I’m writing this from the Holiday Inn in downtown Philadelphia. Our training group of 43 bright-eyed, fresh-faced, and mostly Caucasian Peace Corps trainees met up at noon today for registration. I, hopped up on four cups of coffee and bouncing off the walls, was ready an hour early and scouted for trainees as they arrived at the hotel, struggling with luggage larger than they were. Five of them were convinced I was a Peace Corps trainer when I greeted them with file under one arm and coffee in the other hand, offering to help lug their bags up to their rooms. I was not exactly displeased about this mistaken identity.
Orientation was long but went well! Nothing unexpected or particularly new or harrowing, which in my book is a good thing. I am happy to report that I can still keep this delusion of being prepared and having everything under control until I step off the plane in Lusaka, Zambia at around noon on the 13th (Zambia is ten hours ahead of PST).
I’ve spent a whirlwind 24 hours meeting fellow Peace Corps trainees, exchanging backgrounds, sharing stories, identifying common dreams, exploring anxieties and fears. Bailey wins the distinction of being the very first fellow trainee I met after I nearly died dragging my 100 pounds of unwieldy luggage across four terminals. Despite the stress and mayhem of trying to wade through seas of travelers and navigate a shuttle to the hotel, I bonded instantly with this tiny, vivacious Texan and we became fast friends.
Other trainees transformed from names on Google Docs and Facebook profiles to friends in quick succession. Katie from Seattle. Meggan from Marin County (the only other Californian!). Holly from Texas. Travis from Pittsburgh. My roommate Anthony, a cool dude from Wisconsin. I spent 45 minutes deep in conversation with Adam from Utah at 11:30pm in the hotel lobby. We had met for the first time not ten minutes before.
By the beginning of orientation today, I had met and had personal, earnest conversations with nearly all of the 43 trainees (everyone except the late arrivals). 43 vastly different people, from all walks of life, traveling from every corner of the nation. Yet 43 people bonded by the same goals, hopes, and worries. 43 people who will soon arrive in Zambia and begin training for their Peace Corps service.
I’m ready to begin.