I’VE BEEN NOMINATED FOR PEACE CORPS SERVICE!
I cannot begin to explain how excited I am!
This week has been a largely overwhelming week of big news in my life (see Big Update, Part I) – but an exciting one. I have been anxiously awaiting this ever since I turned in my application this spring. And, while a nomination does not guarantee I will ultimately serve, it is one step closer in the very long, very complicated waiting game that is the Peace Corps invitation process.
All I know right now, obviously subject to change, is that I’ve been nominated to work with a Health and HIV/AIDS program in non-Spanish speaking South America or Central America, tentatively starting in May 2012.
For those who know me, it has been a longstanding dream to serve in the Peace Corps, and now I am one step closer to that becoming a reality. Other kids dream about going into space with NASA or singing at Carnegie Hall or (really truly) becoming a garbage man. Serving in the Peace Corps was my childhood dream.
For those unfamiliar with that particular childhood dream of mine, I offer the following essay:
“Why the Peace Corps? or Maddie’s Last Chance to Become Royalty”
There is this story that I have told people when they ask about why I dreamed someday that I would join the Peace Corps, and I love to tell it. While it has probably been transformed and glamorized in my head over the years, it is a brilliant and true tale that has the all the elements of a perfect story – danger, revolution, adventure, heartbreak, and love.
When I was growing up in Wisconsin, we lived across the street from this gorgeous family – they had parties full of interesting people, had pictures hanging of them in various places of the world, ate international food with their fingers, listened to non-English music – and to my eleven-year-old self, the most glamorous and exciting people I had ever met. The matriarch was also the first adult besides my grandfather that I had met who was a redhead, and the individual who, in reality, inspired me to embrace my Ginger-ness at a time when I hated being different. Among many other things, this woman is one of my greatest heroes.
I often babysat for their beautiful daughters, but my favorite part of babysitting was listening to their parents’ stories. I loved them all, but my favorite is how they met and fell and love.
The mother was the daughter of one of the “pillar” families of our town, a group of wonderful, powerful lawyers and businessmen, and had been brought up with the expectation that she, too, would one day study law and join the family profession. The woman did go to law school, but in an act of passionate defiance, she decided to study international law instead. Her passion became serving the underserved, which led her to joining the Peace Corps.
I was never quite sure exactly what exactly her role was in the Peace Corps, but I imagine her formidably conquering all sorts of different projects, whether it was teaching in schools or servicing a local clinic or plowing furrows for spring planting. She is the type of person who would be at home in any challenge, red hair shining despite being covered with sweat and dirt after a hard day’s work. (Again, hero.)
Anyway, her service was either cut short or ended because of Ethiopia’s political upheaval, and instead of returning to the United States like many of her cohort, the woman volunteered to work at a refugee camp for Ethiopians fleeing violence and political persecution. In the chaos of the refugee camp, the woman met many individuals heartbroken by the communist takeover of Ethiopia and the brutal force of the ‘Derg‘. One of these individuals was the man that would become her husband, and they fell in love during the upheaval of war.
This man just happened to be a Prince of Ethiopia.
From that point on, their love story is pretty much like any other. Except she became a true, real-life princess.
In my eleven-year-old brain, what struck me first was not the adventure, the danger, the important bit of international political history that this woman experienced through the Peace Corps, and, really, not even the love. (Eleven-year-olds are like that.)
No, this woman was a PRINCESS.
Jump to irrational child brain thought: the Peace Corps was my last chance to be a true, real-life PRINCESS. “Take that, kindergarten teacher who told me wanting to be a princess when I grew up was impossible,” said eleven-year-old Maddie, “the Peace Corps can do anything!”
Now, that is awfully indicative of the type of child I was. Here is a picture of that child.
(Not pictured: the child I undoubtedly stole those tools from, the delicate lace trim on the front of that t-shirt, the year that I watched at least one Indiana Jones movie per day, the hours spent with scissors on the knees of those jeans to make them what I liked to call “rugged”.)
Slowly, this woman also changed what it meant to be a princess for me. Princesses I had loved up to that point (Ariel and Jasmine, obviously) were replaced by this incredible hero of a woman who had traveled the world and served others. Waiting for your prince in a tower was replaced by ambition for success, dedication to hard work, a little bit of luck, and the Peace Corps.
After that, I learned everything I could about the Peace Corps. I got older, somewhat less silly about being a princess, and fell in love with the other stories. I started seeking out those who had served in the Peace Corps and listen to them regale tales of their adventures. (Common themes: terrible bathrooms, inopportune mistranslations, frustration, food, motorcycle rides.) But what truly drew me to these stories were their underlying messages of hope, idealism, and the insurmountable urge to face an incredible challenge and, often in an unexpected way, overcome.
And that is what Peace Corps service is to me. A challenge that I am one step closer to facing. A new experience in a new part of the world. Achieving an eleven-year-old’s dream.
And maybe, just maybe, still becoming a princess.