Monday, December 27, 2010

6 Months: Outtakes and Statistics

Written December 23, 2010

Last week marked six whole months in Tanzania! I was recently updating my journal and realized there have been some good stories that never made it into a blog entry. So in honor of the 6th month anniversary here are a few “outtakes” and some statistics…

• During homestay food was a big issue. My stomach and taste buds had to make some big changes, especially when it is considered insulting not to eat the LARGE servings of everything. One day I was picking at my food. Mama Eva said “You are shrinking!” I thought she was complimenting me and gave an enthusiastic thanks. I had forgotten that here bigger is better. She said, “NO! Not a good thing!” A lot of us girls still have trouble with the Tanzanian thoughts on weight. People often tell us we are fat as a compliment!

• Another day during training, I was standing in my homestay family’s kitchen talking to the women. Suddenly a chicken flew out of no where and attacked me! Ok, it really just landed on my head but it took me by such surprise I kinda freaked. The women thought it was hysterical. The next night I was again visiting in the kitchen. Mama Eva stated proudly the chicken she was cooking was the one who had attacked me!

• Once Mama Eva saw my last name written on a form and proclaimed in an all-knowing tone “I knew you were French by the way talk!” I busted out laughing before I caught myself. I tried to explain my accent is Southern. I think she now thinks I am from South America!

• Since arriving at my village, my favorite part of the day is washing my feet before bed. It’s a relaxing way to celebrate surviving one more day.

• About a month ago I was invited to attend a village meeting. We learned during training to be prepared to wait as meetings rarely start on time. I arrived on time at 10 a.m. The meeting started at noon and lasted two hours. The main words I kept hearing were “mazingira” and “mazungu”, meaning “environment” and “white person”. Their discussion got so heated that I really got worried they were mad at me! When it ended, I was able to speak to the one person in attendance who spoke a little English. I found out the meeting was actually about water rights from a nearby mountain owned by another mazungu. Awful problem but I was relieved they were not angry at me!

• Those of you who’ve seen my totally rad dance moves including the “shopping cart” and the “lawn mower” will not be surprised to hear that I was part of a winning team during a recent training when we had to choreograph a dance depicting washing our hands!

Read: 23 books
Watched: first 3 seasons of Chuck, first 5 seasons of HIMYM, first season and current season of Glee and Modern Family. Plus many movies.
[side note: really thankful for my netbook!]
Lost: 3 phones, 1 pair eyeglasses and 2 jean sizes
Knitted: 2 scarves
Drank: approx 540 bottles of water
Won: 101 word find puzzles and countless games of solitaire

The Boy Who Saved Thanksgiving

Written December 20, 2010

As my first major holiday away from home, this Thanksgiving could have gone really good or really bad. Thankfully it ended really great…even though the beginning was a bit rough.

In case you weren’t sure, Tanzania does not celebrate American Thanksgiving! So to be able to include volunteers who work a 9-5 as well as a new batch of education volunteers placed in our region on Thanksgiving Day, we all planned a potluck dinner on Black Friday at a volunteer’s house in Mbeya town.

Turkey is crazy expensive, especially as we’d need enough for about 20 people. So my duty was to get chickens- preferably already slaughtered, plucked and cut into pieces ready to be baked. I was a little unsure of the sanitary aspect of traveling down a mountain on a dirt road with raw chicken, but I figured the large Ziplock bags brought from the US would do well enough.

As often occurs, a simple job turns out to be not so simple. My neighbors had explained while back they sell their chickens and ducks for meat. I started with them, but they did not have any big enough to sell. I spoke with my Village Exec Officer who turned to the shop owner standing beside him at the time and said this guy could provide the chickens. The guy looked surprised but agreed so I went with it. We settled on priced and arranged when I would pick up the meat. I even checked back with him the next day to confirm and was quite proud of my Swahili.

This ended up being my first major case with a common cultural obstacle. Most Tanzanians are very indirect with communicating. They would prefer to keep you initially happy by agreeing to something they may have no way of following through with. When I arrived to pick up the chickens on my way out of the village to town, I was informed they would not be available. Sorry.

While waiting for a ride to come through my village, I explained my problem to the women at the market. A positive cultural difference here is when you voice a problem it becomes everyone’s problem. Unfortunately no one could come up with four full grown chickens for sale….a hard fact to digest when chickens are constantly roaming.

It was decided I would have better luck finding what I needed in the larger village at the bottom of the mountain where I usually change from the truck to a dala to get to Mbeya town. Though I was a bit concerned if they would as accommodating with the whole killing, plucking and cutting.

Here’s where my luck started to change- I just happened to sit in the truck next to a boy of about 14 who spoke really good English and was from this village. I was able to explain my problem and ask for directions on where to go for all I needed. He was not sure where to go, so he decided to go searching with me. Like I said, your problem becomes theirs.
He found a restaurant where workers could buy three chickens at a nearby coop and would kill and pluck them for me. At which point I was happy to get that and was not going to worry about the fourth chicken or having them cut. How hard could it be to cut chicken? I found out the next day.

The chickens were kept fresh in a fridge another volunteer has. I was able to bake them in her stove right before the dinner. I could identify the legs and wings. Everything else was just pieces of bones and meat. It was actually fitting because Tanzanians also cut chicken like this to feed more people off fewer chickens….so really I did it all on purpose!

The dinner turned out amazing with tons of good food. A couple of volunteers had stuffing mix sent from America as well as the crunchy onion things to go on top of green bean casserole. Others baked bread and mashed potatoes as well as fixed a few non-traditional Thanksgiving foods like gaucomole and chili. For dessert there was a really good mango cobbler made with oatmeal. We also got to taste new homemade wines made from rice and mangos. I have not yet made any wine myself but thinking I am going to try soon!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"The Hills are Alive...."

Written October 12, 2010

"with the sound of music....ah, ahh, aaahhhh!"

Ok, I promise I did not really break out into show tunes when I recently climbed my first mountain. Mainly because I was too out of breath!

I have been jealously hearing stories from other volunteers climbing mountains and seeing breath taking scenes of various TZ landscapes. So when some of the gang in my region was going up a nearby mountain, I jumped at the chance....and that was the last time I jumped for about a week! Even though the constant walking and hand-washing of my clothes has helped shed pounds and gain muscle, I found I am not still the spry young lass I think I am.

The mountain we climbed is actually a crater filled with a lake called Ngozi Crater. To get there we first had about an hour walk along a gravel road. This led to basically the base of the crater.

We then started a gradually ascending path through a beautiful jungle-forest. There were lots of vines and moss hanging from trees of all sizes. There were lots of wild banana trees much bigger than ones growing in my ville. It reminded me of The Jungle Book, one of Disney's all-time greatest movies. I think it is also a famous novel?!

After walking another 45-ish minutes, we reached the point of real climbing. Now I am told this climb is one of the easier ones in my area. So I do not want to come off sounding like I climbed Killimanjaro. BUT I come from the side of Kentucky with easy rolling hills not the Appalachian Trail. Needless to say I was not sprinting up the 75degree angles of dirt and tree roots as some of my more advanced friends were!

