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Norbert and Carol Hoffmann's Peace Corps Journal

    August 26, 1999   Now what?

         Wow, Carol received a call at 8 p.m. last night from a Peace Corps consultant in Washington, DC.  She wanted to set up a 45 minute interview with her for today to do a medical pre-screening.  It's only been a week since we received our nomination letter. We didn't expect to hear from Washington for at least three more weeks.  This is so exciting.  "The train is moving," I said over breakfast, "we can't stop it now but we could still jump off."   "Sure," she replied, "but we could also hang on a little longer and still jump off over there if we need to."   Little chance of that!  This means too much to both of us. 

    - Norbert

       August 27, 1999    Paperwork and Russian

        This huge envelope completely stuffed our tiny apartment mail box yesterday.  The medical paperwork has arrived!  Matt, our recruiter, had given us fair warning. And as if Letter that won't be enough to keep us busy, Norbert decided to enroll in Russian.  "Just in case," he says, "we could end up in Russia or the Ukraine, or even if it's one of the otherex-Soviet satellite countries, a little Russian might come in handy."  "Russian?"  I wonder.  Well, I'm not about to be left behind here.  If he can do it, so can I, even if that means only attending class on Fridays - one out of three isn't bad!?  

        The next day he arrives home, textbook in hand and starts making flashcards with Cyrillic letters on them.  What am I getting myself into?  It might as well be Chinese.  Still we made a start.  I'm beginning to feel like a first-grade, hooked -on-phonics drop-out.

    - Carol

    September 27, 1999   Heading south

        Its been three weeks since we completed the medical pre-screening forms.  We didn't worry too much about outcome, just filled it out and mailed it off.   Other things have kept us busy.  Last week, we rented a 26 ft. U-Haul, loaded the bulk of our possessions from storage here and headed south.  The truck was supposed to be air-conditioned and an automatic.  It was neither.  15,000 pounds and 15 hours later we arrived in Oklahoma.  Alternating truck driving duty, the other person pulled our pop-up camper in the car.   GoingU-Haul through Kansas City was dicey but south of Joplin, we crossed the border on the Cimarron Turnpike singing "Oklahoma" with all truck parts intact.   Lockers in the south seem to be larger and much less expensive than in the north, plus there furniture  isn't exposed to nasty damaging cold.  Next year, we plan to get another truck and add the apartment furnishings to the same locker,  before heading over-seas.

      - Carol

    October 3, 1999   More forms

     Instead of the feared one page letter from Washington beginning "we regret to inform you," our mail box was stuffed again with more medical forms.  Some were for the primary care docs, some for the specialists, some for dentists, and a little one for the ophthalmologist.  Then there were more forms for us to complete.  Guess that means we made it through pre-screening.  We knew this was coming and had already scheduled physical exams for the first possible dates.  Early November was as good as we could manage. 

    - Norbert

     October 12, 1999     ESL for both??? Something is wrong here.

        Called the placement desk for ESL. Yesterday a letter for each of us came from Washington outlining placement procedures for each of our positions teaching ESL.  Only problem is, ESL is supposed to be Carol's position, not mine.  I was told that this was just a form letter mailed to each of us and that ESL was coordinating both applications for now.  Later my papers will be forwarded to the Business Advising desk. The voice at the other end of the line also informed me we should know something definite about our placement by the end of the year, provided we pass medical and security clearance.  At least our teeth have already passed muster. 

    - Norbert

    October 20, 1999   doctor is in

        Today was lab day for me at the clinic.  Tomorrow is Carol's.  That includes urinalysis for sugar and albumen, hemocult stool test, TB and HIV screening, EKG, blood type, Rh factor and on and on.  I don't need another EKG since my cardiologist submitted mine only a few weeks ago, and the TB test is out since I had a pretty violent reaction to it years ago.  Must have been vaccinated as a child, the nurse said. 


    October 21, 1999  

        Everything is moving along nicely.  We both dropped Russian a couple of weeks ago, both totally lost and increasingly frustrated by lack of progress after missing too many classes.  It just happened that a new pub opened in Northfield.  We dropped in to check it out and overheard a young woman speaking in Russian to the owner.  It turns out Sally is a Russian teacher now home with young children and willing to tutor us privately.  Fantastic!   We started with her on the 17th and have our second lesson today.


