Sunday, March 20, 2011


       “Home is any place I hang my hat”. These thought-provoking lyrics were heard by Dave and me at a recent cabaret performance in Wilmington, NC, while we are staying with our daughter, before departure to Armenia with the Peace Corps. The song sounded like a true Peace Corps description of home, especially for volunteers who move from one country to another and establish homes in new towns and villages all over the world.
         Dave and I had recently talked about where home was for us and where home might be after the Peace Corp, both the physical place and the emotional feel of home. We agreed that the meaning of home differs dramatically based upon a person’s particular life experiences and emotional make-up. Dave says that the more places you feel at home, the more connected you are with the world, or the more comfortable you are with yourself. As I write this blog, we are driving from one of our former homes to 2 others (from Wilmington, NC/Kure Beach to Memphis and Clarksville, TN). On varying levels, we each identify these places as homes where one or both of us lived previously. But could we go back? It’s been said that “home is where the heart is.” Would our hearts immediately be back in these homes, or would our heads come into play and become stronger influences than our emotions? Is it possible to have 2 or more homes at once or must home be a singular entity? What do you think?

          “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a familiar seasonal song conjuring up both sentimental thoughts and early travel plans. In a column written in the Church Health Reader by Dr.G. Scott Morris, MD, founder and medical director of the Church Health Center in Memphis, TN, he mentions going home for holidays, sometimes to a dysfunctional family, and due to family tradition or a sense of responsibility. Although there is merit to maintaining ties to family, the feel of those home comings is not always warm and fuzzy even when greeted by hugs and kisses. The trip home is not always comfortable for a variety of reasons.
When we visit my elderly father, he always says, “this is your home so do whatever you want to.” (I’ve actually said the same thing when our adult children visit us!) I understand my father’s feelings because he has lived in the same house for over fifty five years and in the same town even longer. He has traveled very little aside from going to the Pacific theater during WW II. The house Dave and I visit is truly my father’s home; it is no longer mine, yet I do have memories of it being home as I grew up.

        Dr. Morris suggests that one’s church home can be a place where a person feels they’ve made a place for themselves that is right. I think it is a home where unconditional love and a sense of peace is felt, no matter who you are. Can a person move to a new physical home in the world and feel at home in a church there? Maybe it is possible, if the concept of church home is based on the idea of a religious community and not tied to a particular building or place. Dave and I had a church home in Memphis since the late 60’s and we just recently visited it. We felt an overwhelming connection to the people we had known and not seen for several years. We knew we had made a place for ourselves in previous years of membership and we truly felt welcomed and loved when we returned. We have not found a church home like this one since. Dr. Morris’s wife, Mary, says that by connecting to those we love and who we want to spend time with, we can create our own sense of home. Maybe Dave and I need to work harder on making those connections in a new church in the future.

        As Peace Corps volunteers, we already felt at home in Niger after being there only 3 months prior to our evacuation. Acceptance and respect were there. Our Nigerien villagers were protective and caring towards us, and yes, we felt a sense of peace at the end of a hot day as we lay down under the brilliant star-covered sky. In Africa we slept outside without fear; we were half the way around the world, and we felt at home. During dinner with long term friends recently, one of them asked us about our current nomadic life and how it felt to not have what he considered to be a “home”. Dave said it did not bother him; I said I missed that feeling.

         Over the years, we have felt at home wherever we have lived and now eagerly await June 1 when we begin the search for a home anew, in Armenia. Since we sold our physical properties before moving to North Carolina, then rented there, we joke of being homeless or living the life of nomads. Our Peace Corps home of record (HOR) is in Las Vegas with our son. Our mailing address is a PO Box in Kure Beach, NC, and we are staying with various family members and friends in THEIR homes in the meantime. Our friends and family wonder about us and say they have difficulty keeping up with our whereabouts. Thank goodness for internet and cell phones, Skype, text messaging and Facebook! We hope to soon “hang our hat” in our new home in Armenia for at least twenty seven months. The US will always be our global home, but “where our hearts lie” will vary from our childhood homes to the many we’ve shared over the years as adults. Home is truly where you make it, where you feel comfortable and where peace and contentment prevail. It can change, but will always be inside of you. You’ll know when you are home. It will be a home and not just a place to stay. For us it will be where we both “hang our hats”.