Thankfully everyone was really supportive and encouraged me to go at my own pace. The path was really beautiful. Occasionally we could see glimpses through the trees out across the land. Some of the group even saw a monkey!

The view from the top was spectacular! The lake was surrounded by the crater's tree-lined perimeter. Once we caught our breath, we enjoyed lunches we had carried up. There is a path-more or less- down to the lake that the bravest can take. On trail rides at home when I have a horse carrying me around, I am all for trekking out anywhere, anytime.

But here I was perfectly content setting on my rock while my friends headed down. I passed the time with my new fav activities- taking pictures of myself and using the video tool on my camera to pretend I am hosting my own show on The Travel Channel. (Have not had good enough internet connection to upload or email these but hope to soon!)

At this point a group of Tanzanians reached the summit as well. When I explained my friends had taken the clearing down to the lake, this group had to do the same. They definitely did not want to be out done by the group of "mazungu".

Having just watched my friends cross a very narrow ledge in various low-croutching positions wearing sturdy hiking shoes, it was quite entertaining to watch the locals breeze across it. Some were barefoot, and the women were dressed nicely with jewelry and hair-dos. Though I should mention when we reached the bottom of the real climb section there were vans waiting on this group so they evidently skipped the 2 hour initial walk!

A few from their group also stayed behind, including an elderly German gentleman who is here consulting for a hospital. I had an interesting conversation with him in English about how he and his wife have volunteered with German programs similar to PC.

The trip down the mountain went much faster. I was really dragging along the gravel road but made it back to the main road in one piece!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Other White Nyama

Written September 21, 2010

I have been waiting to write about the topic of this post until this very week. As I write, thousands of pounds of pork and hundreds of chickens are being seasoned and basted in preparation for my all-time favorite festival back home- BBQ on the River!

Though all the festivals throughout western Kentucky have their own charm, I love BBQ on the River for four simple words: Bar-B-Que-Nachos! Imagine nacho chips and cheese sauce layered with bbq pork, bbq sauce and bbq powder. Ah, it's the best of both the Mexican and BBQ food worlds!

I was fortunate to live and work meer blocks from the festival. Practically all meals during the 3-day period were spent with co-workers, friends and family trying all the different booths to see if we agreed the judges' ruling on who had the best grill of the year. Of course, we also had to try the odder treats like frozen pickle juice and fried Twinkies!

Upon arriving at my village that first crazy night, one of my initial sights proved that my pork-luck had not ended. I have an "in" in the Tanzanian pork-scene!

Since most areas of Tanzania are predominately Muslim, pork is more of a vague tale of deliciousness said to be found in some southern villages. Believe me, the irony that it is mainly found in the "South" is not lost on me.

There are two places among the dukani, or shops, offering what they call kiti moto. This translates to "Seat Hot". (Fun Side Note: All adjectives in Swahili are after the noun.) I believe this is called so because it is typically served with peppers and onions, though in my ville it is simply cooked in big skillet of grease.

The important part to always remember when ordering kiti moto is to request "steaki" which refers to the cut. Arteries, fat and cartilage are the prime cuts to locals, and they are more than happy to get rid of the meatier pieces to the crazy Mmarekani!

I did not order the "steaki" the first time so I could try what the locals prefer. The arteries were not so bad, similar to clams. Though people in my village were entertained by watching me eat around the fat and skin. That same night I had to go back for a steaki order cause I did not really get any meat before!

Maybe when I return home in couple of years I will enter traditional Tanzanian kiti moto in BBQ on the River!

Impatient? Who Me?

Written September 21, 2010

So one day during my first week in the village my lack of experience speaking Swahili got me in a little hot water. I ran into my VEO (Village Executive Officer), and- even though we both knew I am not suppose to be doing much more than observing these first 3 months- I felt I needed to say something that at least made me appear to be productive.

Some volunteers get a VEO who speaks English. But those of you who know me know that kind of thing never happens in my life. Those of you who know me also know that I have habit of speaking without really thinking it through.
So instead of going home and writing out in Swahili what I should say to explain that at some point I need to meet with the head teacher of the school, I tried to say it in Swanglish...yes, we've coined a term for inserting English when we do not know the correct Swahili word.

Since I did not know how to say "at some point", I said kesho which means tomorrow. In my defense, tomorrow rarely means tomorrow. Nothing happens that fast here! Of course in instance, it actually did!

The next day I head to the primary school with a different village official, who also only speaks Swahili, and met with who I thought was the head teacher. She spoke a little English but it was still fairly confusing. For some reason, she did not say what I expected her to say in my mock conversation I had prepared in my head.

I had figured it would be at least the next term before they could work me in, but as the meeting came to an end, it was expressed for me to start like now. She said a bunch of Swahili of which I understood a tiny part that meant I should return on Monday. I honestly was not sure what I was expected to do when I returned on Monday, but I figured I could roll with whatever.

Then the more I thought about it, the more I started to worry. Primary school is our equivalent of elementary school, and classes are taught in Swahili. I had originally thought I would do some teaching at the secondary school (high school) where classes are taught in English. But my village shares a secondary school with the next village up the mountain.
Now that the snowball was rolling I did not want to offend anyone by switching schools. Though when I mentioned to my villagers what I was setting up, they were not exactly confident in my ability to teach at the primary school. Most laughed hysterically! My constant use of the Eng-Swahili dictionary has become a running joke.

I was able to get lesson plans for environmental education from another volunteer so I could be prepared for whatever Monday brought.

When I returned, I met with a different lady who I found out was the head teacher, or principal. I was better prepared, and she spoke better English. So it was really a great meeting. We set up for me to teach standard (grade) 5 on Mondays and 6 on Tuesdays.

She asked if I wanted to start that morning. At which point, there was only 10 minutes left in what would be my class time. Since I wanted to keep both days on the same lesson plan, I requested to start the next, but learned they were on vacation then. So we decided I would start the following Monday....see, nothing really happens that quickly!

This morning was my second day of my second week, and I am loving it. The lesson plans I got are in English so I am learning Swahili better through translating and teaching in it.

I got a huge, wonderful surprise on the first day when the 5th grade spoke a little English. I was surprised as I had heard that many school systems are not able to teach much English in the primary school, which leads to problems in the secondary school classes given in English. I usually say everything in Swahili and repeat in English as well as write the key points in both languages on the chalk board.

I am still a little nervous asking too many questions to the class as I may not understand their answers, but so far so good!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Written on Friday, September 3, 2010

Well, I have been in my village for exactly two weeks today! Time is both flying and standing still. I often check the clock after long time only to see that 10-15 minutes have passed. Or I wake from a deep sleep, fully awake and realize it is only midnight!

The first three months at site are primarily suppose to be spent learning about the village and people. This means popping a squat next to a woman selling produce or men hanging around the shops. Does not sound to hard, eh? Even fun?

I enjoy meeting people and talking, but this is a whole new level when no one speaks English and my Swahili is not far past greetings and buying toilet paper. In my last life back in the US, I loved being busy and juggling several things at once. So now I am adjusting to slowing down and my "work" being to shoot the bull in a language I cannot speak. It is not as easy as I expected. Particularly when I try to explain that I do not understand so the person tries to make me understand by standing closer to my ear and shouting the same words over and over!

