Sunday, February 28, 2016

Rejected By The Peace Corps

On February 19, four months and two weeks after I submitted my online application to the Peace Corps, I received an e-mail message from the Peace Corps entitled "Peace Corps Application Decision."  It said that the Peace Corps regrets to inform that they cannot offer me a position at this time.  It went on to say that they receive more applications than there are available positions.  They strongly encouraged me to reapply.  

As a practical matter, it doesn't make sense for me, even as an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) and as a former teacher here in the states, to reapply to the Peace Corps now.  As I mentioned in a previous recent blog post, I've also been looking at applying to domestic volunteer programs through  It behooves me to submit those applications as soon as possible.  I can't really wait until I would hear from the Peace Corps about a new application that I would submit.  So it seems that my course is clear.  

Of course I was disappointed.  Yet I also realize that I don't know what God's plan is.  I pray that God's will be done in my life.  When events take a turn in a direction I hadn't been hoping, I need to be flexible.  I want to accept all that comes my way; any set of circumstances can serve to sanctify any of us, if only we take the proper attitude.  And so I breathe, and try to be patient as I move forward into the unknown.  God, may Your will be done in my life.  Amen.  

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Be Patient

It's been nearly four months since I submitted my online application to the Peace Corps.  I still haven't had an interview.  

Peace Corps says that patience and flexibility are two of the qualities that are helpful both as an applicant and once one becomes a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer).  Having previously been both an applicant and a PCV, I agree.  Besides, were I to become impatient, it wouldn't get me an interview sooner!  

More to the point, patience reflects the state of the heart.  The second reading at Mass today was from 1 Corinthians 13.  Love is patient.  By being patient, you show love.  Let us be patient, and thus love.  Amen.  

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Alternatives to the Peace Corps

When I was applying to the Peace Corps in 2009 and 2010, someone asked me something like, "What are you going to do if you don't get into the Peace Corps?"  I responded something like, "I don't know."  As it turned out, I got into the Peace Corps, and served as a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) in Morocco from 2010 to 2012, so I never ended up considering the question of what else I'd do.  

This time around as I again apply to the Peace Corps, I am thinking about what I'll do if I don't become a PCV again.  In considering various courses of action, I've been drawn to seek various elements in my life.  I've been driven to serve impoverished persons while living simply, and I particularly enjoyed a simple life of service abroad as a PCV.  I've craved spiritual community, including while worshipping and celebrating God's many blessings at Mass and otherwise in church.  I've also greatly enjoyed solitude, along with the frequently attendant silence and stillness, which, I feel, helps me to try to listen to what God is saying to me.  I've sought to live a life in which I practice these and other spiritual disciplines.  

Seeking to follow these spiritual practices, I've also applied to Franciscan Mission Service.  Through their program, volunteers live abroad for at least two years while serving poor people.  

It seems likely I might also apply for service programs in which I would serve poor persons here in the states.  I've found some such volunteer programs which interest me through the website  

It's also possible I might again be a Catholic Worker.  For a few months in the latter half of last year, I lived and worked at a Catholic Worker House here in California.  There we housed, fed and otherwise cared for women and children who probably otherwise would have been homeless.  

I don't know what I'll do next.  I can say, though, that I am excited about what lies ahead.  I am looking forward to returning to active ministry, spending more time serving impoverished people.  I am eager to do so, in whatever framework it takes place.  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

How Long To Wait For An Interview

A couple of days ago I got an e-mail from a Peace Corps Placement Officer.  She was not the Placement Officer I mentioned in my last post.  This second Placement Officer acknowledged that I had indicated that I wanted to be considered for work in the sectors of Youth Development, Health and Environment.  She asked me whether nevertheless I would like to be considered for an Education Sector position in the country of South Africa.  In other words, she asked me if I would like to be considered for being a full-time teacher in South Africa.  In her e-mail, she included a couple of links.  One link was to a description of the specific volunteer position.  The other link was to a more general description of the Peace Corps' presence in South Africa.

I clicked on the link which described the particular volunteer position.  It indicated that the position required strong classroom management skills.  I called the Placement Officer and told her that I did not want to be considered for the teaching position.  She asked me why.  I explained that my ability to manage classroom misbehavior is the weakest link in my teaching skill set.

