HOW TO PUT INTO WORDS an experience that profoundly affected my outlook on life, my core values, my “spirit”?
I began my Peace Corps service at 22 years of age, bringing with me a middle class background, a belief that life held much suffering, and a strong desire to work to alleviate suffering.
For 2 years I set up maternal-infant preventive health programs in several villages. I conducted well-baby exams and prenatal exams; nutrition education programs; training for indigenous midwives; evaluations of the relationship between the season of the year and nutritional status. I lived in small villages, along side the people that I’d come to work for and with.
In retrospect, while my work was not insignificant, its importance to my personal growth seems minor in comparison to what I learned about my African co-workers, patients, and medical trainees. It’s been 10 years now since I returned from this experience, and I still struggled when I attempt to describe what I learned.
I learned to view life less seriously. To enjoy camaraderie. To view relationships with other people as what is of primary importance in my life. To view hardships as events and situations which, although undesirable, need not oppress the spirit. I learned that I had far more inner strength than I’d ever dreamed a person could have. I learned that formal education is not either necessary or sufficient in the development of wisdom.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the villagers of Loga and Birni, especially the women, who gave me so much, and to the memory of John Kennedy, for having made this experience possible.