It’s a Stage We Just Went Through

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Can you name the three goals of the Peace Corps? Champa and I can. Since Monday morning, we’ve been in an intensive “staging” program before we leave Wednesday morning for our flight to Moldova.

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Our group, which assembled from across the United States, is extraordinary. Its members range widely in age and appearance, with roots reaching from Hawaii to New England, and from Angola to Panama. In their previous lives, they were business owners, lawyers, teachers, students, IT specialists and coffee shop managers. That’s Champa in the blue jacket, getting ready for one of the sessions, which ranged from safety and security to dealing with cultural confusion or loneliness.

imageOur staging included talks and flip charts, games and skits, dances and online questionnaires, even a video from Michelle Obama. We changed teams repeatedly to help us meet one another. I now know the names and faces of almost all the 59 people in our group, Moldova 31.

Our trainers were all former volunteers, who served in places such as Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Romania and Morocco.

imageWithin two days, the members of M31 have become our new family, embarking with us on an unforgettable journey that begins in earnest tomorrow morning when we board buses that will take us to JFK Airport in New York. We’ll fly on Lufthansa to Moldova.

imageFortunately, the staging was held at a hotel in Philadelphia, which enabled us to visit with our own family beforehand. Paul, Stephanie and the girls spent the afternoon with us before registration started. Earlier we visited with Jonathan and his family in Durham, before heading to the airport for our flight to Philadelphia.

Both of our guys went through stages as they grew up. Now Champa and I have gone through a stage as well. OK, it was actually a staging, but we now feel much better prepared for the adventure that lies ahead of us.

 

 

 

 

 

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Crab Cakes, Shrimp, Peace Corps

img_7551What better way to get ready for Peace Corps than with some pan roasted lump crab cakes with lemon caper dill creme?

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They went ever so nicely this afternoon with the cucumber cheese triangles, shrimp cocktail martinis and other hors d’oeuvres I enjoyed with a cold IPA beside a beautiful golf course.

I was attending a retirement party for a former Duke colleague, held outside at the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club. I even wore a suit for only the second time since I retired from Duke myself nearly a year ago.

img_7566As a writer and editor, I know how to spell “disorienting,” and now I have a great example to illustrate what it feels like.

In three days, Champa and I will leave Durham to serve in the Peace Corps for 27 months in Moldova, in eastern Europe. We will be living on about $350 each per month, pursuing modest lives alongside our neighbors.

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For the past several weeks, we’ve reduced our possessions to what fits in this small storage room in our house and some items in our attic. We gave away nearly an entire house of furniture to Habitat for Humanity and brought so many donations to the local Goodwill store that we probably could have asked for our own parking spot.

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Our bags are now packed. Most of the rooms in our house are empty. Our kitchen shelves are nearly bare. We’re sleeping on an inflatable bed. Tomorrow I’ll turn off our internet service, and we’ll say goodbye to our beloved dog, Bailey, who will be staying with friends.

I suppose I should feel guilty about indulging as I did at my friend’s party. However, the crab cakes were delicious. I even went back for seconds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life is Calling

I’ve learned a lot since I walked away from a great job eleven months ago to challenge myself in new ways. One surprise has been people telling me they’d like to make a similarly big change in their lives, and are in a position to do so, but can’t imagine taking the first step.

I can only speak about my own experience and say that trying something dramatically new has not been as scary or unsettling as I thought it might be.

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Hiking in Ilam, Nepal (with a Durham water bottle)

A year ago, as I was entering my final month at Duke and gearing up for our adventures, I was — what’s the word? — not anxious, not nervous, but definitely uncertain what would happen. I thought everything would turn out well but recognized the possibility that I might have made a colossal mistake.

In fact, our U.S. and Nepal journeys proved even more amazing than we anticipated, as you can see in my earlier posts. We’re now optimistic about heading to Moldova, a country about which we knew almost nothing but are eager to call home for awhile.

To be sure, Champa and I were fortunate to be able to travel and serve in the Peace Corps. We have good health, a paid-off mortgage and no family responsibilities requiring us to remain home.

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Along the California coast

We also recognize that many people our age don’t want to travel to exotic places or stray so far from a conventional life. Nor should do they. If they prefer playing golf, volunteering at a local school or a thousand other things, including remaining at their jobs, that’s what they should do. Everyone’s dreams are their own.

As the past year has unfolded, we’ve discovered we are part of a sizable community of people in their fifties, sixties and older who are determined to redefine this stage of life, which I’ve been calling “not exactly retired.” There are plentiful books, websites and other resources for anyone thinking of redefining their own adult lives. My favorite is Second Act Careers by Nancy Collamer, which is filled with great stories and suggestions. Nancy has been a guide for me along this journey, which is an unusual thing to say about your younger sister, but there it is.

As Champa and I now depart for the Peace Corps, we hope to live humbly and be of service to our new neighbors. We want to give back for our blessings. Simultaneously, we expect the experience to enrich our own lives immeasurably. It’s sure to produce some good stories, so I hope you’ll join us through this blog. If it also makes you think about your own dreams, I encourage you to share them here.

What would you really love to do? You don’t have to join the Peace Corps to know that life is calling. How far will you go?

Since You Asked

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We have 10 days left until we leave for Peace Corps Moldova. We’ve sold Champa’s car, the storage room is nearly full and the movers will be removing the last of our furniture momentarily.

It seems like a good time to answer some of the questions you’ve asked us:

How long will you be gone?

We’re scheduled for three months of training followed by two years of service. We hope to return at the end of the summer of 2018.

What will you be doing?

