Tag Archives: Election

Message in a Bottle

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Signor Rana, when he was one of my students in Nepal

Just a few days before the stunning U.S. election, I received a message out of the blue that confirmed something Peace Corps told us during our training: You never know whose life you may touch, no matter what happens in the wider world.

The message came from Signor Rana, one of my students when I taught English at a school near Kathmandu as a Peace Corps volunteer four decades ago, long before I began serving again in Moldova.

It came to me on Facebook: “Hi, are you the same David Jarmul who was peace corp volunteer back in late 70 in Nepal? Remember Lab times in lab school? I was one of your student? I was looking for you since 1988.”

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Signor and his classmates at the Lab School near Kathmandu, where I taught as a Peace Corps volunteer. He is second from the left in the second row.

Of course I remembered the Lab Times, the wall newspaper I started at the school, but I didn’t remember Signor — one of several hundred students I had there and in Champa’s village, Ilam. Still, I wrote him back, and he responded quickly.

“Wow, I was looking for you since I came to US as a student back in 1989,” he replied, describing how he is now married, living in Maryland and working as a software engineer for the federal government.

“You used to tell a story of America and show us moon landing documentary and made me participate in play Snow White. That made me dream of America and came here. You do plant a seed on a boy who was 10 years old. Thanks for helping me. Please let me know when you visiting back to US.”

Coincidentally, I’d responded just a few days earlier to another unexpected message, this one from Australia. It was from the son of a friend of mine from Ilam.

Perhaps there were others, too. I don’t really know. Neither do most other Peace Corps volunteers who completed their service years ago.

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Signor and his family today

Signor’s timing could hardly have been more auspicious. His was like a message in a bottle, washing ashore just when I needed to discover it.

It reminded me that no matter what happens in politics, we all have the power to make a difference in some lives, even if our impact is not revealed until years later, if ever. That remains true today for the nearly 7,000 other Peace Corps volunteers and trainees serving around the world, in more than 60 countries. As it has for more than 50 years, the Peace Corps touches lives every day, with strong bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats alike.

That’s a fact worth treasuring at a moment when our country is struggling to heal after a bitter presidential campaign. Indeed, perhaps some of the lives that need touching right now are Americans who feel uncertain about the future.

I don’t mean the election’s results don’t matter. They do, profoundly, and I will be watching what happens along with everyone else. But as someone who is old enough to have lived through presidents from both parties who did both good and bad things, I choose to take the counsel of our current leader: The sun will still rise tomorrow. We can still find meaning in our own lives. We can still make the world a better place.

No matter whether we are abroad or back home, in the Peace Corps or among our neighbors, regardless of politics, we can all try to touch lives or, as Signor put it, to plant seeds.

Sometimes they will bloom. You never know.

Halloween, The Election and Home

I awoke Monday morning to find my Facebook feed filled with adorable photos of children back home dressed up as monsters, princesses, cows and witches. My news feeds featured the latest polls about the presidential election.

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Admiring the Facebook photo of my favorite Halloween cow (along with her twin sister).

When I talked with my Moldovan friends, though, few of them cared about Halloween or our election, just as they won’t care about Thanksgiving or the Super Bowl.

Most Moldovans are oblivious to the controversies involving Hillary Clinton’s e-mails or Donald Trump’s tax returns. If Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly fight again on Fox News, well, who are they? What’s Fox News? Why should someone here care?

I’m humbled as an American to be reminded every day that most people around the world know or care little about many things we consider important. It’s one of the insights I treasure most as a Peace Corps volunteer. I’ve been given the gift of a new vantage point to view my country and its place in the world.

Did you know Moldova just had its own presidential election, which is now heading to a second round? Perhaps you actually paid attention to this because you know me. (Some of you even sent me stories about it.) But otherwise, would you have even glanced at this news, which people here are following closely?

What Champa and I are seeing here is like what we saw in Nepal when we spent time there a year ago. People live their own lives. They have their own country. They’re curious to talk with us about America, but then they go home and get ready for another day of work.

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Champa’s partner teacher, Elena, in front wearing the black striped shirt, organized a fun Halloween play at their school.

This past Friday, Champa’s partner teacher organized a Halloween play at their school. It went great. Several other Peace Corps volunteers around Moldova also organized Halloween events, as did volunteers in other countries. Most of those events probably went well, too. Some of the kids who participated may remember Halloween for the rest of their lives. In small but immeasurable ways, our cultures grew closer together, all of which is wonderful.

Similarly, there’s no doubt millions of people around the world are paying close attention to the American election. They know it affects them, too. In general, they pay more attention to our country than we do to theirs. We are all more connected across nations than ever before.

Still, here in Moldova and around the world, most people will tuck their kids into bed tonight without thinking about Halloween, Donald Trump or all of the other things that loom so large in our American lives, sometimes even overwhelming us. They will sleep soundly just the same.

Personally, I have found it not only humbling but comforting to relearn this reality, which offers a different perspective on our own problems and obsessions. All of us, whether in the United States or someplace else live largely out of sight from one another. We share the world yet most of the world doesn’t care who will win the World Series tonight.