Thursday, June 08, 2006

Vounteer escapes East Timor

[I found that the Peace Corps offered some of the most exciting possibilities I've encountered in my search to serve]

One of today's CNN.com headlines reads: Timor violence spreads beyond Dili. The piece goes on to say, "Attackers burned down a district office of East Timor's ruling party on Thursday, the Parliament's speaker said. It was the first reported violence outside the capital since fighting broke out in Dili last month. The attack occurred in the town of Gleno, the capital of Ermera district, lawmaker Francisco Guterres said. A group of rebel soldiers who were dismissed in March and have clashed with government forces are based in the area."

What does this news story have to do with the Peace Corps?

Last year, having had twenty-five successful years in business, deciding there's no end to having enough money and looking for something more meaningful to do with my life, I applied for a two year commitment with the Peace Corps. It was a long, bureaucratic process, as you might expect, with many forms, an interview in San Francisco, academic verification, essays, criminal/legal/financial background check and twenty-four hours of medical exams at Travis AFB, but I was soon nominated for a position.

In a few months I had temporary orders in-hand to go to the Pacific Islands Region and qualified for Business Advising. I had planned on requesting a service post in the country of East Timor. Picking East Timor as my first choice was made on the criteria that it was one of the newest democracies in the world (1999) at the time and thinking it would be where I would be the most needed, thus making it the most rewarding.

Next I started selling some furniture, moving my computer files to online services and making arrangements with agencies to rent my house and store my remaining stuff. I had passed all my physical exams, so I figured I was ready to go. But the Corps' medical team (a separate entity) had concerns about my back—I've had problems with it—so as a result, they asked me to take one more in-depth exam. Two and a half months later I received a deferment letter stating that the "medical team" didn't believe my back could withstand the 2 year commitment... I was devastated.

Now I've been reading newswire, like the one above, for weeks.

"At least 30 people have died and an estimated 100,000 have fled their homes in the last month. U.N. officials say displaced people are staying in 50 camps, most in Dili. It is the worst violence in East Timor since its bloody breakaway from Indonesia after 24 years of often brutal occupation in 1999, when pro-Indonesian militias devastated much of the territory"—CNN.com.

Ok, maybe that wasn't such a great idea!

Reporting from the underground...

Stan Morris