I came upon Partners for Peace about a month ago when I did a tag search for Peace Corps. While I don’t know that the Peace ever fit into my life, I do love reading about others who have delved into the two-year journey. For Mari and Paul of Partners for Peace, this adventure has taken this married couple from NYC to Palmar, Ecuador. Despite connectivity issues, M&P post regularly and give a ton of detail about being a Peace Corps Volunteer. I first started reading their blog when they were opening a pizza parlor in Palmar (great posts), but since have gone back and read their engagement story and process of applying for and getting placed with the Peace Corps. If you are even contemplating the Peace Corps, Mari and Paul’s blog is definitely one to read.
I caught up with Mari and Paul this week via email to ask them a few questions about their lives in Ecuador with the Peace Corps. See what they had to say!
What are the best/most challenging aspects of your Peace Corps assignments?
MARI: One of the best aspects of my Peace Corps assignment is that I am able to combine several of my skills and passions into individual projects. For example, I am working with a women’s artisan cooperative called Mujeres Cambia (http://mujerescambia.com). Members of the group make incredible hand-made jewelry out of recycled paper. You can’t tell by looking at it that it is made from paper. Most people think the beads are made of glass, ceramic, or wood but they really are made of paper! I am able to share my love for making things with my hands (I used to be the executive director of an arts nonprofit in Brooklyn, New York) at the same time I am able to design promotional materials and a marketing strategy for the group. Further, I am constantly motivated as the women learn new business skills like branding, accounting, promotions, and inventory.
One of the more challenging aspects of service is that while we act as catalysts for change we are also forced to change a lot in our current context, too. For instance, I was used to being a very independent woman in New York City – walking around alone, sharing household chores with my husband, traveling wherever and whenever I wanted, working outside of the home – and many of these activities are less common for women in my particular town. I am in the privileged position of being from somewhere else so I am given a pass on most of these things but I am often the exception acting in this way.
PAUL: The reason I joined the Peace Corps is that I wanted to do something different with my life. Mari and I were happy in NYC but we were restless and looking for adventure. We wanted to live abroad, learn a language and at the same time do some good. We find ourselves 2 years later in paradise. We are on the beach, working with an incredible team and couldn’t be happier. I agree that our most rewarding project is with the women’s group, Mujeres Cambia. Everyone who sees their pieces does a double-take. It is an
incredible gift to be working with such talented women.
Who has helped you adjust to your life in Ecuador?
MARI: One of the reasons I feel so fortunate to be serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer at this stage in my life is that I get to do it with my best friend and partner, Paul. Serving as a married couple means that we can collaborate on projects (we help each other on all of our projects even if one of us is the lead), take care of one another when we are sick, share household chores, and serve as each other’s support system. I thought about applying to the Peace Corps after college but now I can’t imagine this experience without Paul!
PAUL: What Mari says is true. While many of our peers are here alone I am here with my best friend. Together we are learning about the culture of Ecuador as well what it means to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. In reality, it is also challenging because Marisa is a superstar so it’s sometimes hard to keep up. I strive to keep up with this powerhouse motivator, facilitator and designer but enjoy having a role model by my side.
You recently helped open a pizza parlor in Palmar. What are your favorite pizza combinations?
MARI: Pineapple is really popular here so we have that as an optional topping at Palmar Pizza. We also have pepperoni, ham, and vegetables. In my old life in Brooklyn, though, Paul and I were fond of a local pizza place that made a corn, goat cheese, and basil pizza. Often, we would buy pizza dough from our local pizzeria and make our own version of that pizza. I don’t know if the local taste buds would go for this one, but you never know!
PAUL: Helping start a pizza restaurant was a rewarding project where we designed and built out the space and of course perfected a recipe. In Palmar, because most people have never had pizza before we wanted to stick to the basics at least at first. In 2013 look out for shrimp pizza at a Palmar Pizza near you!
If received a care package from home, what would you want in it?
MARI: Wow! This is hard. This mythical perfect package would have to include some comfort food like home-baked cookies with dark chocolate chips, pad thai (not sure how well that would do in the mail) as well as some practical stuff like the new Polaroid digital instant camera and a bunch of Sharpie marker variety packs for the ladies of Mujeres Cambia. It would be nice to have other fun stuff to make me smile like pictures of my two nephews and one niece, recipes from my mom and mother-in-law, and actual written letters from all of my closest friends.
PAUL: My parents have been sending incredible care packages these past couple of months. We usually look forward to simple things like suncreen, cookies, or towels and always look forward to any hand written notes. I am also always excited about things that support our projects. Now I am trying to solicit old smart phones from friends that we could use for our business projects where we do accounting and inventory by hand.
What advice do you have for someone applying for the Peace Corps?
MARI: I would say “Go for it!” It is never too late to apply. We thought that since we hadn’t applied right after college that we had missed the boat but that’s definitely not true. The average age of a Peace Corps Volunteer has increased steadily (I think it’s 28 now) and they are encouraging more married couples as well as retirees to serve.
Also, it’s important to talk to current and returned volunteers. We hosted a potluck at our place for returned volunteers as we were filling out the application. We also spoke with people who had volunteered through other organizations. In the end Peace Corps was the best fit for us and they accepted us so we couldn’t feel luckier.
PAUL: I am on the same page as Marisa, “Go for it!” When we were thinking about Peace Corps we had been out of school for years, had stable jobs and a comfortable life in New York. We were content and happy. Doing something radically different like Peace Corps was risky. It meant not just leaving our jobs but being away from our family and friends. We couldn’t pick where we would live or what we would be doing. There was a chance we may not like our site. There was a feeling that we are giving up a great deal of control over our own lives. But thinking about the past couple of years in New York (which seemed to blur together now) it seemed like having a big change like this would be a way to challenge us. It would be a way to have another type of experience and of course an adventure. Adventure bound, as always.
Thanks so much, Mari and Paul!