Archive for Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I’ll be home for Christmas’

Classic song has new meaning for Skaggs family

It's been a happy reunion for the Skaggs family this Christmas. Anna, center, just returned home after 17 months in Africa in the Peace Corps. Her parents, Ron, left, and Merrie were glad to see her during the holiday season.

It's been a happy reunion for the Skaggs family this Christmas. Anna, center, just returned home after 17 months in Africa in the Peace Corps. Her parents, Ron, left, and Merrie were glad to see her during the holiday season.

December 24, 2008

There’s new meaning to the classic holiday song “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” for the Skaggs family. After 17 months in Africa, Anna Skaggs is.

“Yeah, that song and “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” said Skaggs, who has been stationed in Benin, West Africa, in the Peace Corps. “I haven’t seen it (snow) for two years.”

Her parents, Ron and Merrie Skaggs, have been thinking a lot about “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and counting the days until it occurred. Anna got back to Baldwin City last Wednesday and will be here for three weeks.

“Oh, yeah, it’s a great time,” Merrie said of the song and its new meaning. “We’ve waited a long time — 17 months. Last year was the first time she hasn’t been here for Christmas. This was special.”

Ron agrees about the tune and his 2002 graduate of Baldwin High School.

“It certainly is appropriate,” he said of the song. “She’s been gone right at a year and a half and that’s a long time for dad.

“For being gone the first time and being gone so long, it’s good to have her here,” said Ron.

He’s the one that’s really been counting the days.

“Well, it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for quite a few months,” said Ron. “In a birthday card to me, she put a check-off list for the days until she’s here. It’s very pleasing to have it finally happen.”

Anna’s trip home took 40 hours. Her plane was supposed to arrive at KCI at 6:30 p.m. It finally touched down at 1:15 a.m.

“When she got off the plane, she said, ‘Wow, you’re still here,’” said Merrie. “I told her her dad said ‘We did think about going home.’ It was great.”

Of course, it was a teary reunion and the best part of being home.

“The very first thing was seeing mom and dad at the airport. I shed a few tears,” said Anna, adding that the ride to Baldwin City continued what she’d been dreaming about. “It was just like you imagine it, down to the Christmas carols on the radio.”

Yes, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”

After that, she was quick to say what her favorite thing has been since returning.

“I think my bed, of all the things,” she said. “It felt so good. The Peace Corps gives you a mattress, but it would be very low quality over here.”

Peace Corps experience

Anna is living in Zagnanado, Benin, with a population of 13,300 people in the country of 8,439,000.

“I’m in the arm pit of Africa,” she said, “just west of Nigeria. Benin is a little country the size of Pennsylvania or Tennessee. The Peace Corps paired me up with a social center in my town.

“There are four sectors in the Peace Corps and mine is rural community health,” said Anna. “But unlike some others that were paired with a medical center, I was paired with a social center.”

The work she does has been hit and miss, but that’s to be expected, she said.

“I am just now getting into work,” she said. “When you first get there they tell you not to worry about it and to just get to know the culture.”

That’s a big part of the Peace Corps.

“You’re American and they are African and they are getting to know you,” said Merrie.

Mostly, Anna speaks French and the corps places its volunteers based on their abilities with the language. However, one of her favorite jobs has been on her own.

“I tutored my neighbors in English and I liked that,” said Anna.

There are four or five neighbors who range in age from 3 to 6 and they keep her going. When she gets ready to exercise, the neighbors know it because that’s the only time shorts are worn.

“The kids will say, ‘We want to do the sport with you,” she said. “I goof around. Balance. Hop around. I do something and they mirror me. They laugh and I laugh.”

Why did she do it?

As her graduation from Cornell College in Iowa loomed in 2007, Anna knew she wanted to do something different.

“There are lots of reasons,” she said in answering why she chose the Peace Corps. “At first, it appealed to me because I thought I wanted to live in a developing country. As graduation came up, I didn’t want to do my other options of graduate school or getting a job.

“I thought this was a great alternative,” Anna said.

She likes what the Peace Corps does and wanted to be a part of it. The goals are to provide technical support, but also as a cultural exchange between countries.

“It gives them a better understanding of Americans and we bring back a better understanding of them,” she said.

Her stint in Africa won’t be over until September. She’s learned to deal with the many differences, both culturally and physically. Benin’s temperatures average in the 90s year around — give or take 10 degrees. There’s a rainy season and plenty of humidity.

“Basically, it feels like a Kansas summer, only hotter — the dogs days of summer,” she said.

That’s one of the many reasons Anna was looking forward to the return trip at Christmas — cold and snow.

“I told her she’s overdoing it with the wish thing,” Merrie said of the brutal temperatures and weather Anna’s returned to.

Worth it

There have been sacrifices and she misses home, but Anna hasn’t regretted her decision to join the corps.

“Yes, I have enjoyed it,” she said. “It’s not all glamorous, that’s for sure. I know I needed to work through it and I’m in a good spot. It’s been a real challenge, but I’m also extremely happy that I’ve done this. I’ve grown.

“I’ve been out of my comfort zone,” said Anna. “Just because of that, I know I’m growing and getting stronger. I’m better for it.”

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