Leaving Suburbia for the Peace Corps

Pattie Baker
37 min readMay 26, 2020
Peace Corps Uganda 2020 invitee Pattie Baker in her home garden


Truth? I’m Scared.

Truth? I’m scared to death. I am leaving everyone and everything I know to live in a village in Africa without running water and electricity for two years. And at 56 years old, with 30 years of marriage and a comfortable house in suburbia, that’s asking a lot. But with the world in crisis and the future uncertain in so many ways, staying put is no longer a viable option for me, for reasons I don’t fully understand and have learned to not question.

And so I am preparing to leave a metro-Atlanta suburb where my husband and I somehow ended up after we relocated from New York City so many years ago, for the Equator-straddling East African country of Uganda where I’ve accepted a position with the Peace Corps as an Agribusiness Specialist.

I will learn a tribal language that won’t be useful anywhere else in the world but will be necessary for my survival. I will defecate crouched over a pit latrine and kill mango maggots on my clothing and boil water so I don’t get sick (although I’ll get sick — everyone gets sick). I will go to bed scared at night of scorpions and sexual assault. I will worry about my elderly parents, husband, and daughters so, so far away. I will discover what skills I could possibly have to offer to strangers from a culture completely unfamiliar to me, and what I have yet to learn from them about community and resiliency. And perhaps, through experiences I cannot yet imagine, I will ultimately discover exactly what I am made of and what my Maker wants me to do in the limited time I have left on this earth.

Meanwhile, having just received medical clearance from the Peace Corps after two months of nonstop doctors appointment (including a life-and-death test to see if I was really allergic to penicillin, my first colonoscopy, and the required Yellow Fever vaccination), I begin to pack up life as I know it and clear space for what’s ahead.

I grab a saw and chop down my garden so it doesn’t swallow my husband whole while I am gone. I empty closets and clean out the garage and sell my books. I donate clothes and tools and furniture. I face some things and fix some things and forget about trying to change some things. I figure out how to step out of the life I built while somehow remaining committed to…