I realize now that serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer is unlike any volunteer or life experience I have had prior, and may ever have again. The Peace Corps experience is about human connection, about giving a community hope, teaching them new skills and above all, helping them to help themselves.
It is not about bringing in aid, dropping it off and waiting until they need it again. It is about working one-on-one or little by little to reach a goal. It is about taking time. The Peace Corps experience is about truly immersing yourself in another culture to figure out together what is right for them.
Yai Gong, my 104 year old grandmother in the host family I lived with in Northeast Thailand, is pleased. She speaks only “Issan’” and I barely speak Thai. Her days consisted of sorting chili, making sweep sticks and chewing beetle nuts. No spoken communication happened by we shared watermelon and everyday she would ask about my wonderful teeth. One day I polished my nails and decided to pamper her too. Soaking her hands, putting lotion on them and finally a pale pink color. All the time she was very interested what was happening as I jabbered on in English, Thai and Lao. Finally, a small, sweet smile came to her face. Cultural exchange in a manicure.
This is how I remember September 11th. I went on a school field trip with my teachers and students to the ruins of Old Leon, Nicaragua. After the field trip I was exhausted and hungry. I wanted to get home and make tuna casserole. However, my neighbors were adamant that I watch the news on their television. I acquiesced and found them watching a movie. I kept watching and watching, waiting for the credits to roll across the screen. They kept saying that this was real and happening in real life, that this was no movie, that this was a great tragedy in my country and for the world. After we understood what was going on, my teachers and friends came to my house to check on me and my family in the States. I had not felt so much love and concern before that moment. For me, this picture evokes those memories of concern, love, and friendship. I like to remember September 11th as this picture.