Janis Hyatt joined the Peace Corp for many reasons. The one big reason was as a rite of passage. She needed to prove to herself that she had value as an individual and that she was not a failure. Anyone who knew her had no doubts, but she did. Halfway through her stint, she gained that final piece of self-confidence that she was searching for. She realized midway that she had accomplished her personal goal. Of course she stayed to finish and was very content in performing the teaching role she had been assigned.
Jan was hitchhiking through Botswana during one of the month-long teaching breaks. She was in the back of a pickup truck with another couple whom she didn’t really know that well. The truck was traveling fast in the middle of nowhere when a tire blew-out. The truck rolled, she was crushed, and died pretty quickly from internal bleeding. Maggie, the Peace Corps nurse for Swaziland at the time, escorted her body back to Dickinson Texas. She was cremated. Her friends took her ashes to a nearby beach on the Gulf Coast, lit candles, said words, and then waded out into the surf to distribute her ashes.
Jan was a well balanced individual. She had a great deal of empathy for others and was frequently the shoulder that people would lean on. She was a T-shirt, overalls and barefoot kind of gal. The university paper had a picture of her standing barefoot in snow. She wore shoes only when required by law or decorum. She was adventurous. She enjoyed the unexpectedness of travel. She was joyful. She collected miniature versions of everyday items to use in geology class photographs where you needed an everyday item to provide relative size. She had temp work in a drug store before leaving for Swaziland and got to play along with some kids calling about “Prince Albert in a can”. She was smart and curious. She spent an afternoon in her assigned village calculating the speed of sound based upon a bouncing basketball and the gravitational effects of a falling object. The one thing she was missing was proof to herself that she was worthy. Her time in the Peace Corps allowed her to gain that self-knowledge and she became a whole person.