Five Squiggly Lines

My January 14, 1997 journal entry is an award winner.


I like it because of the five squiggly lines that cascade down the page from the middle of words.   I shouldn’t be able to remember writing it but I have a vivid memory of laughing myself awake at the end of every squiggle. 

The entries just before 1-14-97 were a little arbitrary when it came to writing a date.  I had a fixed date to write when I wrote the last entry in Washington, D.C.  The fourth group of Peace Corps Trainees bound for Madagascar had met there just a couple of days before.  I recall that we were twenty-four. The morning and afternoon of the day we left was free time for us.  John and I walked around the mall visiting memorials and museums.  We were back at the hotel on time and ready to leave. Only twenty-three of us actually left for Madagascar.  The boyfriend of one of the girls showed up at the hotel and for some reason, she decided not to go to Madagascar for two years. 

On the trip, several of us had duties.  One Trainee was in charge of counting the group at the two layovers and making sure everyone got on the next plane. Several were carrying our sealed medical reports and personal information packets.  I was in charge of checking in all of the luggage and making sure it got transferred to the next flight.  

              When we landed in Amsterdam I made sure all the bags were accounted for.  By the time I had done that, everyone else had left to spend the afternoon in Amsterdam. Everyone that is, except Rose, who had rented a sleeping room at the airport.  After all, she was 73.  When I got down to the train platform at the airport, I met Bob and rode into town with him.  I had been to Amsterdam a couple of times before and suggested that Bob and I walk around for a while and go to the National Museum.  Since it was Bob’s first time in Amsterdam, I wanted him to see the Rembrandts there. By the time we walked there, stopping along the way to see different things, I was totally tired.  I sat in the coffee shop of the museum and drank coffee while Bob went in to see the paintings.  I think I may have fallen asleep sitting there. There might not have been those squiggly lines if I had really slept.

On the very long flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg I sat in the middle section of the plane between Rose and John. I think John slept most of the way but because Rose had rested in the room at the airport in Amsterdam, there was no need for her to sleep so she was wide awake to talk to me the whole time. If Rose was awake, I sure wasn’t going to be allowed to sleep sitting next to her. 

In Johannesburg, while everyone changed into good clothes for our arrival in Antananarivo, Madagascar which we had heard was to be televised,  I did my little task of checking to make sure all the bags had been transferred. By the time I completed my checking it was almost time to board.  Since I didn’t have time to go to a rest room and change, as the others had, some of the trainees made a circle around me while I changed right there in the departure lounge of the airport.

On the flight from Johannesburg to Antananarivo Rose, John and I sat together again in the middle section.  I remember very well that all the other Trainees were seated ahead of us and to our left.  When the pilot announced that the coast of Madagascar could be seen from the left side of the plane, everyone ahead of us tried to have their first look at The Red Island.  Of course, Rose and I couldn’t hope to see out of a window that far away so I looked at every head of every trainee turned to the left trying to see where we were going to be for the next two years.  I couldn’t see much of their faces but I could feel the wondering.

Once in Antananarivo and the TV crew and finished with us, it was my job to count the checked baggage.  I considered my job as having been well done when only one suitcase was missing. I remember Oliver saying that it was ironic that I was the person in charge of making sure all the bags got there and my larger suitcase was the only one that was lost. It was never found, by the by.  (I had put one of a pair of shoes in each of my two bags.  When the one bag was lost I had an orphaned shoe.  Later, In Diego, where I lived, I found a student who had only one foot.  By great good luck the shoe I had was for the foot he had.)

In the Peace Corps bus going from the airport in the capital to the Peace Corps Training Center ( more than an hour from Antananarivo ) I fought to stay awake to have a look out of the window at the people I was going to be living among for the next two years. I could not stay awake. I remember the first couple of hundred meters of the trip and then waking up at the PC Training Center to find that the group had been told to select roommates and that Charlie had chosen me while I was sleeping.  I really wish I had been awake on that bus trip. Charlie! But I’m trying to remember pleasant things here.

My last memory of the day is of me sitting in my bed writing my journal. I was so tired I fell asleep at least five times trying to get my entry written.  When I would fall asleep, sometimes in the middle of a word, the pen would drag down the page leaving a squiggly line.  The book, the pen or both falling out of my hand would awaken me.   Those squiggle lines remind me as much about the trip to Madagascar as the next four and a half years of entries remind me about the Trainees who chose to leave during training before swearing into the Peace Corps, the Volunteers who left early, before the two years was up, the Volunteers who with me extended their service, the small number of former Volunteers who stayed on in Madagascar to work for different agencies while I stayed for a fourth year as a Volunteer. 

I’m going to read through my journals for the Madagascar years.  So far, I’ve only read about the first day in the country.  I want to read about the first time I went to Diego, the first time I met the English teachers and students I worked with for those years, the first time I had a Speak English Every Day (SEED) meeting at my house, the first time I found I could speak Arabic and didn’t have to rely on my poor French, the first time Xavier took me to Ramena Beach.  The first time I ate lunch in the little place I ended up eating in every day, the first time I went to Andapa (my 50th birthday) and Sambava and a bunch of other places, the first time I went to the navy base in Diego.  In the case of the navy base, I know I will find that entry, in fact, I remember that it was my 51st birthday.  I wonder if I recorded the first meetings with people who to this day I consider my great good friends. I will have to send this to Lt. Sam to see if he remembers our first meeting.  It’s hard to know who is going to become a great good friend. I suppose that may be one of the lessons Peace Corps teaches.

Five squiggly lines have gotten me to remember the toughest job I ever loved and how far it took me.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.