One little boy in Powakka, an Amerindian village on the northeast edge of the Amazon rainforest, may never know the whole story about how he got his name.

It begins with Tamra, a fifty-something nurse I met in Peace Corps training in Suriname (formerly Dutch Guyana), South America. We were the two oldest women in the group. I was accompanied by my husband, but Tamra’s husband had stayed at home in California.

For Tamra, being a Peace Corps Volunteer had been a life-long dream. Her children were grown and her husband, Rick, well-established in the construction business, told her, “Go with my blessing and do it.”

Suriname’s Peace Corps program was young, we were the fifth group to arrive in the country, and the first to experience village-based training. The day we arrived in the Amerindian village of Powakka, village men were just completing the construction of the new Peace Corps training center, the place we would go to everyday for classes on language, culture, and project development.

During the two months of training, we would live with Amerindian host families, where we could immerse ourselves in the culture and the Sranan Tongo, the lingua franca of Suriname.

Tamra’s host mother, Yolanda Sabayo, already had two little girls and was seven months pregnant.

When our training ended and we were to leave Powakka, our group decided to throw a party at the training center for the village children. A real party with games and prizes and food and drink. For most of the children, it would be the first time they tasted chocolate milk. The planning excited the entire village as well as our Volunteers, and the party was a thrilling success.

It was hard to sleep that night, knowing that in the morning we’d leave our new friends.

In the middle of the night, Yolanda went into labor. The mid-wife was nowhere to be found. Tamra found herself alone in a tiny wooden cabin with two small children and a woman about to give birth who spoke very little English.

Volunteers are given medical kits by the Peace Corps doctor containing such necessaries as antibiotic ointment, aspirin, band-aids, tweezers, mosquito repellent, lip balm, sunscreen and condoms. We were told that Peace Corps policy is that volunteers are not to give so much as an aspirin to anyone else. We were acquainted with strict rules against getting medically involved with local people.

But Tamra was a nurse first, and did what she had to do. She delivered Yolanda’s baby, a wailing, healthy boy.

According to Amerindian custom, the afterbirth was buried in the yard and a blue dot was painted on the baby’s forehead to ward off the evil eye.

What would Yolanda name her new son? She admitted she had not planned a name. To Tamara’s surprise, Yolanda said she liked the name of Tamra’s husband, Rick. She would name her baby Ricky.

All this we learned over breakfast the morning of our departure from Powakka. To their credit, our Peace Corps doctor and Country Director smiled as they reminded us of Peace Corps’ “official policy” regarding medical intervention, and nothing more was said.

Tamra’s Peace Corps assignment was with a hospital in Suriname’s capitol, Paramaribo, where she shared a house with other PC volunteers, three young women.

My husband and I were privileged to meet Tamra’s husband, Rick, when he came to Suriname for a vacation, armed with a video recorder. Rick and Tam travelled to neighboring French Guyana, visiting Cayenne and Devil’s Island. They went to Powakka to visit Yolanda and introduce Rick to his namesake. Everything was recorded.

Eight months into her Peace Corps service, Tam’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Tamra made the decision to leave the Peace Corps to be with her mother in her final days.

Not long after she returned home to California, her mother’s health rallied — great news. And then the unimaginable happened: Rick had a sudden, fatal heart attack.

Litte Ricky, at age five, with his sisters and mother

Litte Ricky, at age five, with his sisters and mother

In Powakka, little Ricky has grown to be a sturdy little boy, now ten years old. Several years ago I visited Yolanda and her family and e-mailed a photo of them to Tamra.

Today Tamra works in a veteran’s hospital in northern California. She still speaks warmly about her Peace Corps experience.

When people ask what Peace Corps service was like, it’s hard to answer. I try to explain that every volunteer is different, every country, every village, every assignment and every experience is different.

As baby boomers face retirement, the percentage of volunteers in their fifties, sixties, and even seventies is increasing.

Because we are older, do we treasure our Peace Corps experience more than young people? Do we have a greater understanding of what it means to volunteer, a greater appreciation for the experience?

In many countries, gray in your hair gains you undeniable respect. I believe this also contributes to a different kind of Peace Corps adventure. I think Tam would agree that over 50 is a great age to experience Perce Corps service.