I capitalized on the opportunity to ask her some questions about the application process in general.  I asked her if there was any way to know how long it would take to have an interview.  She told me that there isn't really any way to know how long one will have to wait for an interview; she added that I might have to wait two more weeks for an interview, or I might have to wait two more months for an interview.  Given that I submitted my application on October 5, if I wait two more months for an interview, until mid-January, then it will have been three and a half months from submitting the application to interviewing.  However, she also told me that they are now just getting around to starting to deal with applications for positions which are scheduled to depart the US in July, August and September of next year.  Given that as of right now, the Peace Corps is considering me for a Health Advisor position in Benin, to depart the US in September 2016, I may be hearing soon about interviewing for that position...  

Saturday, October 31, 2015

First Steps After Submitting Application

I'm excited to report that I've submitted a new application to once again be a Peace Corps Volunteer!  I've already detailed elsewhere how I've felt drawn back again to being a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV).  I shared those thoughts on one of my other blogs, the one which has been describing life in the monastic community in which I've been living, and in which I was scheduled to become a monk early next year before I discerned that I am not going to become a monk.  Since I've already shared there why I'm not going to become a monk, and why I've felt drawn for quite a while to re-enlist in the Peace Corps, I won't redescribe those thoughts here.

I write at this particular point to let people know that I'm again applying to the Peace Corps.  I also write so I can share with others how my application process has been going.

To get more specific, I submitted my online application on October 5.  Within moments I received an autogenerated response from Peace Corps, in which they provided me with the information I had provided to them in my application.  They also informed me that I would soon be receiving another e-mail with a link where I would have to complete my Health History Form, in which an applicant tells the Peace Corps about medical and psychological conditions that he or she has had.  Indeed, within a couple of minutes, I received that e-mail.  That same night, I completed my Health History Form within a few minutes. 

The next day, October 6, I received another e-mail from Peace Corps, informing me that based on the information I had provided on the Health History Form, they had determined that they could potentially consider me for service in about 30 countries which they listed in that e-mail message.  In that e-mail, they asked me to click on a link and tell them my service preferences.

In the form I accessed through the link, I was able to select three specific countries.  As I started to think about specific countries I would list, I stopped.  I thought that if I wanted to go where God most wants me to go, I should mark that I would go where I was most needed, so that's what I marked.  These days applicants can apply to be a PCV in a specific country.  When I last applied to the Peace Corps, in 2009 and 2010, applicants could not apply to serve in specific countries.  They applied to the Peace Corps, and told Peace Corps where they would prefer to serve, but Peace Corps picked the country to which each applicant was invited. 

In that same form, they also asked me what kind of work I would like to do.  I told them I'd like to work in the sector of youth development, health or environment.

In the e-mail in which they asked me to tell them my service preferences, they also asked me to fill out a soft skills questionnaire.  In that form, they asked me to describe my personality in terms of what qualities and traits were most important to me.  In my upcoming Peace Corps service, how important was it to me to have experiences in which various parts of my personality were fed?  Peace Corps asks applicants to rank these traits to help get a better sense of a certain applicant's work style, and to determine in what type of environment a particular applicant will excel.

Then after that quick succession of e-mails between Peace Corps and myself, I didn't hear anything for a couple of weeks.  Then, on October 21, I got an e-mail from the Peace Corps Placement Office informing me that they are considering me for the group departing for the country of Benin in September 2016.

I became a little bit curious.  The next day, on October 22, I e-mailed the Placement Office and asked them if they were considering me for a specific sector of work in Benin, or if their consideration of my application had not yet become that specific.  Within a few hours, a Placement Specialist had e-mailed me back, telling me that I'm being considered for the position of Community Health Advisor in Benin. 

Here is another difference from the last time I applied to the Peace Corps: back in 2010, the Placement Office only contacted me after I had gotten my medical, dental and legal clearances.  That is, the Placement Office contacted me only after Peace Corps had ascertained that I didn't have any medical or dental conditions that doctors wouldn't be able to accommodate in the countries where PCVs serve.  Back then, the Placement Office only contacted me after Peace Corps had determined that there were no legal impediments to my serving as a PCV; a person can't become a PCV if he or she is a party to a lawsuit, or has been convicted of certain offenses.  Now, at this point in my application process, I haven't even had an interview yet, and therefore haven't even begun going to a doctor or a dentist to get the forms filled out which will be used in processing my medical clearance and my dental clearance. 

