Married 39 years, parents of two grown boys and finally retired — that might sound to many like the perfect time to kick back, take up golf or go on a long vacation.
Instead, local 60-somethings Mary and Gerald “Gerry” Murphy spent two years in the Peace Corps stationed in Morocco. Located on the northwestern tip of Africa, Morocco has Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, and both desert and mountains inland.
For two years, the Murphys put their own spin on defining retirement. Apparently, a growing number of retirees are doing just that by enrolling in national service programs - most notably the Peace Corps, according to its website. The programs may have been designed primarily for young people originally, but now some of those ‘60s-era youth are looking for another chance to give back or to have an adventure.
“The Peace Corps was always something I wanted to do. I wanted to join at 20, I even filled out the paperwork,” Mary Murphy said, “but I was too timid.”
When their son, Joshua Patrick Murphy, served in the Peace Corps after his college graduation, Mary found herself rethinking about what she had put off some 40 years earlier. Gerry thought it was a good idea to join the Peace Corps, too. They joined on March 1, 2010 and were stationed in Morocco from March 3, 2010 to May 1, 2012.
They lived in a village called Ait Diba. In Arabic, it means “place of the she wolf,” Gerry said. There was lots of mud, donkeys, wandering goats, camels, a homemade-bread-based diet and the Quran in the Murphy’s new home.
Morocco is 99 percent Muslim and the language is Arabic. A few educated village friends spoke English but overall, communication was tough because the Murphys do not speak Arabic.
But, a commitment is a commitment and the Murphys never gave up. They faithfully attended the language classes, politely sat on the floor for dinner and ate with their hands alongside their host family. They enjoyed being the much-respected older couple in the village. Eventually, they got their own house on a hill in the village, with running water and electricity.
“I even grew my gray beard,” said the now clean shaven Gerry. “The people truly respect elders in that culture.”
Gerry is a chemist who worked at Raytheon in Andover for 35 years, while Mary is a nurse who worked for 25 years in the psychiatric and Alzheimer’s departments at the Veterans Administration in Bedford. They were involved with the village health clinic. Gerry helped develop a water-filtration program while Mary organized blood-pressure clinics and worked to improve the overall health consciousness of villagers with hand-washing and tooth-brushing awareness programs.
The Murphys also received a Peace Corps grant to buy 300 olive trees for the village. Residents can sell olive oil for much-needed cash so the trees’ arrival was big news in the village.
Gerry also helped build a school while Mary relentlessly pursued a village woman whose young son had a cleft lip. Doctors from Operation Smile correct cleft lips and were due to visit a nearby village. That mom did bring her son for surgery and his lip was fixed.
“That is something I will never forget...that mom was so grateful,” Mary said.
She said she learned a lot and helped many village residents learn about improving their health. She dropped 25 pounds, was a vegetarian for those two years in Morocco and has seen enough sheep, camels and goats to last a lifetime.
Meanwhile, Gerry will never forget making bread every morning with flour, yeast and salt. He’ll always remember the new school in the village and the thrill of all those olive trees arriving.
It’s back to a more conventional retirement for these longtime High Plain Road residents. Gerry, 65, and Mary, 68, swim at the local YMCA and enjoy kayaking together. Sounds like a bit of well deserved normalcy for this adventurous retired couple.