When I was young I always knew there was something special about Carol. A close friend of my parents, she had a family in a country that I only knew as a Girl Scout Cookie and her house was decked out in brightly colored swaths of cloth. Carol talked about wearing a lava-lava and going years without seeing her mother. As a 5-year-old her colorful stories of a land far away fascinated me.
It was not until later that I realized Carol's brilliant textiles, hilarious memories and shy visiting family members who looked nothing like her were the remnants of her service in the Peace Corps. As a young woman, she had climbed on a plane for the first time in her life and watched the red clay of her South Georgia home disappear behind her. The year was 1970 and she was bound for Samoa. Since that day, her Peace Corps adventures have been the stuff of legend in my parent's chosen family.
Carol inspired me even as I grew older. Coming home from college and yucking it up over a plate of eggs, she told me how her lasting bond with her host family had been featured in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Her Samoan host family had come to rural Georgia recently to help her bury her mother, over 30 years after she had first stepped onto the sands of their Pacific island. Like the AJC reporters, I found myself wondering how that relationship was possible. What bonds could tie her so tightly to foreign people oceans away? How did that work?
After that brunch with Carol, it took me less than two months to attend a Peace Corps information session and apply for service of my own. And oh was Carol proud. During my time in the Peace Corps she sent me cards, care packages and encouragement, exactly what I needed to withstand the long Mongolian winters. And though I never developed a bond with my own host family in the same way that she did, both Carol and the Peace Corps helped me realize that family is not tied by blood but by brightly colored swaths of cloth.