It’s almost six months, to the day, since my Peace Corps Ethiopia evacuation, and I have “finally” completed the COS (close of service) medical exam. I have a few more tests to have run. They’ve been ordered and I’m so happy that all the vouchers and billing documents have finally been sent to Peace Corps. My Peace Corps adventure is done.
The doctor I saw, last week, in Sitka, Alaska, had never heard of the Peace Corps. She took the exam as something I needed to join, rather than leave, Peace Corps. I tried explaining about the evacuation, last March. I told her about the 7,000 volunteers evacuated, from their countries of service, all around the world. But, without a basic understanding of Peace Corps, the doctor didn’t get it. She had other things on her mind, like my test results.
The doctor’s attention was more on my weight, my blood pressure, and a growing concern that Peace Corps might not pay for the ultrasound done, to check a growth on my thyroid. The lump was discovered after my blood test results were reviewed. The PA going over the results, with me, checked my thyroid, found a lump, and ordered the ultrasound. I’m fine. Something is there, but it’s too small to worry about, for now. Now, I get to worry about who will pay for the ultrasound. I figure that the lump was discovered, in part, due to the blood test, order by Peace Corps. Still, checking my thyroid gland (and having an ultrasound) was not listed on the medical voucher from Peace Corps. I’ll keep you posted on my Go Fund me page. 😆
Due to the connection between weight gain and the thyroid gland, I had to have a long conversation, with the doctor, explaining the Peace Corps and food. She had a difficult time understanding my weight loss, eighty pounds, during Peace Corps service and/or the reason I’ve started gaining weight, since my return home. “Are you walking?” She asked. I’m guessing the whole volunteer, with a small stipend, following the same standard of living, as the locals you serve, sounds crazy to someone who has never heard of the Peace Corps. Living off $200.00 a month just doesn’t sound normal, in the USA.
Some returned Peace Corps volunteers might also agree. As a volunteer, it’s hard to not think about food. For those of us living with host families, for our entire two years of service, many of us handed over our entire stipend. In my case, it was almost $200.00 each month. When you’re hungry (just thinking in terms of money and food), you can convince yourself that you could be eating “better” if you lived alone or kept part of your food stipend. In Armenia, a volunteer, in my cohort, is rumored to have gone on a hunger strike. The food he was being fed, by his host family, was apparently that bad. He quit Peace Corps, midway through our service.
I loved both my PST (pre service training) host family and the family I lived with for two years, at my permanent site. The food was never a problem. That being said, I was one of the closest volunteers to Yerevan. Being older (and retired) I had enough personal money to eat one way at my site, during the week, and another way, on weekends. In Ethiopia, it was more of an electrical issue. If the power went out, before I made dinner, I would just head to my tent, before dark, and eat snacks or care package food, sent by my friends.
When I could cook, I fried up Spam (from my care packages), made rice or pasta, and ate a lot of canned and packaged tuna. After a few weeks of teaching, at my permanent site, in Ethiopia, the school’s principal decided to hire someone to prepare coffee, tea, and lunch. The young woman worked out of a small room, near the English department. I could simply tell her what I wanted (on my way to class) and she would deliver it, when I was back at my desk. I would eat half of item for lunch and take the rest home for my dinner. If the electricity was out, I ate the leftovers food cold.
Because Thyroid issues can sometimes cause a rapid weight gain, my new doctor has cautioned me to watch my weight. After six months, post Peace Corps, the pounds are making a return. It doesn’t matter if it’s the thyroid or “Look, there’s a McDonals!” There needs to be a balance between how I ate, as a Peace Corps volunteer, and how I am eating now, in the USA. After 36 months away, coming home to a pandemic, (with Stay at Home orders), I can see how COVID-19 eating could be a problem. I can also see how falling back into my Peace Corps eating habits, while living in a dormitory, serving with Americorps, might also be problematic.
So, it’s time to work on a balanced diet. I will work on eating in a way that is different than before I rejoined the Peace Corps, (in 2017) but also different from the way I ate, while serving in Armenia and Ethiopia. At sixty four years of age, I’m not really all that worried. Americorps volunteers here make $1,200.00 a month. That’s sounds like a gold rush, to returned Peace Corps volunteers, but this is Alaska. Most grocery items are shipped, to our small islands, and everything, with the exception of ramen noodles, cost more than on the mainland. Peace Corps volunteers and ramen noodles is a thing. I’m going to need to ween myself off of ramen noodles.
Until I figure this out, I’ve decided to eat like a Peace Corps volunteer, at a buffet, while on vacation. I’ll have one of everything and then be full, after the third bite. I’ll sneak the leftovers, back to my dorm room, completely forgetting that I’m now in the USA and there will always be more! —GGT