Dress for Success
On my first day of service at my new site, I reported to the SEMARNAT office in Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico. SEMARNAT is the Mexican equivalent of the US Environmental Protection Agency, and my assignment was to contribute my experience as a Coastal Engineer to a large wetland restoration project. SEMARNAT wanted me to help design hydraulics, erosion, and water quality projects.
Now I don't mean to brag, but I am a professional Engineer. The work sounded very similar to projects I had worked on during the 11 previous years of my career with various Engineering firms. A lot of it would be done from behind a desk, with a computer. And I already knew that Mexicans working in professional offices generally dress in their best clothes, like American office workers do. So for my first day of work, I had dressed in my best suit and tie, with slacks and nice shoes -- the same outfit which I wore to our PC Graduation ceremony not too long before, the one that the American ambassador to Mexico had attended.
And indeed, for most of my service in Tepic, I was expected to dress in a professional manner. But it turned out that the pressing need on my first day of work was a bit more hands-on. SEMARNAT, like many government agencies, was constructing an educational exhibit at the nearby State Fair. Thousands of schoolchildren would learn firsthand what SEMARNAT was protecting, by viewing the crocodile cage and the captive hawks and falcons which SEMARNAT volunteers would display.
So what my host agency needed most on the day I arrived, was a big guy like me who was not afraid of reptiles, to accompany the State crocodile expert to a crocodile farm down in the swamp, pick up a few small-to-medium crocodiles, and bring them to the cage they had just constructed. As a desk-bound Engineer for most of my life, I didn't have much experience handling crocodiles, but fortunately the State crocodile expert gave me some helpful tips.
So while I was plunging my hands into the silty crocodile enclosure and wrestling the two-to-three foot beasts, in my best shirt and nice leather shoes, I paused to reflect that it was really true what they say in the commercials. You never really know where your Peace Corps service is going to take you.