“And the Winner Is…”: RPCV Discovers Life is Not a Cartoon
By Erica Burman on Friday, February 24th, 2012
“Did you know that Reed Hastings, founder of Netflix, was a Peace Corps Volunteer?” someone will ask.
“Chris Matthews?”… “Ethan Hawke’s mother?”
Tell me something I don’t already know.
But occasionally we are genuinely surprised. (And believe me, we LOVE to be surprised.)
For example, Taylor Hackford (Bolivia, 68-69), director of the bio-pic “Ray” (and husband of the ever-foxy Helen Mirren—who knows what a good catch RPCVs are!), is not the only Returned Peace Corps Volunteer to ever win an Academy Award. This past week we learned of another.
“The envelope please …” This was announced on the night of April 12, 1971 to a television audience, so they say, of over a billion movies fans. On this night the envelope had my name written on it as the winner of the Academy Award for the Best Cartoon of the Year. Exactly 27 years later to the day, the hand that grabbed that golden Oscar was churning hot cow manure into compost in Guatemala … but I have gotten ahead of myself.
For 25+ years I produced 20-second cartoon spots for Sesame Street, and the iconic animation series Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. One of my cartoon specials won a TV Emmy, and a short film — Is it Always Right to be Right — won the Oscar, as well as another Academy nomination. All of which pushed me further along in my chase of the almighty dollar.
Then in 1998 my wife Julie said, “Is this all there is?” I took a good, long look back over my past and felt more like a pimp in Barbie & Ken’s neighborhood than a real life productive human being … something was missing!
The search to find what was that was missing led us in January of 1999 (at the age of 58) to sell everything, including our home of 30 years, and abandon the “good life” in Hollywood to become Peace Corps Volunteers…
We started our Peace Corps life in the village of San Cristobal, Totonicapan, in the Mayan Highlands of Guatemala, one of my assignments was to work with small business groups including a Maya women’s bakery. My weekly walk up to the bakery in the Highlands looked like a photograph right out of National Geographic.
Ducking my 6 foot height under the 5’ high adobe door, I would arrive at “my” bakery to be greeted with “Buenos días, como estas su familia.” Everything revolved around family first …not working or making money. My Spanish level was, well let’s just say was humiliating. However over time they learned to accept me and understand my Spanish enough to include me in their families, letting me help with chores, hold their babies and mourn their losses and in so doing I learned so much more than I taught.
I began to focus on other people’s needs and realize the importance of family and relationships and the unimportance of buying yet another, newer car, or a bigger plasma TV.
When our Peace Corps service came to an end, I didn’t even think about going back into the “Biz.” I became a certified TESOL instructor. I have learned to chase a different dream that is rewarded by my relationships and serving others, and the money follows.
Nick Bosustow (Guatemala 99-01, Administrative Officer Suriname 04-09) is a freelance writer and looking towards being a TESOL volunteer. This essay is from his yet to be published book.
The Los Angeles Times profiles several of the 5,800 Oscar voters, Nick among them. Read it here.