Friday, June 3, 2011

My journey to Peace Corps

The first phase of my Peace Corps journey is just about over. I will officially be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) on June 10, 2011 to start my service for the next two years. The swearing in ceremony will take place at the Belize Governor General’s residence in Belmopan at 10 am followed by a reception at the US Ambassador’s residence that evening. June 11th we report to our respective assignments. I will talk about my assignment later, but now a little bit about why Peace Corps?
I can honestly say that, like many others, joining Peace Corps was not my lifelong vision. I had known about Peace Corps while going to college at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. A number of PCVs, not sure what they were doing there, visited our campus in the mid-sixties while I was there. Since then I really haven’t paid much attention to the workings of the organization except to know that Lillian Carter served as a volunteer in India at a late stage in her life. In the last couple of years as I have been thinking about winding down my professional career and thinking of a game plan for my life after retirement, I started exploring ways to stay active and continue to somehow use my skills in ways other than what I was doing. I wanted to continue doing public service to improve the lives of the others but also wanted a chance to travel, learn about other cultures and understand people. As I researched for volunteer opportunities around the world, Peace Corps stood out to be the best fit for what I was looking for.
After filling out a whole bunch of forms and a year plus application process, which included writing numerous essays on why I aspire to be a volunteer, explaining how I would cope with stress and loneliness, describing strategies that I will use to adapt to a unfamiliar culture, medical screening that would make anyone cringe and then finally convincing the Peace Corps that I wasn’t trying to leave the country because I defaulted on my mortgage or I wasn’t running away from child payments or escaping a bad marriage or getting as far as possible from a screwed up girlfriend and so on. With all the clearances in hand I was given a green light and was told to make necessary arrangements to leave for Belize as a Business and Organizational Development Sector volunteer trainee. The two year commitment of service is preceded by a three month in–country training making the total commitment to 27 months.
As much as the application process was challenging, the real challenge was ahead of me. It is always difficult to give up your comfort zone for a totally unknown world. Ending a professional career of over forty years and starting a new life, getting the house ready to rent for two years, dealing with Social Security and Medicare, taking care of all the credit cards so they don’t block my accounts when I am trying to use it in Belize and making sure they get paid on time, preparing a living will, naming a Power of Attorney and hundreds of other details just was a bit overwhelming to get done in about three months. If it wasn’t for Nan, Trina and Sheila (mostly Nan) I would still be packing and figuring out what to do with all my stuff. And speaking of stuff this process taught me a good lesson: I bought “stuff” that I didn’t need or bought way more than I ever needed. Don’t we all do that without realizing?
As I started letting people know of my plans I got reactions ranging from “this guy has totally lost his marbles” to “what a wonderful thing to do”.   Breaking the news at work was hard. For most everyone it was unexpected and came as a total surprise. I was deeply touched by the outpouring of support and friendship from everyone during the last two months. My life at the County ended with a retirement party that was full of emotions, excitement and plenty of good wishes from everyone. I was honored to receive a proclamation from the Mayor and the Board of County Commissioners declaring Jan 28th 2011 as the “Subrata Basu Day”, a special recognition from the Miami Chapter of American Institute of Architects and a very loving, touching and totally unanticipated message from my daughters.
The last two months were not only hectic and stressful but I began to question my sanity and wondered if I am really trying to escape reality and family responsibilities. With encouragement and assurances from my family and several friends at the South Florida Association of Retuned PCVs I was on my way to the staging area in Dallas, Texas where all the volunteer trainees were to meet before leaving for Belize. So the journey started…… 

Some of the images from the retirement party luncheon

Marc starting it off....
Presenting the proclamation
Mayor Slesnick presenting a City of Coral Gables pin
Mayor Mary Scott Russell

Asian American Board Executive Director

Nati on behalf of AIA Miami presenting  

Oliver reading an Irish prayer

County Commissioner Katy Sorenson

Lovell reading a message from Trina and Sheila

Commissioner Sorenson and Mayor Ferre
and then everyone else



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