We left behind the late summer’s chores in Vermont for a week of high humidity among the nation’s landmarks. It was the Peace Corps’ 50th. We don’t party five nights in  a row or stay up past midnight any more, so it was both exhilarating and exhausting.

img_0004I had dinner at D.C.’s Jewish Community Center on Tuesday with Susan Barocas, director of the Center’s Jewish Film Festival, and fellow Returned volunteers Allen Mondell and Philip Lilienthal. The first question was how did we garner an invitation to show video excerpts and be part of a discussion at the heart of Jewish culture in the capital? You could guess the answer.  Susan had plans herself to serve in the Peace Corps after college but never did. There’s a world out there of people like Susan, smitten with the dream, who remain loyal to the idea. I’ve heard this over and over at screenings of Once in Afghanistan. She wanted to hang out with us, if just briefly, and provide JCC’s venue for a discussion of our work since Peace Corps.

Allen Mondell, documentarian from Dallas and RPCV Sierra Leone, presented a glimpse of his work in progress, Waging Peace The Peace Corps Experience. I was drawn into the lives of the four Returned volunteers Allen has chosen to explore. Allen’s hell-bent on raising enough money to complete a movie that illustrates the commitment of volunteers to service. Philip Lilienthal grew up summering at his father’s camp for kids and was asked to start camps as a Peace Corps volunteer years ago. His only credential was having been a camper himself and, for a couple of summers, a counselor. After retirement, Philip was able to connect that experience, his own childhood at camp, and a commitment to Africa to found Global Camps Africa for kids in South Africa. The project is about bringing HIV awareness to the youth along with all the fun of camp.

The excerpt from Once in Afghanistan began with “culture shock,” a shock you never get over. The women speak of ways in which they floundered and then found ways to continue the adventures and misadventures of trying to serve others. One member re-joined Peace Corps after visiting Kenya on her way home and worked for another 8 years or so teaching medical technicians.

It was easy to spot Returned volunteers between the gathering places last week in Washington. For one thing there were an awful lot of couples in their 60’s and 70’s. There was also about the RPCVs an eagerness to take in whatever came next. What did we find, learn, take away?  One surprise for me was experiencing the curiousity and respect given our movie excerpt about a Muslim country.  The audience greeted our group’s training director Kristina Engstrom and smallpox vaccinator Barbara Runyan with enthusiastic applause when they were introduced. This is a momento I’ll long cherish back in the Jell-O world when the excitement fades and I catch up on my sleep.