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Years later, couple return to Peace Corps; this time it’s Madagascar

This time for Peace Corps service, it’s Madagascar

Bob and Jean Auerbach hold pictures of themselves on their first Peace Corps adventure in Western Samoa nearly 30 years ago.   (Dan Pelle)
Bob and Jean Auerbach hold pictures of themselves on their first Peace Corps adventure in Western Samoa nearly 30 years ago. (Dan Pelle)

At a time when most people their age are starting to think seriously about retirement, Bob and Jean Auerbach are getting ready to start the adventure of their lives – again.

At the end of February, the south Spokane couple will leave on a 27-month Peace Corps mission to Madagascar.

It will be the second such adventure for Bob, 62, and Jean, 59, who served with the Peace Corps in Western Samoa from 1982 to 1985.

“We decided to do a crazy thing, and now we are doing it again,” Bob said.

The Auerbachs were in their 30s in Samoa. Jean taught English and Bob taught manual arts in the capital of Apia.

“It was a transitional period in our lives, and we were interested in doing some world travel,” Bob said.

It was not a walk in the park.

The couple had to undergo two months of intensive training, including language education and cultural sensitivity.

“They just don’t want you to be the ugly American,” Jean said.

When they returned to the United States, the couple settled down into careers that have provided them with financial security – maybe a little too secure for their tastes.

Bob is retiring from Keigley & Co., which designs and supplies equipment for grain elevators, where he has worked since 1989. Jean leaves Coldwell Banker Tomlinson South, where she has sold real estate since 1993.

They say they have reached a place in their lives where they are ready to move on, not sit around. Jean turned 30 in Western Samoa. She will turn 60 in Madagascar.

They won’t know exactly where in Madagascar they will end up until they get there, the Auerbachs said. That’s the way it is with the Peace Corps.

This time they will be trained in microfinancing and small enterprise development, a 10-week program. They also will live with a local family for the first two months, during which time they will be immersed in the native language, Malagasy, and French.

The couple applied to go to the eastern Caribbean, but did not receive medical clearance in time, Jean said.

Madagascar has a history of military coups d’etat, including a failed attempt last November and a successful one two years ago that deposed President Marc Ravalomanana. But things have settled down, they say.

Also, aren’t the lemurs a problem?

“Not at all, they just throw them in a pot and cook them,” Jean said, displaying a tour guide photo of a sort of stew, complete with floating lemur skulls. “They call it bush meat.”

The Auerbachs had a small motorcycle in Samoa, but the Peace Corps has since banned all motor vehicles for volunteers. Crashes apparently were the leading cause of Peace Corps fatalities.

The Auerbachs already sold their home and most of their belongings. Where they are going they can take only 40 pounds of luggage each.

“Fifty percent of volunteers in Madagascar have no electricity or running water,” Jean said.

The couple said their 24-year-old son, who is married with a 3-year-old boy, has had trepidations about being left behind.

“It’s sink or swim, dear,” Jean said. “Mom and Dad are off having a wild adventure.”

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