Friday, November 12, 2010

Always the Peace Corps

Autumn is finally creeping into coastal North Carolina.  Above is the current view from our front porch.  I think the mix of hardwoods and evergreens that grow naturally here and which we were able to keep on the property is beautiful--the hardwoods provide a year-long show as their leaves emerge and mature through a season, while the evergreens, almost all young-ish loblolly pines, so straight and tall, give a permanent splash of green through the worst of winter, and whisper soothingly as a breeze passes through their needles.  It's a constant "sh-h-h-h," a gentle reminder to keep quiet.  I know this is could be a generic description of any forested landscape; the miracle is that we own this little patch of one, or at least have it on extended loan.   We know that if just the right wind storm blew through here, we could lose a sizable chunk of the wood standing out there, so like all other good things in life, it's best to savor and appreciate this beauty while it's there.

I have an interesting afternoon in store today.  The Peace Corps, as part of the observance of its 50th anniversary, is interviewing retired employees for their impressions of the agency and how it has changed (or in many ways remained the same) over the years.  I got wind of this project and presented myself and my unique history with the Peace Corps to their Public Affairs office, and the resulting video interview will take place today, here in my home.  

I became a volunteer in 1969, when the Peace Corps had been in existence a mere 8 years.  Though I never planned to, I ended up with a more-or-less permanent association with the agency (in the 1970s it was off-and-on) until I retired as staff in 2003.  My professional work made me an integral part of almost every facet of volunteers' lives with the Peace Corps, from recruitment, through placement and preparation for overseas training, to the management of the programs in the countries where they served.  And being gay, I witnessed and was instrumental in changes touching the experience of all minorities who seek to participate in the Peace Corps.  In 1970, I nearly left service early because of an emotional crisis brought on by the fact that, for fear of being booted out, I felt I couldn't tell anyone I was gay.  Now, because of initiatives that I and many colleagues helped put in place, diversity of all kinds within the Peace Corps community is sought and celebrated, and specialized training is given to staff in the particular needs and perceptions of various groups.  Gay couples are now being placed together in overseas jobs!  This is a milestone I never thought I would see (and still wonder at how it will work). 

I will be 65 years old tomorrow.  In 1969, little did that silly, gangly child of 24 dream that his words about this adventure, which turned out to last so long, would be thought worthy of capturing and keeping --in high-def, yet!


Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday!

We don´t have anything like the Peace corps here unfortunately. It sounds like something I would have loved doing if I had had the possibility!

Great that there´s no problem being gay in the peace corps, but I guess it might be a problem to come to those countries where it is illegal to be gay. A big part of the world I´m afraid.

Have a great birthday tomorrow!

angi said...

Happy Happy Birthday Ralph!!!!
So glad that you can see a bit of the change you created in this world~ a splendid gift indeed!

nan said...

Angi said that well! You are indeed our splendid gift, and you have helped create positive change in our world. I wish you a very happy birthday celebration, Ralph. So glad to call you friend.

Lonely Rivers said...

Happy Birthday! I just saw a group of PC "Vets" interviewed and thought of you. You have an interesting and important story to tell. So on this important birthday (Happy,happy bday!) and the day after we we honored our Military Veterans, I am thrilled that there will be publicity and recognition for those who also served.

Ralph said...

You are all so kind! Thanks for you birthday wishes--don't know why I misspoke and said my birthday was "tomorrow" when it is actually Sunday, but whatever, the milestone is here.

Alas, the world still awaits my well-considered words of wisdom regarding the Peace Corps. The person they sent was a personable kid, a crack videographer, but not an interviewer. His boss (whose interviewing skills I also question) had given him a list of unimaginative questions (e.g., "Is the safety and security of gay and lesbian volunteers important?" How does one answer something like that without resorting to sarcasm?) It took him a good 45 minutes to set up his equipment and then the entire interview was overwith in 20.

I suppose I'll just have to write a book!

Jeff said...

As a mentor of mine once said, two of the most important things in this life are to have some fun and leave some tracks. Sounds like you've done both.

Congrats to you on a life well lived. And another birthday to celebrate.

- Jeff

Eclecticity said...

Sorry I missed your birthday Ralph. Happy happy and many more happy ones. D.