Not Exactly Retired: A Life-Changing Journey on the Road and in the Peace Corps
David Jarmul (Nepal 1977–79; Moldova 2016–18)
Peace Corps Writers
$15.00 (paperback); $9.99 (Kindle)
Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962 to 64)
This journey takes place over many years in the lives of the author and of his wife, Champa. It reflects some of their separate lives prior to meeting in Nepal and finally where their intertwined life led them. It begins where so many Peace Corp Volunteer stories begin: as young adults called to adventure. David traveled to Nepal with a friend and while there committed to be a volunteer. Many years later, after children, careers, and grandchildren, David in his second tour as a volunteer was once again reminded that President Kennedy’s dream was to set the Peace Corps apart from USAID by serving the world’s poorest communities, “learning the local language, eating the local food, and making a change at the local level.” It’s what we all signed up for.
The story begins with David and Champa starting their retirement journey with a drive across the United States and back again to their home in North Carolina. Following a farewell to adult children and grandchildren, friends, and colleagues, the two adventurers start a tour together as volunteers in Moldova. And together they would share the experience of teaching and working n a small country squeezed between the Ukraine and Romania.
But first, the trip back and forth across the USA was a delight to read and to experience again, or for the first time, the magnificent parks, highways, cities, rivers, and people as if in a review of a life journey: a reminder of what served as the foundation of what we, as readers, might have experienced in our growing up days. We became young adventurers eager to see, experience, and live in other parts of the world. The author might not have intended this, but this reader enjoyed the drive across the USA as a trip back in time.
There are expected flashbacks to happy memories left behind, grandkids that would change over the two years apart from grandparents, and David’s professional career closing with his demanding position as head of communications at Duke University. We become aware of his skills and experiences that we later see put to use in Moldova in so many ways. His experience there was multi-dimensional and raised our awareness of where a country like Moldova was in terms of technology, public services, education and public health. Actually it was pretty impressive and a world away from my experience in Ethiopia from 1962 to 1964. This was probably the most interesting aspect of the book for me. How so much had changed in a third world country and yet how much was the same. I am envious of how technology made it easier to stay in touch with former students, teachers, and family members both here as well as members of the family who hosted them. By contrast, I did not speak with my parents for the full two years I was away. None of us did.
I truly appreciated the author’s realization that “Our Moldovan friends paid little attention to the US election, . . .. They didn’t care about it…I was humbled as an American to be reminded regularly that Moldovans didn’t consider our country the center of the universe. It was an insight I treasured as a Peace Corps volunteer, a gift of a new vantage point, . . ..” And this is the profound and remarkable heart and soul of the Peace Corps and the dedicated men and women who have made it so.
This is not your usual travel book but rather a look back by the author, with reflections from Champa. on his life journey that led him to a remarkable adventure in his so-called” retirement” years. His life partner, Champa, completed the package they had to offer with her understanding of life from her perspective as a native of Nepal and the many gifts she offered her students and acquaintances along the way. It isn’t for everyone to set out on such a trip, and with humor, David, often questioned himself, “Why am I doing this again?” But the book is a gift to those who might be thinking there has got to be more to retirement than playing golf, traveling for pleasure, taking up new hobbies, visiting family, or walking the dog. Read and you just might find yourself setting foot on a not so familiar path with unexpected benefits!
Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962 to 64) became a career counselor in the San Francisco Bay Area especially focused on women returning to the workplace back in the 80’s, as well as adults wondering what else they could do as a career that would be more meaningful.