Posted tagged ‘staging’

“The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to.”

June 22, 2018

What a beautiful day! The sun is bright, a little breeze ruffles the leaves, the humidity is gone, and the air is comfortable at 70˚. My biggest chore today is to hose down the deck, the table and chairs. They are covered with leaves, small branches and parts of acorns. Under the chairs is still some pollen the jet spray should wash away. The birds have been busy so the feeders need seed. The suet feeder was opened by a spawn so it too needs to be refilled.

Forty nine years ago today, a Sunday, the greatest adventure of my life began. Forty nine years ago today I said goodbye to my parents and headed to Philadelphia for Peace Corps Ghana staging. My father drove the three of us, him, my mother and me, to Logan Airport. It was a quiet ride with little conversation. None of us dared to say anything. At Logan, we stood around the gate saying our goodbyes. My mother’s hug was a bit tight. As I walked down the jetway, I turned and waved. They waved too. That was our last goodbye.

When I got on the plane, I was loaded down with carry-ons. My 80 pounds of luggage, filled with clothes and stuff like sheets, towels, a few pans and spices, had been checked. When I sat down, my seat mate asked me if I was running away from home. I told him the Peace Corps. He bought me drinks. I landed in Philadelphia and went to the taxi line. I noticed a guy wearing a button-down collar shirt and a pair of khakis. Around him was more luggage than one guy needed for a trip to Philadelphia. I asked him if he was going to the Hotel Sylvania. He was. I had just met my first fellow trainee. We shared a cab.

Downstairs at the hotel I stood in line to register. I had my fingerprints with me, the last piece of my file. I registered. At that same desk, they gave me my large manila envelope filled with information about Ghana, the staging schedule including a one on one with a psychologist, training information and my room key. I got to my room and unpacked a few things, enough for the five days we’d be in Philadelphia. My roommate never showed. I found that amazing. How could she not show after the long process of being invited to train for Ghana?

Our first meeting on Sunday night was just introductions, more specific instructions and an overview of the rest of staging. They gave us a per diem, but I don’t remember how much. I do remember finding my way to the dentist to have my teeth checked, the yellow fever shot they gave each of us and the first session. It was so unexpectedly boring. I decided to skip sessions and see Philadelphia. That’s when I met Bill and Peg. We became friends and co-conspirators. We toured Philadelphia. I remember the Liberty Bell and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

We were originally told we’d have to make our own way to New York for the flight. It made no sense to us and eventually no sense to the staff so we loaded luggage and boarded busses to the Philadelphia airport. It was a TWA charter flight to Accra. I was nervous, a little scared, a lot curious and even more thrilled. I was going to Africa.

“They talked in the shorthand of old friends and shared memories.”

November 6, 2015

My friends have left. The house is just so quiet without them, but luckily Gracie is snoring which is sort of keeping me company. We had a wonderful time together. The weather was perfect, nearly 70˚ each day. Today is raining but ever so lightly. It is still warm. I have had the heat off and windows open the last three days. The cold will start returning tomorrow.

On Wednesday we rode around Hyannis and Hyannisport. We went by the Kennedy Compound then drove a different road back, all the more to see. That night we had dinner at Karoo’s, a South African restaurant with a cuisine quite different from Ghana’s. Two of my other friends joined us. We stayed talking and laughing long after we had finished dinner. Yesterday we went to the Kennedy Museum and the Kennedy Memorial then I took my friends to lunch at Jerry’s where I’ve been eating since high school days. The original Jerry is long gone, but the name and the good food remain. I showed my friends where my family lived, and we did a nostalgia tour. Last night was dinner at home.

The three of us, Bill, Peg and I, will be going back to Ghana together next October. We’ve already started talking about the trip. Grace, a former student, is building a house in Bolga and hopes to have it finished so we can stay there. We’re making a list of places we want to see. I mean, really, it’s only a year away!

Being with my friends is always comfortable. They are family. We shared a unique experience which created a bond so strong that time can never break it. We have stories which still make us laugh and we have a history. We met during staging in Philadelphia at the Hotel Sylvania. Staging is when the trainees get together for the first time, meet each other, have all our paperwork checked and see slides and hear lectures about Ghana. Bill and Peg were my kindred spirits as we skipped the large group events and went sightseeing. In Ghana we were first posted far apart as Peg was pregnant and PC wanted her near a decent hospital. They stayed there for a year then I talked my principal into asking Peace Corps to transfer them to my school. The three of them, Bill, Peg and Kevin, came and we lived in a duplex. That was the beginning of all our adventures.

“I’ve never been to a class reunion or anything because I’m always afraid of that one – there’s going to be some ‘Carrie’-like incident.”

October 9, 2015

The morning was cloudy and cold when I woke up around eight. I decided the day was uninviting so I stayed in bed another hour. Since then the sun has appeared and warmed the day. Gracie and I have a dump run later. I haven’t told her. It’s a surprise.

This weekend is my fiftieth high school reunion. Tonight is a cocktail party, tomorrow morning coffee and pastries then a tour of the school and finally dinner tomorrow night. I don’t know quite what to think. Fifty years since high school, a whole half-century ago, seems like such a long time if you think of it by itself, in years, but I never gave thought to the year by year passing of time. My life has been measured by events.

There was the fall when I started college. I remember wearing the ugly blue beanie and being asked questions by the upper classmen. That was a breakout year. I was on my own. I don’t remember much, but I do remember the first college dance and the first party, but that last one is a bit hazy. I remember the junior prom at Wentworth by the Sea. We all had imbibed as the class advisor told the management we were of age. The funniest incident was when my friend Andy, as in Andrea, who had imbibed a bit too much, missed the choosing of the prom queen. She was so mad she wanted it declared invalid as she believed she would have been chosen, and we had to restrain her for a bit. My senior year brought the most memories. We had student teaching, and that’s when I knew I was destined to teach high school. We had our Friday get-togethers at the bar every week, a prom at the Marblehead yacht club where I remember toasting, drinking then throwing my glass overboard and then there was graduation. I remember standing in line in the hall. I remember getting my diploma. That was four years gone.

I remember flying to Philadelphia for staging then flying to Ghana, training there and living in Bolga for two years. I can describe everything. My time there lives in vibrant colors in my memory banks. I remember leaving and silently crying the whole flight from Tamale to Accra.

I remember getting my teaching job and teaching English and loving it. I remember the interview for administrator, and I remember when they chose me. I remember the first kid I had to suspend. He had a cast on his arm, and I hated calling his mother. I remember realizing I could retire in three years when I turned 57. That was like a jolt to my psyche. All I’d done for what would be 35 years would end.

I have been retired for 11 years and have alternated between being busy and being totally idle, sloth-like. I have spent entire summers on my deck. I finally made it back to Ghana, not once but twice. I remember walking out of the plane and smiling. Ghana had changed but it still felt like home to me.

In four paragraphs I have just described the last fifty years. Tonight I’ll celebrate those years.


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