The last seven days were surprisingly not as self-reflective for me as I thought they would be. A cool relief came over me after receiving my invitation, and I’ve been relaxed and confident since then on the idea of my joining the Peace Corps.
Before my eyes scanned across an ink “Madagascar” on Peace Corps letterhead, I was anxious by the specter of the organization. That specter, the one in which I would be dropped into an impoverished country rife with hunger, disease, and violence, evaporated with my invitation. The idea of enduring a third world country is somehow more manageable when it’s attached to a name. Last week’s invitation gave the specter a name, “Madagascar,” and now it was no longer a specter and a cause of anxiety. There was now certainty in my future. I was going to Madagascar.
My completion of the Peace Corps’ lengthy application process was already a sign that I was ready to accept the invitation. I had applied in August, done my in-person interview in September, and completed my medical and dental work in January. Plus, I’d been considering the Peace Corps as an endeavor since I learned about it shortly after graduating high school. The fact that the Peace Corps had been a viable option in my life for some years now was my emotional and psychological preparation for calling a placement officer in Washington D.C. and committing myself to 25 months abroad.
I made that step this morning. Around 7:30, I took out the Peace Corps manual, found the number for the African Placement offices, and dialed it. An officer answered.
“I’m calling to accept my invitation,” I said.
“Great. And who am I talking to?”
“Butler?” he said.
“Hold on a second, let me grab your file.”
I was sitting at my desk in my apartment bedroom. I took a sip of tea while I waited for the officer to return.
“I’m back,” he said. “Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your invitation? Tell me what you’ve read from your packet.”
It was a little curious how vague my placement officer was being. It was as if I received my invitation in the mail, discovered that I was going to Madagascar, and threw the rest of my packet into a lit fireplace. I didn’t think my acceptance would be an oral reading comprehension exam.
“OK, well, uh, I’m going to Madagascar,” I said. “I know that there’s about 20 million people who live there. I guess I didn’t realize how that many people lived there, and I guess I didn’t realize how large Madagascar was. I know that I’ll be teaching English to prim—no, junior high and high school students. I also know that I’ll be helping the English of Malagasy teachers, too. And it also sounds like I’ll be doing some curriculum building, too. Let’s see, it sounds like I’ll be speaking French and Malagasy while I’m there, but mostly Malagasy. Uh, I guess I probably won’t have running water or electricity. Oh! And there are lemurs there!”
“OK, that’s good enough.”
The conversation continued. He gave me the official spiel about applying for a passport and visa, airplane tickets, my mailing addresses and so on. He also asked me to send my college transcripts to the Peace Corps offices after graduating. Oh, and what a small world! My officer attended the University of Nevada, Reno a decade ago, and we spent a few minutes talking about the new student union, the new library, and the Wolf Pack basketball team.
After updating the placement officer on his former university, he wrapped up the conversation. “Congratulations and have fun in Madagascar,” he said. Thanks and goodbyes and hang-ups.
And I was committed. I set my phone on the desk, sat for a moment in silence, and took a sip of tea—then I laughed to myself. What a funny image I must’ve been! A 21-year-old sipping raspberry-infused green tea and wearing Chuck Taylors and a maroon V-neck sweater just committed himself to 25 months in a Malagasy hut. How different he would appear this time next year!