Peace Corps Writers
Hanging On (and Hanging Out) in Boston) (page 2)

Hanging . . . in Boston
page 1
page 2

     I never solved that puzzle, and because I couldn’t solve it, I have always felt a vague sense that I failed as a PCV, though I’ve come to own this sense of failure as my own shortcoming. I know other Volunteers from Ethiopia and elsewhere who have kept in touch with their host countries, who have brought barefoot kids back to America, and who have come home themselves and furthered the ideals of the Peace Corps agency. They fulfilled the Third Goal. Not me.
      Many of us have lived lifetimes since we came home. We’ve had our careers, our marriages, and our children. We’ve watched the world go through cycles of wars, political upheavals, and cultural fashions. For those of us who went to Ethiopia, we saw the decline and fall of one of the great emperors and empires of the world, and watched Ethiopia become a communist nation, and then not. Many of those barefoot kids we taught as children grew up to turn against America, and then turn against each other. They, too, are now old men in Addis.
     Thinking of my Peace Corps years through the decades, I have at times been discouraged, ready to hang it up and forget. After all, what had I done to change the world? Where was the good I dreamed of achieving back then in the Sixties when Kennedy sent us off to Africa from the lawns of his White House?
      But I had changed. I’d been transformed. The experience of the Peace Corps took me out of the backwaters of Ohio where I grew up and spun me off in another direction so that now when I glance back over the decades, I barely remember who I once was before the Peace Corps.
      Yet this riddle of what the Peace Corps meant to me has lain at my feet all these years. I’m beginning to understand how the culture shock of Ethiopia ripped apart my world. The puzzle is really me. I might have saved myself many sleepless nights if early on I’d grasped that instead of changing the world I needed to change myself.
      These days in Boston, I often drive past the T stop where I first realized I had left the warm climate of California for frigid Boston and I think about how far I’ve come, not only in miles and years, but also in my mind.
      Sometimes I think about Ethiopia and the kid I once was, and the hope I once had, and the good things that I did do in the Peace Corps. I’m happy to be reminded that a little is more than nothing. And with that little, there is always the hope of doing more.

Will Siegel lives and works in Boston as a technical writer. A former TV writer and guitar player, he counts himself lucky to be a husband and good friend of many PCVs who served with him in Addis Ababa and remember the work that he did as a secondary school teacher in the city, and with the Swedish Leprosarium on the outskirts of town. He is a survivor of his childhood in Ohio, Haight Ashbury’s cultural revolution of the 1960s, and since 1995, Boston winters. He continues to remember and to write.

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