She followed her intuitive guidance all the way from her worst night ever to her greatest adventure
(In part one, my friend Barbara got a voicemail message from her husband asking for a divorce--in a voicemail! She was devastated. She followed her intuitive guidance and applied for the Peace Corps that very same night. One year later--application accepted and divorce final--she was on her way to Colombia. (Click here to go back and read Part One)
Colombia at last!
Barbara was on her way to Colombia for her Peace Corps adventure. The trip went well. She even met her future best friend in the program while waiting for her final flight at the Miami airport. Good start.
Back to School
The three-month training program didn’t go so smoothly. Barbara was 62 years old and hadn’t been in school for a long time. She found learning Spanish to be a huge challenge. Although she tried multiple times, she just couldn’t pass the oral language exam.
For a while, it looked like her Colombian adventure might be over before it really got started. She finally made it through on her third try, thanks largely to Simon Bolivar and his “amante,” Manuela Saenz, who wore the rebel uniform and twice saved Bolivar’s life.
Barbara was fascinated by these 19th century South American revolutionaries.
Because of her enthusiasm for the topic, she was able to find the words in Spanish to tell their story to her teacher and pass her final exam.
At one point in her training, Barbara found herself surrounded by mostly 20-somethings as the Colombia Peace Corps director discussed perils and precautions of dating and having sex while in the program.
“I know you’re going to have sex,” the director told the group of volunteers at a lunch meeting. She was standing a few feet from Barbara who quipped, “Promise?” The director and the other 28 volunteers broke out laughing.
A new job in a new world
Colombia was like another world after living in Portland, Oregon. She found it to be a beautiful country with passionate and friendly people.
In her first small town assignment, her host family was sweet and kind. When she was later posted in a city, there were great beaches and nice lodging. She got a free Peace Corps taxi pass, and great Wi-Fi to stay connected to people back home.
In general, she got all the support and assistance she needed from the Peace Corps. She loved her job as a teacher, and especially loved working with the kids.
Benefits of Seniority
She was the oldest one in the group she trained with, and in Columbia that came with big benefits. She was well respected and people listened to what she had to say. Her guidance and advice were consistently valued above her younger counterparts, regardless of rank.
But there were difficulties as well. There were the usual issues of culture shock and adjusting to daily life in a place so different from home. It wasn’t safe to drink the tap water and there was no hot water at all, for instance. The murders in the small town, and the level of political corruption, caused concern.
She also ran into a serious problem at work. Although Barbara worked with the kids a lot, she was mainly there to train teachers. While at her first posting she witnessed a teacher beating a student severely.
After she reported the incident, the violent teacher was “talked to” but Peace Corps decided that Barbara was in danger. So she was moved to another school across town for her own safety. It was feared that the family of the abusive teacher would try to get revenge.
As challenging and exciting as her training, work, and daily life in Colombia were, Barbara quickly found herself in another kind of adventure she wasn’t expecting.
She first met Gene while she was still struggling to get through the three-month training program. He hosted a dinner at his house for five of the Peace Corps new-comers. She still remembers the moment she met him. Here was this was tall, skinny, handsome, guy about her age, with a straw hat and a big smile. After all she’d been through in the last painful and disappointing year, he turned out to be a complete and pleasant surprise.
Gene brought the whole group on a tour of his tiny town and school. He was different than anyone she’d ever met. He’d lived in Latin America for over 20 years and he was worldly, brilliant, and interesting. He’d even rescued three tiny kittens—they were just a day or two old when their mother dropped them down a drain pipe at his school. Yes, he was clearly instant crush material!
As the group socializing continued, Barbara and Gene found they had a lot to talk about. They had many shared values and interests, and were quickly pulled into long, deep conversations.
One night, at a Valentine’s Day party, they were the last two remaining guests. They floated in the pool and things got more personal, as they discussed their families and past relationships.
Barbara really liked him, but kept waiting for him to ask her out, stuck in traditional dating roles. Over the phone, a Portland friend convinced her to make the first move—hounding her about it until she decided to get over her fears of rejection—or just looking silly--and put it all on the line. She sent him an email asking if he was attracted to her and admitting she’d been into to him from the start. Then she forced herself to hit “send.”
She was so nervous she couldn’t check her email for two days.
When she finally got the nerve to open her inbox his response was waiting for her. Yes, he was very attracted to her, and yes, he was very interested.
He invited her on a date and they went swimming. When she was reassigned to a new job, he helped her move. They walked through her new town together, and he kissed her for the first time.
They lived in different towns but they met up every other weekend and traveled through Columbia together.
After 17 months, Barbara had to return to the US because of some serious family issues. Since she left before fulfilling her two-year commitment, she would never be able to join again. She was heartbroken when making the decision to leave, but didn’t feel she had a choice.
“I knew once I quit, I could never go back. I knew I had to leave all those beautiful people.”
Gene had left Colombia by that time, finishing his service a month earlier. Barbara stayed in contact with him for a while, and they even met up and traveled together here in the US, but it just wasn’t the same once they’d left Colombia.
She is still in touch with many of the other people she trained with in her Peace Corps group.
Barbara says her friendships, romance, and adventure totally healed the pain of her divorce. But her work with the Peace Corps went even deeper than that.
“It made me realize I still had things I could contribute to life, even though I’m in my 60s. I’m wanted and useful. And that’s what the purpose of life is, to be useful.”✪
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