Champa is in an English-teaching program for primary schools. David will be working with some kind of local community organization.

What language do they speak there?

The main language is Romanian, which is what we’re learning. We may also learn some Russian, which is widely spoken.

Where will you live?

Since we’re in different programs, we’ll be living with host families in different places during our training, meeting up on the weekend. Assuming we make it through training, we’ll swear in as Peace Corps volunteers and then live together in the city or town where we’re assigned our jobs.

What’s the weather like?

Hot in the summer and cold in the winter. People compare it to Boston or Minnesota.

Do they pay you?

Peace Corps will provide us with enough money to live modestly and pay for all of our food and other expenses. When we’re finished, we’ll each receive a small “readjustment allowance.”

Do you expect to return to Durham?

We do, enthusiastically, but one thing about Peace Corps is that it reveals doors you never knew were there. We’ll see what happens.

Can we keep in touch with you?

We hope you will! Please write us through Facebook or by e-mail at djarmul@gmail.com and chjarmul@gmail.com

What will you miss the most?

Do you even need to ask? Our six answers range from Paula, age 9, to the twins, who just turned one. Four of them are pictured above.

 

 

 

 

My Most Awesome Post (Yay!)

This post is going to be awesome. Yay!

I recently ordered some iPhone camera lenses from an online company called Photojojo. The lenses weren’t quite what I expected, so I e-mailed Photojojo to find out how to return them.

“I’m so sorry you weren’t into your order!” responded Christina, the “Smile Distribution Coordinator.” She advised me how to return the package, concluding: “Once we receive and inspect it, if it’s in okay shape and it’s got all its packaging, we can give you a refund for the cost of the item, if it’s totally used we’ll getcha store credit.”

“Into your order”? “Getcha store credit”? Phrases like that never would have made it past my red pen when I was the head of news and communications at Duke.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 7.36.33 PMBut Christina was just getting started. After she received my package, she wrote back:

“Hey Hey,

“We have received your returned goodies! (Yay!)  I’ve just refunded $54 buck-a-roos to your credit card.  The moola should be racing your way as we speak (erm… type?) and should show up in a day or two.

“Let me know if you have any questions, I’m only a keyboard away!”

I wrote Christina to thank her and asked whether she was trained to use this kind of language, which is abundant on Photojojo’s website. Her response: “I’m native in Photojojo speak 🙂 Have a sweet day!”

“Hey hey”? “Returned goodies”? “Buck-a-roos”? Yikes! I felt like Lou Grant when he said to Mary Tyler Moore: “You know what? You’ve got spunk. {pause} I hate spunk!”

Then I stopped to ponder that my cultural reference was from a TV show that aired 46 years ago. Perhaps I’m just ancient. After all, I was impressed with Photojojo’s products and service, and with Christina’s helpfulness.

Sure enough, I found this review from another Photojojo customer: “I just wanted to hug the person who responded. They talked to me like I was their best friend in the world. They were nice, personal, helpful, and still professional. They also said that I can refund it, and the way they used very personal language like ‘snazzy’ and ‘easy peasy’ just made me know that I was an appreciated customer. This is customer service.”

Wow. Now there’s an alternative viewpoint.

I’m also mindful that Champa and I will soon be serving alongside Peace Corps colleagues who are, for the most part, much younger than us. One of the best parts of my job at Duke was interacting with bright, talented younger people. I’m really looking forward to doing that every day.

I’m not sure what to make of all this. Am I clinging to outdated language and editorial standards? Does the future lie with Photojojo’s approach? Help me out! Please write a comment and share your opinion.

I might even say “yay!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuff Happens

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As Peace Corps people who avoid shopping centers, buy things on sale and keep clothes for years, how did we accumulate so much stuff?

FullSizeRender 1171During the past several weeks, I’ve been hauling bags of clothes, kitchen goods, books, toys and other stuff to local charities. Here are just some of the receipts I’ve accumulated from Goodwill and others.

Champa and I have been cleaning out closets, cabinets, dressers and shelves. We’re getting rid of everything we can’t fit into a small storage room or bring with us to Moldova, where we’ll be serving as Peace Corps volunteers. Each of us is allowed to bring two bags weighing 50 pounds or less. The bags need to carry winter clothing, summer clothing, dress clothes, boots, shoes, electronics, photos, gifts and more, including school supplies for Champa.

We just met with a representative from Habitat for Humanity, to which we’re donating almost all of our furniture. We’re keeping only a couple of couches, two beds and not much more, depending on how much space remains in our upstairs storage room. Once everything is stored or removed, we’ll be living in a nearly empty house and sleeping on an air mattress until we depart on May 29.

It’s been humbling to confront how much stuff we’ve accumulated during 36 years of marriage. We don’t think of ourselves as materialistic, and we’re not hoarders. But all of those suits I needed for work, the books we bought for children and grandchildren, the sports equipment, kitchen gadgets, old sneakers, photo albums, CDs, LPs, DVDs and so much else — well, it added up more than we realized.

IMG_6980Getting rid of it has been liberating. We’ve already downsized so much that our house will be nearly empty when we return, which will probably motivate us to sell it. We’ll worry about that later. For now, we feel like we’re unloading the excess baggage of our old lives. Already we can sense how this lighter load will give us more flexibility to seek adventure and embrace what life has to offer.

Leaving my job and then joining the Peace Corps was the nudge we needed to undertake this process. Now that we’ve nearly completed it, I feel like someone who waited until a heart attack to get serious about losing weight. I wish I’d begun moving in this direction years ago. Stuff happens in life, for sure, but it doesn’t need to accumulate in such a large pile in my closet.