January 18, 2004 - The Flint Journal: Ann Walker, 62, gets one of two reactions when friends learn she has joined the Peace Corps and will be spending the next two years in Uzbekistan.

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Uzbekistan: Peace Corps Uzbekistan : The Peace Corps in Uzbekistan: January 18, 2004 - The Flint Journal: Ann Walker, 62, gets one of two reactions when friends learn she has joined the Peace Corps and will be spending the next two years in Uzbekistan.

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-35-236.balt.east.verizon.net - on Wednesday, January 21, 2004 - 3:32 pm: Edit Post

Ann Walker, 62, gets one of two reactions when friends learn she has joined the Peace Corps and will be spending the next two years in Uzbekistan.

Ann Walker, 62, gets one of two reactions when friends learn she has joined the Peace Corps and will be spending the next two years in Uzbekistan.


Fenton Twp. woman stepping into global Peace Corps



Sunday, January 18, 2004
By Rose Mary Reiz

Ann Walker, 62, gets one of two reactions when friends learn she has joined the Peace Corps and will be spending the next two years in Uzbekistan.

Some people say, "Wow, that's so cool!"

Others say, "You're doing what? "

Everyone asks, "Where's Uzbekistan?'"

Walker, a pretty, fit woman with a wide smile, understands the confusion. She had to consult a globe to find the former Soviet nation that borders Afghanistan.

"It's about as close to halfway around the world as you can get," she said.

Not bad for someone who once barely could spend a night away from home.

"When I was a child, I

wouldn't go anywhere," Walker said. "I wouldn't even stay overnight at a friend's house."

In high school, Walker was selected to join other high-achieving girls from across the state to spend a week at the University of Michigan. By day, the girls learned a civics lesson by forming a mock government. At night, they slept in dorms.

Well, not everybody slept.

"I was so homesick, I stayed up all night looking out the window," Walker said.

College and marriage didn't take her much farther from home. After living briefly in Inkster, Ann and Jim Walker returned to the Lake Fenton home that has been in her family for five generations.

Aside from vacations, the couple spent the next 35 years in Fenton Township. Jim worked for Sears. After their two children started school, Ann became a teacher and elementary school principal.

Their son and daughter grew, married and had children. Ann and Jim planned to spend retirement enjoying their grandchildren and traveling together.

But "together" did not last long. Jim became seriously ill with liver disease. He and Ann made the most of their last years together. They took a few memorable trips before he became too sick to travel.

An unsuccessful liver transplant made matters worse. Ann nursed Jim at home until his death in January 2001.

For a while, life came to a halt. A paralyzing combination of grief and boredom set in, and Ann didn't know what to do with herself.

"Taking care of Jim had become a full-time job," she said. "Suddenly, there was nothing to do."

Always a math whiz, Walker took classes and became a tax professional. Having a purpose helped her realize that, while part of her life had ended, there was more to be lived.

A glimmer of an old dream began to resurface.

"Years ago when my kids were little, I had sent for an application to the Peace Corps," Walker recalled. "I'm not even sure why. I remember getting information on the Virgin Islands, which I read and forgot about."

With a sensible husband and two young children, Walker knew that her Peace Corps dream was impractical. Three decades later, it lifted its head again.

"One day I thought, I've always wanted to be in the Peace Corps. I could do it now.' "

The more Walker thought about it, the more possible it seemed. She was healthy and fit. Her children were responsible adults with families. She took a deep breath and called the recruiting office.

The first thing she said was, "I'm 60. Am I too old?"

The recruiter, Mike, assured her that the Peace Corps had volunteers as old as 80, and that good health, not youth, was the main requirement. Walker and Mike spent much of the following months discussing possible assignments in which her skills could be utilized.

"My idea was just to be of service, maybe working with some health project to help families keep their babies well," she said.

But Peace Corps officials were impressed with Walker's teaching credentials and asked if she'd be willing to teach English as a second language to young children in Uzbekistan.

She gamely agreed and began learning about the country.

Uzbekistan lies near China, north of Afghanistan, 10 time zones from Michigan. The climate is similar to the Midwest United States, but that is where the similarities end.

Uzbekistan is a Muslim country with a single party government that faces no opposition during elections. Although technically against terrorism, human rights violations abound.

Large Uzbek cities are crowded, dirty and polluted. In rural areas, public buildings aren't always heated. Teachers and students often keep their coats on throughout the school day.

Walker will live with a Uzbek family, where phone service may be undependable (one volunteer said that the family she stayed with had a phone, but the "8" button never worked) and e-mail opportunities rare.

She will wear a head scarf, as do all Uzbek women. Although she is an avid bicyclist, she will spend most of her time walking. In Uzbek, only men ride bicycles.

Neither will she drink the water. The Peace Corps will provide her with a water distillation kit to help guard against the gastro-intestinal problems that plague many travelers.

Walker is not discouraged by any of it.

"I don't want to go there and live in the same way I do here," she said. "What I'm hoping for is to live as they live, with a family that I can become deeply attached to and a job where I'll feel useful."

Her biggest fears are that she will have trouble learning the Uzbek language, and that she will become ill and be sent home.

But she doesn't have much time for worries.

The past several months have been a whirlwind of preparation: breaking the news to her children (they are supportive, but concerned about her safety), finding a couple to house-sit while she is gone and deciding what to pack. She is allowed to take 100 pounds of clothes and personal items to last her the next two years.

"Some things are easy to leave behind," she said. "For instance, I'm not taking any appliances. I am not planning to blow-dry my hair in Uzbekistan."

Walker, who left Tuesday for Peace Corps training sessions, expects the biggest hardship to be missing her children and grandchildren.

"My granddaughter keeps saying, Tell me again why you're going to Uzbekistan.' "

It is hard to explain. But three years after her husband's death, Walker knows it is the right time for a new adventure.

"Like most women, I've focused most of my life on my home and family. Now, my main motivation is to be someplace strange, where I'll struggle with new difficulties, and where I'll be of service."

While many of her fellow Peace Corps volunteers will be decades younger, Walker has a few advantages.

"I hope I can be kind of a mother figure for some of them," she said. "I know enough not to let the little things bother me. I have a willingness to adapt.

"This is a good time in life to do this."

Rose Mary Reiz is a feature writer. She may be reached at (810) 766-6353.

© 2004 Flint Journal. Used with permission

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Story Source: The Flint Journal

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Uzbekistan; Older Volunteers



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