Peace Corps is known as the dating service for the adventuresome. Not to be confused, of course, with Corps Social, which is an actual dating service for people of the volunteering nature. Rather, Peace Corps scoops up a bunch of folks, usually in their 20’s, and drops them into a foreign culture where big adventure and challenges await. Naturally, it’s the perfect place for romance.
As volunteers struggle with their environment, themselves, and the always enjoyable bout of Mr. D., a bond is shared between them both during and long after their service has ended. Who else but a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer could possibly understand what it’s like to have everyone laugh at your language skills as you try to buy a rabbit (ikalulu), only to later realize you’ve actually been asking to purchase a pile of flesh-eating ants (ikalandu). Who else but a PCV could boil some drinking water for you while you poop your brains out? Who else would take the time to remind you that snakes are not, in fact, pack animals after you call them in the middle of the night, hysterically ranting about the one you’ve just killed and, in a paranoid frenzy, are now demanding to know where the others might be hiding? Who else understands the loneliness, the cultural isolation, and the doubt you might have about just what in the heck you’re doing here? Only a Peace Corps Volunteer (or perhaps Mother Theresa).
In these conditions, it’s easy to find kinship, connection, and affection amongst fellow volunteers. It’s so common, in fact, that there’s a whole album on the National Peace Corps Association Facebook page dedicated to couples who married someone because of Peace Corps. While lots of people get together because of Peace Corps, it’s not many who actually get engaged or married during their service.
But I did!
For months now you’ve probably been seeing little snippets of this guy popping up in my posts. Rob is originally from Colorado and joined the Peace Corps just five days after learning about its existence. In contrast, it took me about 10 years to finally apply, which just goes to show that Rob has major cahones and has the quality of fearlessness in spades. Rob and I met about eight months before our staging event and, at first, were not impressed with one another. But, after becoming neighbors during training and Rob proving to me that he is, in fact, the most persistent man on the planet once he knows what he wants, we started seeing each other. He surprised me with what was surely the only box of roses in all of Zambia and by learning to waltz so we could dance together during our cultural day celebration at the end of training. More importantly, he also surprised me by perhaps giving even more damns about the world than I do; he’s a man with a horizon to catch.
During my community entry, I faced an abusive and hostile host and ended up building a brand new house in a neighboring village. It was a tough time, physically and emotionally, and Rob proved himself out standing in a field since that’s where he and I had to go to find any network to talk (I know, I am the essence of hilarity). We wrote pages and pages of letters back and forth across Zambia, supplemented with expensive phone calls. Checking the mail because an anticipated event book-ended by hours of rough travel. But, when the envelopes arrived with his uneven scrawl across them, it was worth every pothole. It was a really special experience to get to know each other through our writing and our inner thoughts instead of typical dates or the instantaneous nature of present day communication. I felt not only a connection to him, but a connection to my family and our long history of writing letters (my dad is quite the Casanova in print, as his father was before him).
Long story short, Rob and I came to realize that life without each other would be generally unpleasant, and after our Peace Corps experience it would be hard to ever share that same sort of intimacy and trust with someone who didn’t truly get our experience. I came to realize that there’s something to be said for that whole “the one for you” thing. Turns out, when you know, you know.
In September of 2014, a full year after we had first introduced ourselves over Skype, Rob came to visit me after our in-service training conference. As we cooked and ate dinner by candle light, he told me how he wanted to be together in a forever sort of way. I was, of course, delighted to hear this news (as I had been having similar feelings), but I explained that not only did I need to wait a while to sort out my feelings with a clear head, but I also wanted to be the one to do the asking when that time came. He agreed and patiently waited another four months until I did the one thing I’ve never been so sure of and asked Rob to be my greatest adventure. And…
He said yes!
[Editor’s note: In case of an overdose of cuteness, this post may be printed out, folded up, and used as a barf bag.]
Since that happy evening, Rob and I petitioned Peace Corps to be allowed to live together for the remainder of our service in my site. Rob, in another testament to his incredible versatility and spirit, volunteered to leave his own site, language, and familiar surroundings to start all over again in my village with me. Peace Corps, to our great surprise, allowed us to make this move but required that we get married under Zambian law and strongly encouraged us to have a village wedding (traditional village ceremony). We agreed, and are now living happily ever after (or at least ’til April 2016) in our hut in Mbala.
I think a special shout-out to our parents is also in order. They not only supported our union and continued to send care packages to a daughter/son-in-law they’d never met but on Skype, but they also supported us in the big leap of living in a 5×7 meter hut together for the rest of our service. It’s a big leap of faith for us, for them, and for our village, but there are some things that you just don’t need to second guess. For us, we are one of those things. And seriously, what did they expect from kids like us?
So, surprise! I’m ZamMarried and am looking forward to bringing Rob home (and vice-versa) to introduce him to the big wild world and people of Alaska. Next week I’ll give you the details of our two ZamWeddings and talk more about relationships in Peace Corps.