Archive for May, 2005

A few days ago, William and I recieved a letter from a friend of ours who left for the Peace Corps in Zambia a few weeks before we came to Australia, last week of January. Her experience so far sound unbelievable. It sounds like something straight our of a book. Actually it sounds really similar to the girls in Nine Hills to Nambonkaha. As our friend watched the Peace Corps SUV drive away she realized at that very moment how far away from anything she ever knew as familiar was miles and miles away. She was in the middle of nowehre in the middle of Africa. The house that was supposed to finished being built before her arrival and he was disheartended to find out that it was still missing a door, a window, the bath/latrine and part of the grass rooof…it was only half done. For the next few days she slept with a neighbor who had taken her under her wing. She is the only white woman in the village, lives in a grass hut, has plans to plant a garden and has an entourage of mesmerized kids following her every move. Her project is supposed to lie within the range of health extenstion…but for now she’s just supposed to sit back and find out what her village is about. Learn more Bemba and think about future projects that the villagers might want to work on.

Life in Zambia sounds amazing.

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Two days ago I finally caught the recruiter in her office and talked to her briefly about whether or not she had matched our applications yet. She said she would email us the following day. She sent us an email the very same day saying that she was assigning us a recruiter and that our reference kits are in the mail. Finally!

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Recruiter Tag

We’ve been playing recruiter tag for the past 3 weeks. She sent me an email saying to contact her when William submitted his application. As soon as he submitted it, I emailed her telling her so. A week later he recieves an emails saying for him to contact her when I submit MY application. Three emails and 1 voice mail later…still nothing. (sigh)

Yes, I know patience is a must. I have plenty, but it’s been a battle between my patience and my excitement that William are about to embark on one of the most amazing adventures together!

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As the plane buzzed back over the mountains, it was now just us and the villagers of Maimafu. My wife, Kerry, and I were assigned to this village of 800 people in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. It looked as if we were in for a true Indiana Jones adventure!

The mountains were dramatic and thick with rain forest. No roads had ever scarred them.We had loaded a four-seater plane with cargo (we would fly out every three months to resupply) and flew for 30 bumpy minutes southwest to the mountain ridges. From the plane, the village looked very much like a shoe-box panorama from a grade-school science project.

My wife and I were the first Peace Corps Volunteers ever in Maimafu. We had been greeted by a large group of beautiful people, all wearing gorgeous, curious smiles. Giggling, naked children hid behind trees during the trek down the mountain to our new home, and a lively entourage followed using their heads to carry our boxed supplies through the muddy trails. It was quickly becoming clear that we had just been adopted by a very large and unique family.

The basic culture of subsistence living had not been replaced; there were no cars, electricity, or telephones—just grass huts, large gardens, and a whole lot of rain forest. The women spent the day in the gardens planting, weeding, and harvesting. The men grew coffee, from which they generated their sole income of about $200 a year. The village had lived in harmony with its natural surroundings for millenniums.

The villagers had built us a beautiful, bamboo-thatched hut on short stilts. Planted behind the house was a three-acre garden, carefully tended and ready to harvest. Its bounty included corn, greens, tomatoes, beans, peanuts, onions, potatoes, and pineapples. To top it all off, the path to our new home was sprinkled with flower petals the day we arrived.

It quickly became clear that Maimafu was a preserved example of communal living. Men rallied to the building of a new home, the elderly worked and lived with their families, and mothers breast-fed their neighbors’ children. In fact, the one parentless, Down’s syndrome man in our village was fed, housed, and clothed by everyone; he would spend a few days with one family before happily wandering in to work or play with the next.

It was when we had settled in that it happened. We were sitting in a circle on the ground with a large group of villagers to “tok stori,” Papua New Guinea’s favorite pastime of “telling stories.” I had passed around photos I had snapped back home in Chicago. A villager was staring intently at one of the photos. He had spotted two homeless men on a Michigan Avenue sidewalk with crude signs propped between their legs.

“Tupela man wokem wanem?” he asked. (What are these two men doing?) I attempted to explain the concept of homelessness to the group, and the desire of these two men to get some food. Crowding around the photograph for a good stare, the villagers could not comprehend how the men became homeless, or why the passersby in the photo were so indifferent. They bombarded me with questions and I did my best to make sense of the two ragged beggars in the midst of such glittering skyscrapers. I read from their questions and solemn mood that they had made an important observation—these two men must lack not only food and shelter but also a general sense of affection and purpose in their community.

Early the next morning, we were startled to hear a sharp rap at the door. Opening it, I was greeted by Moia, Kabarae, Kavalo, and Lemek. Kerry and I went out into the bright beautiful day and sat with them in a circle. Each man gave us a pineapple. Moia spoke: “After you left last night, all of us men on the village council had a very big meeting. For a long, long time we discussed the two men in your picture. We have reached a conclusion and have a proposal for you.”

