Monday, August 23, 2010

Somewhere in Africa, sometime in October

Somewhere in Africa, sometime in October. That is what we were told in an email in the first week of March this Spring. But we're getting ahead of ourselves already! The full story starts on two separate summer days (July 27th, 1984 and August 9th, 1985) 1 year and eleven days apart, 26, and 25 years ago, respectively. Well, perhaps that is a tad too far back, but in all seriousness, Ash and I have both wanted to do Peace Corps for as long as we can each remember. However, we both felt - long before meeting each other - that the commitment of 27 months serving in a developing country, most likely without electricity and running water was a bit too much to tackle alone.

So fast forward to June 7th, 2009, and we were finally in a place where we could start seriously thinking about serving together. We both recognized that the long-term, overseas service was the point, not necessarily the Peace Corps. But at the same time we felt that the PC was the best place to start as it offers the best structure, and ask the highest commitment of it's volunteers. So we decided, a month after returning from our amazing Seattle honeymoon, to apply to the Peace Corps and see where that took us.

We turned in our initial application online (which consisted of a detailed employment, education, volunteer, and skills resume, three references, two essays each, and a 100 question health history questionnaire) at the end of July, and started to wait. We were actually surprised at how fast we were "approved". Within two weeks we were told our legal packets were on their way, so by 'approved,' I just mean we could move into the next round of information providing.

Our legal packets arrived and we got stuck into those. Probably about a week later we had the packets back in the mail with two sets of fingerprints each, copies of our marriage license, and a couples questionnaire. Back to the waiting. But again we were surprised when we got an invitation to interview with our recruiter in mid-September. So we met Lacey at REI for and hour and a half, after which she said she would be recommending us for 'approval for nomination'! So then we were approved to put into the pot from which the Placement Office compares volunteer positions all over the world with the available candidates for possible matches. Now the real waiting began.

Fast forward six months (including one frantic, last minute but failed attempt by Lacey to nominate us in early December). It's March 1st or 2nd and we receive another frantic call from our recruiter Lacey saying she needs more information that same night to be able to nominate us for a position before it closed the next morning. Well of course we both missed the phone calls and couldn't reach Lacey that evening, so we thought we had missed another opportunity. But low and behold! The next morning she informed us she had submitted the nomination anyway for a 'French-speaking nation in sub-Saharan Africa departing in mid-October.'

So then the craziness began in our minds. In the midst of setting up comprehensive physical and dental exams for medical clearances, and taking a vacation to England/Ireland (I know, such a rough life!), we were now trying to comprehend the possibility of spending the next two and a half years of our lives in Africa. But we also knew that it wasn't a done deal. I had to take French classes and Ash had to Get more volunteering experience in the HIV/Aids field and even then, we wouldn't know if we were going to be actually invited to serve until at least mid-to-late July!

So we made a decision. We decided to, no matter what, take a leap of faith and quit our jobs at the end of July to start spending time with family. We knew that even if Peace Corps decided we weren't right for the position, that we would be going somewhere else long-term to serve and therefor wanted to see each of our families for a month before doing so.

Then it came, three days before leaving Denver for a month in South Dakota with Ash's family and 26 years to the day after Ash was born: an email from a Placement Officer requesting more information and saying that we should know for sure within two weeks on a placement decision!!

Then the packet came. The official "Peace Corps invites you to serve" packet. And it came 25 years to the day after I was born. We would be going to Niger, Africa. Ash will be working in health education and HIV/Aids prevention, and I will be working to increase agricultural output while educating about natural resource management. Leaving October 17th, 2010.

So we're off!! And we ask you to join us here as we share our journeys, thoughts, and experiences while living in rural Niger. We'll be updating this blog as much as possible, so if you want to know if it's been updated, become a follower! Thanks for reading and we would love to hear your thoughts and feedback, so use the comments section below and we'll start a dialogue. :) :)


  1. I eagerly read through your blog to discover where you'd be posted. Okay, I admit. I scanned it. I first saw South Dakota and thought, "Wow. Those guys must be committed to each other and service to take a posting in South Dakota!". To you native SDers, I mean no offense. Then, I saw Niger. Sweet. From what I understand, it's sort of at the crossroads of Africa, no? Muslim nations to the north, francophone nations to the west and south. What an incredible experience for the two of you. Congratulations. I promise to be a faithful blog reader, and commentator (whether you like it or not!).....

  2. That's so awesome... what an amazing tribute to your spirit of giving and this incredible journey you're about to begin. Congrat! Naomi

  3. Hey!!! Praise God!
    We are so excited for you and eager for what God is going to do. What you guys are doing is in our hearts too. So for now we will have to live vicariously through you. :)
    So pumped though. Wow! What a cool thing. We are looking forward to reading the updates!
    Please call us if you are in BV anytime before you leave.
    With much love in Christ!

  4. I will absolutely soak up this blog! I have always wanted to do development work abroad. It looks like it will have to wait quite a while, now that we're having a baby in October. But I can learn and live through you! Jacquelyn Duke

  5. Tess,

    Sounds great and very proud of you. We will be praying for you and your husband. Lord bless Joseph and Tessa as they travel abroad. Use their words and their lives to proclaim you in all they do. Keep them safe and secure and healthy and strong. In your name, Amen.

    God Bless!

  6. Joseph -

    I hope you and your wife have the best time in the Peace Corps in Niger. My sister spent 6 months in Niger studying and getting to know much of the community she live in. Since she has been gone some friends of hers who also studied in Niger from Boston University have started a food relief program ( just thought I would share. Hope you have a blessed time and know that you are in my prayers. Safe Travels, and have a blessed time!

  7. Amazing! We are praying for you guys and are so excited about the adventure God has you on. Thanks for letting us all in on it.

  8. Joseph & Ashley,

    I love you and am proud of you both for your hearts of service, as well as for your commitments to God and to each other. I am blessed to be part of what you are doing not only through this blog but also through these times we get to share now before you go. Yes, there's a difficult-sad part too, where I am missing you already knowing you will be so far away for so long. It comes with the territory! . In a public forum it is difficult to write my heart in multiple roles as your father Joseph and as your father-in-law Ashley. I just want to participate in your lives at every opportunity.

    So anyway, I just want to be a part of your blog, too. I think it's awesome. You have this huge story in your marriage, as God joins together two individual lives and dreams. And we get to see here how he connects you with the Peace Corps. And this is the part of your story that is now unfolding, and it is exciting and a privilege to watch.

    Love you both,

  9. Hey-Ashley, I am a friend of Dee's and she sent this to me. I am a Niger returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Was there from 2000-2002. If you want to chat, let me know. My email address is .

    Good luck with everything! I'm so excited for you!!


  10. I finally sat down this evening to read your blog. You can sure see how God has been conducting your lives. He is great. Not long now before you leave. You will both be in our prayers. Please keep us updated as you are able.

    Good luck in all you do and to all those that are touched by you in the times to come.

    Kathy & John