When I first applied to join the Peace Corps I had thought it would be similar to the experience I had when I joined the Air Force some 40 odd years ago. We were in the midst of the Viet Nam War and military recruitment and the processing of those recruits was about as efficient a system as you can imagine. They somehow managed to take thousands kids front all walks of life, filter them into careers, train them, then set them loose on equipment and in operations that costs millions of dollars and where real lives were dependent on that training.
Imagine a series of conveyors with kids lined up on them. They are poked, prodded, scanned, tested, fitted, and felt. After each test the kid was steered to another conveyor for more poking and prodding until he or she gets dumped into a bucket which is then carted off to some training facility. Nothing warm and fuzzy about such a system and many young men and women didn’t make the cut. So, if you found yourself at your first duty assignment you could claim a certain amount of pride for having survived all of that poking and prodding and conveying.
The Peace Corps has no such system. There is no recruitment center were volunteers line up to get poked and prodded. Instead, you are given several long lists of tasks to complete and it is entirely up to you to get it done, and done on time. If you see how the Peace Corps operates then you’d see why this makes sense.
Whereas the military is more interested in the number bodies in can find to fill in where the need is greatest, the Peace Corps is more interested in the quality of its volunteers. The military surrounds you, cradles you, and holds your hand through its system and hope that you are up to the tasks it sets for you at the far end. The Peace Corps does not have that luxury. It needs to make sure that the people it sends out into the field can operate with little support, or even direction. A volunteer may get dropped into a spot days away from any medical or technical support, and he or she must be willing and able to not only survive, but integrate into the local culture and work on, and hopefully complete an assigned task. So, if you can’t complete a list of todos where everything you need is a phone call and a ten minute drive away, how can you possibly be of help out in the wilds?
Still, when you first look at the list of things you need to get done you wonder how in the hell can you do it? Some tasks are about stuff you may not be able to pronounce much less have an idea how to complete it. Luckily for me I’ve had some experience in this department. On the legal side, fingerprinting, background check info and so on I’ve done many times in my career. All easy peasy.
The medical tasks were a different story.
I mentioned the poking and prodding done in the military recruitment center. With the Peace Corps you schedule your own poking and prodding appointments, and vaccinations, and x-rays, and so on and provide the info back to them. If they don’t like what they see they kick it back and you talk to your doctor, nurse or whoever is doing to prodding to get things corrected.
I started off with a list of about 18 medical tasks, that expanded to about 30. I’ve had at least 6 vaccinations including Yellow Fever and Typhoid, some of them made a a wee bit sick (low grade fever and body aches for a few days). I’ve given what seems like a half gallon of blood for a variety of tests for stuff like hepatitis (negative), cholesterol (slightly elevated), HIV (negative), and others including a test to see if I’m allergic to the drug they use to treat malaria (I’m not allergic). I’ve had my heart tested, my teeth inspected, and a few tests that were more, ummm, invasive.
After all of that poking and prodding it seems that I am a healthy guy, more so now that I’m immunized against damn near everything but a meteor strike. I have one more task to do, I see that doctor this week and he should be happy to sign off on the task. Score!
So, the Peace Corps should feel good about dropping me off in the middle of some place days away from a doctor, a phone, or a Mikey D’s, it seems I’ll survive.