At first they arrived in a trickle.  Then it was a steady stream.  Then, a flood.  One came wrapped in a serape-type shawl, another wore a scarf of kente cloth, another a flowing bazin boubou dyed pale green.  One wore a medal pinned to her chest that the people of her village in Ethiopia had given her more than forty years ago when she served as a Peace Corps nurse there.

 

Some brought Middle Eastern food; some brought Chilean wine.  Some brought little children.  Some were wizened and gray; others looked like fresh-faced recent college grads. Some had served in Paraguay, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Niger, Gabon, as well as Ethiopia, and wherever else the Peace Corps has or has had a presence over the past fifty years.

 

Few of the thirty-or-so Taos-area RPCVs who came to our 50th anniversary party here in Taos last Saturday had even met before.  But all, it seemed, had come with a burning desire to connect, to share, and to celebrate their common bond.

 

Several weeks ago, when I signed on with the National Peace Corps Association to organize a “house party” in Taos – one of the more than 700 “global house parties” that are being held this 50th birthday week – I was told by locals that RPCVs, at least around here, tend to be “reclusive”; they’re the ones who “live off the grid.”

 

“You’ll be lucky if you get a dozen who respond to your invitation,” I was warned.

 

Wrong.

 

By the time the flood of attendees had arrived at the gallery space we’d been offered for the evening, there were about sixty people in all, half RPCVs, half “friends.”  And as The Taos News reported in a generous half-page article, “everybody had a story to tell.”

 

“The returned volunteers shared funny, sad and even scary moments.  They talked about what it meant to jump into an unknown territory, often without knowing much about the language or the culture,” Taos News reporter Teresa Dovalpage wrote.  “Many referred to the surprises they found after arriving in their posts.”

 

I don’t need to tell Peace Corps Worldwide readers what those surprises were.  You and I have lived them.  What surprised me, though, as this party organizer, was the response we received in the community – the press and radio coverage, the word-of-mouth, ripple-effect of good will and good cheer.  The party here was like a family reunion of long-lost loved ones celebrating with pride the middle name we all carry, Peace Corps.