As time progresses, I am sure my language will come and things will flow easier. I am very lucky to have such a friendly and welcoming village. I am the first Peace Corps volunteer to be in this village so I do not think they really know what to think of me being here! On the good side, I can pave my own path and not be held to a mold of what they saw past volunteers do.

Last week I finished painting the living room which makes everything more clean and comfortable. This Sunday I will get to meet the carpenter who made furniture for some other volunteers. I still just have the bed and folding chair so I am really ready to get a couch, table and some cabinets. Right now everything is all sitting on the floors and driving me crazy!

This week I have gotten to do more exploring in the areas around my village. There are two coffee estates nearby. One is a beautiful 45-minute walk into the mountains. The other is an hour and 45-minute hike over steep hills but it is well-worth it because it is also a resort! They offer a day pass that gives access to a swimming pool, tennis court, squash court, pool table and table tennis. They also have a fabulous menu featuring ice cream and pizza on Sundays! A truly great place for anyone wanting to visit me!!

Home Sweet Home

Written on Sunday, August 22, 2010

After a quick two days in Dar es Salaam for our swearing-in ceremony at the home of the US Ambassador, we were off to our villages! I was pumped to finally see my house and the village that will be home for the next two years.

Much to my excitement, the 14-hour trip from Dar to Mbeya includes a brief jaunt through a national park. Everyone in the van was glued to the windows trying to spot any kind of wildlife. After a long 15 minutes of nothing, our path practically became a safari! We saw elephants, giraffes, zebras, impalas, bamboons and even a warthog (was that Timone or Pumba?)!! Yes, I admit I let my hick side show again, but I was so excited to see them all just hanging out and munching on grass! Even after we drove out of the designated park area, bamboons continued to be spotted on the road side.

Once arriving in Mbeya city, the seven of us living in the Mbeya region met with our District Executive Director (who happens to be a woman- woop, woop!), our Village Executive Officers and a few of the other volunteers already living in the region.

Peace Corps dropped my VEO and I at my house at 8 p.m. ....yep, it was total darkness and a little eirie not being able to fully see anything. But the villagers instantly took my mind off that (for a bit) with a rousing welcome! About 50 of them greeted me at the house with singing, drumming and dancing. It was insane trying to get my luggage separated from the other's and off the van when they kept pulling me back into the dancing and celebrating!

A few words were said by them and myself- all in Swahili but I think they were glad to meet me. At one point, the VEO asked the crowd what I should be called. Someone yelled out Sharli, they all cheered and now they all call me Sharli. I was later told it means "pretty lady" in I mentioned it was really dark.

After most left, a few started bringing in food to my kitchen. I thought, 'how nice, they are stocking my kitchen for me.' Then I hear a chicken abruptly stop clucking....they had just killed my kitchen! So at 8:30 p.m., they literally killed a chicken for my supper!
Now to be honest, I was holding out a little hope that I would be one of the lucky few to get a house with electricity. That did not happen but I do have running water! It is a hydrant in my enclosed courtyard. Many villages have one or two water sourc es that volunteers must fetch from or pay to have delivered. So this is a huge luxury that I am very thankful to have.

The House
The house is actually just what I was looking to buy in Paducah: a 3-bedroom fixer upper with charm and potential! Ok, so I could be stretching the translation a bit. But it is nice and spacious with my own enclosed courtyard. The choo and kitchen are in a separate building from the living room and bedrooms.

The past couple of days have been spent mostly cleaning, which is a task I really appreciate having at this point to unwind and adjust. I plan to paint at least the living room and, since the house only came with a bed and wooden folding chair, I get to have some furniture made by a local carpenter and go shopping for other needs!

The Neighbors
I feel more secure having two very close close we even share an outdoor area. Luckily, I also have private courtyard but personal space is not really seen as important here. In fact, they rarely live alone and feel sorry for us volunteers who do. They expect us to be really lonely and tend to visit a lot.

This may explain why my first visitors arrived the first morning just before 8 a.m. I had just woken up and headed out to the choo when I heard the "Hodi" call. At first, I thought it must be someone to see my neighbors. Who did I know well-enough yet to visit at such an early hour?
But a knock on my courtyard door followed the next "Hodi" so I knew it was for me. Come to find out it does not matter how well you know the person for them to come a knockin in the early morn. Throughout the past couple of days, people have continued to stop by to say hello, present me with food and introduce themself.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Circle of Life

Written on Sunday, August 15, 2010

Time with my homestay family comes to an end in just over 24 hours. The experiences I have shared with them have definitely been filled with highs and lows.

Two important highs were the births of two little girls. Their mothers are two of my grown dadas, or sisters (actually they are technically cousins but everyone is considered either a dada or kaka, brother), who live on the family farm. One was born at the hospital in the next larger village. She spent about two days there so not much different than the U.S. I believe she went because it was her first baby. The other baby was born at a mid-wife's home in our village. I believe she did not go to the hospital because it was her fourth child. They were named Joyce and Glory....I was really hoping for a Jeska, but it was not meant to be :)

Sadly, a very memorable low came this past week with the death of Mama Eva's brother's 52-year-old son. Though it was not a family member I had met, the loss was a sad experience. He fell out of a coconut tree and died three hours later from related internal bleeding.

This happened on a Thursday morning and by that night people were already arriving from out of town. When I arrived home from training, Mama Eva and her sister sat me down to explain what had happened and what would happen. The room immediately outside my bedroom had been cleared of furniture and mats laid out for guests to sit.

Mama Eva had warned me when people mourn here it usually involves loud crying, but I was still not prepared for how eirily sad it was. At 2 a.m. people were still up mourning; and when I got up at 6 a.m., people were still there. So I suspect it went straight through the night.

Many female relatives and neighbors were busy cooking over the next three days as it is customary to serve food to people paying their respects. The first night I stayed in my room to keep out of the way. The second night I got to help form balls of dough to be rolled by another woman and then fried.

The burial was Saturday. I did not attend since he was Muslim and women are not allowed to go to their burials (at least that is the local custom).
There was not a guest registry but I would guess there was easily 200-300 people come through over the 3-day period. Like funerals in the States, it was a sad time but enjoyable to visit with the visiting relatives.

Back on positive note, there were even a few things I was able to teach my family during my stay. After several meals with greasy, fatty chicken, I politely asked if they ever cook without the skin. I explained we do in the U.S. because it is suppose to be healthier. Every since we have ate boiled, skinless chicken!

Seven children between 4-7-years-old live in Mama Eva's and her sisters' homes. We all eat supper together and for the first week these kids were too shy to talk to me. So one night before dinner, I taught them Patty Cake. After that they have followed me around wanting to play. To change it up, I also taught them If Happy and You Know It; Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes; and The Wheels on the Bus.

Also, the fist bump is a popular greeting especially among the younger folks. So I added a little American ghetto fabulousness by teaching the neighborhood kids to follow the fist bump with an exploding hand. Sometimes I even add sound affects!

It's the Little Things...

Written on Saturday, August 7, 2010

This past week has been one of the best parts of training....SHADOW! I was sent with two other cool peeps to spend four days in a village just south of the city of Moshi with a married couple serving as education volunteers.

