Major journeys seem to attract coincidences. They follow along like stray cats, crossing the journeyor’s path every few steps. Felines of different shapes, demeanor, and color - a white one this day, grey the next, and a black one when you least expect it, hiding in the darkness. It appears for a moment, then disappears into the shadows again, leaving you to wonder.
Did it really happen?
A month before I left for Kenya with the Peace Corps I noticed a woman standing in line behind me at . I couldn’t miss her – there were only two of us – and in addition to being unusually thin, she was wearing a brightly beaded bracelet I recognized as possibly from Kenya. “Your bracelet...it looks Kenyan, perhaps Masai?” I asked. “Yes!” she said, explaining that she’d just returned from two years working as a medical assistant there. This random encounter allowed me some valuable “boots on the ground” insight into living in the rural Sub-Saharan community I was about to enter.
Then the next week I was selling jewelry in the Palisades as I’ve done regularly for the past five years when a women stopped by. She’d been passing by my table for months but this time she wanted to buy a necklace. As she perused my inventory – which coincidentally includes many natural stones shaped like the continent of Africa – I mentioned my upcoming Peace Corps-Kenya journey. She stopped me with her wide-eyed response: “You should talk to my friend Chuck, first.”
Her friend, Chuck Ludlam, is a former Peace Corps volunteer with not just one, but two terms of service – one in Kenya! But even more importantly, he is the lead proponent of the Peace Corps reform movement. And he was about to make a presentation before Capital Hill outlining some of the difficult experiences of Peace Corps volunteers and the challenges facing the organization itself, the very next day.
Coincidentally, I was able to hear some of his ground-braking testimony and read his voluminous Congressional Report before I left, confirming my suspicions and concerns regarding Peace Corps’ treatment of volunteers whose real-life experiences fall short of the “living the dream” image promoted by the longtime organization.
Like the Starbucks episode, I thought this was a pretty cool coincidence. But like a black cat crossing my path when I least expected or wanted, this incidence would prove in some ways to be more of a bad omen than good fortune.