Staying Connected

Here’s a quiz for readers below the age of 30:

Do you know what this is?

Aerogram

It’s an aerogram — more specifically, a 1970s aerogram from Nepal. I know it may look like a relic in an era when so many people communicate via text messages, FaceTime, Skype, Facebook and the like. Indeed, I use those platforms regularly myself. But I also remember my first tour as a Peace Corps volunteer, in Nepal in the late 1970s.

Back then, I relied on aerograms to communicate with my family and others in the United States.  I’d write on both sides of the blue paper, fold it up to become an envelope, seal it and drop it off at the village post office on my way to school. It took two weeks for the aerogram to reach New York, then another two weeks for a reply. Phone calls to America were extremely difficult and expensive, so I never made any. The Internet didn’t exist yet, much less Viber or Snapchat.

(Readers below 30: Are you still with me? Feel free to roll your eyes.)

I noted previously how Champa and I have been downsizing in preparation for our joint Peace Corps service, which begins at the end of May. Our upstairs storage room is filling up. At the same time, I’ve been buying some electronic gear to help us do our jobs and stay connected in Moldova.

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Here’s Champa’s new Lenovo laptop and carrying case. We were going to buy her a MacBook Air, to sync with my own MacBook Pro, but it turns out most people in Moldova use PCs. They include teachers, with whom Champa will be sharing files and presentations. We checked with some of the current volunteers and finally decided a PC was the better choice. We bought this one at a local Best Buy and the pink case on Amazon.

We’ll need to recharge imageour laptops and other electronic gear, so I bought a bunch of converters to fit the plugs in Moldova.

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Extra cables to connect the plugs to the laptops and other devices? Yes, we got those, too, as well as a charger that holds six USB cables.

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The power supply is uncertain in some Moldovan towns and villages, especially at night. My Peace Corps mentor, who is already serving in Moldova, suggested we buy a Waka-Waka light and charger, which we did. We love it already. It’s both a flashlight and a charger that can provide a boost to cell phones and other small devices. It gets its own power from a cable or built-in solar cells. Waka-Waka donates one device for every device it sells in the West. They gave us several choices about where to donate ours, and we chose a Syrian refugee camp. A bonus was that when I first Googled “Waka-Waka,” I was reminded of the fun video Shakira recorded for the World Cup in South Africa.

I’ve never been a big user of e-readers. Given the weight limitations on our luggage, however, I can’t pack a lot of books, so I bought an Amazon Paperwhite Kindle. imageI’ve already loaded it with several classics that I’ve been meaning to read, all of which were free: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Dickens, Hemingway, Conrad and the like. I also downloaded some cookbooks, mysteries and other material. I’ll probably subscribe to some Kindle-friendly magazines and newspapers, assuming the wireless connection is good enough where we’re living.

I’m the first to admit that all of this is a far cry from walking through the Himalayas to drop off an aerogram and then waiting a month for a reply. But even though Eastern Europe is relatively more prosperous than some other parts of the world where Peace Corps volunteers serve, it’s hardly unique in enabling them to take advantage of smart phones, the Internet and other modern communications technologies. Most volunteers around the world are now very connected — perhaps not 24/7 in the ways we expect in the United States, but still easily reached.

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Before you post a sarcastic comment saying, “Gee, this looks really rough, David,” let me conclude by showing you one final image. It’s from our “new clothing pile.” It shows my new insulated gloves, which are among several warm items we’ve bought to see us through the Moldovan winters. We’re going to be a lot colder than we were in North Carolina. So there’s that … and undoubtedly many other challenges we’ll be facing as well.

We’ll see whether my fingers get too cold to turn on the Kindle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Video Interlude

We’re excited about traveling to Moldova in less than six weeks. This brief video shows you where we’re going. As Peace Corps volunteers, we’re not approaching it as a “travel destination” — but you can.

We’re also looking forward to the music. Last week we went to see the Romanian brass band Fanfare Ciocarlia perform here in Durham. Although we’ve begun studying Romanian, the main language in Moldova, we weren’t able to follow what the singers were saying. (Not yet!)

Packing Up

If you have a house, cars, a dog and a modern American life, how hard would it be to leave it all behind?

It would be hard. Really hard. Trust me.

The hardest thing Champa and I will be leaving to serve in the Peace Corps is our two sons and their families, especially our grandchildren. We expect to stay in regular contact but will miss them terribly.

During the past several weeks, though, we’ve been so busy taking care of everything else that we’ve barely had time to think about this.
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This photo shows the stuff we’ve begun moving into a storage room in our Durham house, which we’re renting while we’re gone. We hired a local property manager a few weeks ago and just heard yesterday he might have found renters for the first year.

Tomorrow we’re driving to Winston-Salem to meet again with a family that may adopt our beloved dog, Bailey. A friend is buying Champa’s car and I’m giving my car to my son.

I still need to cancel everything from my library card to our gym memberships, forward our mail and shut off our electricity, gas and other utilities. I have to call our bank and credit card companies to alert them to our travel plans. I already ordered an additional card from a company that pays for foreign ATM withdrawls.

Absentee ballots? You bet, since North Carolina is likely to be a swing state in the election. Medical insurance? I’m suspending our current coverage while we’re covered through Peace Corps. I can’t forget the EZ-Pass device in my car, which bills me every month. So does Netflix, so I’ll need to cancel both of those. I’ve also been scouring our bills to make sure I don’t miss anything else.