On Saturday, July 31, we set off on a bus with a few others also heading to villages near Moshi. Our shadowees were all meeting us in the city as it is their "banking town". This means it is their nearest city which is usually best for banking needs, internet access, a large market with bigger selection than found in the villages and, if you are lucky, some American treats.

In the case of Moshi, we were very lucky. Moshi is located near the base of Mt Kilimanjaro so many tourists pass through it. As soon as we met up with the volunteers, they offered to take us to get hamburgers. After six weeks of mainly rice, you can believe I was one of the first to jump at the chance of anything vaguely similar to American food!

It was literally a hambuger stand on a sidewalk, but the burger could seriously hold its own against any in the U.S. Having not seen so much as seen a lettuce leaf since arriving in Africa, I admit to being pretty exciting about the pile included with pickles and mayo. PLUS, it was served with amazing fries sprinkled with really tasty seasoning and smothered in real ketchup. Probably one of the top five meals of my life.

We then met up with more PCVs stationed in the area and the other trainees who had chosen to eat Thai instead of burgers at a restaurant known for having the best grilled chicken....I just had a bite of someone else's-- I swear! But afterwards we headed to another restuarant that serves ice cream and I did have a big cup of chocolate chip. Not sure how much chocolate was in the chips, but it was still good.

I then went with some girls to hit the shops. Moshi offers some great shopping for authentic African jewelry and knick-knacks. But with the high tourist traffic, prices were higher and shop workers were not willing to barter. Similar to not buying anything in the States unless it is on sale, I rarely buy anything that I cannot lower the price. Bartering is half the fun of shopping here!

After shopping it was time to eat again! We met up with the rest of the group for "street meat". Some local restaurants set up booths on their front sidewalks and cook kabobs and chicken legs right there for you to watch. All very good!

The PCVs then showed us a hidden piece of American there in Moshi. When our cab turned off a busy main street on to a dark dirt road with 8ft cement fences on either side, I was a little nervous. When we were dropped at the wrong gate and had to walk back down the dark dirt road, I was still a little nervous. When we arrive at the right place and I see that it is also dark, I begin wondering exactly what type of place we are being taken to. Then as we walk down gravel steps out of no where appears this amazing brightly lit tiki bar with American music playing! Serious oasis in the dessert moment!

Now I am not really a big drinker but there have been a few stressful moments over the last month and a half. With soda and beer as the most common drinks available in the village (and even then women are not really suppose to be drinking in the village bars), I have a few wishful moments of relaxing with friends, good music and an ice cold margarita. So that is exactly what I did! And here's the best part of this little awesome make-shift movie theater that played American movies!

That night we stayed at a hotel and then went to the market the next morning before a lunch of something I had really been craving...PIZZA! Cheese is really scarce in the nothern half of TZ and my sausage was more hot dog but it was still really good.

We then headed to their village to spend the next two days. I really enjoyed getting to see another village and how a current PCV actually lives. We got to sit through one class taught by the wife and help a class make a compost pile for the school's garden.

On Wednesday morning we caught a bus to Dar es Salaam for some admin needs. PC had given us the tickets to Moshi and money to purchase the ones to Dar. In the U.S., I would not think twice about buying bus/plane tickets. But here we needed to speak Swahili while making sure we did not get cheated. It was such a great feeling to do this because we were finally functioning on our own.

Being as independent as I am, I have really struggled with not being able to communicate or having the freedom I took for granted. But this is all working itself out as I learn the language and become more self-sufficient again.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

And the Lucky Kijiji Is.....

Written Friday, July 31, 2010

Today was finally the BIG day everyone in my training group has been anticipating.....Site Announcements! When we first received our invitations to train, we only learned our country would be in Tanzania. Our exact village location for the next two years was undecided until we got to experience TZ and the PC staff got to know us better.

Imagine Christmas morning, your 16th birthday and sorority recruitment Bid Day all wrapped into one day. That is exactly what today was!

After a full morning of sessions, lunch and one more afternoon session, the suspense was bad. But the wait was totally worth it cause PC rocked the announcement process.

We walked from the classrooms over to a outside clearing where people were set-up playing drums and dancing. They got us all up and dancing, but we were still sneaking peeks at a large TZ map outlining who was going where. Each person's picture was covered with a post-it, so we could see how many were going to the individual regions but not who.

The youngest person in our training group got to remove the first post-it to announce where the first person was going. Everyone cheered as that person ran up to the board and then the exact village name was announced. They then removed another post-it from their region and so went the procedure. Once everyone in a region was announced, a description of that region was read. It was all really fun and upbeat!

Plus, we got apples, chocolate and mail. I received a letter from Grandma that included dry powder packets of lemonade and ranch dressing! You can imagine my excitement level was on overload by the end of all this!!

So where am I going? My village will be Mshewe located in the Mbeya Region!!! Located in the beautiful Southern Highlands area, the Mbeya region boasts majestic mountains with the southeastern corner bordering a lake with beaches. Since it is mountainous, the temperature gets much cooler than in the other hot, dry sections of the country.

I am not sure how close I will be to the city of Mbeya but I hear it is a big tourist city for people traveling across Africa. This is awesome for two reasons: I may be able to make use of my professional tourism experience AND Doritos will be near-by! Some American treats like chips and pizza are available for travelers! :)

I am also totally excited about Mbeya because six other fun people from my training group have been placed there. This is in addition to four volunteers already there. We may be a few hours away from each other but close enough for celebrating holidays, birthdays and such!

Celebrating July 4? Yes We Can!

Written Sunday, July 04, 2010

Though I’ve only been in TZ for about three weeks, I feel a certain amount of accomplishment today! One being that it is now July and technically my second month here, and two being that it is my first holiday to spend away from friends and family back home. I know it is not exactly the Christmas of holidays but July 4 has a certain charm of its own. Since fireworks on Paducah’s riverfront or a day at Kentucky Lake is not on this year’s schedule, I am instead doing something else that is definitely all-American….email and blogging!! My group and a second group in Lusanga are taking a dala dala a short drive into Muheza to an internet cafĂ©.

First…An Update
Things have settled in fairly well. We have training from 8-5 Mon-Sat. This primarily consists of learning Swahili, but we also get some interesting lessons on local government structure and agriculture. I have a nice 15 minute walk from the farm to where our classes meet. Plus, we walk around the village some to talk to people and practice Swahili. On Saturdays, the whole training group meets for sessions at a local PC training center. When I get home, I try to explain what I learned that day to my host family, do homework and eat supper.

So I thought it only fitting to use the holiday to describe the Obama-mania we have encountered since arriving in TZ! He is seriously everywhere. Tanzanians are crazy for him. At the center where we meet on Saturdays, I have seen his name written on the backs of chairs. At the duka (aka, market), I have seen Obama bubble gum and ink pens. Even the flashlight I was given to use has his picture on it! The best is something I won't mention yet because someone back in the US may be getting it for Christmas!

As you all probably noticed, I was unable to get on the internet this day. I got settled in with a very slow computer when the electricity for the whole place went out! We still had a blast traveling to the bigger village and celebrated the independence of America with an African beer. :)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Kunywa or Kunwa

Written Sunday, June 27, 2010

Alright, it is time for the post that is practically mandatory for all Peace Corps Trainees…..a report on choos and poo. As my digestive system grows accustomed to the local foods and weather, I have realized how very lucky I am to have my own choo attached to my room.

