Tag Archives: Service

Randy Ford Author- the Peace Corps: “The toughest job you’ll ever love”

      Lying on his back and waiting for the water to go down, Ted said, “I don’t think you know what it means to have ridden out such a storm and still be alive.   It has given me a perspective I wouldn’t have had otherwise.   I came from a place where to the closest thing to this is a tornado.   No one would want to be hit by a tornado.   But we have survived something equal to that.   Our house survived it; our apartment may have flooded but the ceiling and walls are intact.   We should consider ourselves lucky.   But now having had this experience, we’ll have more in common with the people here.   So this storm has a bright side.   Besides it was invigorating.   I’m sure there were heavy losses, and it will take some time to assess that.   And I hope and pray that the causalities were minimal.   But from tragedy people find strength.   We have our weaknesses, we have our failures, and life can be cruel.   But perhaps it takes surviving a typhoon to understand the big picture.   I don’t wish it on anyone, but if there’s no way to dodge a storm, then you might as be philosophical.   And before we tackle this mess, and recover as much as we can, I would like to give thanks to God for being with us.”

      From his past he remembered a short homily.   Slowly, and looking at no one, he gave it almost verbatim.

      Then he said, “They’re asleep; let them sleep.   The mess itself can wait.   Rescue teams may be called for; rebuilding might be slow; but by and by it will all be rebuilt.   It will become a national priority.   You can count on Marcos for that.   Some will cheer his efforts.   Others will complain.   But it could’ve been worse, it can always be worse, and may we all learn what we can from it.   There is always something that can be learned.   We all know that well enough.   And it is, rather, in the spirit of optimism, knowing how this city has rebounded in the past, I know its future is bright.”

      He repeated the following, The toughest job you’ll ever love, the Peace Corps; and ‘nothing carries the spirit of American idealism and expresses our hopes better and more effectively to the far corners of the earth than the Peace Corps’- JFK.”      “Day after day, hour by hour, from situation to situation, our job is never done.   Now as we cross this city, with the roads destroyed, traffic stalled, houses blown away, lives lost, it will be days…weeks…before electricity is restored, we’ll do what we can do to help.   But we’ll have to start by helping ourselves.   The rebuilding, restoring our apartment, and then at last, with everyone pitching in, we’ll get things pretty much back to normal.”   As he thought about all of this, he wondered what the hell he was doing over there.

      Ted and his wife looked at the mud-covered floor with disdain.   Susan cried.   Linda, their maid, stood upright and began the process of shoveling out the muck.   Ted, mentally, wasn’t ready to start, and that, more than any other, was the reason why he failed to sweep the sentiment out with the water.   He put it off until it was too late, while Susan simply didn’t know where to start.   To her it was overwhelming.   There was nothing in her past that she could compare this with, but she was doing her best, and, with her best, the tears came.   She found herself, to her surprise, thinking of Mr. Araya; and then she began thinking about the school.   Now standing beside Linda, who had turned the shovel over to Ted, and was busy hauling mud out with a bucket, she tried to smile.

      Ted, of the Peace Corps, now was more than ever aware of what it meant to be a volunteer.   He hadn’t given up.   Once or twice he had thought of quitting.   And then he began philosophizing.   He knew he had to get up and sweep the sediment out with the water.   “Ask not what your country can do for you.   But through service you’ll find your life enhanced, and you’ll go away with more than you gave.   Service is the key.”  He picked up the broom, albeit late, and started sweeping the mud in front of him.   He made no headway.

      Susan said, “Why don’t you give Linda a break with the bucket before she breaks her back.”

      Linda relinquished the bucket and promptly took over the shoveling, and the work continued in that way.   The work was hard.   When people later spoke of Typhoon Eddie, it was in terms of how hard it was.   Ted and Susan spelled each other; Linda never took a break.   Ted would stand up, stretch his back; and would take either the bucket or the shovel away from Linda.   Susan would tell her to slow down.   Ted was surprised by how hard Linda worked.   But neither he nor Susan said anything about it.

      Ted, after half a day, could see an end in sight.  He said mischievously, “Why don’t we go down the street and see what else we can do.   I’m sure there are people out there hurting.”

      “You must be kidding.”

      “Stop your bitching.”

      “I’m not bitching.”

      Randy Ford

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Randy Ford Author-on doubts and service

      I would say, “I want to help out.”   I wasn’t sure I could do it, but it seemed worthwhile.   I felt certain I would witness change as people were helped.   I didn’t really know it though.   Deep down I had doubts.   The faces, ribs, bellies of starvation and malnutrition, gaunt, showing, and pouched, in the slums of the world without running water came in and out of my mind.   It caught my imagination.   I could see myself working for CARE or a rice project as part of the Green Revolution.   That would’ve justified my giving up a career in the theater.   But there wasn’t a chance for me.   I knew nothing about starvation, and besides I was assigned to teach.   With the end of training near and time running out, I thought there was no one I could talk to about it.   The one person had been deselected.   For the first time I saw I should’ve taken her place.   There was sincerity about her and honesty; it had attracted me to her; and you could see she would’ve made a good volunteer.   The Peace Corps had been wrong about her.   I should’ve been on that flight home instead of her.

      I didn’t know what to say to Susan.   I couldn’t say, “We made a mistake.   We don’t make mistakes like that.   When have we ever turned around and gone back?   What do we do now?”   And all of that would’ve impacted our marriage, and to tell the truth, I didn’t want to give up.   I didn’t want to think of failure.   I didn’t want to think ahead.   So I took off, down the lane through the fields, with the cane grown up over my head, and walked just as I had as little boy through the vineyards of California.   Just as dangerous.   Looking ahead I couldn’t see very far, and then the ocean wasn’t that very far away.

