Disclaimer

The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Gotta Get Down on Friday!

CEDs hanging out on the terrace. A typical use of downtime.
Things are gearing up and getting serious here. Next week we head east to Mamou, where we’ll meet our counterparts! Our first few months at site we’re not expected to really start any projects, but rather to focus on assessing our organization and the resources in the community. This workshop is to get us acquainted with our counterparts, and also to clarify our expectations for these coming months. Once we’ve been at site for 3 months they’ll ship us all back to Mamou again for In-Service Training, where we’ll learn more site- and job-specific skills. 

Barack Obama sent us an email for Christmas, and then bought us flowers!
Speaking of sites! I'll be working right on the waterfront, down in a little city/ big village called Koba. I'll be working with a savings and credit association of fishermen, which means I'll get to learn everything from motor maintenance to how to smoke a fish. I already eat fishy rice nearly every night of the week here - it was a little scary at first thinking that fish would be my main diet for the next 2 years, but I've figured out how to put it in perspective. Everyone else may get sick of the fishy rice, but I'm going to master it so well that everyone else is going to be jealous of my mad tasty meals. Add that to my beach, my ability to go swimming any time I want, and the fresh eggs from the chickens I'm going to invariably raise, and I'm going to have a better setup than I ever had at home. Minus electricity and running water, though.

Bro Kenny. He has a lot of things that other volunteers don't.
 We’ve been getting a lot of statistics this week about Guinea. There’s a 45% literacy rate. Genital excision occurs to 98% of the women. 85% of the population lives on less than a dollar a day. It can be overwhelming to see how much work there is to be done. Peace Corps has four cross-sector issues that all volunteers are encouraged to address: HIV/AIDS awareness, Information/Communcations Technology, Gender & Development, and Youth Development. We made a list of all the possible activities we can do to address these issues, and while it’s easy to let your brain blue-screen when faced with so much work, it’s also heartening to see that there are so many options and methods to approach the issue.

Medical training!

And as usual, our summer camp mentality of planning too many activities for every day is still going strong. One of the trainees here is the gung-ho runner type, and wants to set up a 5k run for our volunteer group. When we head to Mamou he’ll scope out the route, then make up a workout schedule. The idea is that we’ll do our runs independently, and then when we head back to Mamou in April/May for our In-Service Training, we can hold the official G21 5k!

The early stages of dirty feet during our Christmas Dance Party in Conakry.

Speaking of running, it’s one of the things I love to do most around here. With the heat and humidity, it’s definitely not the easiest activity. (Give me a misty Pacific Northwest jog, please!) But it’s hands-down the most spiritually reaffirming and mind-clearing activity I do. It’s refreshing to turn off my brain for a while and focus on getting through the physical challenge. There’s a dirt path that goes out between the rice paddies, and it’s just wide enough for 2 or 3 people to jog abreast. No people or houses around, just you and the African bush. On clear days you can even see the two giant mountains that hover over the town, perched right over the rice and just to the side of the setting sun.

Creepy Uncle Shane sometimes drinks too much wine at Christmas and makes everyone uncomfortable.

Let’s talk about food! It’s a huge thing around here. We love food. Between food and gossiping about other volunteers and their love lives, we never run out of things to talk about. We’re all so stressed about language skills and the realities of our jobs that in our off-time, we all drop down to the lowest IQ levels possible. Anyway. Food! There’s something here called keke that I cannot get enough of. It’s a type of fluffy manioc/cassava – think extra soft and fluffy couscous. I usually buy it in a plastic bag, and the market lady will put some flavored oil, hot sauce, bullion cube powder, onions, and cucumber on top. (I could get half a dried fish too but I usually decline.) All for 3,000 GF! We get 8,000 GF for our daily food stipend, so then I’ll augment my lunch with 3 oranges for 1,000, a sugar cookie for 500, and a cup of tea or Turkish coffee from one of the “cafes” for another 500. 

My Christmas dinner! There was even an entire roasted goat!

These cafes are not at all cafes in the American sense. They’re usually wood shacks with aluminum siding, with a covered terrace/porch full of low benches and tables. It’s a national pastime for Guinean men to hang out and drink tea, but they’re happy to make room for the fote crew when we show up. It’s a great place to hang out and socialize, and we’ve been taught that drinking tea is a legit tool for getting to know our community at site. I’m all for it! The other day I even found out that one of the regulars at the cafe is my uncle! (Though whether he’s my mom’s older or younger brother is up for debate – they both insist that they’re the older sibling.) 

Medical training activities are always a hoot

On a more personal note: in case you’re worrying about me, don’t! Other people here have had little mental breakdowns, but I’m running on a steady jet of high-octane enthusiasm for everything I do here. There are moments where I feel overwhelmed and under-qualified and unprepared, sure. But even when I wake up at 3am to run to the latrine, there’s no question that this is exactly where I want to be. 

These are all good people.
And finally, I'll close with a quote from a book I've been reading:

"Try to keep a lively sense of humor about it. That way lies grace - and maybe even glory."
Merry Christmas from the CED program in Guinea!
                                                                                      

Monday, December 19, 2011

Week 3


Note to the reader: This post is written as if it’s still Sunday, but you should know that I actually did most of it at 5:00am Monday morning. First I forgot to turn my light off before going to sleep (who cares if the light switch is on if there’s no electricity?) so when it came on at 4am I was, needless to say, a little confused. Then the mosque started its call to prayer, but when the electricity stayed on, they decided to keep going! A full hour of singing and chanting and announcements through the loudspeaker! Thanks guys. So much for finishing my episode of Mifloquine Nights*.