              As you read this blog, are you at home?
Judy and Dave

Reference: to read more of Dr. G. Scott Morris’ columns

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Happy Anniversary! Peace Corps ..... 50 years and still counting!

I had not meant to add another post to this blog today, however, lunch with special friends prompted me to do so.  While basically “hanging out” awaiting our next Peace Corps assignment, I have been re-connecting with old friends wherever we go. Today, as my musician friends and I settled into a booth at a favorite seafood restaurant, Ted said,” it’s significant that we met today because I read in the newspaper that on this day, March 1, fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps”.   I was pleasantly surprised. I certainly knew the Peace Corps was celebrating its 50th anniversary this year but did not know today was the date. What a perfect day to talk with friends about my Peace Corps experiences!  There was also an added comment about the recent death of the first Peace Corps Director, Sargeant Shriver, so it would be an informal tribute to 2 related events within the same year.
 Sargeant  Shriver ‘s death occurred in January while our Peace Corps stage was meeting in Morocco, after our evacuation from Niger. That time seems so long ago now, yet it was only 6 weeks ago. Where has the time gone?  How surreal it seems to be back in the US yet still feel connected to the experiences in Niger. Our evacuation was a significant event during our brief time in the Peace Corps but so vivid are the details of how it was handled.  I recall that as we left the Rabat, Morocco, hotel in the dark of night and headed to the airport in Casablanca , brilliant blue flashing lights of the Moroccan police escort  were visible from the bus’s window. Now, it is a bit more frightening to think of that night in the dark when none of us really knew all that was happening or exactly where we were headed in our Peace Corps future.  A book written by Mark Jenkins entitled TIMBUKTU about 4 adventurous young men kayaking down the Niger River in an attempt to reach Timbuktu, contains the following statement about darkness.  ‘’ The darkness can shake you. Darkness makes everything monstrous and foreboding. What you can not see you imagine and what you imagine is more terrible than what exists. There is reason to teach your children not to be afraid of the dark. To overcome the fear of the dark is to overcome the fear of the unknown which is to overcome fear itself.”  As our bus rolled on through the darkness that was night in Morocco, we eventually reached the lights at the airport and began the process so familiar at airports-- check-in, ID check, security screening, and all the rest.  The immediate unknown became apparent; we were not afraid anymore and did what had to be done as we boarded planes back to our US destinations.
As my friends and I ate lunch today, they plied me with questions about life in Niger. I told them of the good and the unpleasant, always adding that I’d never trade the experience and would return there if the opportunity presented itself.  They, as most people who’ve heard about Niger, cannot believe most of what they hear. We laughed at my description of bucket baths, donkey cart rides, and fractured efforts at speaking the local language with villagers. There were more serious responses when I described the health risks, nutritional deficits, and harsh climate we encountered and which the locals dealt with for a lifetime. There were mixed reactions when I tried to explain why the Peace Corps would even send volunteers to a country which, even with Peace Corps service since 1962, still has made so little progress on the United Nations Human Index Scale.   My friends today voiced many of the same questions and concerns of our family and other friends with whom we’ve spoken and visited.  They have legitimate issues and I do not feel fully prepared to respond to all of them in an effective way. However, Goal #2 of the Peace Corps involves sharing information about the culture of Niger with others in the US. All Peace Corps volunteers are expected to share their experiences in any way possible. I am willing to talk about Niger and its people with anyone willing to listen. Writing about the subject is also a prime option.  Today, the luncheon with my friends brings this goal #2 to life. What better day to recognize that fact than on March 1 , the anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps.   Judy and Dave