The Mikes of the World
Though focused on an outside visitor to my site and not on the villagers with whom I lived, this journal entry chronicles a day's thought at site in September 2007:A little while ago, something unprecedented occurred in our small town. Three Americans came to Soalala within the same week. After not seeing any Americans at all during the past year and seven months, this was quite a shock. The first to arrive (and the only notable one) was Mike – a professor from the University of Illinois who travels around the world (Mike has projects in Peru, India, the Fiji Islands, and one other place I can't remember) collecting bug samples. Without adding exageration, this is already cool enough but to make it even more outlandish, Mike was doing his grad work back in '69 so …he's a retiree. He's living out my dream (note to the reader: I don't want to sodden insects in alcohol when I'm 65, but I do want to find work I'm passionate about that allows international travel at the same time.)
Now, this is one of the reasons why Peace Corps is magnificent. Any experience where you're living at a stimulating crossroads has the tendency to put you in the path of those who have extraordinary lives and who take an invigorating stance on living. What I like very much about this way of meeting people is that it's organic. Unless you're into entomology and actively pursue the hunting of one of the world's "Mikes" down, you're not likely to run into one. Now granted, not everyone gets excited about meeting a guy who can tell the difference between two similar species (Family? Kingdom? Phylum?) of termites but that's not what I mean by getting the chance to meet "a guy like Mike." The Mikes of the world live in interesting places at interesting times (South Africa during apartheid, Chile during anytime at all, Ireland during the independence movement in 1922 – ok, so Mike wasn't in Ireland then – or possibley even alive at that time - but you see my point.) A Mike has engaging opinions that have had time to stew with memories withrawn from a library of lived on-the-ground experiences (as opposed to CNN broadcasts.) And this is why Peace Corps is magnificent. PC enables me to place myself in one of the Earth'unexplored skin folds where Mikes abound aplenty. I like the natural feel of this kind of chance rendezvous, its untreated and pure.
One last point about the Mikes of this world, and the meeting thereof. Suppose I have an average idea of what retired life is like based on the people we know, movies we've seen, etc. Adding Mike to that mix extends the realm of possible retirement plans to the cooler brinks of consideration. Elderly discounts at buffets are all well and good, but I like to think there's more in store (though I'm still going to look forward to buffet discounts, especially cuz they always have an assorted desert bar with at least one kind of chocolate cake/pudding/topping).
As homo sapiens sapiens, we have the unique ability to learn by example (not counting the select smarty-pants chimpanzees and gorillas using sign language, or the parrots that mimic speech.) What I'm trying to say is that we are influenced by the people we encounter and those people leave imprints on us, some are indelibe and some are superficial. Should one be so lucky to cross paths with a Mike, one is likely to come away with a permanent impression. It can be hoped that the impression is positive one and that it cultivates a desire to spread it to others by inspiring constructive lifestyle choices. And in this way, the world can be a better place. :)