Tuesday, July 10, 2012

And So the Circle Continues

Written December 2011

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was so excited to have been selected to be a Peace Corps Facilitator during the training of new environment and health volunteers last fall. The PCFs were a huge source of support during my training. So I was pumped to help show there is a happy life after training!

Training can be intense and overwhelming from the upheaval of everything we know in America to life in a TZ village. So many things- like cooking and bathing- we have to learn how to do as done here. There’s a lot to be said for learning how to poop into a hole in ground…  

Training of Trainers
Before we could be let loose on the group of impressionable new Peace Corps Trainees we needed to be trained to be a trainer. About 12 from my class (6 health, 6 env) came to together to plan our lessons and review the politically correct ways to answer questions and be supportive. It’d kinda be against the point of being a PCF if you told a struggling trainee about all the rat issues at your house or how a project fell apart after months of work.

We were partnered in twos (1 health, 1 env) and spread over the last 6 of 9 weeks of training. Every week of training has a theme of what’s taught. I was placed in week 5 with a good friend and health volunteer in Mbeya. We would be teaching about working with community groups and dealing with gender in development. Great combo!

TOT was a blast for many reasons. Our group was a good mix that allowed me to get to know some I didn’t know as well. Plus, TOT is at the agriculture school where training is held. It was my first chance to return to the area- so many memories came back to me!! I had a strange surreal feeling at first. My time there seemed so long ago. We all got a good reminder of how far we’ve come since we were the impressionable, overwhelmed trainees.

 I also got to visit the family I stayed with during training. To be honest I was not sure I really wanted to see them. They were super nice but not the type to have created the bond other PCVs had with their host families. I went a little more out of a sense of responsibility. But then I got to the village and as I walked to their house, almost every house I passed greeted me by name! And it was not the usual everyday-passing-by-greeting. These folks were excited to see me! I was shocked they remembered me much less my name and background. I loved getting to talk to them now knowing more Swahili than I had in training.

So by the time I reached my family’s home, I was pumped to see them! It was a great reunion. They appreciated my gifts of sugar, soap and candy. I may have even got a little choked up…if I got this way over seeing them, I have no idea what it will be like returning to friends and family in America!!  

The In-Between

After the week-long TOT, we all returned to our sites due to the first few weeks of training being primarily language and PCFs are not needed. For me and couple others coming from Mbeya, the trip for TOT was a long 18hr bus ride. Going there I divided it over two days…but that’s two days of hard bus rides. So on the return trip we decided to try it all in one day…by the end of which I thought it was one of the most miserable days of my WHOLE life. But it was good to get it over with and have a day to relax in town before returning to my vill.

 I had about a month in-between TOT and my PCF week. Several of my friends who were education volunteers were leaving during this time so many sad goodbyes and parties. There was also my birthday!

I was also busy in the village teaching and working with my women’s group. The weather was hot and dry as it was the end of the dry season. The combination of all this was not good. A few days before I was to head to training for my PCF week, I started feeling bad- exhaustion, fever, etc. I thought it was dehydration at first as I probably hadn’t increased my water intake enough to cover how hot it’d become.

So the day came for me to head to Mbeya town to meet my friend I’d be traveling and teaching with. I was chugging water with dehydration salts and ibuprofen. We stayed with another PCV in town who is a nurse in America…thank goodness. Cause I was standing and talking to them one minute and on the ground the next! I’d literally passed out. Not a great feeling to realize you’d passed out and can’t really converse more than answering simple questions.

But my friends were awesome. The nurse one jumped into medical mode and pulled a stethoscope and ear thermometer out of no where. She realized my symptoms could be flu or malaria….almost scary how the symptoms are so similar. The PC med kits include a malaria test so they were able to prick my finger for blood and test it. Not going to lie…I was scared. The malaria prevention meds can mess with your head and emotions. So when you live in the cold areas like Mbeya it’s easy to fall off the meds. Something I was really regretting. Luckily it was negative and after sleeping most of that day I was better enough to just sit on a bus all the next day. I was not going to miss my PCF week! Plus the PC doctor would be at training that week in case I needed him.  

PCF Week
We were totally excited to be going back for our week. There’s usually more than 100 PCVs in TZ. One group each of first-year health/environment and education. Then also one group each of second-year. To have so many spread across the country, we are a fairly tight knit group. When a new group of volunteers comes, it’s like Christmas. Mainly cause it means we’re getting new American neighbors in our regions…aka: new friends, new ‘family’ members.

We could not wait to meet the new trainees. The first day back in Tanga, they were all in their training groups in their villages. I was looking forward to having lunch with the group staying where I had lived and even meet the girl who is now staying with my family. It was funny cause I got really nervous that morning. I had looked at the PCFs last year as these people who have it all together, know all the answers and have had so much success. Not at all how I feel. I was worried I would end up saying something completely wrong and discouraging.

But it was all great! They were awesome and had great questions that I could answer. I was really excited to meet a guy from Kentucky and talk bluegrass for a bit. I really enjoyed them and getting to hear how their experiences related to those of my group.

In fact that was how the whole week went. We had so much fun getting to know everyone. By the end of the week we wanted them all to be placed in Mbeya with us! Our sessions went well. We also assisted staff sessions on malaria and HIV/AIDS. Mainly we tried to be the energizers of the week and help keep the morale high. This ended up being one the best weeks ever, leaving me energized to return to the vill!

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