First I should start by saying that my big African weight loss plan has been thrown a curve ball. People in TZ eat even less healthy than people in America! We only thought the down home style cooks of the South fried everything. They could even learn a few things from the locals here. Plus, it is not uncommon to sit down to a meal with rice, potatoes and pasta!

And I was completely serious when I said in the last post that the family mama expects everyone to eat. The first night was extremely hot and I could not eat much without a drink. So when I first tried to ease out of the situation by saying “Ninanymbasheba” or I am full, she was like NO eat more.

So it was no big surprise when the second night was spent mostly in the choo. What was a surprise was that with the mama’s room right next to mine, she could hear me each time I had to get up and would yell through the wall “jess-KA, you ok?”. Not exactly a situation where you are wanting to yell the play-by-play through a wall to someone you already have limited vocabulary.

Otherwise the choo situation has not been too bad. For those who may not know, a choo is basically a hole in the ground into which you use the bathroom. During the day my group meets at a local government building and we use the choo of one of the other PCTs who lives almost next door. This one is a more typical choo being outside the house and shared by the whole family. It is in a small brick outhouse-type structure with a thatch roof. It is also where you take bucket baths.

My Nyumbani is Your Nyumbani!

The homestay aspect of the training process made me nervous even before I found out how bad I am at learning to speak Swahili. I really was not sure what to think about eight weeks of living with complete strangers in a different country. I just chose not to think about it..... “after all, tomorrow is another day”

But as you guessed it, the day eventually came when my tomorrows ran out. This past Wednesday we left our safe haven in Dar es Salaam to drive five hours to Muheza where a PC Training Center is located. But do not think of a five hour driving distance as in the US! This road was nice but two lane so we did not actually drive that far from Dar. Remember those crazy drivers I mentioned? Our bus driver was passing everything in sight!! Thankfully, I was able to focus on the amazing scenery- even a monkey!

We are all divided among the several neighboring villages with the 4-5 person homestay groups I mentioned last post. I am in Lusanga “A” with three others. Two girls who will be health education volunteers from Boston and California. The other environment volunteer is a guy from Louisville so we’ve got some great Kentucky representation!

After a quick overview at the training center each group with all our luggage piled into a small van. Of my little group, I was the first one dropped off. We started on a decent road paved road. Then turned onto a nice yet narrow dirt road heading into the country. I am still feeling pretty good at this point. Then we turn on to a rutted dirt path surrounded by corn fields…..I start thinking what the h*ll am I doing??!! I seriously just started laughing at the craziness of the situation!

Then the house finally appears and all is good! It is a really pretty “estate” with three widowed and divorced sisters. The family owns the corn fields we had driven through and each sister has their own house where lots of their family members live as well. I am still figuring out who lives where.

I seriously lucked out with my living situation! My mama (we are suppose to totally integrate ourselves into the family) lives in the main house. My room is huge and- unbelievably- has its own choo!! Most homes have one that is outside and the volunteers have to share with the whole family so to have my own attached to my room is a huge luxury.

So we pull up to the house and all these people come out from everywhere to greet me! I catch bits and pieces as they are all talking in Swahili. My extent of the language at that point was to introduce myself. As they start serving me chai, I am arming myself with my note cards, English to Swahili dictionary, Swahili to English dictionary and photo albums. Then it quickly gets dark and I realized there is no electricity. I begin to think I am completely SOL cause it is too dark to read my aids. Then I realize their English is starting to get a lot better as my small extent of Swahili is leaving with the sun. Come to find out the sisters were taught English by a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s!

Once everyone went back to their homes, a few of us started on supper. I am proud to report that I was taught the correct way to stir beans! We sat down to eat and I found two big differences….no silverware and no drinks. The latter being the hardest for me by far. My mouth got so dry and I started having trouble getting it all down! African mamas make sure everyone at their tables eat a lot…and I mean a lot. Luckily, one of the older sisters read my mind and called for someone to bring me juice….the second surprise of the night was that it was icy cold juice!! Seriously the BEST juice ever, a lime and orange mixture, made even better by not having had anything that cold in almost two weeks!

With their small amount of English, we have been able to communicate better than expected, and they are a huge help in my own lessons. Another surprise came the second night when I got home from training, went to another sister’s home and found they have electricity, which explained the icy cold juice!

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I knew internet access would be tricky but this is crazy!!! Sorry to everyone who has been worried but I am still alive and kicking...literally, there are a lot of bugs I have to kick out of my way.

Unfortunately, I have three very interestingly intrigueing posts about the past few weeks that I am currently unable to share with you. I have tried to access the internet twice lately. Once the electricity at the internet cafe completely went out as soon as I got on. The next time it was so slow I could not accomplish anything in the little bit of time I had. Now I am at an AMAZING resort for our mid-training vacation weekend with great internet but the wireless is down and my version of Word is newer than theirs so it will be a bit longer before you get to hear about my first few weeks of homestay training.

Hope all is well and please keep the letters and emails coming!

Monday, June 21, 2010

First Real Dar Experience

Written Sunday, June 20, 2010

Today was quite momentous as Peace Corps let us out on Dar es Salaam for the first time! For safety and health pre-cautions, we stay within the convent during our week in Dar. So we were all really excited to see the city and test our new language skills.

Our homestay groups of 4-5 PCTs led by our Language and Culture Facilitators walked all morning. It was so interesting that I did not even realize how far we had walked. The town's population is beyond packed. People are walking and driving everywhere. The cars are pretty much packed to capacity and drove by people constantly honking and swerving. It was so crazy. I hear automobile accidents are the highest percentage of deaths…..though I almost wish I had a car so I could get on the road and drive like crazy with them….no comment from anyone who has ever rode with me J

Our first stop was a flea market type set-up with all kinds of vendors. First on our list was to check out the kangas and tangas, which are the long pieces of material that women wear wrapped around them as dresses, skirts, tops and even head pieces. I got a pretty tanga and a beautiful batik print that I can give the local seamstress during my homestay to make into a skirt or dress.

We then walked on into town where it was more store fronts but usually opened to the street. Then walked through an open food market with all types of veggies, fruits and more. None of us bought anything there, but we did end up at a grocery store where we got a few essentials for our own rooms. Toilet paper was the key item as it is not frequently found here and what is found is not an ideal quality….to put it nicely.

The currency is about 1300 Tanzanian Shillings for $1. It is so hard for me to remember not to think something is too expensive when it has such a large number as the price!

After the grocery store experience, we took a dala dala back to the hostel. These are the public transportation buses which are a hotbed for petty thefts because they are so crowded. I was so paranoid about being scammed that I did not realize when a worker was needing my fare! He was shaking a hand-full of change just as many of the street vendors were. So I thought he was trying to sell me something. I politely shook my head and thought I had safely avoided trouble. Then one of the others later mentioned she had paid for all of us and then we all realized what had happened. Well…better safe than sorry!

