This painting is based on my own experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer Teacher in upriver Sarawak on the island of Borneo. I know many other PCVs can relate to what I have tried to depict here.
The Rejang River in central Sarawak snakes its way down from the tropical rain forest covered hills and mountains in the interior of the island of Borneo to the delta at the South China Sea.
In 1963, I found myself in an outboard powered dugout canoe heading up what seemed like endless bends in the river. Hour after hour as the boat wound its way around each green forested bend, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. The equatorial air was oppressively hot and humid.
I anticipated that just around the next bend I would finally see the school that I had heard about and tried to imagine. I wondered what do the next two years have in store for me. Did I make the right decision? Would I be able to last it out?
Finally, we arrived at the school Jetty. I was greeted by the most welcoming faces I have ever experienced. I immediately fell in love with these great kids. They wanted to carry my bags, they wanted to take my hand and show me their school. Their positive attitudes were infectious. Their laughter was contagious.
I would soon learn that they not only studied hard but they did their own laundry by hand from a single cold water tap, or in the tributary stream behind their very open barn-like dorm. Many had walked for hours or traveled by canoe to get there. They were their own janitors and groundskeepers for the school.
The goodwill and friendship of these kids transformed my life. Their ability to be happy with few material trappings taught me so much about attitude and privilege. I will never forget them. Some have become my lifelong friends.
Peace Corps service had a profound effect on my life and I am the better person for those two years.