Friday, January 20, 2006

Onward to Africa

(I was recently asked to tell the story of why I joined the Peace Corps. Here it is, it is long but quite a nice read)

I hadn’t the easiest of life. I had a rough childhood at times, family life wasn’t always the best, my body was also sick with asthma. I went to the hospital a lot, a couple of times nearly died and was barely revived in the nick of time, too much for a young kid to really have to deal with but kids are resilient and like so many before me, I also made it through. Not before getting involved with drugs that led my life to spiral away from me. I ended up pretty seriously addicted to about anything I could get my hands on including some of the big boys one could get off the street that nobody should do. This led me into trouble with the law and family but eventually I came around. More things happened, they don’t all need to be mentioned but by the time I was 23 and getting ready to graduate from Oklahoma State University with a degree in Psychology (yes, I got this to figure out why I was crazy) I had an unexpected visit during one of my French classes.

I was doing alright in French class, not perfect but I think I had a B. It was going to be another French class and another B as far as I thought. The teacher said we had a special geust and a Peace Corps representative for the Oklahoma area begin to tell us a little about the Peace Corps in French Africa. I don’t really remember what she said, the normal spill I guess. I don’t even know in hindsight if it was true or if she gave a false image of what it would be like. It did not matter what she said, what mattered was how I felt.

At first I ridiculed her inside my head. I laughed and thought, after all I have done, where I have come from and where I am going, soon to maybe be in graduate school, why would I ever go to Peace Corps in Africa? “Those people there have nothing to do with us here” I thought. I had turned my life around. I was getting a degree. I was going to make big money and get a lot of cool stuff all to myself. To do anything but this, a person would have to be a real moron, a real bleeding heart, or just plain crazy.

But this is only what happened on the surface. Deep down inside things were more complicated. These were all just excuses I was giving. I figured this out when I really took a minute to analyze myself. See, I was always analyzing myself back then. I had made a lot of bad mistakes before then and with a little more constructive analyzing, I was able to take a better path in life. And so I quieted myself and beneath my self centered excuses, I found fear. Plain old fear of going outside of my comfort zone. Fear of going someplace far away, where people did things differently. Deep down inside, I wasn’t selfish. Well, actually I knew this all along and that is one of the reasons I decided to further search myself. The selfish excuses were the only thing my mind used to mask the fear.

The more I thought about Peace Corps, the more I thought about how noble it was. Actually, the volunteers spend their time and energy in helping some of the most needy people on Earth. What was wrong with that I thought? Nothing really, nothing at all. I was just afraid.

After all I had been through and overcome I thought, "Was I going to live the rest of my life afraid, especially being afraid of going and doing good work?" There was little chance of letting that happen and so I signed up. I also applied for graduate school as a back up. My fear eventually lessoned and for the most part went away. A year later I had my invitation to Lesotho and my acceptance letter to Texas A and M. Everyone I knew with the exception of one or two people told me to go to school, but a couple said I had to make up my mind.

I made up my mind and went to Peace Corps no longer because I was afraid but because it was the right thing to do. People needed me, my brothers and sisters in the great big world of life. If I were them, I would want someone to help me and so I set out. I packed my bags and took off and was actually greatly profited not with the money I initially wanted but with one of the best and most rewarding experiences of my whole life, something money can’t really buy.


Blogger Jack P Toerson said...

This is a great write-up. I think when someone is unhappy in their life doing something positive that takes them out of that situation (and into the figurative unknown) is a great thing. I feel sorry for people that don't get the chance or haven't got the inclination.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Bar Bar A said...

Jeff, thanks so much for sharing this! It's a great story on several levels. You overcame drug addiction, changed your course in life and then overcame FEAR and did something very few people would be willing to do! I admire that.

So, do you think being in the Peace Corps. has changed your view on life? If so, how?

8:38 PM  
Blogger boo said...

i had asthma as a child as well & it came back with a vengeance after i was diagnosed with stomach cancer. but i'm lucky cuz i'm still alive considering the alternative.

4:03 AM  
Blogger Jeff McDonald said...

well woman, I think while I was in Africa I changed in many ways. Hard for me to realize completely though. Maybe some of my friends or family might be aware of more obvious changes. I should talk to them and find out.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Jeff McDonald said...

boo, I am glad you made it too.

11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, what a really great story

3:42 PM  

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