I’ve written two books about my life since I left the United States in 2008. This is an excerpt from the first one, “Mail from Kyryzstan: My Life As An Over-50 Peace Corps Volunteer” which I published in 2016. It’s available on Amazon for less than $1. Here is the link: https://www.amazon.com/Mail-Kyrgyzstan-Over-50-Peace-Volunteer-ebook/dp/B01LW9T04X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1549134173&sr=8-1&keywords=michael+licwinko.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Peace Corps, it’s a government sponsored program that sends volunteers to dozens of developing countries for 27 months. For me it was the experience of a lifetime; it put the finishing touches on the type of person I had been striving to be.
The book contains the emails I sent from Kyrgyzstan with my added thoughts and opinions in italics directly following. These thoughts and opinions are ones that I didn’t feel I could express while a volunteer but had no restrictions placed upon when I wrote the book.
If I get a positive response to this post, I’ll add more. Feel free to share it.
PART ONE: Getting to Kyrgyzstan
May 8, 2008
Where am I going?!!?
That’s the big question left to be answered after receiving my medical clearance letter
yesterday. Yipppeeeeee!!!!!!! I expect the offer to be extended in the very near future.
It seems like I’ve been trying to get to this point forever, but I really haven’t. I was
nominated on December 21, so it’s only been 4 1/2 months which is pretty quick in PC
If Peace Corps Medical awards you their seal of approval, consider yourself in above
average health or better. It’s a comprehensive head-to-toe series of tests. And it needs
to be. Decent medical care in many Peace Corps (PC) countries can be difficult to come
by, hours away in many cases. Getting to the PC doctors in Kyrgyzstan meant a 5-hour
taxi ride for me. No surprise then to learn that one of the reference books we received
was titled, “When There’s No Doctor Around.” The PC can only accept the healthiest
candidates—age is not a consideration as the oldest serving volunteer during my
service was 83. I don’t recall where she was serving. Failing to receive medical
clearance must be the most common reason for rejection.
For most candidates the biggest outlay is time, not money, because the recent college
grads are still covered under their parents’ policies, while the older ones have employer
coverage. I fell into neither category having quit my job at Citi in June 2007. I didn’t take
COBRA and I temped for the year before I left. No insurance translated into paying for
everything out-of-pocket. Thankfully, I was near the top of the temp pay scale. I had
enough savings to cover the costs. Exams, both medical and dental, didn’t come cheap,
especially in New York City. But, I did save a significant amount of money when I
accidentally discovered two magic words: Peace Corps.
Like an idiot I ate the wrong food before my first cholesterol test, probably too much
honey in my oatmeal, which put it well over 200, the PC limit as I recall. A few weeks
later I went for another test to see if I’d lowered it to an acceptable level. Making
conversation with the lab tech, I mentioned why I needed the test and that I had no
insurance. She thought that being a volunteer was really cool, and then told me she
would only charge me what the lab charged them for the analysis, which was $75. That
saved me $200. After that I used it everywhere. A $750 stress test was knocked down
to $500. My dentist surprised me more than anyone. After telling her the PC deemed
one of my crowns to be substandard, i.e., old and ill-fitting, she put in a new one for
free. That saved me nearly $1500.
May 12, 2008
The Peace Corps Called and I Answered!!!
Hello to all,
It’s hard for me to believe that I’m going to be living a dream I’ve held for 30 years, but
it’s true. Beginning on July 3rd, and for the next 27 months, I will be a university English
teacher in The Kyrgyz Republic (KR), formerly a part of the Soviet Union. I won’t know
which city until I get there, but I’ve been told it will be a large one. I am so excited and
scared to death at the same time. I’ll have to learn Russian, which means a new
alphabet, too. Read more about what I know so far at the following link, as I will be
blogging my experiences at the link you’ll see below my name. Please make this a
favorite and pass the link on to anyone you might think would like to hear my life and
experiences in the PC in a faraway land. You’ll probably have to copy and paste the link
in your browser. (Link not included)
I am looking to sublet my apartment so if you know anybody who is apartment hunting,
have them contact me and I’ll discuss it with them.
Please keep me in your thoughts as you will be in mine in between Russian lessons.
Thirty years is a long time to wait for something—something positive, anyway. It would
be natural to wonder why I waited until I was 53 to act on a dream so important to me,
so I’ll explain it.
What has toppled empires, started wars and made men act like complete idiots since
humans appeared on the earth? Many things, obviously, but in my case it was a girl. By
the end of my senior year at Marquette (Go Warriors!!!), my ambivalence regarding my
future silently tortured me. On the one hand I loved my girlfriend of two years very
much—in retrospect more than I’ve ever loved any woman; on the other hand my desire
to explore the world tugged at me equally as forcefully. Marriage vs. Adventure.
The torment seemed to end when we unexpectedly broke up—or maybe not so
unexpectedly—a week before my graduation. Totally my fault, but that’s a story for
another book. A door closes, a window opens, right? I was heartbroken, but free to join
the Peace Corps, the first step in my world exploration. Not. Within a month I was on my
knees trying to woo her back. I succeeded, but the relationship was never the same.
Less than a year later we split for good. Where was my crystal ball when I needed it? By
this time I had a full-time job and the PC was no longer a priority; not forgotten, but not a
priority. My ex-wife recently reminded me that whenever our marriage hit a rocky patch
I’d say, “I should’ve joined the Peace Corps.”
Fast forward 10 years to 1987. I had moved to a new city and had a new job, both that I
liked. A personal issue, again involving a woman, actually two, but that’s not really the
point led me to seek a change of scenery to escape my female troubles. Once again the
PC forged to the front of my mind as the perfect solution. I completed the application
and drove to Minneapolis for the interview. After a while the interviewer asked me what
skill I possessed that would qualify me as a good volunteer. I sat there, wheels spinning,
but to no avail. My inspired reply: “None that I can think of. Thank you.” I stood and left
In 2007 I quit my job at Citibank with the intention of moving back to North Carolina. I’d
lived there for three years in the mid-90’s and enjoyed it immensely. The move was
derailed when I decided to produce my latest play. While the production was
hemorrhaging money, the Peace Corps popped into my mind again. The timing seemed
right. It felt right, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Am I being honest by saying that mending a relationship was the reason I didn’t pursue
the Peace Corps in 1977? Somewhat, but looking back I know now that there was a
larger obstacle. Somewhere deep in my 22 year old subconscious I knew I wasn’t
ready. I spent my 20’s as a dues paying member of The Hedonist Society. Seeing what
I did in Kyrgyzstan, watching the antics of some of my wilder and immature peers—or
maybe they were just homesick or unsure of where they were in the world, their world
as a recent college graduate and a lousy economic situation back in the states—took
me back to that time in my life where the next party was all that really mattered. I had a
lot of growing up to do. Deep down I knew I wasn’t ready. I probably would have been
booted out in less than six months. I was closer in 1987, but still not there. By 2007—
yes, it took me a long time to grow up—no obstacles stood in my way. Comfortable in
my own skin, sure that I could contribute to the PC, and confident I could be a pretty
good volunteer, I applied.
PC Book Cover ImageThe universe knew what it was doing by making me wait.