Uncle Sam, Matchmaker.

Author:East, Ben

I pictured myself in a Peace Corps-issue hammock on an island somewhere, or crossing high glaciers in the glaring Himalayan sun. Then the recruiter called and offered Malawi. Pointless to remind her what I'd written where the application asked my preference: 'Anywhere but Africa.'

Before that call, a recruiter--maybe the same recruiter--offered another would-be Volunteer a choice. Would she prefer Nepal, or Malawi? A logical thinker with a Math degree and an Indian heritage, she chose Malawi. 'I can travel to Nepal on my own any time. When will I travel to Africa outside the Peace Corps?'

So when the recruiter called me, fate was already decided.

Peace Corps brought us together in Chevy Chase for pre-service orientation. Group exercises helped us share intimate hopes and irrational fears. Peace Corps determined to put us in the same language group and for three weeks we studied Chichewa together, sweating it out in a village hut. They tried making us neighbors but I rejected that assignment near her school and was sent deep-south. In the prehistoric pre-Internet age, we stayed in touch via postal courier.

Uncle Sam brought us together again years later. She was working international child labor issues for the Department of Labor when I arrived in DC to start Foreign Service training. We had a summer of Screen on the Green, joyriding in my new truck, happy-hours with co-workers. Nothing serious: A-100 classmates had me pegged for Karachi by fall. And, we were just friends.

That was a bad summer for Pakistan. Terrorists attacked churches and schools with guns and bombs. On Flag Day in August, Uncle Sam pulled Karachi from the list and ordered me to Jeddah. I'd be around studying Arabic for...

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