When the Peace Corps Ends, The AT Begins
My attempt to thru hike the AT, will begin in mid March, 2015. The preparation started much earlier. In early 2013, I deployed to the small, mostly Muslim country of Azerbaijan. My task: provide financial management advice to various business, government, and NGO institutions. Under the auspices of the U.S. Peace Corps, I was invited to serve as an Economic Development Advisor volunteer.
However, my Peace Corps work finished early. The Azerbaijani Ministry of Economy and Industry canceled its contract to receive Peace Corps assistance. This decision was caused by bad blood between the Obama Administration and the Azerbaijan Government.
I contend that many of the Obama Administration’s statements were made without the understanding or without concern for the negative consequences those statements would have on intergovernmental relations. Criticisms aimed at the Azerbaijani Government’s record on free elections, freedom of the press, and freedom of expression were certainly accurate. However, the U.S. State Department failed to properly weigh short term policy goals when criticizing human rights abuses against the long term benefits of continuous engagement. Like an obese person who likes a scale that reads a few pounds light and misses some consequences of overeating, the State Department could use a scale that more accurately measures the long-term ramifications of their public statements.
Another Peace Corps Volunteer, also from Minnesota, and I closed down all PC volunteer service in Azerbaijan a few weeks ago. For 10 years, hundreds of Peace Corps Volunteers helped this former Soviet Block country develop. We worked on improving Azerbaijan’s economy beyond its lucrative subterranean and subsea hydrocarbon sector. Volunteers with expertise in teaching English as a foreign language helped teach thousands of students in English and provided Azerbaijani English teachers with innovative and participatory educational techniques. I’m sure this is why, when I would ask young people for their favorite subject in school, 90% of my large, but unscientific sample, would state “English class.” Volunteers who where trained in youth development skills, organized chess clubs, movie clubs, English conversation clubs, softball and Ultimate Frisbee leagues, environmental clean-up activities, theater performances, women’s and girl’s clubs and numerous other activities.
While the development programs above had measurable positive effects in their own right, the biggest benefit accruing from Peace Corps activity is through interpersonal communication and friendships built. I know that because my Azerbaijani host father and I are friends, his son Cavanshir and my grandson Owen will be less likely to be engaged in military conflict.
In addition, many Peace Corps activities promote long term cultural and political benefits. Concepts of gender equality, freedom of expression, critical thinking, and democratic rights are wrapped into much of PC development work. A simple example is a free election by sports team members, as to who should be selected at the team captain. Much different than the common practice in this post communist country where generally team captains are chosen by the coach.
So, because my Peace Corps adventure terminated early and abruptly, the beginning of 2015 finds me homeless, carless, and jobless. Is this the perfect time to do a long distance backpacking adventure?
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.