A timeline so far of my experience applying to the Peace Corps:
Feb. 18–turned in the application, including references (I’m not even going to guess when I started on it. It was a year-long process of considering and getting myself organized and gathering information and becoming sure and committed, and then waiting until every detail was perfect.)
early March–received information in the mail about calling to schedule my interview, my fingerprint charts, and other forms. (Note on fingerprint charts, for anyone who is in this part of the application process: they require planning ahead, at least here in Austin! Usually the local police station does them only one day a week.)
March 20–Arrived at interview with completed forms and fingerprint charts in hand. I’ve noticed there doesn’t seem to be many practical details on Peace Corps Journals about interviews, and interviews are always perplexing and stressful to prepare for, so here are my details. From all that I’ve read, you should dress for the interview as you would for a regular interview with a company. I didn’t wear a full suit; instead, I went with charcoal dress pants, a blue business button-down, a black business jacket, black pumps, a black bag and interview folder, and muted makeup and jewelry. This was a good call, since I matched my recruiter almost exactly. The interview lasted about an hour and a half, and went into my official Peace Corps folder, for my future placement officer and everyone to read. My recruiter typed everything I said, so at times he asked me to repeat myself. I think the hardest question for me was the leadership question–When have you exhibited leadership experience? My mind went utterly blank (on such an obvious question!), and then I rallied with something about my current job at a restaurant and pleasing managers, servers, and customers.
March 24–Forms for Health Extension and Environment due to my recruiter, for more information about what I could be qualified for.
March-April 30–On my application, I requested Central/South America. In my interview, I stressed that I was very flexible and excited to go anywhere and do anything, but if I had to pick, I would choose Latin America. My recruiter pointed out that if I wanted to try for Latin America, I needed to take the Spanish CLEP and score at least a 50 in order to be eligible for most programs. He froze my application until my test was over. I scheduled an exam for April 30, and crammed in an attempt to recall my high school Spanish.
mid-April–My recruiter emailed with a request for any updates that would make my application more competitive. I reminded him about my Spanish exam, my new CPR/First Aid certification, and that I was now volunteering at a local organic farm. He asked me to update my Health Extension form and a new Agriculture form.
May 5–a nomination!!
I really want to thank Ben Callaway, recruiter at The University of Texas at Austin and RPCV, for his dedication to his job, his speediness, and for helping me so patiently!
I have been considering the Peace Corps for about six or seven years. Now, the journey begins with my turned-in application. Here’s why, and how, and what-for, an excerpt from one of my essays:
“Once I had a cultural anthropology professor who had written her dissertation about women in a very small village in southern Mexico, spending two years on location. Another time, in Budapest, I met a woman who had just completed two years teaching on a Navajo reservation in northwest New Mexico. Two years, both these women said, are required to fully understand someplace else. Two years are required to move beyond the initial bubble of glee, beyond the emptiness of culture shock, to the moments when an academic can write, a teacher can teach, a volunteer can work, a person can understand. Two years are required to see the other side.
“I want to serve in the Peace Corps because I want to see the other side.
“I want to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer because I want to help the world. I want to go to new places and to challenge myself. I want to feel the exhilaration of living abroad, of meeting people different from myself, of developing deep relationships with them. I want to make a difference. I want to learn a new language. I want to give everything I have in me, for two years, to people who need it.”
So now, in this blog, I will recount the journey of the year-long application process, and then, I hope, the even longer and more tumultuous and educational journey of two years in a mysterious other country.
Hello, virtual world. I have been on the internet before!
In 2009, I spent a semester studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa.
Then I spent the summer backpacking in Europe, at hostels in Greece, Turkey, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, The Netherlands, and England.
I kept a blog the whole time, called Erin Elsewhere.
One post, “Good Morning,” won first place in the Council for International Education and Exchange program’s national contest. Another, “A Kidnapping and a Robbery,” won second place in The University of Texas at Austin English Department’s personal essay contest.
I’m also on Twitter, should you wish to ascertain when I update this blog.
I loved keeping my blog the first time around, and now it’s time for a resurgence. I hope you read, comment, get angry, get happy, disagree, agree, and, most of all, enjoy.
(Written the Tuesday before Thanksgiving 2010)
This morning, someone I’ve never met cut smoothly into my father’s chest with a scalpel.
He gently (I imagine gently, I hope gently), wrenched my father’s ribs open just enough to reach his topmost artery, the one curled right over his pumping bleeding heart.
When I imagine it, I imagine that there must be blood pooling in my father’s chest cavity. I don’t know if that’s true. I imagine my father pale and small and asleep, not there, gone someplace nowhere.
The cavity in my father’s chest is private, is a secret, is something no one should see, but this man I have never met has seen inside my father’s chest, and he knows if it bleeds.
The artery was, is, hard with fast-setting cement that my father’s body made. It is one hundred percent blocked. That’s what the man I’ve never met said. That’s what the cardiologist said. That’s what my mother said. The man I’ve never met ripped (I don’t know how else you sneak an entire length of vein out of a body. Do you glide it? Do you snip it? How do you keep it intact? How do you keep it strong? How do you how do you how do you? Do you uncurl it?) a vein out of my father’s shoulder and moved it. He moved the vein to my father’s heart. Now it’s an artery. Now it connects directly to my father’s heart. Now my father’s blood bypasses the messed-up cement artery like cars on a brand-new highway.
The only framework I have for imagining this is Grey’s Anatomy, pretty people in tasteful blue scrubs working frantically over my father in just-so light.
