The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Saturday, April 25

Moving a Life

It's not easy moving a life...although my niece and her military family do it all the time. She claims they have it down to a system. I'm not sure that's possible for me.

Sure I make lists and then I compile those lists into more lists. I'm working on my third final list now. Progress?

So many details to sort. Duplicate keys for renter. Pick up new glasses. Set up Skype. Pay bills. Stop Medicare. Alert bank of travel. Finalize will and medical directives. And of course sort clothes and decide what art supplies to take. Oh, and don't forget favorite spices. I've gotta have curry.

I'm packing two duffel bags which will hold my life-support for two years. While I'm sorting, my internal I-Pad hums a 60s folk tune – “All my bags are packed. I'm ready to go ….Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane...” 

I'm thinking with a big smile, “the hassle of packing up a life is worth it 'cause I get to go to Macedonia. What an adventure!"

Macedonia seems exotic. Doesn't it? Like many Americans, I know little about it. I know it's in the Balkans, but not much more. I'm learning that when the former Soviet block country of Yugoslavia fractured in 1991, Macedonia re-gathered into its national identity.

Macedonia has deep roots. Archeologists see evidence of human settlements as far back as 7000 BCE. Along the way, notables like King Phillip II and Alexander The Great created the world’s largest Empire stretching from Europe, to North Africa and India.

Since then it's been fought over and conquered by Greeks, Romans, Serbians, Bulgarians, The Byzantine Empire, The Ottoman Empire and more. It's a history of cultural amalgamation and conflict.

Think World War I, Macedonia was in the center of the powder keg that ignited then. And still, It's neighbors especially Greece, Bulgaria and Albania protest its existence. Each thinks the land should be theirs and they can look back and make plausible claims. This time the conflicts have been a war of words mostly. I'm grateful.

The organization I'll be working with wants to include the marginalized in the new Macedonia. They want to alleviate poverty.

It's a big mission that they approach through social policy research and advocacy. Right now they are working on a project that “will produce the first empirical index measuring corruption and clientelism (sic) in media.”

I'm excited to be joining such a group. I hope to contribute to their organizational development drawing upon my 40 years of experience with social change organizations and the contacts I've made along the way. I see my work to be a way of sharing best practices and connecting my Macedonian counterparts with others in America who share a just and inclusive vision for life.

At a farewell party last week, I got talking with a friend who volunteered to contact the staff of DC's street paper. It's like the one in Macedonia. Homeless people sell the weekly paper and make income for their own needs.

We thought that maybe we could arrange a Skype conversation connecting these staff in a direct way. It's social entrepreneurship connecting around the world. Who knows where it might lead.

So here I am with just a few more hours in my apartment. I really am checking off my final, final final list. My physical possessions are down to necessities + curry carried in two duffel bags for the year.

Yet I'm thinking how very fortunate I am. 

 My life experience is about to expand. New friends, new challenges and lots of adventure.  My life is on the move.  I wonder what lies ahead....

Sunday, April 5

Skopje, Macedonia and Peace Corps Response

Retirement is grand. 

You get to do most anything whenever you want.  Get up early with the birds?  Give it a try.  Sleep in?  Sure, why not. 

Volunteer in the community.  It feels good to give back.  Invest time with family and friends.  Close relationships are so precious.  Expand hobbies and discover new passions.   Lots of retirees say they are busier now than ever before.   

For sure, when you retire, you’re a free agent and the Social Security keeps coming no matter what…I hope.

And for me, retirement means chances for new adventures.  On April 25th, I’ll be embarking on another.  I’ll be taking off from Dulles airport.  Destination is Skopje, Macedonia.  It’s the birth place of Mother Teresa. 

My purpose is to serve for a year as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer (PCRV).

Peace Corps Response provides opportunities for returned Peace Corps Volunteers to undertake short-term, high-impact assignments in various posts around the world. It began as a Crisis Corps in 1996 responding to the genocide in Rwanda.  Since then, over 1000 Volunteers in more than 40 countries have served.

PC Response Volunteers fill specific needs for skills and expertise.  Along with language and cross cultural understanding, they are able to have an immediate impact where it is most needed.

Last Fall I ran across this posting for an Organizational Management Expert.  I thought, "That sounds like me."  My working life has always involved developing and managing organizations.  While in Ukraine as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I taught leadership and organizational development seminars. 

But what really caught my attention in the posting was the organization’s vision and mission:

Our Vision is one of a more equitable and just society which actively values supports and empowers marginalized people. 

Our Mission is to alleviate poverty and to enhance inclusion of marginalized people….

“Wow,” I thought, “these are the kind of values that I have tried to work for throughout my life.  Here’s an organization that speaks to my passions and I have some of the skills they need to be helpful.” 

It didn't take too long before I applied and entered the Peace Corps application process. I was assigned a recruiter.  An interview compared my background and skills with Macedonian needs.  Peace Corps agreed that it was a good match.  Before the end of 2014, I was offered the position.  Hooray!

But there’s more, namely medical screening.  Here’s where the process gets muggy and bogged down.  Lengthy forms had to be completed.  Many doctors had to be consulted.  Medical record had to be obtained from archives. 

My broken arm required faxing 32 pages of operational procedures.   Yikes! 

More followed. Sixteen requests for vaccinations, blood tests, x-rays and the like had to be fulfilled.  If anything, the Peace Corps medical process is thorough and it takes many weeks.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that for a guy bordering on 70, I’m in good health and I’m going to Macedonia.  Hooray!

So here I am embarking on yet another adventure.  My apartment is rented to a good friend.  My needed possessions are reduced to two duffle bags.  And my mind is churning with excitement.

I’m grateful that in a world riddled with strife, senseless murders and so much warfare, we still have space and funding for a Peace Corps.  I intend to make the best of it. 

Few of us get to change the world in any dramatic way, but most of us can add a little more light. 

On this Easter morning, I’m thinking of Pope Francis and the ancient prayer from his namesake.

Lord, make me an instrument of your Peace. 

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith; 
where there is despair,hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

Pope Francis and Istanbul's Grand Mufti Rahmi Yaran pray together in the Blue Mosque, Istanbul.