First-Person with Former Peace Corps Volunteer Jacqueline Eastridge
How did I come to be Operations Manager for the Gobi March in Mongolia? It’s a crazy story:
At 57, I was a paralegal and realised I’d had enough of the corporate life. I wanted to break free. I put an application into the Peace Corps to go to Mongolia, something that I’d always wanted to do! While they were considering it, I went to Nepal as a volunteer teacher. The Peace Corps were a bit hesitant because of my age and because I was a long-time vegetarian. “Ok,” I said. “I’ll give up vegetarianism for the next two years."
And there I was, in a ger (yurt), the only foreigner in a remote village two hours west of where we would finish the Gobi March race. I lived as the locals did, subsisting on local food and chipping through the ice in winter to get my morning water. I taught in the school, and slowly started learning Mongolian.
In March 2020, COVID-19 hit and all foreigners had two days to pack up and be evacuated. It broke my heart to leave all those children and families I’d grown so close to.
I came back in 2021 and taught in a private school in the city. It was quite different! I decided my heart was really in the countryside, and when Mary asked me to lead operations for the Gobi March race in 2023, I jumped at the opportunity. She and I asked all the participants and crew to bring some small things for children that I could send back to my original village school. Mary asked me also what were some things that would be especially valuable to villagers that we could give them along the way. I knew straight away: Many of the nomadic people had solar panels but no good batteries to store the power in. And the herdsmen often had difficulty finding straying stock. We bought 20 high-powered lithium batteries and a whole lot of monoculars. These are better than binoculars because the herdsmen need to be able to use them one-handed when on horseback or motorbike.
I’ve never regretted a moment of my decision to drop out of the rat-race that day when I was 57. The Mongolians are amazing people: kind, gentle and patient. And that’s how I came to be Operations Manager for the most recent Gobi March in 2023, and I loved it. I will again return to Mongolia to be the Operations Manager for the Gobi March 2024, and I can't wait.