A Story

Once upon a time not so very long ago, a retired American dreamed of doing something memorable for the “return” portion of her “Learn. Earn. Return.” life philosophy.

She explored options. She considered alternatives. She talked and listened.

She applied to the Peace Corps

and was nominated to be a business development volunteer in Eastern Europe. She landed in Ghana, West Africa, and became a Peace Corps Volunteer focusing on health, water, hygiene, and sanitation.

After one year of living in a small rural community close to the Togo border, she reflected on her experiences.

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer is like taking an extended vacation. 
With only a limited amount of time “on the ground”, I decide what to do from my long list of options:

Teach hand-washing at the school. Attend a funeral. Plant a garden with the children. Sit under a mango tree and watch mothers sift cassava. Teach nutrition to mothers whose children are not thriving. Complete crafts, play games, or sing songs with the children. Call a community leader to follow up on a commitment. Explore the local market. Organize teens to pick up trash. Watch a football match at the nearby school. Plan a malaria prevention event. Connect with someone from home. Help a neighbor construct a soak-away pit. Talk about “life in America” with someone who may never leave Ghana. Demonstrate how to use condoms as part of an HIV/AIDS awareness day.

Being on vacation also mean exploring: Tasting new foods. Observing different customs. Touring the area. Taking pictures. Hanging out with the locals. Buying souvenirs. Sending postcards home.

Living in a developing nation is like being on a lengthy camping trip.

I filter water before I drink. I rinse fruits and veggies with chlorine water. The final rinse for dishes includes a splash of chlorine.

I make do with limited resources and supplies.
I use a torch (flashlight) to see at night.
I repeat simple meals frequently.

No running water. Pit latrines. Dirty clothes and hair.

I learn names for new fauna and flora.  I watch the blue sky change colors as the sun sets and the moon rises. I gaze at stars, satellites and the Milky Way while bathing. I wonder if the spider that scurried away is poisonous.
I become more closely linked to the natural world.

Being part of a small rural community in West Africa is like living in small-town America in the ’30s.

Children create and play with homemade toys. With a pair of scissors and an old ink pen, a trash-bound thin piece of cardboard morphs into a deck of playing cards. An old bicycle wheel becomes a toy – propelled forward with a stick. An abandoned plastic quart-sized oil container and a small rope becomes a pull toy. Cut and braided water sachets become jumping ropes.

When an airplane passes overhead – perhaps once a month – we all look up in awe.

A trip to “market” or Sunday’s church service is a social event – a time to greet friends and catch up on local happenings. Local news travels fast. 

Everyone knows everyone.  Everyone watches out for everyone. It’s safe to walk alone at any time of the day or night.

Children wander around.
Chickens, turkeys, goats, and pigs roam about foraging for food. 

I wash my clothes by hand. I bake my own bread. I’m glad I’m a vegetarian so there’s no need to slaughter my own meat.

When it’s dark, we go to bed. We start the new day at daybreak.

I often feel like I’m living my grandmother’s life.
 

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer is like going to school.

I leave my friends and family and move to a new community. I meet new friends; I adopt a new family. I stay in touch with “old” friends and family.

I learn a new foreign language and a foundation of technical skills; I  must demonstrate my proficiency before being able to move to the next level – to become a Volunteer instead of a Trainee.

My brain grows new connections.
I realize there’s much to learn.
I re-learn that most education doesn’t take place in a classroom.

Living in a small village where few people speak English is like being on a writer’s retreat.

I am isolated.

There’s no TV or radio or shopping malls to distract me.

I spend time reading and writing.
I cherish my“think” time.

I connect with friends and family; I feel loved and supported.

Helping other help themselves is like a dream.

I smile when I see excitement and pride on a mother’s face when she adds life-giving moringa to her child’s porridge. I partner with a non-profit to provide materials for latrines for 100 residents. I give children their first taste of cucumbers or cabbage. I work with community leaders to repair broken boreholes. I teach new skills.

I learn more than I teach.

I benefit more than the intended beneficiaries.

The woman recalled the parable of the Six Blind Men and the Elephant as she considered her one year anniversary of arriving in Ghana.

All her reflections were true.

Living in a foreign country for twenty-seven months was like going on an extended vacation, being on a grand camping trip and living her grandmothers’ life. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer provided a writer’s retreat and the the best education she could hope for.

Helping others help themselves was her dream come true.

She liked her current life. 

And she lived happily ever after.

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12 Responses to A Story

  1. Barb says:

    Hi cuz, it’s funny that you way that you say you feel like you’re leading your grandmother’s life because that’s exactly who I was thinking of as I read your post. While I didn’t know your Grandmother Rahmeier, I do know that Grandmother Baumann would have been extremely proud of you. Keep up the good work. Love you!!

    • lsmittle says:

      Thanks, Cuz!

      Mom told me a while back that Grandma Rahmeier was interested in being a missionary in Africa. Both Grandmas are with me in spirit.

      Give your mom a big hug for me.

      Love ya!

  2. bill carter says:

    I had to print it, process it and digest it along with my sandwich. I’m not quite sure if I’m more impressed with your heart felt feelings regarding your amazing experience in Ghana or your ability as a very talented author. Both are quite impressive.

    • lsmittle says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Bill. I love writing about my Peace Corps adventure because everyday experiences are mini-adventures. I enjoy trying to make life in Ghana come alive.

  3. Brenda Turner says:

    Linda, I agree with Bill Carter’s comments — your writings in this post were so heartfelt and I went back and read the post a 2nd time to digest all your experiences. You certainly have a 2nd career should you want to pursue it following your PCV time. I so enjoy following your posts and continue to be amazed at life as you are experiencing it so thank you for sharing it. You are certainly an inspiration!

    • lsmittle says:

      Thanks, Brenda. I topped you… I read your kind comments four times. You’ve touched my heart.

      Thanks for following my adventures. I look forward to the next fifteen months and my post-Peace Corps life.

  4. sharon says:

    Again your blog is such an inspiration to me you make a huge difference to everyone over there and everyone who reads your posts I know looking forward to your year two adventures. By the way did you ever get the money from your brother?

    • lsmittle says:

      Thanks, Sharon. Your words remind me of the quote I have written in chalk on my living room wall: “Your life is not about you. Your life is about everyone whose life you touch.” Neale Donald Walsch.

      I made it to the bank today… I will post the current status tomorrow…

  5. barbson says:

    AWwww I love this story What will the book cover look like????

  6. Sharon Harmon says:

    Dear Linda, you are such an amazing person to give up everything that we take for granted here. You are an inspiration to all of us here that have so many modern conveniences. Stay safe and happy!! Hugs to you. . . . . .

    • lsmittle says:

      It’s great to hear from you, Sharon. I have give up many modern conveniences, but I have received so much in return. I am safe and happy and thrilled to be on an amazing adventure. Hugs to you, too!

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