On location at Mifloquine Nights!
Last Wednesday we had our site placement interviews with Kristine, the CED Director here in Guinea. She gave us some information to go over a few days before the interview, and it required us to rate things based on our job experience, our personal interests, and what sort of amenities we want the most. On the back were examples of actual projects we could be placed in, and we had to rank the ones we were most vs. least interested in. Of all the other CED trainees, I think I’m one of the least experienced/ least interested in doing actual business-type work. A lot of my friends here brought serious business attire and look forward to working in an office environment. Meanwhile, I told Kristine in our interview that if I could switch over to the Agroforestry program, I would do it in a heartbeat**. I’m willing to ride my bike everywhere, I don’t really need electricity (but would prefer to have it a few days a week), and as long as there are fresh fruits and veggies available, I’m good. Ideally there’d also be another volunteer somewhat near me that I could collaborate on projects with.

Other volunteers!
We find out where our actual sites are and what projects we’ll be working on this Thursday! Then in Week 5 (Monday is the start of Week 3) we’ll all go out to our sites, meet our counterparts, and get to see our homes for the next 2 years! The first three months at site are focused on getting us settled and integrated into our communities. Most of the tools we learn in training are geared toward how to assess the community. There’s another training session in April or May where we’ll learn more technical/ site-specific skills.

Honestly the scope of my work here is overwhelming. Luckily I’m so busy most of the time that I rarely think beyond what I’m doing a few hours ahead; at most I’ll be looking a few days forward. It still feels like I’m in summer camp, though admittedly in drastically different conditions than I ever had at Camp Gilead. Everyone is banding together to fill every moment of free time with activities. Today (Sunday)’s schedule, for example:

7:00 - 9:00am Do laundry (by hand, with a washboard and a couple buckets of water)
10:30am - 2:30pm Get hair braided by another trainee’s host sister. The three of us are all named Aminata (It’s the African equivalent of Megan or Brittney)
4:00 - 5:00 Salsa Lesson taught by one of the other trainees
5:00 - sundown: Ultimate Frisbee match between the trainees and our local Guinean friends

I look like a bald baby now.
It’s not all games, of course. This Tuesday we’ll be directing an activity with some local youths. My group will be making a Daily Activity Schedule, in which we split the students up into male and female groups and ask them to chart out a daily schedule, both for themselves and for what they think the other gender does. It’s one of 4 activities that are part of PACA: Participatory Analysis for Community Action. The other three are making maps of the community, making a seasonal calendar, and ranking priorities. It’s an analysis tool that we’ll use when we first get to site, and for how simple it seems, it’s crazy useful. Do you want me to list the reasons why it’s supposed to work? Of course you do! Here goes:

-It’s sustainable. You’re looking for existing resources and skills the community has, and finding ways to augment them.

-The community becomes self-actualized. I’m not coming in and telling them their problems or how to fix them – rather, I’ll be facilitating them into organizing themselves and giving them the tools to make their own conclusions. They ultimately decide their priorities and plan of action; all the benefits of their efforts go directly to them.

-By performing each PACA tool with different groups, it’s both a source of integrating the subgroups (youth/elderly, men/women, famers/vendors, etc) and letting the groups have a space to voice their specific needs.

-For me, it helps me to identify the key leaders and resources in the community. It’ll give me something to do when I arrive so I don’t panic about not having the same jam-packed schedule. It’s just a starting point, but it makes me a visible figure in the community, and will start the process of building relationships and making me accessible. It could be a source of finding secondary projects, which obviously, with my love of the agro program, are going to quickly take up all my downtime.

Building relationships
Oh boy. I’ve been drinking the Peace Corps Kool-Aid something fierce, haven’t I? The secret ingredient is unfiltered pump water – you don’t have time to question things when you’re spending all day in a latrine or trying to rehydrate yourself with disgusting ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts!) Luckily I brought a thing of pink lemonade mix, probably one of the most useful extras I brought from home. Lemonade is supposed to be tangy, and the pink flavoring makes it just sugary enough that I don’t notice the ORS. They’re absolutely horrid on their own. Gagging-after-looking-down-the-latrine disgusting. 

ORS or Skol?
You see how that worked? I started to become aware and immediately got sidetracked onto health issues. My mental programming comes straight out of a dystopian novel. Not that I have any criticisms! I’m a happy cult member, feeling like I’ve found a safe haven of like-minded people that will support and love me unconditionally. There’s a purpose to my life that I didn’t have before, and it’s incredibly satisfying and fulfilling. For all that I’m terrified of getting in front of that class in Tuesday, I’m thrilled to take this first step toward using the skills I’ve been taught.
Controlled burning.

* Pretty sure I’ve nailed Kristen Stewart’s next movie role: Sleeping Beauty. Girl passes out due to an evil sorcerer; Handsome Prince enters Dreamland to save her. Involves shit like running down corridors that change at each new hallway, grotesque wolf-like creatures following their scent and snuffle at closed doors, and facing riddles and quizzes from people whose personalities have been drained. And somehow all of this was just real fun, and not at all creepy.

** I got a look at the AGFO manual and it’s impressive. They work on projects like making jam, grafting trees, and planting cash crops with heartier crops to decrease soil erosion. There was an entire section on the debate about introducing foreign plant species. Plus they’re always doing things like collecting plastic bags to grow seedlings in, or shoveling up bird poo to use as fertilizer in their community garden. So cool! My Bellingham hippie self is in love with everything AGFO does. Ideally I’ll be placed near one of them so we can collaborate on projects.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Things I've Learned About Malaria

The symptoms for malaria include getting chills – so basically, if I’m ever feeling comfortably cool in Guinea, chances are I’ve got malaria and need to test myself. (The testing application looks eerily like a pregnancy test.)

Though two years is plenty of time to build up a malaria immunity, it’s not an option. The drugs we’re taking kill the malaria spores as soon as they enter our body – POW! But taking malaria pills is like placating an angry dog sitting in the same room. It will turn on you the second you drop your guard. Don’t challenge malaria! 


Also, this particular malaria drug's side effects include really vivid and strange dreams. In a world without television, my weekly malaria pill dreams are something to look forward to!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The End of Week One


Even if I were to sit here for 3 hours and type type type away, I still couldn't cover everything from this past week. It's a shame, then, that the Internet access is a little shaky here in Dubreka and only lasts an hour every evening!

Okay, here's what's going on: 

We arrived in Guinea late Tuesday night. Along the way we lost two trainees in Brussels, not because they panicked and quit, but because the company in charge of our travel itinerary canceled their plane tickets due to a name typo. Peace Corps took care of them and they joined us in the capital, Conakry, about 48 hours later. The first three days were an adjustment period for everyone to get used to the idea of living abroad in a developing country for 2 years. The Transition House & PC HQ is like summer camp - a fenced-in compound with a lush garden full of spiders and their giant webs to run through when you're trying to catch a frisbee, bunk beds draped in mosquito nets, tile-floor bathrooms that stay hot and humid 24 hours a day, and all meals are eaten buffet-style in a kitchen full of plastic picnic tables and chairs. We had just enough time to get accommodated to the living arrangements and start to think that living in Africa wouldn’t be so bad before we had to pack up our bags and head off to Dubreka!

Dubreka is my official home for the next eight weeks. Here I’m known as Aminata Gita Touré, and I have 2 brothers, a nephew, a mom, and such a huge extended family that I can’t even begin to name the rest. Each morning I wake up at 6am to the call to prayer from the mosque competing with roosters crowing. I’ll spend about 30 minutes either on the phone or just chilling out, waiting for the sun to rise, before I start getting ready for the day. School starts “promptly” at 8am, and this first week has been heavy on the French, with about 6 hours of language lessons a day plus homework that takes the majority of the evening. (And wow, homework is tres hard without electricity!)

Any time I go out, small children run up to me shouting “Fote! Fote!” and try to either shake my hand or fist bump. (By the way, how cool is it that knucks are universal?!) Everything comes with rice – fish sauce and rice, peanut sauce and rice, rice and pasta – you name it, it will be mixed with rice! There’s a market down the street from the school that I go to for lunch; some highlights of the food you can find there include freshly made peanut butter, still-warm bread, boiled eggs, watermelons, and fishy rice.


I’ve started running in the evenings, and there’s a dirt trail that leads away from town and out through the rice fields that is magnificent in the evening light. Of course, the scenery becomes less impressive as the jog goes on and all I can think of is the heat and the dust in the air and how stupidly tired I am after only 20 minutes. As with anything here, there’s an adjustment period before things start to feel normal.
 
There are times when I stop and surprise myself that I’m here, in Africa, living and breathing and learning and being the same self I’ve always been. I was getting a little desperate back home, and within 48 hours of arriving in the country I had a clear head again. I miss home, I miss my friends and my family, but this is definitely the right place for me to be. And things aren't so drastically different as you'd think. Sure, electricity turns on and off without warning, internet is crazy slow, I take bucket baths instead of showers, and I'm constantly drenched in sweat. But I'm also going out for drinks with my colleagues this evening, and we've bartered the beer price down from 9 to 8,000 francs!

PS I have a phone now! Feel free to contact me, I’d love to hear your voice! +224 62 84 54 15

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Acronyms I Have Known, Part 1

Welcome to Peace Corps Guinea (PCG)! There's an almost overwhelming amount of new sights and smells and tastes and people and information to take in. (And the mifloquine dreams at night really add to the experience!) Here in the Peace Corps, we like to turn phrases into acronyms so we can move through the information as quickly as possible. Here are a few to get you started!

PCV - Peace Corps Volunteer
PCT - Peace Corps Trainee
PST - Pre-Service Training
IST - In-Service Training
CBT - Community Based Training
TDA - Trainee Directed Activity
SDL - Self Directed Learning
PH - Public Health
AGFO - Agroforestry
CED - Community Economic Development (pronounced "said")
LCF - Language & Culture Facilitator
LPI - Language Proficiency Interview (I'm a Novice-Low at french, and no one is surprised!)
COTE - Calendar of Training Events
KSA - Knowledge, Skills & Attitudes

Study up and we'll cover a new batch tomorrow!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lauren is the best ever! (except she's getting married without me, what a ho)

Bitch is gettin married without me! UNFAIR.

Last real meal in the states! mac & cheese with roasted garlic and a locally-brewed pilsner!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Going Away

Last night my friends put together a low-key going away party. In order to keep sadness and sentimentality at bay (those are clothes that don't fit too well on us), we started the night with a mission: Bingo! It was more like a scavenger hunt, with a list of Eastside stereotypes to identify ($1,000 strollers, use of Botox, children in designer clothing, Porsche SUV's, etc.) We even played the almost-mythical tab roulette that Nick and Kenny thought would never actually catch on. For the uninitiated: when the bill for the table arrives, you have the choice to opt out and pay your share, which gets put into the pot o' winnings. For all who decided to gamble, credit cards are jumbled together and pulled out one by one. The second to last credit card gets the winnings, the last credit card has to pay the entire bill. One person gets shafted; everyone else is excessively relieved and jubilant over getting free drinks.

These are my friends. Each and every one of them knows the definition of schadenfreude. They're whip-smart, stubborn and outspoken, and masters of their chosen field. They've been with me for years, through loves that have built and destroyed a world, academic programs in far-away places, new interests and hobbies, years of lapsed communication and silence, drunken revelations, and uncounted other memories. Our relationships have stretched and expanded to accept so many changes; now that I'm leaving they'll only become so much stronger. Already I'm missing two weddings, with a third likely. Who knows what other major life changes will crop up? But the beauty of our friendship is knowing that we're in it for the long haul; no one ever fully severs those ties. The shape will change, but the foundation is deeply dug. Twenty-seven months. It's a blip in a long lifetime.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Packing List

It's all finally ready to be shoved into duffle bags, weighed on my parents' scale to make sure I either over or underpacked, and then heavily relied upon for the next 2 years. I tried to follow the Peace Corps' and other volunteers' recommendations, and also use a bit of imagination to put together items that will keep me clothed and comfortable for, at the minimum, 4 months. After that I'll hopefully be acclimated enough to the country that I'll know where and how to acquire anything I may have forgotten. One upside to all of this is that living the outdoor PNW lifestyle makes a person relatively low maintenance, so I don't feel too limited by a lack of hairdryer or 7 types of eyeshadow.


The Bags
REI duffle
used army duffle
40L Kelty backpack
REI flashpack
cloth purse

The Clothes
shoes x4 (hiking, running, Chacos, flats)
coverings/wraps x 5 (1 scarf, 1 Buff, 2 bandanas, 1 sarong)
lightweight black cardigan
lightweight button-up plaid "hiking shirt"
collared button-ups x2
cotton tshirts x3
"dressy" shirts x3 (they defy categorization with my limited girl-fashion vocabulary)
camisoles x4 (spaghetti-strapped, so only to be worn at home or under see-through type shirts)
running shorts, again to be worn at home/ in privacy
sweatshirt x1
REI rain jacket x1
long-sleeved shirt x1
tank tops x3 (not spaghetti straps)
dress x1 (above the knee AND spaghetti-strapped, so only to be used at home. I had to bring one thing in open defiance of logic)
pants x4 (jeans, lightweight & adjustable hiking pants, cotton gaucho pants (thanks Lauren!), yoga/workout pants)
skirts, below the knee x2
bras x6
sports bras x3
socks x6
cotton underwear x a million. Seriously. So much cotton underwear.
bikini x1
Speedo swimsuit x1
sunglasses x2

Office Supplies (no self-respecting business major should leave the country without the entire contents of their local Office Max!)
envelopes x80 (one box, really)
yellow legal pad
French-English dictionary
stamps x40
Moleskine journal x2
colored ink pens x6
Bic pens x a handful
scissors
a filofax FULL of paperwork, including 10 very dour passport photos

Electronics & Entertainment
headlamp (AAA)
mini flashlight (AA) (it doubles as a shiv! A very heartfelt gift from my dad)
AAA & AA batteries
Aerobie
plastic-coated playing cards
Solio Bolt solarcharger
iPod
Grundig shortwave radio
headphones
500 GB external hard drive loaded with movies and tv shows
8 GB thumb drive loaded with this book and nothing else, yet
X-mini speaker
Canon SD4000 PowerShot
fully-charged lithium-ion battery x2
battery charger
SD memory cards x2
my MacBook from 2008 & charger
a baggy full of cords to charge all the assorted electronics
book: The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson (thanks Nick!)

Toiletries/ Girl Necessities
Dr Bronner's soap
conditioner
Cetaphil facewash
Aveeno face moisturizer
Persa-gel 10 (because you know I'm going to get 6th grade acne the second I arrive in a new climate)
eyeliner
mascara
clinical-strength deodorant x2
toothpaste, toothbrush
bobbie pins
hair ties
razor & 6 replacement heads
tweezers
travel mirror
wide-toothed comb
Diva cup x2
nail clippers
nail polish x4
camp towel
mini sewing kit
pill box full of various studs (the only jewelry I'll have in Africa!)

Gifts for my hosts
sticker sheets x2
assorted face paints
pill box full of those "pills" that expand into animals when soaked in water
various friendship bracelets I made while watching all those Korean soap operas these last few months

and finally, the most important part...


The Food (of which there is not nearly enough)
indian food packets x4
Oreos
mini candy canes
2lbs Jolly Ranchers (to double as gifts as well!)
chocolate, peanut butter and banana trail mix
Mac & Cheese x3
Panda black licorice x2
creamy peanut butter
Nutella
dry soup packets x3 (including one for egg drop soup, yum!)
Alfredo sauce packets x2
hot cocoa mix x5
Country Time strawberry lemonade powder
Sriracha
Habanero hot sauce
steak seasoning

If you think I've forgotten anything, feel free to send it to me in the mail!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Enthusiasm

Sometimes it feels like I turned off my brain over the last year. Today more than usual I can feel the synapses starting to fire again, hear the engine revving, and realize that I'm really fucking thrilled to face a new challenge. It might be more than I can handle, but even if I fail miserably, it's going to be worth it for the opportunity alone.

We've all heard about Panera's "pay what you can" cafes, right? This is the thought behind them: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/10/corporations_must_become_socia.html

And this book, OH THIS BOOK. Stunning pictures and even better content: http://analoguedigital.com/makingdo/

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cats

Awful, awful beasts.

Excerpt from Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

"Walter had never liked cats. They'd seemed to him the sociopaths of the pet world, a species domesticated as an evil necessary for the control of rodents and subsequently fetishized the way unhappy countries fetishize their militaries, saluting the uniforms of killers as cat owners stroke their animals' lovely fur and forgive their claws and fangs. He'd never seen anything in a cat's face but simpering incuriosity and self-interest; you had only to tease one with a mouse-toy to see where its true heart lay."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fine Tuning

I've been fiddling around with my shortwave radio, trying to pick up stations and make sure I understand how it works. Yet to find the BBC, but am listening to an interesting discussion about the religious influences on the formation of the Declaration of Independence.

This little box, only slightly bigger than my iPod, is going to be a tremendously important source of information and entertainment while I'm gone.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Reference Material

Before leaving for the Peace Corps, I'm overwhelmed by thoughts of what my experience will be like. Part of the adventure is the vast amount of unknown variables that are going to crop up. No matter how many books and blogs and articles I read, nothing can predict exactly how it will go for me. I can only put together an outline of general experiences and feelings that I'm likely to go through.

That said, here are two sources I've been particularly enjoying recently:


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ross-szabo  Ross Szabo is updating from his post in Botswana, where he works with his wife. As someone with a previous professional career, including experience as a writer, his work is more put-together than most PC blogs I've come across. Whereas my blog will likely be stream-of-thought postings cobbled together with wishful reminisces about burritos, this guy takes the time to think of his audience.

http://youngflaneur.blogspot.com/  There's a heap of PC Guinea blogs that I'm following, but this one stands out for two reasons: 1) the quality of his writing, which is humorous and fun to see how he's going to express an idea, and 2) the video of his living space. Seriously, check out that house! I can only hope I'll live in a place like that. In the same way I facebook stalked the Finnish exchange student I knew I'd be studying with in Mexico and more of less forced her to be my friend, I'm going to track down Tosten when I get to Guinea.

An example of foreshadowing

"... the sad truth is that certain types of things can't go backward. Once they start to go forward, no matter what you do, they can't go back the way they were. If even one little thing goes awry, then that's how it will stay forever."

-- South of the Border, West of the Sun, by Haruki Murakami

My dream is to one day own his complete works.

Friday, November 4, 2011

One week later. Notice the bruise by my ankle? Still, looks better than the last time I got beat up at a hash.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Panic, Reassurance, Repeat.

Things are speeding up now that my departure for the Peace Corps is looming. Every weekend between now and Africa is booked solid. My finances are all shaped-up and locked-down and ready to hibernate for two years. My room is a disaster zone, literally just piles of clothes that may or may not have order to them heaped on every surface and in every corner (there's a box full of socks, I shit you not.)

And of course the low-level panic that's been sitting in my gut since July is starting to flare up on a regular basis. Fortunately it's the kind of panic that I can live and work with. I expect it. I'd be a lot more freaked out if there wasn't any panic at all.

Let's take a look at all the things that scare me about the Peace Corps (this will be fun and not at all an ill-advised feeding session for the panic!)

- I feel completely unqualified for this job. I got a degree in business over a year ago, and proceeded to do nothing with it. I worked as a receptionist at a timeshare. That's not hard! That doesn't count as applicable job experience! It would be one thing if I'd been working on projects and researching newest developments on the side. But no. I've spent the time since developing an almost encyclopedia-like knowledge of monster flicks and Korean soap operas. I was going to make a reference to Dokko Jin here, then got sidetracked by the google and 20 minutes later I'm feeling depressed about how awful Myung Wol the Spy turned out. You see what that demonstrates, right? My academic chops and work ethic have faded out so completely that I don't know if I've got what it takes to do this job justice.

- Not to mention this is all completely unknown. One of the first things that I'll go through upon arrival in Guinea is a language assessment. I STUDIED SPANISH. SPANISH IS NOT FRENCH. I may be able to pick up a couple words here and there, and flesh out the gist of a sentence if it's written down, but let's be honest here: I'm still a beginner. I don't know the pronouns. I don't know the numbers. Basic sentence structure and simple verb conjugation - I don't know! And worse, how the hell do you pronounce the damn words?! I've been trying to learn - lots of online courses and French movies and music - but the pronunciation baffles me every time. Even the FSI's Intro to French Phonology has done next to nothing for my confidence.

- The logistics of packing and moving are freaking me out. I'm okay with arriving in Africa and accepting that I'll be living with less-than stylish clothing. That's nothing new, I'm not fashionable even at home! But there's a two-day stint at the end of November when I'll be wandering around Philadelphia. Phillie's cold, right? Africa's not. So I need clothes to keep me warm and professional-looking for two days, and then those clothes will be next to worthless for the next two years while taking up valuable packing space. Do I buy a flat-rate box from the Post Office and mail them home to my parents? (I'm thinking yes.)

Basically I am completely in the dark about what to expect, and I don't know if I've got what it takes to do the work. It's going to be a huge challenge to take on. But there is an upside to all of this! I knew it was going to be hard when I applied. I'm expecting to freak out and fail a little bit and only slowly and gradually learn how to stay on top. The scare factor is just a small blip on the whole scheme of testing myself, learning new skills and taking on the challenge of living abroad, working independently, and being responsible for projects that right now seem completely out of my scope.

This feeling of panic is unsettling, but it's also familiar: it's the same thing I went through when I decided to drive tour buses in Alaska. I had the time of my life doing that, made friends and had experiences that have shaped who I am, and yes, I even failed a few times, dusted myself off, and got back in the driver's seat. Alaska was tough and harrowing and exciting and unforgettable. The Peace Corps is going to be just like that, only so much more.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How do you feel about Helvetica?

Talkin' fonts at Finn's, using coasters as props.

Make your own heat pad

All the old books talk about rich people having their beds heated for them. Sounds nice, right? But who actually lives in that kind of luxury? Then there are those movies with the characters cuddling up to red rubber bags full of hot water. Nice image, sure, but never made much sense because I've never actually seen one in real life. Then there are all sorts of commercials for athletic heating patches that ease and soothe sore muscles. But who wants to spend all that money on something that likely leaves a sticky residue and seems sort of dumb? Doesn't everyone just pop an ibuprofen and move on? 

Turns out, however, there is a damn good reason that these things are so prevalent in our lives. Warm things are awesome. Whether you're sick, have muscle aches from running or cramps from riding the red wave, an external heat source is all you want. Hot tea, soup, another person's body. All of these come to mind when you're feeling down and want a quick fix to feel better.

With that in mind, let's save some money and make our own heating pad! It'll cost you virtually nothing, last for over a year, and takes about 5 minutes to make. Here's what you need:

a sock
rice

Step 1) Find a big sock. Take one of your boyfriend's, "borrow" one from your dad's closet next time you're home, sacrifice one of those knee socks that you've never worn. The only thing to remember is that it can't have any holes.

Step 2) Make sure the sock is clean. I didn't, and now I'm kind of regretting it. Luckily I'm a dirty hippie that doesn't even use shampoo so I can live with myself. You might not.

Step 3) Put that 20lb bag of rice you bought from Costco last year to some good use. Fill the (clean) sock up to the heel. It should be nice and fat.

Step 4) Tie off the sock. Take a moment to imagine it's full of quarters (or soap) and you're about to go beat someone up. Or not, your choice.

Step 5) Put that rice-filled sock in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. It's gonna smell like rice, but I bet you knew that.

Step 6) Cuddle your new homemade heating pad against your sore spot! Watch a movie, drink some tea, and think about how much money you just saved. Doesn't that feel good?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Not a Haul Video... Yet

Looked on the porch today and oh boy! Three big boxes of toys just for me!

I decided to splurge and buy some fun things to take with me to Africa, but I needed to do it right. I've been unemployed since July, and while I've been comfortable, I'm certainly not rolling in piles of money. It's also really easy to get carried away with thoughts of all the toys and electronics one may or may not need. But anything that comes with me is going with the caveat that it might be lost/broken/stolen, and that's always a sobering thought when considering a purchase. For a few weeks now I've been working on a list, crossing things off and adding new ones, of Stuff to Buy Before I Go. Then I scoured the internet, looking for deals, sales, discounts, etc, until I felt like I was somehow cheating and robbing the stores directly. One thing I can promise you: whatever prices you see quoted on the sites I've linked to, I didn't pay that.

Here's what I got today!




Solio Bolt (there's sun in Africa, how novel!)


Diva cup  (highly recommended by current PCVs) 

This shirt looks incredible on me. Wearing it now!

Chacos, black. 
(The ones I bought in '07 are still good, but probably won't make it through to January 2014.)

Monday, October 3, 2011

10+ years of letters home from my grandma. Typed on rice paper, everything from baking a cake in a can, de-worming the kids, worrying about the communist influence in Burma, celebrating new chickens, problems with the local Buddhists, and bragging to her sisters about only weighing 135 lbs. They're fascinating!

I should probably clarify that

I should probably clarify that my grandma's fine - 96 and still kicking! She just moved to a smaller place and needs to downsize.

Family photo, late 1960's maybe?
First lesson: do not look at the contents of the fridge, just toss it out.
Today only! Adventures in cleaning out my grandmother's apartment. There may or may not be rats. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Oregon Coast

34 years ago yesterday, my parents decided to give things a shot and get married. They seem pretty happy with their decision and are likely to stick it out until one of them dies (they even have their what-to-do-after plans worked out. Mom will move to Seattle and enjoy the city life; Dad will get a dog and a boat and live off the grid.) To celebrate, they rented a condo down on the Oregon coast and invited their youngest to come and stay with them. Not my idea of a romantic getaway, but who am I to turn down a free vacation?!

Hey look, an interpretive sign! The coast is dirty with these, this was one of my favorites.

 The happy couple!


Hiking doesn't come naturally to the folks (anymore), but they made a great effort! What they might have lacked in recent experience they more than made up for with enthusiasm. Honestly, my mom had to practically kick us out of the condo every day. Left to our own devices, my dad and I would have happily drank coffee, read our books, and stared at the waves out the windows for a whole week.

  



  
We were pretty tired/sweaty after this hike. It was one of those rare hikes that goes downhill first, so we had to put on our Man Hats for the climb back to the car.

Dad wanted a hiking stick. Lucky for him someone left a pool cue in the back of the car before moving to Colorado.
 The view from the top.

 The view from the bottom!

This was our incredibly tasty dinner after the last hike. For all the times we went to nice restaurants, this one was the best.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

10 mile Hash Run is okay by me! Little tired, tho.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The view from my "backyard" in Oregon this week. Not bad eh?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Things I Want to Buy

Lots and lots and lots of things. I even have a list, with prices and a subtotal and all, of things I want/need to get pre-departure. But there are also things I don't need, and certainly shouldn't buy if money were to come my way, but I dream about them anyway.

I want comic books!

Specifically:

Gunnerkrigg Court Volumes 1, 2, and 3
and
Hark! A Vagrant

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Advice

When running trails in the woods, if you find yourself lost, don't be too proud to turn around! If you don't, you may find yourself in a variety of situations. 1) Dehydrated, with no water in the foreseeable future. 2) Covered in mud, spiderwebs, nettle stings, and stickerbush cuts, courtesy of little-used trails being reclaimed over the summer. 3) About 3 miles from home when you finally do pop out of the woods, on the entirely wrong side. 4) Attacked by someone's dog as you run past its yard (fortunately slobber cleans off as easily as sweat).

My mom had no sympathy - she straight up laughed at me when I told her what happened. "You came out by the elementary school didn't you?" Apparently I'm not the first family member to have gotten lost out there.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Peyton Place

When your body's being absolutely wrecked by fever and antibiotic-induced nausea, it's nice to curl up with a mug of tea and read a good book.

"To me, the main difference has always been that writing and reading are less painful. In fact, when I first came home, I had almost made up my mind to stick to those two and forgo living."

It's like the narrator is me!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pro Tip

While drinking, it's a bad idea to fall ass-first into a table. There might be a glass on that table, and you might land on it, and cut yourself in a very awkward location.

Just sayin. Be careful where you land.

Love,

Chelsea

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

You know your house is dirty when...

...you think that sweeping the carpet is a valid idea. Then, after you've done it, it turns out to have been a genius idea! It looks so much better!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Perspective

Excerpt from this hilarious book I'm reading:

I was a few beers deep and thought texting was a good idea. My roommates helped me out with the wording, since "I want to bone your face" seemed a little blatant.

P.S. The book is actually my journal. Oh man. I am so embarrassed for myself.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Aspirations

Since receiving my packet of information about the Peace Corps, things have been moving alarmingly quickly. Partly because I was approaching the last days at my job, partly because of my camping-road trip, and partly because I had time-sensitive documents to deal with. It's still pretty hectic, but since getting home on Sunday night I've had more time to focus and get things done. 

One of the requirements I've been working on is a statement about my aspirations and expectations for the Peace Corps. This has been especially challenging for me because I've been out of school for over a year, and even while in school I was rarely called upon to write papers. I know I skated through school on inherent intelligence - one thing I truly expect from the Peace Corps is to be forced to knuckle down and finally prove what I'm capable of. But back to the Aspiration Statement. Through conversations with friends and interviewers I've developed my ideas about Peace Corps, but I haven't exactly written them down and organized them into tangible form. This statement has been such a healthy, revealing, and necessary piece of work for me to create! There are still half-formed answers and ideas floating around in the air, barely scratched out on notebook paper, and half-remembered from beer-fueled conversations. But at least I'm that much closer to being articulate and confidant in my decision. 

So, here's what I've got, and I hope it helps answer some of your questions and concerns: 

A: The professional attributes that you plan to use, and what aspirations you hope to fulfill, during your Peace Corps service.

While working on a project and living within the community, I hope to completely immerse myself and find innovative ways to resolve the issues at hand. Ultimately I aspire to be the mediator between the local community and other organizations. I’m determined to get involved and down to work as soon as possible, but I know I’ll also need to make compromises in order to see tangible results.
A large part of my acceptance to the Community Economic Development program was based on my bachelor’s degree in International Business. I look forward to finally putting my education to use in a real, practical manner. One of the aspects that especially interests me is the opportunity to share the information and skills I’ve learned with people eager to obtain them. I’m not sure how much information technology will be available, but I’ve found Excel and other programs invaluable to my work and hope to pass those shortcuts on to others.
While in school I participated in various projects that took us out into the community to assess an issue, so I already have a small idea of what situations are likely to crop up. During those projects I found that my attention to detail and organizational skills were highly valuable while trying to expand ideas and formulate a plan of action. I also really enjoy working on product and market development, and hope to get more experience in that area.
Finally, I realize that the chances of being situated near a body of water are pretty slim, and even then the water might not be fit for swimming. However, I’ve been a lifeguard and swim instructor since I was 16. If it were possible, it would be interesting to look into the feasibility of teaching swim lessons. In general, I’d like to put together some sort of personal project with no relation to economic development, preferably something with a focus on physical activity.

B:  Your strategies for working effectively with host country partners to meet expressed needs.

My #1 strategy for working with host country partners is this: patience. Whether it’s an unexpected conflict, a miscommunication due to language gaps, or delays in getting things done, I realize that a willingness to relax and let things develop at their own pace is going to be the most successful way to see things through. I already work pretty hard at maintaining a sense of humor and positive attitude in my day-to-day life. If I can pair those traits with a big, fat, hearty dose of patience then I’m sure I’ll be able to get along just fine.
However, I do realize that sitting back and letting things unfold won’t always work. I will also go into the program with humility and respect for those who have been at this work much longer than myself. I know that, especially in the beginning, there will be much for me to learn and process. I will be straightforward with my partners, both in the community and at work, and will attempt to initiate conversation whenever possible. My coworkers especially will be an invaluable source of information, and I will do whatever I can to pry that knowledge out of them.
As I become more confident in my role, I’ll try to strike a balance between observation and participation. I realize there will be cultural norms and chains of command to adhere to, and I will do my best to not stir up the pot too much. However, I’ll also try to find like-minded coworkers who are willing to listen to my suggestions, and will do what I can to implement positive changes when needed. Again, all of this will be accomplished via a positive attitude, respect, and patience to let things develop at their own pace.

C: Your strategies for adapting to a new culture with respect to your own cultural background.

            I’m far too excited to learn about the new culture I’ll be a part of to worry about being singled out. But I’m not going to fool myself; I’ll be pretty easy to spot in the crowd when I arrive in Guinea. It doesn’t faze me though – in fact, having already lived abroad and dealt with similar attention before, I’m well prepared for it.   
That said, I am thinking ahead to how I’ll adapt to the new culture. Again, patience is going to be incredibly important. In the same way that I’ll be making mistakes, possibly overstepping boundaries, and learning how to fit in, others in my community will be adjusting to the new girl in their midst. There are bound to be miscommunications, so I’ll do my best to look beyond the obvious behavior and try to recognize intent. I hope I’ll be afforded the same leniency.
Ultimately, the best way for me to adapt will be to first learn about what I’m trying to adapt to. I plan on talking with anyone who is willing to give me the time. I’ll ask questions, listen to stories, and acquire an encyclopedic knowledge of local gossip. I’ll try to participate in even the most ordinary activities, from chores to sporting events. Being younger might actually work in my favor in this case – it won’t be unusual for me to be asking for advice and help. I’m especially hopeful that someone will be willing to teach me how to cook local foods and prepare some tasty meals!
           
D: The skills and knowledge you hope to gain during pre-service training to best serve your future community and project.

            As I explain the Peace Corps to friends and family members, I find that I cannot even begin to stress the importance of pre-service training enough. Right now, I feel barely qualified to be assigned to an economic development project. Much of that is a lack of confidence in my own abilities coupled with the uncertainty of what the projects will entail. I’m looking forward to and depending on the training period to bolster my confidence and prepare me for the work I’ll be doing.
            Language is definitely the most important of those factors. I studied Spanish in school – while French is similar, I still feel overwhelmed knowing that I’ll be learning two new languages simultaneously. I hope that an understanding of the grammatical structure will be provided, and the added language immersion will be extremely helpful as I start to pick it up.
            Above all I hope to gain real, applicable skills. I want to take what I've been taught in the classroom and see how to apply it in practice. I cannot wait to get outside of the classroom and have hands-on learning opportunities within the community – it will be an invaluable introduction to interacting with other professionals and recognizing their attitudes and approaches toward doing business. Additionally I expect to learn the local business methods currently being used, cultural mores that influence economic functions, and the correct procedures for progressing with a project.

E: How you think Peace Corps service will influence your personal and professional aspirations after your service ends.

            Peace Corps has always been the next thing to do post-graduation for me. Many of my peers have continued on to a career or grad school, but I always knew Peace Corps to be my next step. This experience will help me focus on and define my interests and skills for a career. Right now, I’m interested in seeing how the business methods I’ve learned can be applied in challenging and various circumstances. Some methods will work, some won’t be feasible to implement, and some haven’t even been introduced to me yet. The Peace Corps is perfect for me right now in the sense that they offer a multi-faceted approach toward economic development. As a volunteer I’ll be encouraged to take on various projects and have multiple goals. It will be an extensive and well-rounded learning experience that will have a huge influence on where I go next. Whether it leads me into a grad school program, internship or full-time job, I’m looking forward to this becoming the defining experience and guiding force for the rest of my adult life. I’m also expecting that the people I meet through my service will continue to be my peers, colleagues and coworkers in the coming years.
            As for how it will influence my personal aspirations, I hope that the challenges and hardships I face and overcome will help me develop an internal strength I can carry with me in everything I do. I’ll truly know my capabilities, as well as my limitations. I already hike and run and put my physical endurance to the test. Character is just like any other muscle – it needs to be exercised and challenged before it can become strong. The Peace Corps presents an opportunity to test the limits of my character, and once it has been worked into exhaustion, it will be built up even stronger. I look forward to knowing myself fully, doing work I can be proud of, and having something worthwhile to discuss and educate others about.