And so... I wait for an interview.  In the meantime, please feel free to ask me questions.  I'm excited at the prospect of being a PCV again, so I am happy to talk about the Peace Corps! 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Reflecting On Nearly Two Years Of Peace Corps Service

I just finished my Peace Corps service earlier this afternoon, as today is my COS (Completion Of Service, or Close Of Service) date.  About nine other PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) and I spent yesterday afternoon and this morning and this afternoon completing various administrative tasks.  In the last day or two, we've signed a lot of forms.  We also visited various offices at Peace Corps Headquarters here in Rabat, getting signatures of various Peace Corps staff members documenting that we've complied with various reporting requirements.  We had them verify that we've complied with assorted administrative requirements, including returning Peace Corps property, such as our medical kits and smoke detectors, and any books we took out from the Peace Corps library here at Peace Corps Headquarters in Rabat.

It feels good to have just finished my Peace Corps service.  Though I'm not sure how much I've helped here, at least I tried to help.  As a PCV, you'll never know the full effects you've had.

Although I won't know much about how I've helped here, there will be some interactions from my time here in Morocco and from the application process, and from the decision process to apply to the Peace Corps that I think I'll never forget.  Among them are:

* Sitting in church in August 2009 and listening to the pastor say that when we set out to help others and are worried about being lonely, that Jesus reassures us that He will be there with us.  That was the moment when I decided that I was definitely applying to the Peace Corps.

* Standing on the Sundial Bridge in Redding, California, in November 2009 and being approached by three middle-aged men who told me that they were on a treasure hunt.  They told me that they were looking for people who needed their prayers.  Immediately I responded that I needed their prayers, since I was applying to the Peace Corps to teach English in a foreign country, and was studying for the CLEP (College Level Examination Program) test to show my proficiency level in French to the Peace Corps.  We stood on the bridge, with our arms on each others' shoulders, praying, asking God to help me. 

* Driving north on Interstate 280 from San Jose to San Francisco on one particular afternoon in June 2010, knowing that the big blue envelope with the invitation from the Peace Corps was waiting for me at home in San Francisco.  As I drove home that day, I remember thinking that I was on my way to find out where I would be living for the next two years of my life.

* Driving north on 19th Avenue in San Francisco on that same day in June 2010, and, as I was only a few minutes from home, listening to the classical radio station play "Palladio" by Karl Jenkins.  I felt, and still feel, that its urgent, charged tempo and rhythm was apropos, as I only had a few more minutes to wait to find out to where I would be moving and serving in the Peace Corps. 

* Driving east on Interstate 580 right after I left the San Francisco Bay Area in July 2010 and sobbing as I left behind so many loved ones and the life I had lived there for years.  As I was sobbing, gasping for air, I was listening to the band Coldplay perform the song "What If."  As I listened to its message of being bold and taking the leap to live bravely, I reaffirmed my commitment to enter the Peace Corps. 

* Freaking out in early September 2010 as the time imminently approached for me to move out of the United States, in the only culture I had ever known. 

* Walking through the airport in Philadelphia where the other PCVs and I were meeting for our Staging date, when we had our orientation in the US preparing us to leave the US and fly here to Morocco.  As I neared the exit of the airport, I saw a poster advertising the Peace Corps which said, "Never have to start sentences with 'I should have...'"

* Speaking with my host brother, in whose home I lived during the first two months I lived here in Morocco.  In particular, I especially recall one conversation I had with him in which he was persistently apologizing for the attacks made in the US on September 11, 2001.  Despite my protests that he didn't have a responsibility to apologize for those attacks, he continued to apologize for them.

* Meeting a courageous young Moroccan Christian woman on the train between Marrakech and Fes in November 2010.  After she stated that it's illegal to be Christian in Morocco, she nevertheless shared her story of how she converted to Christianity despite the initial opposition of her family, who at first ostracized her and shunned her for deciding to be a Christian. 