      I took to going on long walks at night and long after everyone else had gone to sleep.   I would scold myself.   One night I ran into Don.   He surprised me in the dark.   I was just as confused as I had been for a long time.   I thought that as our science instructor, and a returned volunteer, that Don could tell me if my fears were justified, but, as I stood in a T-shirt and boxer shorts, I was, to tell the truth, afraid if I confided in him I would be on the next plane home.   I could so easily have been deselected; one poor rating would’ve done that.   I could simply tell him.   But then, I would be nagged with a sense of failure, and I had had enough failure in my life.   But what if Don were indifferent?   Could I trust him to be indifferent?   Indifference would be key to my trusting him.   We went and sat on the front steps of the schoolhouse, under the flagpole, with the hosting cord flapping in the wind like bunting on the Fourth of July.   Just the connection I needed.

      That was how we became friends.   Nothing said, no explanation was requested, yet something special happened.   To begin with he knew I knew nothing about science, and I had begun to get the sense he knew that way before we met that night.   I was scared.   Why hadn’t I been deselected before then?   Why hadn’t he facilitated that process?   But what had he seen in me to make him think that I could ever teach science?   I certainly trusted his knowledge…about rocks and animals, non-living and living things…as the first indication that he also knew something about people.   That was only the first thing that came into my mind.   I knew there was more to being a Peace Corps volunteer than an assignment…more to it than teaching science.

      The first thing I would have to do was to ask Don a question or two.   I waited for him to speak to me.   There was a long silence, but yet it seemed as if we were communicating.   And that drew us closer to each other.   Mixed up with this was my fear.   I could see that he was also pondering something, even if he didn’t seem afraid.   I thought I heard him mumble something.   He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, or were they fully closed?   It would’ve been hard to tell on this particular night, colder and darker than you would’ve expected for Hawaii.   It wasn’t what I would’ve expected from him.   For one thing what was he doing up at that hour.

      Such intimacy wasn’t new for me.   A few times in my life something special like that happened.   But that was rare.   Generally it occured when I first met someone or when someone first paid attention to me.   I always had to commit myself and then something happened that took care of whatever was going on.

      I was so connected once with a whole group of people…after my focus and concentration on horseshoes won me a week of competition even though I had rarely played the game before…that they threw me into a swimming pool with my clothes on.

      Don said, “you’ll do fine.”

      Fine?   I felt he had no right to tell me I would do fine.   Who was this person?   He didn’t know me.   The word “fine” was never a word that I would use to describe what I wanted to do.   Excellence, or the word “run” did fit though.

      I said, “how do you know?”

      “I’ve been there.   And I know that it’s better not to know too much.”

      He spoke with authority, and it sounded good, but I didn’t know what he meant.   Weren’t we being sent over there to do job…we were selected because we were at least BA generalist, which meant with my MA I was slightly over qualified or more than met the educational qualifications.   (It could’ve meant I also was a lemon in a barrow of apples.)   And then I saw where Don was coming from.   If I had been a science teacher, I wouldn’t have been a generalist.   This might’ve explained it.   And I could see he had my future in his hands.

     He said, “You never know what an outcome will be until you give it a try.   That’s pure science.   Impressions count.   The rest is bullshit.”

      That would’ve suited me had it been true.   “The rest is bullshit” was obviously a statement about Don’s attitude.   I could see at that point that his mind had drifted.

      He said, “They say they want me to go back and give it another try.   As if they weren’t satisfied.   I’m not interested in repeating myself.   What are you going to do?”

      I still didn’t know.   I knew I wasn’t a science teacher.   I said, “What do you think I should do?”

      “I don’t know.   No one will care, except you.   Have you talked to your wife about it?”

      I said, “But that doesn’t help.”

      “You’ll do what you have to do.   As far as the Philippines, they have their own agenda.”

      He looked at me.   I saw that he had a decision to make too.

Randy Ford

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Randy Ford Author-on our earthy Peace Corps mentor

      He clearly did things to shock us, since he was supposed to have been our mentor and teacher.  Indeed, he brought himself down to our level by doing what he did.   He didn’t have to impress us; he was, at the time, someone who had gone to the Philippines before we did.   He had had a successful two-year stint there, precisely because he knew how communicate.   And he could relax and never worry about what people thought of him.   Instead, he went to the opposite extreme.   An observer had to hope he would show some restraint and wouldn’t totally destroy decorum.   And he didn’t really ever cross that line.   He would come close but never actually stick his finger up his nose.   Instead, he would place his finger beside his nose and, without saying a word, dare someone to make something of it.   It would be his way of humbling poor souls who fell for his act.

      Let’s call him Roger.   Someone very recognizable in his baseball cap.   All show, no!   Yes, he knew what he was doing, with convictions that matched, a particular passion for service, and an example of the very best that America had/has to offer.   And throughout the Peace Corps, there were/are many like him.

      The single-minded purpose of the veteran volunteer had been to teach.   Roger would never flinch when faced with something impossible.   (I wanted to use the word disgusting.)   A science teacher, he was always experimenting, in the same way he tinkered with our minds.   In a more subtle manner, he would listen to us and could anticipate our impulses, those when acted on shrinks were watching for.   The possibility of being deselected during those early days of Peace Corp training was always hanging over everyone’s head: one bad rating from a peer would do it.   Roger knew this better than we did; so it was good to have him around, doing things had we been him that would’ve led to our deselection.   How disheartening the long flight home from Hawaii would’ve been.

Randy Ford

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