I couldn’t go because my mother wanted me to go to my last classes before Thanksgiving. My brother cried and we held each other because our father, our father who has been vegan for six months, our father who has never had high cholesterol, our father who exercises every day, our father who advises doctoral students how to write, our father who is the most optimistic person we know and also the kindest, our father who turned sixty and grew his hair to his shoulders, our father who believes in everyone he meets, our father who could get along with a human snake, our father who always takes the blame when we don’t do our dishes, our father who is the best the best the best the best,
lay on a table this morning gone someplace nowhere and someone I’ve never met gently wrenched his chest open to fix his heart.
Three days ago he went for a checkup and told a nurse practitioner he felt winded lately and that the muscles along his spine between his shoulder blades, his back heart, clenched tight and tense. He trotted on a treadmill with wires taped onto his skin (or maybe the nodes have sticky parts on them already, pads of skin-glue), and the nurse practitioner listened hard to the inside of my father’s body and she sent him the very next day to a cardiologist.
The cardiologist arrowed blue ink through my father’s blood so that it glowed ethereal in his body. And when he looked at my father’s heart squeezing and breathing in my father’s chest he saw in one artery plaque highlighted white and ugly. The other arteries were bigger and thicker than most arteries and they had taken over because their neighbor, the one they’d lived with for a lifetime, was suffocated.
The very following day, today, my father lay on a table and a man I’ve never met cut smoothly into his chest to play musical chairs with veins.
Now my father is okay and sewn up and sleepy and healthy in ICU.
He woke up briefly and told my mother how glad he was the universal health care bill passed.
My father has been working for universal health care, insurance for every person in America, since before Obama came into office. He voted Obama in mainly because of his universal health care plan. My father has always voted but mostly passively. Lately, in his middle age, my father became active. He went to town hall meetings. He put a sign in his yard.
He finally told his conservative friends how he felt about politics, because of universal health care.
I have to say, I took longer to come around. I didn’t opine one way or the other for awhile, because I didn’t understand it. I’m a little ashamed to say but not very, because I’ve observed that few people really understand health insurance in this country or the universal health care bill. I decided not to decide until I gained facts and I was sure.
Then I went to South Africa and I worked in a tuberculosis hospital for people under 3 years old and I held toddlers who clung to me because they didn’t have any parents because their parents, in Limpopo or Durban, died of HIV/AIDS. And I was told these toddlers were lucky because they got into the hospital, which was run by the government and had a decades-long waiting list.
Then I took Global Health, Local Health in the geography department at UT, and Medical Anthropology, and Gender and Health, and I learned about people all around the world rotting from fistulas and selling their organs for food money and dying from HIV not because there’s not medicine, but because they can’t afford it.
And I learned about people in America.
People in America clog up your emergency rooms because they don’t have insurance for a regular checkup.
People in America skip medication and doctor visits for small-time sicknesses because they can’t afford to take a day off work, or two days off work, because their jerk bosses are allowed to fire them for catching a cold. Then these American people develop pneumonia and clog up your emergency rooms, how annoying, because they are trying hard not to die.
People in America feel like their backs are tight and tense, and they feel a little winded.
People in America sometimes go in because they’re worried, even though they can’t afford it, and a nurse practitioner expensively tells them they should go see a cardiologist.
People in America wait until they’ve got some money saved up and then they go see the cardiologist.
If it’s not too late, people in America get blue ink injected into their veins and they see their arteries unpleasantly highlighted with plaque.
People in America sit down hard, and people in America swallow or try to swallow but they can’t because there’s something bulbous in their throats, and people in America wait until they get to their cars to let a whine, a high small noise that sounds like it’s coming from someone else, emit from their vocal folds, and people in America pull over because they can’t see because they’re crying and they can’t figure out how to tell their wives and their children and their best friends that they will go bankrupt because they cannot afford, they simply do not have, the money for a surgery tomorrow, which is when they need it.
And this is what I found, after two years of deep observation and personal exploration:
I believe health is a right, not a privilege.
People seem to be misguided on this. People seem to think that having access to the best health care is a privilege only for somebody who was born in some life that led them to working in a job with benefits and sick leave.
But this is incorrect. I’m happy to point out the mistake.
Health, access to the best health care available, is a right even for people who have applied to ninety jobs in two months without a single interview offer. Health is a right even for people who aren’t white! Health is a right even for women who give birth, and even for women who breastfeed in public. Health is a right even for people who don’t speak English.
Health is a right.
Health is a RIGHT.
We are the luckiest family in the whole world. Only a little more than twelve hours after a cardiologist pointed out the harshly highlighted plaque in my father’s artery, my father was asleep gone someplace nowhere on an operating table while someone I’ve never met cut smoothly into my father’s chest. In six months my father will be healthier than he has been in years, and also he will retain his house and his car and his serenity. My brother and I can keep going to college and my parents can occasionally go camping in Yellowstone and shopping in Santa Fe.
Someone I’ve never met immediately saved my father’s life because my father has insurance.
My father was privileged to be able to claim his right to health.
Thank God. Thank God.
Thanks to my father’s parents for giving birth to him in America. Thanks to my father for working hard and for a university.
Thanks to Obama.
Because now maybe someone else’s father won’t have to cry in his car on the way home as he contemplates how he’ll tell his wife and children and best friends that he will soon be bankrupt, and instead he’ll be like my father is now, okay and sewn up and sleepy and healthy in ICU.