“What could this possibly be?” we wondered.

“Please contact those two men as well as your government. Ask the government if they will fly those two men to Maimafu, just like they did for you. We have marked two spots of land where we will build houses for those two men, just like we built for you. Our men will build the houses and the women will plant the gardens to feed them.”

They were offering to do what? I was stunned and overwhelmed. Their offer was bold and genuine. It was innocent and naive. It was beautiful. And, like the twist of a kaleidoscope, my worldview had completely changed. What does one say to such an offer? We stammered for a response and stumbled over explanations of difficult logistics, scarce money, and government bureaucracies.

But the councilmen would not accept no for an answer. In their simple lives, it was impossible to comprehend that humanity was host to such an injustice. They wanted action.

The villagers were serious. They were offering everything they had. We reluctantly matched their enthusiasm with a few letters to America and long conversations with the village council. We toured the sites where the homes were to be built. We listened to the women discuss the types of gardens they would plant, which would even include coffee trees to generate a small income. And we answered numerous questions over time from villagers amazed with this foreign thing called homelessness. The plan could not work, we told them. Their hearts sank, and I could see in their eyes that this dream would not die easily.

“Sori tru, sori tru we no inap wokem dospela samting,” they told us (We are sorry this can’t happen). They clicked their tongues and shook their heads in disappointment.

Initially inspired by the episode, I began mulling questions over and over in my mind. Fetching water in the ink-black night and looking up the hill at our small hut, light from the lantern inside splitting the bamboo-thatched walls, I would think of the spiritual wealth of Maimafu and the material wealth of America: Can a community reach a balance of material wealth and spiritual wealth? Why do these two societies exhibit so much of one and not much of the other? Do those two ends interfere with each other? How much spiritual wealth can we have? How much material wealth do we need? How has the world evolved so that some people own mansions and others lack shoes? How many people have love in their souls but diseased water in their drinking cups?


It’s kind of sickening how conditioned we are to have to want all of this “stuff” all of the time. Some people have hundreds of pairs of shoes and others don’t even have a clean cup of water to drink. (sigh) But the strange thing is, how much money you make dictates how much “stuff” you need. Have you ever met someone with a six-figure salary that lived in trailer park? The more money you have the more you buy, or at least the more you’re able to save so that you can buy even more stuff later.

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William FINALLY submitted his application. We’ve officially applied as a couple! I’m ecstatic! I’ve already sent an email to my recruiter informing her that he’s submitted it and that she can now push our applications forward in the process. Woohoo!

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.5 to Go

William has recieved all but half of the 3rd reference for the application. We’re almost there. 1 more essay.

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My Toolkit

I recieved my My Toolkit password and username today in the mail. Not too exciting, but it’s somthing. I know have access to that “hidden” part of the website everyone is always talking about. Woohoo!

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This past Saturday was my first time at the SAIL (Sudanese Australian Inegrated Learning) Centre. I’m going to teaching ESL there on Saturdays as a volunteer. The centre is actually a dilapidated chruch out in Footscray (a very multicultual suburb east of Melbourne) that serves as a community centre for newly arrived Sudanese refugees. It was like being in a different country as soon as I stepped inside. Ebony faces with curious eyes were everywhere, kids, toddlers, adults, seniors. I didn’t have to teach that Saturday, I was just to participate in a tour of the place and see other tutors in action. Its a very energetic environment, I’m excited that I found out about his volunteering opportunity. After the tour and after having met one of the tutors, I took the tram back to the train station and stopped in at Footscary Market. It reeked of fish and dead meat. There were heaps of different types of stalls selling anything from legumes to nuts to cheeses to tacky home decor. The area where the market is seems to have a high population of Vietnamese. A good nubmer of signs for salons, restaurants, trinket shops and travel agencies were in Vietnamese. Interesting. I finally found some queso fresco, bought 1/4 kilo for $2.80AU and dashed out of there. I couldnt stand the sight of dead animals nor the smell of fish.

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New Books

My books finally came in the mail. I ordered them on Amazon.com on April 5th or something and I just got them like 2 days ago. I now own So You Wanna Join the Peace Corps and 501 French Verbs. I have to admit, after reading heaps of posts at Yahoo! Peacecorps2 and Peacecorpsfolks and zooming around the actual peace corps website, the book doesn’t have anything new to reveal to me. But since I waited for all this time for it, I might as well read it…

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Recruiter News

Well, I finally submitted my application online on Saturday night. Since we’re living abroad I was wondering which recruiter office we’d get assigned to. Well, I recieved an email today from our new recruiter in New York! Woohoo. No good news yet, though. Just a notice that my application process will not be moving forward until William submits his application.

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