Do you remember Jimmy Carter’s mother Lillian? She did many remarkable things, but what I remember most is that she applied to the Peace Corps at age 68 and then nursed leprosy patients during a two-year term in India.

Let me introduce you to another Peace Corps volunteer, also a Gestalt psychotherapist and sociologist, Janet Givens.

Janet Givens, Peace Corps volunteer,

Like “Miss Lillian” Carter, Janet enlisted later in life.  Her memoir about her Peace Corps experiences 2004-2006 will be coming out this year. Cultural diversity, boundaries, and borderlands fascinate her. When she read Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, she read it through that lens. Her own book, At Home On the Kazakh Steppe, will launch later this year.

Janet asked me to write a guest post for her blog. I enjoyed a new way to look at my life because it has intersected with hers. Isn’t that one of the greatest joys of any artistic endeavor?

Here’s the beginning of the story. To read it completely, just click and you will find yourself in the delightful world of Janet’s blog.

A Little Fish in a Mennonite Sea


Until I was six years old, I was a fish.


Actually, I was like the fish David Foster Wallace described in his commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

I would not have said “hell.” I was, after all, a Mennonite kid growing up on a dairy farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We worked on the farm from sun up to sun down. Not only did we not swear, we didn’t drink, smoke (well, my father’s cigars were tolerated, but only when he smoked them outdoors), dance, go to movies, or own a television set. The time: America in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. Read more.

Janet would love comments on her blog. Go show her some love and then come back if you have more to say about Miss Lillian or your own experiences of crossing cultures. Do you have your own Peace Corps or mini-Peace Corps experience?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Janet Givens on January 15, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Shirley, how interesting that you mention Lillian Carter. Makes it sound like you’ve read an early draft of my memoir. It was the casual comment I made to my soon-to-be husband that “Lillian Carter when into the Peace Corps in her 60s; I’d like to do that someday” that led eventually to our going. I’d, of course, forgotten all about that comment, but my husband had never forgotten. Strange how disparate threads weave, forming the tapestry that is our life.

  2. shirleyhs on January 15, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Ha! I had no way of knowing that story, but I remember thinking that I’d enjoy following her example also.That’s definitely one of the tapestry threads tying us together. I’m sure there are many more.

    Thanks for the opportunity to write a guest post for you. I’ve already found some interesting new writers there.

  3. Laurie Buchanan on January 15, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Janet – I’ll be looking for your book. In the meantime, I just started following you on Twitter.

    • shirleyhs on January 15, 2014 at 12:32 pm

      Laurie, I am going to have to come up with some name for you. Wonder Woman comes to mind, only for it takes on dimensions unplumbed by the TV show.

      Wonder as in awe as in spiritual force. You keep connecting and serving and inspiring. Thank you.

      • Laurie Buchanan on January 15, 2014 at 12:44 pm

        Shirley – Good thing I wasn’t drinking tea when I read your comment it or I would have shot it out my nose. I’m laughing because my husband has often wondered why they haven’t yet named a hurricane or tsunami “Laurie!”

  4. shirleyhs on January 15, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    Ha! I had a hot mug of broccoli soup in my hand when I read that. No third degree burns to report.

  5. Kathleen Pooler on January 15, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    What a lovely tribute to our very own Janet Givens, the Lillian Carter of our day! And such synchronicity or is it serendipity that Janet was inspired by Lillian’s example to go into the Peace Corps. I’m hopping over to Janet’s blog to see what you have to say. Love those “tapestry threads that tie us all together.” 🙂

    • shirleyhs on January 15, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      You’re so right about synchronicity. I keep encountering it online with writer blogger friends all the time.

      I’ll follow you over to Janet’s blog and see what is going on there. Thanks for taking time to comment, Kathy!

  6. shirleyhs on January 15, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Today I got this message from another retired Peace Corps Volunteer. My name is Ray Blakney and I am a RPCV from Mexico. I am working on a 3rd goal project with the PC regional offices and the main office in DC to try to create an online archive to keep the language training material made all over the world from getting lost. I have created a sub-section on my website with all the information I have been able to get to date (from over the web and sent to me directly by PC staff and PCV’s). I currently have close to 100 languages with ebooks, audios and even some videos.

    The next step for this project is that I am trying to get the world out about this resource so that it can not only be used by PCV’s or those accepted into the Peace Corps, but also so that when people run across material that is not on the site they can send it to me and I can get it up for everybody to use. I was hoping that you could help getting the word out so that people know it is there. There should be something there for almost everybody. It is all 100% free to use and share. Here is the page:

    Thanks for any help you can provide in making this 3rd goal project a success. And if anybody in your group has some old material they can scan or already have in digital form, and want to add to the archive, please don’t hesitate to pass them my email. Thanks and have a great day.

  7. Tina Fariss Barbour on January 20, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    A beautiful guest post, Shirley! I am constantly impressed by your compassion and openness to others.

    • shirleyhs on January 20, 2014 at 9:20 pm

      Thank you, Tina. How fitting a way to end Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — with the word ‘Compassion.” I am honored by your comment and feel the same from you.

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