When I tell people of my plans to join the Peace Corps, the first question they usually ask me is, “Do you know where you’re going?”
To some extent, yes, I do know where I’m going. I will be leaving the United States in June for a Francophone country in Africa to teach English. I don’t know which country I’ll be headed to—I’m hoping for Morocco or Madagascar—but I believe I’ll learn of my country in April.
In April the Peace Corps will send me an invitation letter with a date of departure and my country. This is the last step of the application game: I’ll have 10 days to mull over the letter and respond with my decision whether or not to join. Ten days to decide my fate for 27 months.
Of course, I can leave the Peace Corps at any time during those 27 months. At the moment I’m forced to shovel elephant dung for an African shaman or sever an arm for an obscure Togolese sacrificial ritual, I can snap my fingers and return via plane to the United States. Permitting, however, that I don’t develop suicidal tendencies from being in such a miserable state of affairs, I plan to stay in the Peace Corps for the full 27 month term.
Indeed, 10 days to decide my fate for 27 months. Perhaps I don’t value my arm as much as I should.
I’m very ambivalent about my impending invitation letter. One part of me is excited to rip the envelope open, swing open the letter and discover my new home; the other part is nervous that when I swing open the letter, I’ll find that the Peace Corps bureaucrats in Washington D.C. mistakenly assigned me for Iraq or the South Atlantic Ocean. After seeing an op-ed in The New York Times in January 2008 from a former Peace Corps director of Cameroon, I’m also dreading to read “Cameroon” on my invitation letter. (The director painted a bleak picture of the Peace Corps’ ineffectiveness in the country for recent college graduate volunteers like me.)
Then again, as crazy as it sounds, I don’t think I’d decline the invitation if the Peace Corps does want to drop me into a war zone, ocean, or eternally ill-fated country. I’ve banked on joining the Peace Corps for six months. I’ve ignored other possible plans like graduate school, Teach for America and exciting international employment opportunities so that I could volunteer in God-knows-where enduring God-knows-what. For years I’ve wanted to do the Peace Corps for its humanity and adventure. When the invitation letter arrives on an April mid morning, is there really within me the possibility of declining?
In the meantime, I’ll continue my last semester at the university. I have other occupations in my classes and honors thesis to distract me from my ambivalence. What is very certain, however, is that when I do receive the letter and the 10 day consideration period begins, it’ll be the most self-reflective 10 days I’ve ever had.