Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Two Years - Too Short

In April 1968 I heard from Peace Corps Washington that I was to be a volunteer in Sierra Leone starting in July, and at that point committed to two years of service there. Two years - wow. It seemed so very long and on first glance, Sierra Leone seemed so remote, so very far away, and so exotic. Friends from the States who were staying behind either to work, or to go on to graduate school thought I was crazy. Although they all respected my desire to serve, they all felt that the two year commitment was just too much - too long a period of time. I must admit I had my worries as well. Except for schooling I had never made a one year commitment to anything before, never mind two years. And two years in a completely different culture, in a climate that was harsh, in an area where risk of tropical maladies was real, and where barriers such as language, and even food would try my daily existence. Two years seemed long as my time approached to leave. My family worried that I was going so very far away - for them two years seemed a millennium. In July we staged for three days at the Sylvania Hotel in Philadelphia. We had already said our sad good-byes to family and to friends. On July 4, 1968 we boarded a chartered Peace Corps plane, and headed across the Atlantic to West Africa and Sierra Leone. For two years mail would be our only contact with home. For two years we would be on our own in a volunteer program founded by John Kennedy and run by Sargent Shriver. "Over there" our news would be limited - and would come to us sometimes 2 and often 3 months late. "Over there" we would be immersed in all things Sierra Leonean including language, history, culture, foods, agriculture, and daily living. And "over there" Sierra Leone would become our home - and for Susan and I - our very first home. And we dove in to our work, dove in to what was around us, and we grew. Our teaching and our work in health were just a part of it all. We tutored on the side, we trekked in the area, we visited friend's villages, we learned language, we heard music, we observed and participated in the life around us. And the days passed by, and soon we were through a half-year, then year, then year and a half and then it all was over. Were there slow days? Sure - just like there are at home. Was life different? Sure - but I was astonished that despite the many cultural differences there were many things that we observed and encountered that mimicked experiences and observations from home. Was the two years long? No - it was a fleeting two years with challenges, learning, experiencing new things daily. I was never bored - each day was excitingly new. So two years as a Peace Corps volunteer passed much too quickly. The intensity of it all was palpable and real - but the two years of service was but a flash. On July 15, 1970 we boarded a plane at Lungi in Freetown, that is after having said our many goodbyes to our wonderful friends, colleagues, and neighbors in Kenema.

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