Happy Anniversary, Peace Corps

"I'm not sure what I was doing on Oct. 14, 1960, when John F. Kennedy came to the University of Michigan, stood on the steps of the Michigan Union and said the words that launched the Peace Corps.

It was a chilly 2 a.m. before he got there after a long day of campaigning, but thousands of UM students were still there, waiting to catch a glimpse of him, to hang on every word.

Smiling and debonair, he moved up to the microphone and asked, "How many of you are willing to work in the foreign service, and spend your lives traveling around the world?" On grainy black and white videos of this moment, lusty cheers erupt.

"I think Americans are willing to contribute," he continued, "but the effort must be far greater than we have made in the past."

And we were, and we did. Since then, more than 200,000 Americans, mostly young, have volunteered in 139 countries.

...so I know what I'll be doing this October 14. I'll be in Ann Arbor, standing on those very steps at the Michigan Union, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Peace Corps with other former volunteers. The Peace Corps' 50 years and my whole adult life have been inextricably, remarkably woven. As a sixth grader snoozing through that Tuesday night long ago, I never would have guessed. But I think I would have liked it, if I'd known — that in just a few years because of that handsome Democrat on the rain-slicked steps, I'd be going to Polynesia, and that eventually I'd write a novel about it, and eventually after that, I'd marry the man I met there under the swishing palm trees.

Life is full of surprises, both bittersweet and serendipitous. My history with Peace Corps is replete with poignance and remarkable good fortune. I am awed and grateful that my powerful Peace Corps experience continues to bless me."

    -- From How Peace Corps Changed My Life in Essays

Chinese Bell for the Summer Solstice
Listen as Jan reads a recent poem remembering her father's "walkabout" to San Francisco and how it resonates right up into the longest day of the year a half century later.

Ordinary Dirt

On my knees in ordinary dirt, last quarter of my life and mid-October, I clear a space in crinkly leaves for digging holes, a pile of tulips at my side. I scoop out mounds, where beetles shamble over lumpy clumps. It’s city dirt, cicada shell and titmouse scat and stuff of upright lives, cracked caulk, flaked paint, a shard of tea-stained mug. I could go down so deep I’d find an arrowhead, clay pipe, a wooden flute. But now I’m digging just enough for spring, my muscles, skin and nerves conjoined. The pungence draws me down, my body recognizing home.

Copyright Jan Worth-Nelson, Reprinted from Driftwood 100-word issue, "Earth," Winter 2009.

See Jan's latest work in Panache - A new literary eZine: Click here to download the PDF


Friday, October 15th
Check out the Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Events in Ann Arbor, which will include Jan's Friday, Oct. 15 appearance at Hatcher Graduate Library, 3 p.m.

Six Minutes in New York:
Jan Speaks Out on Peace Corps Tonga, Night Blind, and Indie Publishing.

Night Blind: Top Ten Finalist in Literary Fiction, ForeWord Magazine "Book of the Year" Awards for 2006 books from independent and small presses.

Night Blind is the saga of a ragtag bunch of Peace Corps volunteers grappling with a murder in the remote and eccentric Kingdom of Tonga. For more, click here...

Night Blind is available at Barnes and Noble Booksellers in Flint (Genesee Valley Mall) and Torrance (Del Amo Mall).