Planes, Tour Buses and Really Strong Toilets

Written Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Peace Corps Pre-Service Training Manual states PST "is a time to test your assumptions about being a volunteer, assumptions about Americans and Tanzanians, assumptions about what is right and what is wrong, and the differences here."

Boy, is that an understatement.

At 30-years-old, I have gained a lot of professional experience and, without meaning to sound completely conceited, I took pride in knowing I was someone my co-workers and peers could rely on to know my job and for advice if ever needed. It's crazy how much a few thousand miles can change one's self-perception as those abilities are certainly not how I would characterize myself in this moment.

Two flights, a missed connection and an afternoon spent in an airport instead of important initial meetings got me to Philadelphia on Monday. I did get to meet the other Peace Corps Trainees, PCTs, that night for supper. They are all totally fabulous and have wonderfully unique stories of their own.

Tuesday was another early morning as we had to be on the road to get our first immunization shot (yellow fever) by 6 a.m. We then boarded two group tour buses (seriously, I just can't get away from these things!) and headed to NYC. I really do try to hide my inner-country-hickness but driving through Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan even had me at the edge of my seat. Funky pizza parlors, the New York Times office and even a park I swear to have seen on Sex and the City had me seriously wanting to stay at least a day.

But we were quickly at JFK and not so quickly onto the plane. Who knew moving 41 people each with two bags not weighing more than a total of 80lbs or total dimensions of more than 107in could take so long? Three flights with stops in Zurich and Nairobi, 21 hours of travel and an eight-hour (CST) time difference got us all to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Africa. Needless to say, I slept very little and was a bundle of nerves once we finally landed in TZ!

Our home until next Wednesday is at a convent in Dar. Training started bright and early at 8 a.m. the next day but I think my "assumptions" were tested as soon as we arrived at the hostel. We were grandly welcomed by the PC Tanzania staff and almost immediately given our malaria pills. Then we were shown to our rooms. Granted after three days they do not really seem that bad but, at first arrival, I was thrown off guard a bit. The room is small with the bare necessities and a 4'x 5' open-floor-plan-bathroom with a working toilet and a shower with a drain.

I never understood why everyone at home was so surprised that I would want to do this, especially as it was my first time out of the US let alone an under-developed country. But at that point of exhaustion and being a bit overwhelmed by it all, I was quickly understanding the surprise and how a previous trip could have helped me prepare for the voyage.

Now after three full days in TZ, I am finally feeling back to my old self. The past three days have been a blur of five of 10 more shots, lessons on the Tanzanian culture, religion and language. As comfortable as I was in my old life, it has been a sharp change that I knew was coming but still a surprise. I have really been struggling with the language more than others in my class, but they have all been really helpful. So much stress is put on being wary of the high petty-crime rate that I have not been really talking to many of the locals who live and work at the convent that our hostel is located inside. But they are good people and very friendly. They are thankful to have PC here in TZ and want to make sure we enjoy our stay, which really describes most of the people in TZ.

Next Wednesday we move in with our host family for the remaining eight weeks of training. I am really excited to meet them and get to experience their daily routines first-hand. During this time, there will be three others living in the same village with their host families, and we will continue to meet up for educational sessions with a Language and Culture Facilitator.

Oh, and the curiously strong toilet? Having an open bathroom with no shelves, I have had to sit my shampoo and soap on the back of the commode. When I went to flush the first morning, my entire, newly-opened bottle of facewash fell in the toilet! Before I realized what had happened, it had been completely flushed down!! Luckily, I have two more bottles with me and a supply at home that my family is suppose to send me. I have not even had any problems with plumbing since then….

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Initial Mailing Address

Jessica Byassee PCT
US Peace Corps
PO Box 9123
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

The address above is to the PC headquarters in Tanzania. I will be receiving mail here until I am placed in my village and get my own PO Box. PCT stands for Peace Corps Trainee. After training, I will be a PCV, Peace Corps Volunteer!

I have heard that padded envelopes and small boxes are faster and most likely to reach me. It is good to write "Educational and Religious Materials" on the outside. It is not uncommon for mail, especially coming from the U.S., to be opened and items stolen. If you have to place a value on anything you send, do not list more than $10/item.

Mainly I would love to receive letters and pictures! Several of you have asked what else I might need sent to me. You do not have to send anything but- since you asked- here are a few general things I have seen on current PCV's lists. After I am over there a bit, I may need to personalize the list by adding things like Heinz Ketchup and Famous Amos cookies!!

Drink Mixes
    (Country Time Lemonade, Crystal Light, etc)
    (BBQ, Mexican or just surprise me!)
Toys and Games for Children
    (I have heard that the neighborhood kids like to hangout with PCVs!)
Books and Magazines
    (I will read ANYTHING! Tip: the Paducah Library has a sale twice a year where you can go  
     at the end and buy a whole grocery bag full of books for only $1!)
Office Supplies
Music and Movies via iTunes

Less Than 1 Week!

After a five week whirlwind of roadtrips, goodbye lunches, riding, goodbye dinners, leisure reading and goodbye parties, I found myself this past Monday with only one week left and a TON of stuff to do. Not that I am a procrastinator....I just happen to work better under pressure...

More Official Stuff
I found out that it is recommended to use your ATM card instead of carrying a lot of cash, which is great for me considering that is all I ever do here in the U.S. But I had planned to move my checking account to Clinton so family can deal with anything that comes up. I would not have gotten a new ATM card in time, so we had to get them signed on to my account in Paducah.

While we are speaking of banks, I have exciting news. I am the proud new renter of my very own safety deposit box! I can now safely leave behind my valuables and important paperwork will be easily found if needed while I am away.

Geeksquad Apprentice
Yes, I been promoted from a Geeksquad Wannabe to an Apprentice! As you may remember from my last post, I was getting a bit overwhelmed by technology and trying to decide what type of computer I should take. I ended up getting an Eee netbook. I was initially put off when I learned they do not have CD drives, but I really liked the size and price for my purposes. Plus, I can backup using jump drives and watch movies/tv available online.

Another big bonus on my netbook is that it came with a camera and Skype already downloaded. Last night I had a trial run and successfully spoke via video with a friend in Paducah! If you have Skype, look me up!

I do want to stress here that while I am taking a netbook, iPod, digital camera and Solio they will not be part of my everyday life. Not just because I will lack the power to use them frequently, but I also do not want to become the "rich white person". I will want and need to blend in as best as possible so I will mostly use them in the privacy of my home and on trips outside of my village. I will also be taking care not to waste time using them instead of being out visiting with the people.

King of Prussia Bound!
About three weeks ago I received my staging information. Staging is two days of intense orientation within the U.S. On June 14, I will fly to King of Prussia, PA, a suberb of Philadelphia. There will be several sessions and shots that afternoon and night as well as the next day.
That evening we will travel by bus to JFK in NYC for an eight hour flight to Zurich. Then a staight nine hour, 40 minute flight Dar es Salaam, Tanzania! Dar is a major city where most of our two month training will occur.

Right now I have just over four days before I leave. So I must log off here and get back to packing!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Less Than 2 Months Away!