    November 9, 1999    Thermal warming and asthma

       My visit with Doc Evans brought no surprises. With his blessing and forms signed and sealed, they were off in the mail for final medical clearance.  

        Carol's medicals are taking longer since she reported every symptom she's ever had from her gall bladder surgery to hang nails.  Her "circulatory problem" is just Raynaud's syndrome aka really cold toes, something half the population of Minnesota gets when the temperature drops below -15 F.   Records indicate the problem is resolved by "thermal warming" but she didn't bother to mention who the "thermal warmer" is!  

        The medical people in Washington also wanted to know about her asthma, something she gets almost solely around cats, but occasionally also around mold - the air-borne kind, not the cheese kind.  It's a problem that improved greatly when George died.  She was the 12 year old stray that wandered into our lives in a snow storm.  She left us that way too, with the ground frozen solid, the best we would do to wish her farewell was to put her in a garbage bag under the shed until spring.  Unfortunately, by then, we'd forgotten.  

        Back to the point - Carol's asthma almost disappeared completely.   That was , until a leaky pipe in the wall made our basement smell like a science experiment.  Carol complained and wheezed for weeks before we figured out where the mildew was coming from and solved the problem.  So for this, she had to have a pulmonary function test.  That's the Peace Corps for you. 

        I can't see her asthma being a show-stopper unless there's a sudden population explosion in furrow cats or unless we're placed in a rain forest, like Portland, Oregon,  for example.   One of the Twin Cities recruiters told us it may rule out service in certain areas like parts of Central and South America and Africa.  We're thinking Eastern Europe will not be a problem. 

        So, without sharing all the details above, I brought Dan (Washington ESL placement desk) up-to-date on the status of our medical paperwork.  Legal has been cleared. If medical is cleared, he said we can expect an invitation next month.  

    - Norbert

    December 23, 1999    Bad pollution

        "Eastern Europe has lots of bad pollution and may aggravate asthma," Dan from the placement office told us a few days ago. Although Carol's asthma is only mild and her pulmonary function test was negative, we have been placed on a medical restriction. "This limits the choices of countries," Dan said, "and we have to wait for new lists to come out." I had to send in a more recent EKG and Carol made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon to re-evaluate the old back pain she reported on her application. We know its only minor but they need to make sure she will be OK during the two years of service.

        It's back on the roller coaster. If not Eastern Europe, where in the  world will we go? While living in Germany we went on one of the Umleitung popular bus tours once, on a "Fahrt ins Blaue", a trip into the blue. We left early in the morning without any idea where this adventure would take us.  It was quite challenging and exciting to guess at our destination, could it be the Rhine in the north, Bavaria and the Alps in the south, or maybe even France in the west. We ended up in the snow covered foothills of the Alps at a place called Reit im Winkel and had lots of fun. This adventure we are on now is like a "Fahrt ins Blaue" except that it will last for two years.

        We both turned in our resignation yesterday with some trepidation. "A Christmas present," I said to Alan, my boss, when I handed him the letter. His smile seemed a bit pained. I know he is not looking forward to replacing me or perhaps even re-organizing computing at St. Olaf College. I exchanged Christmas presents with colleagues and staff,  recorded an extended absence greeting on the answering machine and left my office until the next millennium.

        Right now we are traveling south on Interstate 35 at 70 miles an hour on our way to Oklahoma to spend Christmas and the beginning of the new millennium with Carol's parents. Its Carol's turn to drive and I got out the new laptop to continue our story. We are close to Des Moines, Iowa, and the flat land around us is covered with snow. It was 4 below this morning when we left Northfield, MN. It should be much warmer in OK, in the sixties next week. A fireplace, lots of fire wood, and a Y2K compliant kerosene lantern we are bringing with us, are giving us some reassurance that we will safely  weather Y2K there.

        We heard the same news on NPR for the forth time and finally turned off the radio. "War and hunger in Angola; beware of suspicious packages from Frankfurt, Germany; a suspected terrorist with material for making explosives in the trunk of his car was arrested crossing the border to the U.S.; avoid large crowds on New Years...."  Merry Christmas and a happy Y2K with the power grids humming and food on the table.

