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Suzan Bright will work with artisans in Morocco
Suzan Bright will work with artisans in Morocco
MAKING LIFE MORE MEANINGFUL
Sep 18, 2003 - Roanoke Times
Author(s): Hattie Brown, Hattie.Brown@Roanoke.Com 777-3522
For most 53-year-olds, having a five-bedroom home on farmland, two grown daughters who are successful and years of art consulting experience would be satisfying enough.
But not for Southwest Roanoke County resident Suzan Bright. Though she's happy, Bright said she feels it's time to make her life more meaningful.
"I have everything," Bright said. "I have an easy life. It's too easy."
Over the past six weeks, Bright has been preparing for a big change in her life. She's stored or given away all her possessions, put her house of 16 years up for sale and said goodbye to her friends. On Sept. 11, she left for Morocco to be a volunteer in the Peace Corps.
"It's an opportunity that very few people have," Bright said two days before her departure. "I also know it's going to be very, very difficult and very challenging. But it's the difficult and challenging experiences that I find are the most meaningful."
A slowing economy had left Bright, a self-employed art consultant, feeling frustrated and bored, she said. A few part-time jobs couldn't fill the void.
"I was getting tired of being my own boss," she said.
Bright said she first considered joining the Peace Corps while on a walk with her 22-year-old daughter, Julia, in February. Bright discussed with her daughter how she didn't feel she was contributing anything to society. Julia suggested the Peace Corps, a U.S. government agency that has been around for more than 40 years. The international volunteer organization was started by President John Kennedy as a way for Americans to help developing countries. Volunteers receive a small monthly stipend and about $6,000 to help them adjust when they leave the program.
By April, Bright had applied to the program and was planning an interview with a Peace Corps recruiter at Virginia Tech. After looking through brochures, she decided to try for a position teaching business and English to young people in eastern Europe and expected she would be leaving in March. The Peace Corps recruiters, however, had another plan in mind for Bright.
In early August, while Bright was giving a tour of her house to prospective buyers, a recruiter called and told her about an immediate opportunity to work in Morocco with artisans there, helping them find venues for their work and teaching them how to promote it.
It seemed a perfect fit for Bright, who has both an art and business background. But she had only three days to make her decision, and she was told that Morocco, a country in northern Africa, could be dangerous. In April, the Peace Corps evacuated volunteers from the country for fear of terrorist attacks against Americans. Volunteers are just now returning to the country.
But the opportunity for a potentially life-changing experience won out over fear. Bright is scheduled to spend the next two years in Morocco but can leave at any time if she feels unsafe.
"I'm both nervous and excited," Bright said. But, "it's exactly what I want to do."
Bright's friends and her daughters - Julia and 21-year-old Michelle - have been supportive and enthusiastic about her decision, she said.
"They know it's something I need to do for myself," Bright said. "I'm healthy. I'm in good shape. I work out. Now is the time."
A few days before her departure, Bright sat in her living room on a Moroccan rug - bought during a one-day trip to Tangier three years ago - sorting through toiletries. Her latest crisis was figuring out what she should bring in her suitcase and hiking backpack, the only luggage she was allowed to bring.
"I really have to think through this," she said.
While in Morocco, she'll wear mostly long-sleeved shirts and ankle-length skirts out of respect for the Muslim culture. And she had to keep in mind that she could be placed in a rural area where electricity and running water are nonexistent.
During the first six weeks of the trip, Bright will complete a training program in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. She will live with a family and be immersed in their culture, learning both the language and tips to stay safe. After the training period, Bright will be officially sworn in as a volunteer and then assigned to a particular site in Morocco. Her stay ends in October 2005.
Learning Arabic and French is one of the biggest hurdles ahead, Bright said.
"I can't figure them out because they slur together," she said of the Arabic letters on a study worksheet featuring a United States map.
Julia Bright, who lives in Arlington, said she is confident that her mother will be successful and happy in Morocco.
"I think that she, of all people, will be able to handle this," she said. But, "just because she's such an independent and strong person doesn't mean it will be easy."
Suzan Bright's extensive travel experience may be helpful now that she is forced to live in a different culture. In addition to visiting the Caribbean and many European countries, she has visited China, ridden a camel for miles in Egypt and spent four weeks alone in Bali meeting people and walking the rice paddies.
"I love to get to know the people and the culture," she said of her travels.
Being far from her support group of friends and family is the hardest part of leaving the country, Bright said. She's not sure if she'll make Roanoke, where she's lived since 1976, her permanent home when she returns from Morocco. But being near the ones she loves is a definite draw.
The Peace Corps provides volunteers with vacation time, so Bright said she plans to fly to the United States at least once before her two-year stint is over.
"I will miss her terribly, but I know it's important that she goes," said Dianne Henry-Leggette, a Southwest Roanoke County resident who is Bright's best friend. "She has a commitment to service."
Bright said she will also miss some of the simple pleasures, including lobster, pizza and ice cream. But she is willing to give up those things if it will make her life more meaningful.
Through her Peace Corps service in Morocco, Bright said she hopes to surround herself with what's important in life.
"I need something to really sink my teeth into," she said. "It's not things. It's people and experiences as far as I'm concerned, and I'm going to live like that."