Earlier this week, while walking to my Americorps Alaska work site, someone in my cohort asked, “Why do you live in a dorm?”
At sixty four years old, I guess it was a fair question. Most of the Americorps members living with me are in their late teens or twenties.
Four years ago, I donated most of my belongings. My handbags, shoes, and clothing, all went to charity. My Le Creuset collection went to friends.
A painting I had commissioned was shipped back to the artist. Then, on February 28th, 2017, I turned over my keys, to the head of maintenance. He agreed to divided up my belongings with his staff.
Three weeks later, I arrived in Armenia and began my Peace Corps pre service training. After a short orientation, at a resort complex, about an hour from Yerevan, my cohort was divided and sent to our host families. After twelve weeks of Armenian language lessons, teaching training, and culture classes, we were sworn in as volunteers and headed to our permanent sites.
My permanent site was less than ten miles from Yerevan. I had a Peace Corps site mate, also living in the town. She taught at one of the primary schools, while I taught at the high school. Peace Corps Armenia volunteers have a ninety day second host stay, at their permanent sites. After that, if housing is available, volunteers can get their own lodging.
I knew, after my three day homestay visit, that I would live with my host family for the full two years. The site was 45 minutes from my pre-service site and I was happy to be so close to my Mommy jan. My new family had three children. We were like a gang, from day one.
May 15th was my Close of Service from Peace Corps Armenia. I returned to the USA to get a test for volunteers serving in countries with malaria. On June 16, I headed to Peace Corps staging, in Washington DC. The following day, my cohort was on our flight to Ethiopia.
I repeated orientation, at a hotel in Addis Ababa, followed by Pre Service Training and homestay, in Southern Nations. My cohort swore in as Peace Corps volunteers in September. Like in Armenia, I had the closest site to the Peace Corps office. I could get to Addis Ababa in around two hours.
My housing in Ethiopia was in a gated compound. Along with my landlord, the tenants were made up of my school’s principal and five staff members from the local medical clinic. Because the rooms were small, I was given two. I used one as my kitchen and the other as my bedroom. After the ceiling was replaced, and the animal dropping stopped, I pitched my tent.
Unlike my housing in Armenia, the compound in Ethiopia had an outhouse, on one end, and a water spigot, on the other. A friend gifted me a solar shower. I hand washed all my laundry. Still, compound life was pretty comfortable.
A year ago, this March, all Peace Corps volunteers, worldwide, were evacuated, due to the COVID pandemic. I had one day to pack, close my bank account and post office box, then make my way to Addis Ababa. Half of my belongings, my tent, bedding, kitchen items, solar shower, are still at the compound. Who knew that we were leaving forever?
I picked Honolulu as my Home of Record. A friend from my Peace Corps Kenya days, in the 1980s, worked in Public Health and Public Policy. There was no better place to quarantine, at the beginning of a pandemic. My friend offered me a room, in her condo, with its own bathroom. She also prepared all my meals, during my 14 day self quarantine. The city of Honolulu was under a Stay at Home order, the entire time I was there.
Soon after arriving, I applied to Peace Corps Response, in Jamaica. The position was set to begin in October. Late June, I made my way back to the lower forty eight. Friends in Utah were social distancing and had just remodeled their basement, adding a bedroom with a full bathroom. They said I could stay with them, until heading to Jamaica.
Peace Corps Response fell apart, soon after I arrived in Utah. The October start date was moved to March or maybe May. Around the same time, Americorps began recruiting Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV) via Facebook and LinkedIn. One of my Peace Corps Ethiopia cohort told me about a position with Americorps Alaska.
I applied and was offered a spot. I had to get fingerprints, as part of my security screening, and a COVID test, for entry into Alaska. Unlike Peace Corps, Americorps doesn’t pay for your flight. Luckily, I had enough miles, from my time as an academic librarian, at Duke University, to fly from Salt Lake City, to Seattle, and then on to my site, in Alaska, for just five dollars.
Upon arrival, in Alaska, we all received another (free) COVID test, at the airport. We then began the 21 day travel quarantine. Our Americorps orientation was conducted via Zoom. For housing, I opted to live in a local dormitory. The room would be ready, upon my arrival, and give me time to figure out my way around the town. I never moved.
Once again, I was in a single room, just like Armenia, Ethiopia, Hawaii, and Utah. This time, there was a shared bathroom and kitchen. After four years, and five different locations, I am still living like a Peace Corps volunteer, minus the host family, plus flushing toilets and hot water.
So, why do I live in a dorm? In many ways it gives me space to shed my former life. I’ve given up most of my belongings and moved (although slowly) from my former career, and American spending habits, into retirement. Service seemed like a good idea, at the time, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last four years.
I live in a dorm, with not a lot of belongings, because it feels just about perfect. —GGT