        Maybe next week we'll start with Spanish. Got to focus on something when you are riding the roller coaster, right? "Hola! Que passe?," Carol commented, "What is happening?" She already knows some Spanish. Its a lot easier than Russian, she said. I wonder what the electrical outlets look like in Central America.

    - Norbert

    January 2, 2000     Comment allez vous?

      Happy 2000. We made it back OK, no significant computer glitches. I opened one of the book boxes we had stored in our locker in Oklahoma and dug out a bunch of old French textbooks just in case. They speak French as a secondary language in some African countries. Should I brush up on my French???

    - Norbert

    January 18, 2000   Jamaica, Morocco, Thailand

      "It looks pretty bad," Dan told us this morning. We couldn't wait any longer andStop called him before we left for work. "Medical has finished their evaluation and restricted you to three countries, Jamaica, Morocco or Thailand. I don't have anything for you and will pass your file to the other desks. If you don't hear from me, call me in two weeks." We are pretty bummed out.

    - Norbert

     February 11, 2000 Plan B: detour or finally dead-end?

      We are still waiting. In one week all the placement officers will be meeting to discuss prospective volunteers with “accommodations”, as Dan put it, “there are more than usual and our method of circulating files wasn’t very efficient.” If nothing comes of that, the next possible departure date will be spring 2001.

    March 20, 2000  In Limbo


        It’s been almost four weeks since Dan called us with the exciting news that they were able to locate two positions in Morocco as agricultural extentionists. He e-mailed eleven pages with the - pretty scary - job description. “We are definitely interested”, we told Charles, our agriculture placement officer now assigned to us. “The only problem,” he said, “we need to get the OK from the medical desk in Morocco which will only take about two weeks.” Carol explains the details in a letter to her son Michael. Here we are four weeks later, waiting for a call, anxious as ever, biting our fingernails. I tried to call him today but he had taken a few days off and was not back yet.

    - Norbert

    March 21, 2000 Continuez mais très lentement?

       I finally got a hold of Charles this afternoon after dialing 800-424-8580 option 2, option 1 extension 1841 for the umptiest time this morning. I wasn’t sure he was aware of how long it’s been since our first contact. He promised he would talk to the medical liason in the placement office right away. He also mentioned that he found a note on his desk that the person responsible for special medical clearance lost her son just about four weeks ago. I am hoping that this is the only reason it’s taking so long and not that someone is making a decision by not deciding until it’s too late. - I am continuing to go to French II trying to jar my memory. It’s been 40 years since I had six years of French and much is buried deep down there somewhere. Carol never had French before. This is the official language in Morocco we must master. The job description urged future volunteers to start learning French immediately. Arabic will be tought in the host country in addition to French. Ugh!

    - Norbert

    April 5, 2000  Not Morocco

      I listened to the answering machine from the office. “I am terribly sorry,” Charles said, “I just received an e-mail from Morocco. You guys cannot be accommodated there because of the distance to emergency facilities and high altitude.” I packed up all the library books on Morocco and French because I just could bear looking at them anymore. A little later I caught up with Carol as she pulled into the parking lot at the dental office for an appointment. We were both devastated and couldn’t understand the decision after we had been cleared for this country and my cardiologist had certified that I was under no restrictions, high altitudes would not be a problem and chances for any incident requiring hospitalization would be slim.

      Our next opportunity will be Thailand in early 2001. We were glad we already made alternative plans for this summer. This will help us get over the disappointment faster. Click on the sign to follow our plan B.

    - Norbert

    September 6, 2000 - Still waiting

      Don’t go away. There is still hope. Much happened during the last few months . I retired as of May 1, while Carol quit her current job. Our daughter got married in Northfield and a week later we moved the rest of our belongings to the locker in Grove, OK. We stayed there for two months helping Carol’s mom take care of her dad who had termnal cancer. He passed away middle of August. At the end of that month we finally started on our long-planned three months trip (down from 6-12 months) with our pop-up camper.

      I just called Sarah, our new placement officer, on our new cell phone from Yellowstone National Park. Our skills and medical records had been forwarded to Bangkok for approval, she informed me. They came back and requested some additional information. We felt this might be good news since they didn’t turn us down right away like last time. ”Keep in touch,” Sarah said.