Almost three months have passed since I received my acceptance to Peace Corps allowing me to come clean to all my friends and co-workers about my plans. The most asked question I get has now switched from "What? Why??" to "So are you ready?". I have always been ready in the sense that I could jump on the plane at any moment and get this adventure started. But in terms of feeling prepared...not so much. Sorry, this is a long post. So grab your sweet tea and settle in.....

You Mean I Need to Research?
I figured I would have done a lot more research on the people and statistics of Tanzania at this point. I freak out a little when I realize I have not even done any language studies yet! But most of that will occur during the official training. And since this experience is suppose to help me relax and be better at not needing to have every detail planned, it is nice to remember to sit back and wait for the final word from Peace Corps. Plus, in an initial book of essays they sent me last summer, there was one by a guy who was suppose to go somewhere cold but then that program got cancelled, so he ended up being sent to a Pacific island. 

My grandfather has been doing a lot of reading and has given me several interesting articles about how the agriculture industry is starting to search for ways to create better farming practices in Africa because so much of the land in more developed countries is getting used up by real estate and such. More on that after I get a chance to read it more thoroughly.

The time that should have been spent reading more things like that.....has actually been spent blog stalking. You may have noticed on the right column of my blog is a link to Peace Corps Journals. This is a wonderful site that allows you to read blogs by Peace Corps Volunteers in specific countries. I have also found that there are a ton of videos on YouTube posted by PCVs. I have found lots of good stuff that give me a better idea of what to expect as well as some things that I would have preferred not to now being showing up in my dreams. But I figure my subconscious cannot be nearly as bad as reality....right?

Geek Squad Wannabe
I have decided that moving to an African village which most likely will not have electricity is the perfect time to buy my first iPod and laptop. Give me moment and this will make perfect sense! I have been fortunate enough to be able to email with a few current PCVs. All of them recommend bringing  at least a laptop because 1) I will be surprised by the availability of wireless access;  2) Even if I do not get internet at my village, it is handy to have the laptop to type reports, emails and blog entries. Then when I am able to access wireless, I can just send or post these things; 3) It will be much easier to find a place that offers wireless and not have to find a place that offers computers (there is no telling what kind of shape that computer would be in). I am currently researching laptops vs netbooks, Eees vs Linux and a bunch of other things, so I will look somewhat intelligient when I go to Best Buy and have to deal with their Geek Squad. 

On much more fun note, I have already gotten my iPod and I am in love! It is so sleek and shiny and green! I decided on the iPod Nano because it video tapes which will keep me from filling up my digital camera's memory cards. My iPod has lead to my other new love of iTunes. All you have to do is click and presto! You have the specific songs you want without having to buy a whole cd. But this has also lead me to realize how quickly $1.29 adds up. So I am doing a Stock the iPod, like Stock the Bar Showers. If you have any songs in your iTunes that you think I should not live 2 years without, fill free to "gift" them to me!

I have also found out about Solios. These are solar panel-type devices that store up solar power and uses it to charge electronics! I cannot wait to get one of these ordered so I can play with it too!

Two Weddings, a College Graduation and a Funeral
I am not the only one in my family facing new challenges. My little sister is graduating college and getting married in May. Thank goodness it has all worked out for me to be here for both big moments. Unfortunately, luck did not carry on for my good friend Maria's wedding at the end of the summer. But I am at least getting to have a fun girl's weekend with her and others to help celebrate!

Though I do NOT expect it to happen, I have had to plan for my own death or becoming too ill to be able to convey my wishes. It was actually more depressing to realize how little I own of much worth. Though as I was working on my living will and will, I started thinking of what songs I would like played at my funeral, who should say what, who would be the pawbears, what flower color scheme would look best in the local funeral home.....then I realized my love for party planning should probably not include my own funeral?

I'm Just a Girl
One of the things that I am most looking forward to is not having to wake up every morning and put on make-up. That said, it has been funny how many girly preparations I have had to do....some down-right vain considering where I am going.

First, Peace Corps requires you to take two pairs of eyeglasses AND they do not provide contact cleaning solution so it is recommended to only wear your glasses. If you have had the pleasure of seeing me in my glasses, you know I am blinder than the bats that will be eating the mosquitoes around my African hut. When my eye doctor recommended thicker frames to hide the thickness of the lens, I jumped at the idea. Thankfully, they are much better than expected. But I am still planning an order to 1-800-Contacts to stock up.

Second, I got a permanent retainer for my teeth. This may be TMI but I am so excited by the results that I have to tell you about it! Even after having braces TWO times, my front two teeth would constantly shift apart. Since I don't want to deal with a retainer over there (or any more, in general), my dentist suggested having them basically bonded together. Best thing I have ever done for my teeth!

Third, having tried to save money by doing my own hair coloring for the last couple years, I ended up with red hair. So my hair stylist has colored over it in a way that will fade away without giving me roots. Layers and angled bob are now gone so it will grow out even. I realize this all seems completely shallow, but when you are not sure of the frequency or quality of future haircuts, you have to plan out these things!

That pretty much catches you all up! I only have two more weeks at my job. Then I will have six weeks to really do more in preparation!

Friday, April 2, 2010

April Fools!

APRIL FOOLS!!  As most of you realized, my last post was a joke. But it would have been pretty cool to be heading to Jamaica this weekend to build tree houses :)

I am still planning to travel to Tanzania in June. It is getting harder and harder to concentrate on work...which is really bad considering there is a huge event coming at the end of the month that I need to be focused on! In my head is the lay out of my next post and I promise to get it typed out soon. There has been a lot of preparation going on that you may find interesting.....

How's that for a cliffhanger? :)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Blue Moon of Jamaica?

I've had quite an eventful day.....I got a call from Peace Corps this morning saying there is an immediate opening in Jamaica!!!!! It starts on Monday, April 5, so I'm leaving this Saturday!!!!!!

I will be teaching a program that increases sugar cane production by 10 times the current net profit ratio based on the dollar to guinea system. I will also be assisting with architectural plans to develop more tree-dwelling homes. Picture a subdivision of "tree-houses"...kind of like Swiss Family Robinson.

Not sure if I'll be able to get in touch with each of you before I leave, but I will try to write again soon. Got LOTS of packing to do so gotta run!!!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Inspiration for the Masses

Let's be honest here....Africa was not my top choice on where to serve. When I first decided to apply this time, I was visualizing rustic cobblestone roads and cute, homey cottages in one of the Eastern European countries still fighting for their own identity after the demise of the USSR. But I can say that I am truly excited about where I will be spending the next two years. What swayed my opinion?

Again, I do not have just a simple answer (see post 1: nothing is ever simple inside my rambling head). I can pinpoint the force behind the fascination I did initially have with Africa. I had only been at my current job about a year when I got to work with Hollis Chatelain. She and her family lived several years in Africa and that time inspired her art beyond description. Below is a clip from her artist statement on her website

"The twelve years I lived in Africa have deeply influenced me. Six months after moving back to the United States, my longing for Africa was so great that I started to paint African images in order to put me back into the life I loved so much. I feel Americans should know more about the joy, harmony, and pride of the African people, rather than only hearing about the suffering and turmoil so commonly depicted in the media. I would like viewers to see my African imagery as a tribute to a people I truly admire and respect."