* Leaving the cyber one day in November or December 2010 in the town in the Sahara where I lived for the better part of two years.  As I walked out into the Sahara sun, I despaired at how I felt that no one in the town would be able to understand how I felt, with the homesickness and culture shock I was feeling. 

* Crumpling emotionally in late January 2011 as I felt like I didn't have the strength to continue as a PCV, yet simultaneously feeling as if I had no choice but to continue with my Peace Corps service.  Feeling trapped, I cried out.  Soon after feeling so emotional, I found renewed fortitude as I thought of Jesus' words in Matthew 25:42-43.  I recalled His words there, how He reminds us that when we help the disempowered and disadvantaged, we are respecting Him.  Reminding myself of this teaching, I realized that I wouldn't be going anywhere, and that I would be finishing my Peace Corps service as scheduled, so as to help the people who I came here to Morocco to help. 

* Talking with a particular student at Spring Camp in 2011.  I was so glad to be discussing with him how God wants us to help each other.  I so enjoyed discussing the meaning of life with him, and even more knowing that he had been trying to live his life in a way to infuse it with meaning. 

* Meeting other expat Christians here in Morocco and attending Bible study sessions with them.  As I experienced spiritual community and fellowship with them, which I cherished very much, we supported each other as we tended to each others' spiritual growth.  Along with much of the spiritual reading I've done while here in Morocco, I felt like I benefited enormously from their support.

* Helping youths here in Morocco develop their critical thinking skills.  In the process, I feel that they articulated their ideals, what is most important to them, and how they want to live their lives.  In such creative writing exercises, they seemed to be describing the kind of people they admire and the type of people they aspire to be.  I hope that I helped them to be more conscious in how they choose to live their lives.

* Enjoying the magnanimous hospitality of Moroccans so many times.  I've been reminded that it is so important to be generous towards others and to take care of others.

Rather than bringing back a lot of new material possessions from Morocco, I'll be returning to the US with the insight gained from having lived in a markedly different culture.  I've learned, from different cultural norms, how I can benefit from approaching life in different ways.  I feel that I've learned how to be a better person.  I feel that during my Peace Corps service, God has taught, guided and directed me.  I'm so glad that I made the major changes in my life which were necessary to come here, since I feel that I am a much better person as a result of having so drastically changed my life. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Whistling In The Dark

Recently one night when I was in bed, trying to fall asleep in the Sahara, my post during my Peace Corps service here in Morocco, I was reminded of a certain superstition which supposedly some Moroccans have.  As I was resting there in bed in the dark, I barely heard a television playing somewhere.  On the TV was a commercial which sometimes plays here which includes whistling.  For some reason, even though I'd heard this commercial numerous times before, only as I heard it then in the dark did it remind me of the superstition here that if you whistle in your house, you're going to let a djinn, that is, a genie, into your home.  However, just as in the US, here in Morocco certainly not everyone subscribes to superstitions.  I was so reminded during a recent visit to the home of a family I know in town.

Perhaps a few days after I heard that commercial when I was trying to fall asleep, I was at the home of this particular family in town, visiting them for dinner.  As usual when one visits the home of a Moroccan family here in Morocco, the TV was playing.  As I sat there with the family, that same commercial which features whistling started playing on their TV.  I mentioned the superstition that if you whistle in your house, you'll let in a djinn. Some of the family members nearly seemed to chuckle, apparently unconcerned.  As an added expression of their lack of concern, one of them noted that the pressure cooker on the stove was starting to whistle!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A New Friendship Between A PCV And A Moroccan

Today I joined my friend David, who's also my site mate, that is, my fellow PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) who also lives here in town, when he went to his host family's house for lunch.  I invited our fellow PCV Ariana, a young woman who lives about five kilometers south, to join us at their home for lunch.  I was glad that she joined us.  I'd been wanting to introduce her especially to the younger daughter of the family for a while.

Before she arrived, David and I were admiring the keftans, or Moroccan women's robes, which the younger daughter of the family had made in the course of her occupation as a seamstress.  One was yellow and the other was purple.  Both were embroidered with intricate weaving down the front middle seam.  The yellow one had a rust-colored vest which went over it.  The purple one had matching loose pants which accompanied it.  As a side note, most Moroccan women's clothing, and especially keftans, tend to be loose-fitting, unlike, for example, Malaysian women's clothing which is a bit more form-fitting.  My site mate predicted that our fellow PCV would thoroughly enjoy such colorful, decorative keftans.

