“I don’t think its hit me yet that I’m actually going,” said Loubieh. “But I’m excited. I’m packed and as ready to go as I’ll ever be.”
Now, a mere seven days later, the 22-year-old Brentwood resident is living in Africa, possibly just a few miles from the fields where her designer coffee beans were grown and where she will spend the next 27 months working as a health extension worker with the Peace Corps.
Loubieh, a recent graduate of Dominican College in San Mateo – with degrees in psychology and philosophy – was on her way to a graduate degree program at Columbia University when she caught the Peace Corps bug.
“I found out about the Peace Corps while I was in college and there was a seminar about it on campus,” said Loubieh. “I was immediately interested and I called my stepdad and said I had heard about this thing called the Peace Corps. He laughed and said that yeah, he had heard of it. And I took it from there.”
Now, Columbia will be deferred until 2012 while Loubieh works on her post-graduate degree in life; a stint Dave Albee, associate director of public relations for Dominican College, believes she is eminently qualified for.
“I’ve met Tala (Loubieh) only a few times, but she has impressed me,” said Albee. “She’s got a real good heart and is very, very motivated. I know she will do a great job for the Peace Corps.”
While in Africa, Loubieh will assist local health care workers in dealing with such problems as malnutrition, dysentery, hygiene and water sanitation. But in a county with a nearly 85 percent AIDS/HIV rate, Loubieh’s primary job will be education.
“People in these countries don’t understand much about health and they don’t know anything about their bodies and how they work,” said Loubieh. “Part of my job while there will be to empower them with education; to help teach the youth – and the whole community, really – to better understand how to take care of themselves.”
Although Peace Corps volunteers are trained up front in their host county’s language, culture and health and safety issues, the volunteers’ living arrangements come later.
“What they (Peace Corps) are trying to do is find out a little bit more about you (the volunteer),” said Loubieh. “What your personality is like, what you’re good at – things like that. Once the three months of training are done, then they place you with a host family, so until then, we won’t know where we’ll end up.”
But one thing Loubieh is fairly sure of is that her accommodations will be Spartan – most likely a mud hut with a tin roof, no electricity or running water. If she’s really lucky, she’ll have access to an outhouse and not a mere hole in the ground. She might find herself living with a family of seven or a childless couple. Either way, she’ll be immersed in the day-to-day lives of people far removed geographically and technologically from her life in Brentwood.
“I see this as a great, amazing opportunity to live as a native and help people,” said Loubieh. “I know it is going to be hard and that I probably can’t imagine what it will be like. We have to (as Peace Corps volunteers) immerse ourselves totally in culture. We go to church, we do the shopping and we bury their dead. I’m a little worried about death; it’s a daily thing over there and I’ve never lost anyone close to me or seen anyone die.”
Loubieh hopes that taking along a few creature comforts from home will help ease the transition, and said that she plans to pack a laptop computer and iPod, as well as personal photos and a few special books. But other than that, the next 27 months will be a lesson in living light.
“I’m definitely going to learn a lot about myself while I’m gone; like, should I wash my hair or the dishes?” she said, laughing. “But that’s all part of the adventure; I can’t wait.”
While in the Peace Corps, Loubieh will receive a monthly stipend to help pay for expenses such as clothing and incidentals, and upon her arrival back in the states will receive a $6,000 readjustment allowance. Peace Corps volunteers have their medical and dental care paid for, and receive 48 days of paid vacation. Loubieh said she plans to save up most of her vacation time to travel the continent or perhaps venture to Europe.
Families stateside are provided with emergency contact numbers, and if for any reason volunteers want to come home, they’re free to do so.
“The minute something isn’t right, either with you or if there is some kind of unrest in your country, the Peace Corps will pull you immediately,” said Loubieh. “They do an amazing job of taking care of you.”
Loubieh admits that the prospect of leaving her family and friends for two years has been daunting (although her mother and stepfather plan to visit her in Africa), but a part of her is also looking forward to meeting others who are as passionate about the program as she.
“I’m excited that I’m going to be sharing my passion with others who have the same goals,” she said. “I’ve always been the hippy friend, the protester, the one in my group of friends who was a little different. Now I’m going to be with others who understand. I will always have my old friends, but I know I’m also going to make some new lifelong friends.”
And when the adventure is over, Loubieh plans to go straight from Tanzania to Columbia – unless, of course, she has a change of heart.
“As of right now I’m totally planning on going to Columbia and I’m really looking forward to that,” said Loubiah. “But I also don’t know what things will be like for me in two years. I know I’m going to change so much from this experience and I may not feel the same way or want the same things. I’m sure I will attend Columbia, but I’m still open to opportunity. My door is still wide open.”