I can still remember picking her up at the airport and spending the drive back to the museum talking about her upcoming visit with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She was preparing to meet with him personally to help in the creation of a quilt she was to make depicting Tutu. I have still yet to meet anyone more perceptive to their surroundings, and her art allows others to see what she sees. It is simply amazing.

As things have a way of strangely working out, Hollis has long since finished the quilt and included it in the exhibit Imagine Hope, which will be debuting at the museum April 9-May 25. I am quite excited about getting to see her mere weeks before starting my own African journey!

Not only will I get to see her, but last month Tutu himself spoke at Murray State University. (I know, it is crazy how these things happen!) Included with this post is a picture I took at this event. The image is not a great quality but does show how packed RSEC was. It was basically standing room only....much like graduation for anyone who went to MSU. 

To say the least, it was one of those rare moments when a large group of all ages and nationalities come together to hear something inspiring from a world leader who is clearly not just giving a scripted speech to get votes. Not to be repetitive, but it was simply amazing!

Monday, March 1, 2010

49 and holding....

Happy Peace Corps Day! On March 1, 1961, President Kennedy signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps. Three days later, Sargent Shriver became its first director. Deployment was rapid: Volunteers arrived in five countries during 1961. In just under six years, Shriver developed programs in 55 countries with more than 14,500 Volunteers. - courtesy of the National Peace Corps' Facebook status

Jessica's Note: I once read in a book about Kennedy that he chose Shriver as the first PC director because it would be easier to fire a family member if it did not work!  

Jessica's 2nd Note: Just realized I will be serving when PC celebrates its 50th anniversary. Too cool!!

Serious Training: Day 1

I have a feeling it usually is not correct blog etiquette to write two posts back-to-back. But the first one was mainly setting the scene for the whole a novel's foreword!

Speaking of novels, I had a literary moment of my own today. Over the past few years I have gained a little weight....ok, those of you who know me realize "little" is putting it nicely. During my medical exams last summer, I realized just how bad it has gotten and that I really need to be healthier, if only for the purpose of living in an under-developed country. Well, now it is the end of February and nothing has really changed. (Seriously, how does time fly by so quickly?)

So today I have started my Serious Training. I cleaned the horse barn which is great for the arms and then set off for a walk to get the ol' heart beat racing. This is when I had an epiphany! In Africa, I expect to be walking on rougher terrain than a nice concrete road. I should really train to be ready for that....I should walk through our fields! 

I set off in a jaunty mood. (Though I am not sure of the definition of the word jaunty, I feel that is how I would describe my mood.) Jane Austin could do no wrong in my mind, and she always had her characters walking through woods and moors. So how bad can it be? I envision myself as Elizabeth hoping to run into Darcy.....or maybe Emma off to check on a crazy matchmaking scheme.

By the time I make it up the second hill, I am feeling much more like Gwenyth Paltrow's character in Shallow Hal than her portrayal of Emma. My back and knees hurt, and the wind was causing my nose to run and I had no tissue. Plus, the cows' angry glare was much more scary than what I expect to find on any of the animals in Africa.

Tomorrow I am taking my Serious Training to the gym, and next weekend I will be walking around the corn field where there are not any cows!

Peace Corps! Peace Corps? Peace Corps.

"Greetings, I come in peace." Actually, it is more like "I come on behalf of the Peace Corps" but I could not help saying it the first way. This blog is to capture my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer. In exactly 105 days, I will be traveling to Tanzania, Africa, where I will serve as an Environment Extension Worker for PC's program titled Environmental Education and Sustainable Agriculture in Rural Communities....yep, I am still having to read it off my assignment booklet in order to get all the words right!

To start I will briefly answer the most asked question "Why?". This is also the question that plagues me the most. I feel like it sets the stage on how people will judge my decision to join the Peace Corps, and I honestly do not have one exact reason as to why I am doing this. It is more of a whole bunch of things that culminated to this one point in time.

Peace Corps was something I guess I always knew about but had never placed much thought. Then about seven years ago while I was living in Texas I read a magazine article about a guy who had served. I immediately checked out the website and as luck would have it there was an informational meeting that night. I went to meeting and was amazed I had never seriously considered it. The program seemed like an unbelievable way to experience the world while really doing something beneficial to help.

I immediately started the application process and made plans to travel home to break the news to my family. They were definitely surprised....and not in a good way. Since I had found every opportunity to come home while living in Texas, the first question they asked was how I thought I would ever be able to live in a different country for two whole years. My dad reminded me that at my then age of a ripe old 23 he already had several years seniority at his job, plus a family and home. When was I going to settle down? A part of me did want to move home and find a good long-term job. So that is what I did. 

Fast forward six years.....something scary happened. I turned 29-years-old and consequently in just 12 months I would be 30. Now I am not tenacious enough to think that 30 is really old, but it is a point that a person starts to re-evaluate one's life. I had done what I was suppose to do: established myself in a respectable job that lasted for more than a year, joined several worthwhile civic organizations and a great church, and made some fabulous friends. I still had not married....but that is another blog of its own. I could not help but stop and ask "Is this it? Is this what I have been working towards? Isn't there suppose to be something more fulfilling?"

Peace Corps had always stuck in the back of my mind as something I would do once I retired. Now that I was an adult who owned a washer and dryer and had a cat that depended on me, I could not possibly take off and travel across the globe for two years....could I? Finally, one Saturday morning I woke up and just knew. The time was right. The next day I completed the on-line application. In early June, I had a phone interview with the regional office out of Chicago. During which, I was informed that due to the high volume of applications the next available spot was not until the next June so my hopes were dashed for a quick getaway! But I still believed that the Lord had sparked it in me at this particular moment for a reason.

So I agreed and started the whole medical review. After seven trips to my general doctor, two trips to a local hospital for blood tests, a full set of 18 x-rays from my dentist and a review from my eye doctor, I finally received medical clearance just before my 30th birthday. What achievement! During this time, I also moved back home to live with my dad and his wife in order to pay off the average credit card debts and to build savings. I got to experience being a 30-year-old loser living at home....which could also be a blog of its own.

Much to my regret, I had to be very careful about who I told during this process because it would not be official until the PC Placement Office cleared me and sent me an invitation to serve. Luckily for me, an opening for a program leaving in March became available in January, so I was able to be processed a little early. Though I did not get the March opening, they were able to issue the invitation for June! Which I am so excited for because now I can attend my sister's wedding in May!

Well, this may not seem like the "brief answer" I promised but it actually is! I could go on and on about the long nine months of waiting, but I will save you all from that. I will also not elaborate on the power of prayer and how I truly feel spiritually moved to do this, in addition being so motivated by Obama's inspiring acceptance speech in November 2008. And I will not bore you about how I am motivated by my frustration with politicians who instead of doing something positive cannot get past their bipartisan bickering. 

Instead, I will end here with an explanation of this post's title. The use of the different punctuation marks describe how my emotions have evolved through this process and in turn how people's reactions usually progress. There is the initial excitement, soon followed by questions and doubt. Then, for me at least, it settled on a peaceful feeling of "Yes, I understand it will not be perfect and ideal at all times. But it is going to an exciting adventure, and I will hopefully do a little good through it all."