On Tuesday, I’m visiting our bank to add my sister to our checking account and give her power of attorney while we’re gone. I still need to check our wills, buy souvenirs for our host families and create electronic copies of important documents in my file cabinet.

We just bought Champa her own laptop and spent several hours loading it with apps and documents. We bought shoes to walk on Moldova’s muddy roads and boots to survive its winters. I now have a new winter coat, too. We still need new suitcases. In fact, as I look through the “suggested packing list” we got from Peace Corps Moldova, we need a lot of things.

Simultaneously, and ironically, we’ve been downsizing and purging 36 years of stuff from our house. We’ve donated hundreds of books to the Durham library and dozens of bags of clothing and household goods to local charities.

Back when I joined Peace Corps the first time, as a 24-year-old in 1979, I threw some stuff in a couple of suitcases, said goodbye to my parents and headed for the airport. Now I feel like we’ve already proven the old Peace Corps slogan that serving as a volunteer is the “toughest job you’ll ever love.” Who knew it would be so tough even before we left?

Not Exactly Unusual

As we get ready to begin our service with the Peace Corps, Champa and I are not exactly unusual in being not exactly retired. A surprising number of the other new volunteers in our group are also 50 or older — in several cases, considerably older.

Several weeks ago, we met for coffee with one of them, a commercial real estate broker from Cary in his late 60s. We liked him immediately and discovered much in common in our motivations to challenge ourselves and serve society in new ways.

imageOne of the other new volunteers going to Moldova now heads a program at Howard University to prevent suicides among people of color. Another started a special needs dance program in Harlem and was a foster mother for nine children. Our group also includes an IT manager from Iowa, a software expert from Minnesota and others, all over the age of 50.

We’ll be joining several 50+ volunteers already in Moldova, one of whom is serving as a mentor for me and some of the other newbies. Before signing up for the Peace Corps, she worked for more than 35 years in Cleveland as an attorney specializing in business and employment law. Champa’s mentor is younger but worked for many years as a teacher in California.

Worldwide, 50+ volunteers now account for about 8 percent of the total. Peace Corps encourages them to apply, as at this website. NPR recently broadcast a fun story about the oldest volunteer of all, Alice Carter, 87, from Boston, who was serving in Morocco.

It's been less than a year since my farewell parties at Duke. Champa and I were not alone among people our age in saying goodbye to dear friends to pursue new adventures.
It’s been less than a year since my farewell parties at Duke. It turns out Champa and I were hardly alone among people our age in leaving conventional lives to explore other opportunities like the Peace Corps.

To be sure, many new Peace Corps volunteers are still recent college graduates, as well as people in their 30s and 40s. Whatever their ages, the ones who will be serving with Champa and me are impressive, with expertise ranging from social work to farming to financial analysis. Indeed, I am already inspired by many of the younger volunteers. I also know how fortunate we are to be in a position to join them, since we’re not tied to home by aging parents or children who still need active support. Financially, we figure Peace Corps will be a wash — no real income, but also little need to touch our savings.

How do I know so much about our fellow volunteers? Mainly through Facebook. Just like high school seniors getting ready to attend the same university, our group has its own Facebook group. We’ve been getting to know each other online. Several people have also met in person, as we did with our new friend from Cary.

It’s just one of the many ways in which Peace Corps has changed since I last served as a volunteer, in Nepal in the the late 1970s. Back then, I didn’t know any of my fellow volunteers until I showed up at staging. This time I’ll be looking for familiar faces, some of them as seasoned as ours.

Countdown to Moldova

We drove 11,000 miles around the United States. We wandered around Nepal. But now, still less than a year since I stepped down from my job at Duke,  Champa and I are entering the countdown for our biggest adventure yet.

At the end of May, we’ll leave the United States to serve as Peace Corps Volunteers in Moldova. (That’s Moldova in yellow on the right side of this map, the small country between Romania and Ukraine.)

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We’ll initially gather with the other new volunteers for a brief “staging,” probably in Philadelphia. Then we’ll all fly to Chisinau, Moldova’s capital. Immediately after we arrive there, we’ll begin three of months of training — learning to speak Romanian and perhaps some Russian, studying the local culture and getting prepped for our jobs. If all goes well, we’ll then swear in as volunteers and be posted together somewhere in the country.

Champa will be a teacher in the Peace Corps program for elementary English education, drawing on her many years of teaching experience in both Nepal and Maryland. I’ll be in a program called “community and organizational development,” probably working with a local nonprofit group of some kind. We’re due to serve for two years, or 27 months if you add in the training period. That takes us to the end of the summer of 2018.

As someone who served in the Peace Corps previously, in Nepal in the late 1970s, I thought I knew what to expect as I approached the Peace Corps launch pad again. But I’ve encountered lots of surprises. Things have changed since then. So have I. My perspective now is so different from when I began my previous service at the age of 24. For that matter, it’s changed a lot even since I decided to stop wearing a suit every day.

During the past year, many people have asked me how I’ve been doing since I retired. My response has often been, “Well, I haven’t retired. I’ve just decided to do something different.”

That’s indeed what Champa and I have been doing and it’s also why I’m now giving this blog a refreshed look and a new name: Not Exactly Retired. There’s a new URL, too:  notexactlyretired.com. I invite you to follow the blog by clicking on the button at the top-right of the screen, not just via Facebook. If you find it interesting or entertaining, please tell your friends. I’ve got some fun stories planned for the next few weeks, even before the real action starts.

Are you ready to join us on the journey? Welcome back.