From whittling in Conway to water carrying in Africaby Mona Prufer
Chris Todd has always been unconventional. To wit, she fashions beautiful, twisted chairs that you cannot sit in. She got married, honeymooned for 30 days and is now leaving the country – for more than two years – without her new spouse.
In fact, she left on Monday, Feb. 3, for 27 months as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Todd, an art teacher, sculptor and studio technician for Coastal Carolina University’s Department of Visual Arts, is leaving mid-year for her assignment in Africa. She has been assigned to Ghana, which is about the size of Oregon, but exactly where she will be stationed and what she will be doing is undetermined until she goes through training. She’s been at CCU for five years and accepted the Peace Corps assignment a year and a half ago, about the time she met Michael Baron, a CCU math instructor whom she just married.
“I’ve never subscribed to being conventional,” says Todd, a small-town girl from Kittery, Maine, with a desire to see what the world has to offer.
Most of the questions she gets about her new adventures have more to do with how she could leave her new husband for months and years than how she could “up and join the Peace Corps.”
“People used to do this all the time, get married quickly and then go off to war,” says Todd. “Why is this so different? The only difference is I will be coming home alive.”
Todd plans (hopes) to be able to Skype with Baron daily, which is why she’s taking her iPad. She will be writing a blog with photos of her adventures, which is why she’s taking her iPhone, and her husband will be visiting her over the summer months. In fact, she just sold her 2002 Mazda Protege, not for the Blue Book value, which was higher, but for the $1,400 price of air fare from New York to Ghana so he can visit. It’s how the unconventional Todd does things.
So on Monday, Feb. 3, Todd flies to Philadelphia for an eight-hour orientation on her new country. Then she flies out of New York on a 10-hour direct flight to Ghana and three months of Peace Corps training with volunteers who have actually lived and worked in the area. Once her training is complete, Todd enters 24 months of actual service in a Ghanan community.
Her assignment will probably be in health education, though it could be in water and sanitation, she says. “I don’t have any of these talents (health education or technology), but I have good skill sets,” says Todd, who does woodworking and has volunteered in South and Central American countries.
For 15 years, Todd had considered joining the Peace Corps, but doubts kept popping up and other opportunities kept presenting themselves.
But it was her five-week study abroad trip to Greece last summer that really convinced her to make the leap. “I decided I wanted to stay on in Greece by myself, so I had to find a place to stay and be able to live in a country where I didn’t speak the language and still be integrated into the community,” says Todd. “I did it successfully, and it gave me the confidence I needed.”
The irony of being 38 years old and “finally in a committed relationship” does not escape Todd, who has been warned to expect marriage proposals when she works in Africa. Being married will also make it easier when Baron comes to visit this summer, she says, adding that it’s a very conservative culture.
The 4-foot, 10-inch Todd is allowed two 50-pound pieces of luggage, but worries about hefting 100 pounds around. So she’ll pack a hiking backpack and a duffel bag on wheels with recommended clothing for tropical weather (average temps in the 80s, never lower than 64): long, gauzy skirts, T-shirts, nothing too bare or strappy.
Textiles and ceramics are big in Africa “so I’ll have a chance to be a student again and learn to work with different materials.”
She especially looks forward to getting away from the “high standards of the art community,” the gallery showings and needing to know the right people. “I can’t imagine how the new visual scenery and change of media might influence my art,” says Todd, who is classically trained in woodworking and furniture building but has always displayed great whimsy in her work.
For her two-year commitment in Ghana, Todd will be getting room and board of some sort, a $24-a-month salary and a $7,500 readjustment stipend at the end. She has no idea what the future will bring, but is keenly interested in how her worldview will change.
“I just feel like I have way more to give,” says Todd, “And I’m unafraid to take a commercial break. Plus, it couldn’t look bad on the resume, right?”
Follow Todd's Peace Corps adventureshttp://chrismtodd.wordpress.com