'Black Cats and Coincidences'

Big life changes are magnets for coincidence. Usually they bring clarity, insight, even magic.

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.



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