When our fellow PCV Ariana arrived, she was absolutely thrilled with the beautiful handiwork of the younger daughter of the family.  She was all smiles, and thoroughly enjoyed trying on the keftan which the daughter put on her.

Normally when one goes to a Moroccan home, the food is a primary, prominent part of the visit.  During this particular visit, the family had to redirect us, from the clothing, and the new friendship which my fellow PCV had struck up with the younger daughter of the family, back to the tea and cookies which had been sitting waiting for us on the low round table.

Also, normally the hosts pour the tea for the guests.  For some reason, the father of the family repeatedly directed me to pour the tea, so I poured the tea.  I forgot to pour the tea in the typical Moroccan fashion of drawing the teapot high above the glass, so that the tea falls in a long arc from the teapot which is high above the glass.  Accordingly, the younger daughter reminded me to do so when she took the teapot and demonstrated the customary way to pour tea here in Morocco.

After the tea and cookies, we enjoyed our lunch, a tajine, which is essentially the Moroccan equivalent of a type of stew.  The tajine we enjoyed today was one of chicken, potatoes and green olives.  We sat on the floor around a low round table, each of us grabbing morsels from the part of the communal dish which was nearest to us with pieces of bread--which the family baked themselves--which we ripped from large, flat, round loaves.  Here in Morocco, it's customary to only take food out of the communal dish with one's right hand, as it's understood that the left hand is reserved for performing private sanitary functions.  One also uses the bread to soak up some of the tajine oil which sits at the bottom of the large communal dish.

But, again, the food today played a supporting role.  In one way, the food was secondary to the sartorial creations we admired.

However, the food also was upstaged by the new friendship forged between my one fellow PCV and my other fellow PCV's host sister, that is, the younger daughter in his host family.  After the meal, my site mate soon left since he had to meet some community members regarding some upcoming work he hopes to do here in town.  My other fellow PCV kept asking the younger daughter how to say certain words in Tashelheit, which is one of the Berber languages, and which is spoken in this southern region of Morocco where we live, here in the Sahara.  As when my fellow PCV was trying on and was wearing the beautiful yellow keftan and accompanying rust-colored vest, she and the younger daughter of the family were sharing much laughter and smiles as they discussed Berber vocabulary.

While I was sad to be saying goodbye to the family, and while they looked rather sad to be seeing me leave their home, since I won't be seeing them again before I leave town so soon from now, I was very pleased to see my fellow PCV having such a good time at their home.  I left their home with a warm, satisfying feeling, because, despite saying farewells with them, they had made a new friend whose company they seemed to enjoy so much.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Be Like The Children

Last week as I was walking back to the apartment where I've been living here in the Sahara, I passed a few different groups of children. I was struck by how carefree they were, apparently not caring about their surroundings.

First I crossed paths with three little ones, perhaps three, four and five years old, who were snaking their way down the sidewalk, as they trotted along. The one all the way in back had his hands on the hips of the middle one, who had his hands on the hips of the front one. They were pretending to be some sort of motorized vehicle, making beeping sounds as they navigated their way around people and items being sold on the dusty sidewalk.

Later I saw a little boy, maybe five or six years old, who was rolling a bicycle tire down a dirt road. One often sees kids here in town setting a tire rolling and then running after it, keeping it rolling by pushing it along with a stick.  They find amusement and opportunities for play in what they happen to find around them.

During this walk back to the apartment, I was greeted by other little children. As is so often the case when I am greeted by little children here in Morocco, they cheerfully greeted me in French by declaring, "Bonjour!"

Soon after I had seen all these little children, playing and otherwise seeming to be so happy, despite the poverty in which they are residing, unbothered to be living so simply, without many material comforts, I thought of a particular teaching of Jesus. In considering how joyous these children seem to be in such circumstances, I pondered that such an approach to life perhaps is at least part of what Jesus meant, at Matthew 18:4, when he counseled, "Whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven."