Saying good-bye

Fact: goodbyes are the worst.

For more months than I care to remember, I’ve been preparing for departure.  All the government required paperwork, the new purchases [like a nifty head lamp], and setting up Lucy and Molly for their own little adventure. I have had a suitcase partially packed for 6 months. Who does that? A neurotic person who has prepared for not one but two different Peace Corps service stations, that’s who. Add to that the time I’ve spent researching Peace Corps | Rwanda and attempting to teach myself some vocab in the local language, and I have basically been making myself *slightly crazy*.

Ice cream is always a good idea

But I have not forgotten some important advice to spend as much time with friends and family as possible before leaving. I’m looking at these extra three months as a gift.  I got spend Spring Break with my favorite little people. I’m continuing to work to save up money for adventures [maybe I’ll get to Madagascar after all]. I get to spend one last Spring/early Summer in South Carolina which is much preferable to the constant heat and humidity of July and August.  I’m going hiking and doing short trips with friends. Taking ALL THE PHOTOS for the memories and also for the house decorations.

I went hiking on the Cumberland Trail in Tennessee

Concerts on the lawn with friends

Took the little people to the zoo

Went hiking in the cold with the little people… they were troopers

We had much nicer weather on Spring Break

And then I hiked the Foothills Trail all by myself

And I got to see an amazing sunrise on top of Jellico Mountain, Tennessee

Basically, these last three months have been a gift wrapped up in a neat little package.  The little people and I have spent more time together.  I found out there’s going to be another little person come November.  I got a few more house projects done.

Enjoyed some picture perfect days

Made a Lucy-approved walkway out of patio pavers

Planted some flower–hopefully they will establish roots and still be thriving when I return

Over all, I feel a lot more prepared to leave that I did when I was scheduled to depart for Madagascar… Let’s hope I can still say that next Monday.

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Until we meet again

A lot of Peace Corps’ Volunteers post photos and /or videos about their Peace Corps’ homes–and I plan to do that as well.  But this one is a little different.  While I’ve still got a few more days until I depart for Rwanda, I wanted to celebrate my new home, and what I hope will be my home for many years.

 

I acquired this house in October 2017.  At the time it became available, I had already been in the Peace Corps’ application/clearance process for a year. So while I wasn’t 100% sure I’d be joining, I’d already been through a lot of the steps.

When I moved in it look like 1990 made a pit stop and never left.  The walls were cranberry-colored and they had put wallpaper on the cabinet doors. The oven/stove combo dated back to 1970.

Wall-papered cabinets? Not the best design decision

One of the first things that happened was a new metal roof.  While a new roof was needed, the decision to go with metal was my own.

Next up, was a lot of wallpaper removal and painting.  And patching holes.  And more painting.  I got my ‘Africa’ room done first.  It needed the least amount of surface prep so it was relatively quick to paint the accent wall ‘Moroccan Red, and the other walls ‘Ethiopia’.  With curtains hung and furniture from my previous living space, this room served as my bedroom for the first few months.  It’s the smallest of the three bedroom, and now functions as a guest room… you know, should anybody living more than 50 miles away visit.

In the beginning… Wallpaper removal. Cranberry walls

Then I worked on my ‘office’.  While I don’t do a lot in here, I do have my big, comfy chair, and my desk in here. I’ve since added a bookcase and a long dresser.  I have a TV/DVD which is almost never used, but this is where I come to study [file papers, scrapbook, ect…].  My favorite wall is the checkerboard wall in orange and white representing The University of Tennessee.  I also have my college diplomas hanging in here as well.

The Checkerboard Wall… a mighty pain to paint that, but it looks spectacular now

The living room and kitchen/dining room took a lot of time.  The walls are mostly veneer paneling that I’ve painted over.  When I do my major remodel post Peace Corps, walls are being moved and it’s all becoming drywall, but for now I went with a blue accent wall [Caribbean Blue] and a moody gray [London Fog]. I’m using a muted orange as an accent in the living room.

Travel Wall!

Muted orange couch and curtain. Black kitty cats fit in nicely.

For the kitchen, I went with a more neutral shade of gray, concrete counter tops dyed black, a 3D aluminum splash back, and a muted gray subway tile in the dining room and counter top I created next to the oven.  Around Thanksgiving/Christmas, I got new appliances [stove/oven combo, dishwasher, refrigerator] in a slate finish.  I painted all the upper cabinets bright white and lower ones gray.  I finished the look with a industrial knob pull on all the cabinet doors.

First meal cooked in the new oven: baked spaghetti

New oven, gray walls, industrial-style door pulls, and wall decorations

Black concrete, aluminium splash-back

My bedroom is green with brown accents and the bathroom is a hot mess of mis-design that I can’t even deal with until I knock walls down and do a re-design, but at least I have a shower, a working toilet, and a bathtub should I feel compelled to use it

I’m most proud of the walkway and flower beds I added in the time from the original Madagascar departure until the current Rwanda departure.

I’ve got big plans for the back yard space including a screened in porch off the bedroom, adding a breakfast nook off the kitchen, and creating a ground-level patio and fire pit.

The house itself is pretty modest by American standards, but most impressive by world standards.  I’m not exactly sure what my living situation will be in Rwanda, but I am guessing Lucy and Molly will have a higher standard of living that I will.

Tick Tock

Tonight I had dinner with one of my best friends and as if often the case, we got around to talking about my upcoming plans. The immediate [I leave in two and a half weeks], the intermediate [I want to go to NP school when I get back], and the distant [I’d like to get married someday].  There aren’t many people in the world I can talk to about anything, but he is one of them, and probably the human I’ll miss most while I’m gone.

The only thing that I know for sure is that if something happens, and I can’t get on that plane, there’s no way I can put myself through the preparation again.

Let’s Get Real

I’ve gave notice at my job in March, but I’m still picking up shifts and will be until the last minute; I’ve met the continuing education requirements needed  to renew my nursing license in 2019.

I’m on an emotional roller coaster and I couldn’t get off even if I tried. I’m up, I’m down; I’m sure of myself, and I’m wondering what the hell I was thinking.

Basically, I’m freaking out.

10 days to departure. T- 2.5 weeks and counting. Holy sh…..

Tick-tock.

I’m scared out of my mind. Of what, I couldn’t tell you, but that’s probably contributing to my fear. I don’t know what’s in store for me when I get to wherever it is I am going. I don’t know who I’m going to meet, or what my living conditions will be like. An idea, sure, but every situation is circumstantial.

I’m nervous about not doing well. I spent a lot of time thinking, how hard could it possibly be, despite how many times I’ve read or heard about the “hardships” a PCV faces. Now, in the wake of my sudden apprehension, I worry I was being too cocky.

What the actual fuck am I doing!?

I go from feeling on top of the world to having a feeling in the pit of my stomach. I walk around with confidence, proud of myself and this accomplishment, and then I hug a friend goodbye and I feel the ground crumbling beneath my feet. In the span of a moment, I could easily begin with “I got this sh**.” to “Oh my god, what the hell is wrong with me?” My perception and my feelings are constantly changing. I keep finding new things to be excited about, and new things I’m terrified to be leaving behind.

Let me say this now, so you don’t misunderstand: I’M NOT GIVING UP.

The Peace Corps was not a decision I made lightly. In truth, the idea began brewing my mind during my mind many, many years ago. It started as a way to see the world. It began to transform into a desire to meet new people and experience new cultures. Then it ignited into a passion for helping others.

Tick-tock.

In September 2016, I bit the bullet and submitted an application. I didn’t think I’d get in. I was convinced I wasn’t good enough to be accepted into such a prestigious group. And now it’s 17 days to departure.

I can do this. I know I can. I’ve taught myself that I can do anything I put my mind to. I wanted this, and so I went out and got it. Later tonight, ask me how I feel, and I bet you’ll get a different answer.

Tick-tock.

OMG… the cats. What am I going to do with my little black kitty cats? After much searching, I’ve finally found a solution for what to do with Lucy and Molly.  It’s not ideal, but  it was a much better situation than sending them to their deaths at the pound.  I won’t see them again for over two years.  What is that in cat years?  I wasn’t there for their kittenhood, but I’ve had Lucy for three and a half years, and Molly just under a year. She’s had three owners/homes in her three years and is still the sweetest cat I know; I couldn’t very well send her on her way to her 4th owner/house.  They love me, and I them. So they have 2 years worth of cat litter supplies, an Amazon subscribe and save account for food and a savings account for yearly vet visits + emergencies.

The Amazing Lucy

See? Up and down. I’ve got this sh**, but really, what the fuck am I doing?

17 days.

Tick-tock.

Molly is the kind of cat that lets a random 8 year old pick her up not-so-gently

She’s also the cat for whom the saying ‘curiosity killed the cat’ was written

 

You’ve got questions; I’ve got answers

I’m medically and legally cleared still but people still want to know what happened with Madagascar. [Questions for Madagascar; why I’m still in the US].  Let’s get to the questions, shall we?
Question 1:  What exactly is the Peace Corps?

The Peace Corps was established in 1961 by John F. Kennedy with three key goals in mind:

  • Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  • Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  • Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
“The Peace Corps traces its roots and mission to 1960, when then Senator John F. Kennedy challenged the students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship.”
The Peace Corps is a government organization in which accepted applicants are invited to serve in a foreign country. Areas of service are requested by the participating countries and include education, youth and community development, health, business information and communication technology, agriculture, and environment. Accepted applicants volunteer to spend 27 months abroad and fully immerse themselves in the language and culture. Volunteers have served in 139 different countries, and work to create positive sustainable change in a global community. Peace Corps celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011.
Question 2:  Rwanda? Is that safe?
  • Peace Corps | Rwanda began in 1975 went through 1994, was suspended in 1994 and was restarted in 2008. Currently there are about 175 volunteers in Rwanda and nearly 800 have served in the country since its beginnings.
  • Africa represents about 40% of Peace Corps volunteers.
  • Rwanda is about the size of Massachusetts. It is located at higher altitude and has a more temperate climate than one would expect of a country located nearly on the equator.
  • The official languages are English and Kinyarwandan. French was dropped as an official language in 2009 as Rwanda seeks to become more ‘international’.
  • The population is about 12 million people. Although Rwanda is resource-poor and land locked, it seeks to become Africa’s first middle income (second world) country. 60% of the country lives on less than $1.25/per day.
  • Climates vary. It generally has four seasons , just not the four we are accustomed to having: rainy season 1 and 2; dry season 1 and 2. It is cooler in the higher altitudes and warmer to the west.

Question 3:  What will you be doing?
I will be a Maternal-Child Health volunteer focusing on mamas and the first 1000 days of children’s lives. I could be partnered with an international organization like the Red Cross or a local NGO. While yellow fever is not endemic to Rwanda, malaria is.  I’ll be promoting safe pregnancies, better nutrition, prevention of malaria and other illnesses, as well as the importance of water, hygiene, and sanitation. [Or at least that is the plan]

Question 4:  What do you do for training?
I will have about 10 weeks of pre-service training June–August. The training has five major components: technical, cross-cultural, language, health, and safety. I will also have a one week site visit to give me an general overview of what my site will be like.

Question 5:  Do you know where you’ll be living in the country?
No, but I will find out several weeks into training based off questionnaires, preferences, and where my skills will be best utilized. I don’t get to choose exactly where I will live which is OK since my Rwandan geography is nascent, but if I had my preference, I’d choose to live near one of the national parks.

Question 6:  What will your living situation be like?
I will most likely be living in a rural village, but Rwanda is one of the smallest and most populated African countries so chances are, I won’t be alone.  My housing will be similar to my community. I might have a room on the health center grounds or a small house with one or two rooms. My house might be a mud hut with a thatched roof or a modern cement house.  From my research, it seems as if the more rural the location, the better the actual house.  Indoor plumbing is most likely a no as is running water. However, electricity is quite a possibility.  Not 24-7 electricity like we are used to, but especially in rural Rwanda, PV electricity is common in health centers.   Rwanda is one of the most connected countries in Africa, and it is almost certain that I’ll have cell service from my location.

Question 7:  Will you have a cell phone?
See question #6. Most volunteers have their own cell phone. I will bring my current mobile, buy a SIM card, and a internet stick. That way, I’ll be able to use my phone to text and call and use the internet.

Question 8: What will you eat?
Rwandan food is pretty bland; it is neither spicy nor hot. People eat simple meals made with locally grown ingredients. The basic diet consists mainly of sweet potatoes, beans, corn, peas, millet, plantains, cassava, and fruit. The potato is now very popular, thought to have been introduced by German colonists.  I also hope to have my own vegetable garden, but seafood is most likely not going to be an everyday meal.

Question 9: Do you have vacation?
Volunteers get two vacation days per month that can accrue totaling over 50 days for two years. I cannot take vacation within my first 6 months [training or community integration] or my last three months [site project wrap-ups].

Question 10:  Will you live with a host family?
I will most definitely live with a host family during  training, and most likely live on my own the rest of the time.

Question 11:  Can you receive mail?
Yes, yes, yes! I want to keep in touch with family and friends while I’m gone, and a big thank you in advance to anyone who wants to send mail my way!  See my contact page on where to send stuff, what to send, and how to send it. Also my birthday is February 24, and cards and presents are always appreciated.

Question 12:  Do you get paid?

Yes, but not much.  The 2016 GDP for Rwanda was $738 which is the highest it has ever been. That averages out to be a little more than $2/day and is quite the improvement from 1994  when it was $204–about 60 cents. I will be making about $375/month and considering that most Rwandan natives make less than $2/day, I get paid well, but by American standards, I make more in one 12 hour shift as a RN than I do in one month working in Rwanda.  However, my housing and insurance are covered by the Peace Corps so essentially I just have to pay for food, transportation, and internet. Also there’s no Amazon or Target in Rwanda so that addiction has been curtailed.

I also get an allowance at staging and a settling in allowance once in Rwanda. That allowance is based on whether the site has had a volunteer before, whether or not I need to buy furniture, and how far away I am from the capital.

At the completion of service, I will get a settlement allowance of roughly $9000 + a flight home [or its equivalent in cash]. There are also government benefits such as one year NCE status and opportunities for graduate school scholarships.

Holy Hell, I’m going to…

Rwanda.!

and the new departure date  in June 4–which gives me about 2.5 months to get ready. I’ll be in the Maternal-Child Health sector which focuses on the first 1000 days of life.

It’s not Madagascar; it’s certainly not where I thought I might go, but it is an opportunity to do something in a field I’m qualified to serve in.

Map of eastern Africa showing Rwanda, Congo and Kenya

So RWANDA?…

  • It’s a small, land-locked country in Eastern Africa
  • The genocide that people immediately think about when they hear ‘Rwanda’ happened 24 years ago [1994].
  • It’s a safe as if not safer than other African countries.
  • It shares a border with DRC; Lake Kivu [a large lake that serves as Rwanda’s answer to oceans.  It has beaches!] separates the two countries
  • It’s capital is Kigali
  • It’s official languages are Kinyarwanda and English [Although French was an official language up until a few years ago]
  • It’s a more temperate climate due to its altitude so I may need long sleeves and sweatshirts.
  • The sun essentially rises and sets at 6a/6p every day.
  • There are four seasons:  Rainy Season 1 and 2 and Dry Season 1 and 2
  • Rwanda probably has the best road in all of Africa [overall]
  • The mountain gorilla lives in Rwanda and Uganda and no where else on Earth
  • Rwanda has set a country goal to become Africa’s 1st middle-income country.  I’m not exactly sure what all that entails, but it sure says a lot about the hope and progressive nature of this country.

So I don’t know a whole lot about what is to be my future home for the next two years, but it is still close enough to the Indian Ocean that I have a chance to swim in it.  I hope I get to visit a few other nearby counties while I’m in the area [Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, maybe Mozambique… I’m looking at you especially]

A new beginning

Quick synopsis:  The Great Sickness of 2018 happened, and I didn’t leave for Madagascar on February 26 as scheduled.
A bit of background: In 2005 I became a pediatric respiratory therapist and have been working in health care ever since. I became a registered nurse in 2015 with the goal of choosing a slightly different career path.  I’ve worked in pediatric ER, NICU, PICU, telemetry med-surg, inpatient rehab nursing, and finally psychiatric/addiction nursing either as a nurse or as a respiratory therapist.  I’ve been continuously employed with the exception of six months from May 2015-December 2015 due to a broken wrist AND broken ankle which required surgery.  I like to travel and explore, and  I plan on going to graduate school and working as a RN doesn’t afford a lot of extended length vacation time. Which brings me to…
 Peace Corps: I had been interested in joining the Peace Corps since high school, a desire which was magnified during short-term volunteer experiences in Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. However, I also felt compelled to gain work experience and further my career. Nonetheless, I still felt the pull of Peace Corps and I first applied to the Peace Corps in September 2016 then again in March 2017.  In July 2017, I got an invitation to Madagascar for community health. I was super excited as Madagascar is an amazing country and was going to be my home for 2+ years. However, as fate would have it, I got the kind of sick that makes you question whether or not you’ll live 4 days prior to staging. So despite being medically and legally cleared and ready to go, I’m still sitting in the US of A. And this brings me to…
Logistics: I’d had already given notice at my job[s], arranged for my kitties and house to be looked after while I’m gone. I was fortunate to be able to return to one of them so I could continue to make a few dollars while I wait until my fate is decided.  So now I’m leaving most likely in April or May, but possibly as late as June.  I’ve decided I’m OK with it [do I really have a choice?].  I DO like my job, and having a few more weeks [months?] with my loved ones [and kitty cats], and working on house projects can’t be a bad thing, can it?
As long as I have a few weeks’ notice, I can cancel my YMCA membership, give [another] two weeks’ notice at the job I hope to return to post-Peace Corps, and tie up other loose ends. Which brings me to…
My current status as an applicant: I have spent an enormous amount of time and money going through all the hoops necessary to become a volunteer. I have completed the application, gotten the recommendations, done the interview, visited my doctors and dentist (10+ visits), and  packed my bags even. I’m medically and legally cleared; I just have to wait until I know to which program I am being reassigned. I’m hoping to find out by the end of March. So this brings me to…
… a super helpful (but not at all helpful) chart of potential placement sites. [This chart was compiled based on 2017 departures. I think the Burkina Faso one has been shut down, but for the rest of them, I guess any is an option.  I’ve just selected departures April-June since that is most likely when I’ll be reassigned].
April
  • 8th – Namibia Community Health Volunteer, Small Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Development Volunteer
  • 13th – Vanuatu Health Extension Volunteer, Health Extension Specialist Volunteer, Hygiene Education and Water Sanitation Volunteer, Primary Education English Teacher-Trainer
  • 23rd – Mozambique Community Health Services Promoter

May

  • 24th – Mongolia Public Health Educator, Secondary Education English Co-Teacher, Secondary Education English Teacher Trainer, University English Teacher
  • 28th – Ecuador Health Extension Volunteer, Youth Development and Community Service Volunteer

June

  • 1st – Sierra Leone  – Health Extension Volunteer, Secondary Education English Teacher, Secondary Education Math Teacher, Secondary Education Science Teacher
  • 3rd – Uganda – Agribusiness Advisor, Business Development Specialist, Community Agribusiness Coordinator, Community Health Educator, Community Health Specialist
  • 3rd – Togo – English and Gender Education Teacher, Food Security Educator, Public Health and Malaria Educator
  • 3rd – Moldova – Community Development Worker, Health Education Teacher, Secondary Education English Teacher
  • 4th – Rwanda Maternal and Child Health Volunteer
  • 5th – Malawi Health Extension Volunteer, Natural Resources Management Volunteer
  • 10th – Burkina Faso – Community Economic Development Volunteer, Community Health Agent, Community Health Specialist, English Teacher – TEFL Certificate, Math Teacher, Science Teacher
  • 10th – Guyana – Community Conservation Promoter, Community Health Promoter, Community Health Promotion Specialist, Primary Literacy Promoter, Primary Literacy Specialist
  • 11th – Swaziland – Urban Youth Development Volunteer, Health Extension Volunteer
  • 24th – Belize Rural Family Health Educator

If I had my pick, and at this point, I’m quite certain that I do not [although I did have some say in Madagascar] my top picks are:  Mozambique [late April], Belize [late June], Mongolia or Ecuador [both late May].  I have Spanish language skills; I think Portuguese would be fairly easy to acquire. English/Creole is spoken in Belize, and Mongolian is so foreign that I don’t think my Spanish background would impede learning it. I think Moldova, Rwanda, and Guyana [early-middle June] are in the second-tier, with most of continental  West Africa being third tier as far as my preference goes.

This is a long post, but for those of you who I haven’t been able to speak with about this at length, I felt that it was important to share the background and current status of my plans. Those of you who know me well will probably not be surprised by my desire to join the Peace Corps, even though I’m a bit sad to leave SC and my friends and family in SC and other parts of the US. I am hoping for everyone’s support and understanding as I (hopefully) launch into a new journey in my life.

Staging

Staging Part 1:  February 2018.

I wanted to have a quiet little get together on Saturday.  A bonfire, a birthday party, and some friends just hanging out.  Sadly that didn’t happen as I started to feel bad on Thursday.  I hope it was just nerves. Or maybe a quick passing virus.  No such luck.  My ‘last weekend’ at home turned out not to be my last weekend as I was diagnosed with the flu on Friday night and had to receive IV fluids thanks to the fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea going on.  On Monday morning, my plane left GSP without me on it.

On Tuesday, my stage left for Madagascar without me with them.

On Wednesday, they arrived in Madagascar  while I still sat at home trying to recover, trying to regain strength and such.

What happens next is out of my control?  Will I go to Madagascar in June as an education volunteer?  Will I go to another country as a health volunteer?  I haven’t confirmed anything, but I think my medical and legal clearance is good for another 6 months which means I’d have to leave before September.  I just hope that I can go somewhere.  It would be a shame if my PC career ended before it began as a result of the flu.

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Prior to leaving and prior to influenza, I’d already said a few good-byes. Although these good-byes weren’t with my closest friends, I noticed that with these goodbyes I felt a sense of loss. Since these were people I saw on a regular basis, but were not my closest friends, this was a little unexpected. But, I reminded myself that I’m not losing anything, and have everything to gain from this experience.

I originally thought I’d fly to Philadelphia on Monday morning, but after being in contact with Peace Corps medical, we mutually decided that it was best for me not to go. And as devastating as that decision was, I am glad that I didn’t have to make it alone.

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I’ve been in contact via email with the Peace Corps Country Director.  Nothing official has been decided, but I’ll be glad when it does.  Whether I go to Madagascar with the next group in June, wait until next year, switch countries all together, or never get to be a PCV has yet to be determined.