The saga begins…

Month of June, 2010

“How did you get into that?”  This is the most frequent response my friends and colleagues had to my news that I was leaving for Indonesia, to live on a Navy ship for five weeks.  Project Hope, I would say.  You know, free medical care to underserved areas?  “Oh, yea,” they would all say, “The big white ship with the cross on it?”

Project Hope Ship

Why do so many of us remember this from when we were kids?

Dead of  winter, four months earlier

It was just another bitterly cold and dreary day in the cubicle that is Albany, NY.  February, I think, which with all due respect to Eliot, seems a lot crueler than April.  If you aren’t one who embraces the winter sports, February in Albany is a good time to sit by the fire cuddled up with your laptop, surfing the world of your dreams.  Especially if you are on deadline for a writing project and you’ve forgotten how to put a noun and a verb in the same sentence.  So I Googled “International volunteering,” and within a few hits, I saw the boat.  Ship, I mean.  Right!  I remember something about this from when I was a kid.  Project Hope was recruiting volunteers for two rotations in the summer of 2010, to Vietnam and Indonesia.  One rotation was “land based” and one was “ship based.”  Ship based, I decided immediately, playing along with the fantasy.  If I’m going somewhere on the other side of the world, I want to sleep at night under the full protection of the US Navy.  I am nowhere near as cool as my daughter who traveled to a remote island in Thailand by herself before her twentieth birthday.  And Vietnam!  How cool to see the country that loomed so large during my teens, sadly, not in a good way for anyone on either side of the world.

By a small miracle there was one position, ONE position, that didn’t require medical training.  Public Affairs Officer.  Hmmmm.  Apply Online, it said inside a little pill -shaped box.  I poked it.  Continuing the fantasy, I typed in a lot of data, hoping they would take notice of my two seemingly tailored-for-the-job masters degrees; one in public health, the other in writing.  Ummm, other languages?  Other than about twelve phrases from high school French class that was a big zip.  International volunteer experience?  Does sponsoring a refugee Bosnian family who moved to Albany count?  I shrugged, and said to myself, “How do you get international experience until you do it the first time?  After checking all my responses, I took a deep breath and hit “submit.”

This will never happen, I thought, but it was fun to think about really hot places when the snow was a foot deep outside.

March 30th

No word.  I thought I remembered they would notify the selected volunteers by the end of March.  But maybe it was April 30th?  I let it go, reminding myself that this was, after all, just a line thrown out in the direction of some long held dream to go somewhere and do something outside the very comfy confines of my life as an upscale, over indulged and over privileged American…albeit one deeply grateful.

Still snowing...

April 30th

Nothing.  Hmmm.  Sigh.

Still waiting for Project Hope to call.....

I cheer myself up by making plans to visit my daughter in Alex June 20-26 in Grand Cayman, where she has an internship for the summer.  After weeks of seeking the wisdom of Trip Advisor, I call in my Mastercard number to a lovely real estate manager in GC who assures me that the condo I’ve chosen is fantastic. And hey, I’m hitting a significant birthday in June.  I schedule my first little nip and tuck for July, and write out a check for a chunk to hold my day under the knife.  I round out my summer plans by signing up for a writing course at Skidmore, excited to work with Philip Lopate, one of the scions of the Bennington Writing Seminars I’d missed during my two years there.  Another check, this one a deposit for $400. And then there’s tennis.  The indoor leagues are winding down and I start scratching around for summer teams and courts.

Bummer. Staring at the phone doesn't work any better than it did when I was in junior high, willing my boyfriend to call.

Thursday, May 30th

Have worked feverishly all month to finish the thirty pages I’m required to submit to Skidmore by June 1st.  It’s been rough sledding.  After two years of bliss, during which my job as a graduate student was to read and write, I’ve rejoined the ranks of those who actually perform a service that generates a paycheck. Work is fantastic; I have the best job, the best boss, and an opportunity to raise money for a really worthy cause.  But still, they expect you to show up on a semi-regular basis.  The nerve.

So it’s a little after six when I drag in from work and  see the answering machine blinking.

I'm old enough to remember when answering machines were the latest marvel of technology

Normally I let me messages pile up for a few days before I listen to them, but I had company coming for Memorial Day weekend, so I hit the button on my way to dump groceries on the counter.  A bubbly voice said, “Hi, this is ——- from Project Hope!” I reeled around and stared at the machine stupidly.  A few key phrases floated around the kitchen  – Still interested? Pacific Partnership, this summer…Singapore, have to be there July 3rd….Call me….


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