I had set my alarm for 6:00 AM, so when my wife woke me, I thought it must have malfunctioned. I was supposed to be up early to check the road conditions. The clock was fine, but it read 5:00 AM. Plans had changed since I went to bed at midnight. She informed me that we had to be on the road by six. Weather delays would cause missed connections, and now Blair’s new flight would be leaving Memphis at 9:25 AM. I had only had five hours of sleep, but Libby probably had less than four, and Blair had been up all night finishing her packing.
You know, you have to be careful what you say in front of kids. You’re always setting an example – the question is, what kind?
When my daughter, Blair, was in middle school and high school, I worried that maybe she was a little too materialistic. When the big dance was coming up, it was all about the new dress (you can always get a date later, but the perfect dress can’t wait). Once I remarked that she had more shoes than Imelda Marcos, a cultural reference way before her time. When I explained, her eyes glazed over: “A thousand pairs of shoes…” Hey, you’re missing the point of the story, sez I.
Either I needn’t have worried in the first place (“I was a kid, for heaven’s sake!”), or she has WAY over-corrected.
We kept hauling her to Sunday School and church, and youth group, and there was no escape from the values of Scouting. Her mom is the Girl Scout leader supreme. This picture is from survival weekend when the girls were about fourteen or so.
The next thing you know, despite your best intentions, you find out your kid is taking this values and mission stuff seriously. She feels called to serve her fellow man, and she up and joins the Peace Corps, headed for darkest Africa. “Maybe not darkest Africa. Maybe more like just dingy Africa.” she says. I feel better already.
She has been talking about it for years, but people have been known to change their mind. When she did the six-month horticulture internship at “The Land” in Epcot at Walt Disney World, I thought she might ease up on the “to serve man” thing. Plus, I’d always yell, “It’s a cookbook!” Here’s her Christmas card, and it kind of says “Disney Princess”. On the other hand, here she is giving the greenhouse tour, and this is more down to earth… actual earth, plants and such.
After more than a year of soul-searching and writing and re-writing her essay on why she wanted to join the Peace Corps, her application was finally sent in and accepted (there are three times as many people applying as there are placements). She had requested a post working with agriculture (her degree is in plant science) in Africa (she hates being cold). Oddly enough, many Peace Corps workers are now serving in Eastern Bloc countries, doing I.T. and business plans, living in apartments (tiny, cramped apartments without cable TV, but apartments). Blair wanted the old school, sixties-style Peace Corps (check out the movie, “Volunteers” with Tom Hanks and John Candy).
That’s what she got, too. She is posted to Zambia, which used to be Northern Rhodesia. It’s about the size of Texas, with a temperate climate. The country is very poor, but relatively stable politically (unlike the hell-hole of Zimbabwe to the south). She will live in a mud hut with a thatched roof and no electricity or running water. Sort of a two-year survival weekend. At least she’s going to a place where the people have actually asked for help from the Peace Corps (rather than going to be shot at in Iraq or Afghanistan).
Here’s a weird thing. It would be more than fair to say that prior to Blair’s assignment, Zambia was not really on the Mobley family radar. Within a week of receiving her letter in December, my wife takes a short-cut through the aisles and stumbles across “Zambi the Elephant” in Wal-Mart… the Kennett Wal-Mart, no less (Blair couldn’t find them in Columbia, Missouri, where she was living). The good people at Hasbro, through Project Zambi are donating big bucks to help AIDS orphans in Zambia (and there are plenty of them, since about 15% of the population is HIV positive). He’s a little fuzzy for an elephant, but when you pet him, he waves his trunk and makes cool noises.
Blair didn't want to do a speaking tour before she left. "I haven't done anything yet." Mom twisted her arm and she spoke in church the Sunday before she left. Blair used Zambi in her children’s sermon on Sunday. She tried to give the kids a rudimentary notion that there are people less fortunate than they who need their help. I doubt they have any concept how much less fortunate.
The choir sang a farewell anthem in Swahili, “O Sifune Mungu” (they don’t speak Swahili in Zambia, but how many African anthems do you think we have in the Presbyterian file cabinet?). Blair spoke to the congregation about how she came to her decision to enter the Peace Corps, and preemptively answered the “frequently asked questions”. Really, we don’t know exactly where she will be or what she will be doing. It will be with agriculture and forestry and it will be remote and primitive. Every time someone says what an adventure it will be, I am reminded of my favorite definition of adventure: “Somebody else, about a thousand miles away, having one hell of a tough time.”
I helped a little with tent selection and the stuffing of the backpack (more Scouting). I gave her my Leatherman multi-tool. It’s got her name engraved on it (hey, we have the same last name), so she can give it to some Zambian as a keepsake when she leaves. You can tell from my attitude that I can’t really take any credit for her decision. She is who she is, an outstanding young woman with strong faith and high ideals.
So here she is, with her two suitcases and a carry-on, “no more than eighty pounds of luggage”, on her way to Africa for the next two years plus. You can’t see her mother and me waving and smiling and shedding a few tears (I would say the first of many, but they were hardly the first). She’s on her way to do what she thinks is important. We pray that she’ll come back to us safe and sound, as well as older and more experienced. There will be lots of letters back and forth, and we’ll know more soon about what she’s doing and where she is. Maybe once a month she’ll have internet access, and I know she’ll be writing a blog then.