Shortly after Defying Gravity was published in 2004, I received a letter from a 67-year old Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Botswana as a District AIDS Coordinator. Her name is Bonnie Orton (that's her in the white hat in the photo above), and we’ve been in contact ever since.
Here's an excerpt from one of her letters:
My burning desire to join the U.S. Peace Corps started when the late President Kennedy appointed Sargent Shriver as its first Executive Director. Between that time and January 2003 when I retired from full-time employment, I was pursuing just about anything that struck my fancy, including two careers (medical technology and resource development) that allowed me to experience life in five states…. I plan to celebrate my 70th birthday (God willing) here in Botswana…. I am the eldest of my Peace Corps group…and among the few that are planning to extend the assignment for a third year. Being a true Libran, my life has been filled with love, laughter, and music…. Yes, there have been sad times (particularly when the love of my life died from lung cancer in 1995) and lean times; but they have been outnumbered by rainbows. I pray that you are as fulfilled by the choices you make as I have been by mine.
And from another...
A new group of 30 Peace Corps volunteers (PVCs) arrived in Botswana at the end of March. I’ve yet to meet them, but I know there are several among them that are near my age. That really pleases me because I truly believe Peace Corps is an experience that may be “wasted on the young.”. . . Kudos to you for completing your [Defying Gravity] project. If you started writing full-time at age 47, who knows what you will accomplish by age 67!
Last spring, at the conclusion of her first two-year tour, Bonnie came to the States for a home visit. I caught up with her in Brooklyn, New York. While spending a wonderful afternoon listening to her life story, I discovered that she's as warm and vibrant in person as she is in her letters. Bonnie subsequently invited me to come stay with her in Africa for three weeks this spring. She tells me that Botswana has the most beautiful blue sky.
Going to Africa has been a dream of mine since seventh grade when my mother gave me a book about Jane Goodall and her work with chimpanzees at the Gombe National Reserve in Tanzania. But I’m not just traveling to Africa to fulfill a dream; I’m going because Bonnie is the model for a character in a novel I'm writing which is set, among other places, in Botswana.
I'm curious to see how the experience informs my novel...and transforms me.