language, culture, regulations, and skills, and not be distracted with much else.  For that reason, they will have us store our computers and pretty much limit our access to the internet until this two month period is over.  So, very likely, this is it until mid-September.  Hugs to all and stay well.  I will certainly try to do the same.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

In Their Footsteps

In a couple of days I travel to South Africa to begin training/service with the Peace Corps.  It would not be right to leave the country without recognition to two people who have inspired me the most.  You might guess I am going to mention John Kennedy and Sargent Shriver.  Okay, they are important figures, but who are foremost in my mind are Bernice and Millard Penney.  These dear friends joined the Peace Corps about 25 years ago and served at a rather remote location within the Solomon Islands (the kind of location where the last step of the journey involved a dugout canoe!).  Like John and me, they did this following retirement and amid a collection of well wishes and reactions of “are you out of your mind?” from friends and family.  

Millard at the top
I'm almost there
In addition to planting the seeds of thought for serving in the PC, Bernice and Millard have inspired us in countless other ways. For several years we joined them at Taylor Lake near Gunnison, CO, with a number of their friends for several days of hiking, campfires, sharing meals, singing and great fun (an annual event we have since replicated each MLK weekend for ~25 years with three families in Atlanta).  On our final visit to Taylor Lake, Millard led most of the group up to a mountaintop.  Whereas Millard’s climb to the top seemed effortless, our climb was achieved with a great deal of huffing and puffing and numerous breaks. The memory of that climb and the sight of Millard leading the way has often reminded us of the value of staying fit and healthy and has set a benchmark of what we want to always be able to do.

A few weeks ago, John and I took a day from our busy preparations to go to AL to visit Millard, who had traveled from CO.  Much of the day was spent walking around his family farm land which he had donated to the community to serve as an environmental outdoor laboratory.  Once again, he led and we followed … through woods, and across pastures and fields. It was a wonderful visit and worth every chigger bite (of which there were many!).

So many actions and pieces of advice from Bernice and Millard have stuck with us, more than I could ever write about.  Recently, Bernice sent us a card containing the following quote: “If you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much room.”  For each person that “edge” can be found in different ways, but we thank you, Bernice and Millard, for showing us the wisdom and courage to look beyond our comfort zone and to truly live a little more on the edge ourselves!