Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Deep breath. "Patience is a virtue." Sigh.

I have been noticing what seems to be an increasing number of invitations being sent out to my fellow Peace Corps applicants. This is an exciting time and I am so so happy for each and every one of you. That being said, I am also a little bit sad for me (and for Kati) because we are still stuck in this waiting game. And I think that sadness feels a little stronger because I am genuinely thrilled for everyone when they get their invitation and then I realize I am no closer to getting mine. Then I get a frown face.

So I decided to email my Placement Specialist to find out the timeline for this phase and to find out if my program was still open, all under the guise that I have continued to take certificate courses and need to update my resume. Well, she emailed me back and I think I am more depressed for having emailed her. (Note to self, it is better to be patient and let the process happen as it may and stop being nosey because you might not like what you hear.) What I know now is that I need to fax copies of documentation related to additional experience to the Peace Corps office, that there are a lot of people with programs departing sooner than me and they take precedence, that I need to be flexible to worldwide placement, and that it will be AT LEAST ANOTHER MONTH before she will be ready to review my file. Sigh, tear, and frown face all rolled into one.

What does this mean to me you ask? It means that I will do my best to sit back, practice patience, and continue to be as excited as possible for everyone, knowing that sooner or later it will be my turn. *Deep breath*

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Your file is now complete and with your Placement Officer for determination for service"

I received an email this morning from my Placement Assistant letting me know that my file is complete and that it is now with my Placement Specialist for final review. I am beyond ecstatic! It is so comforting to know that everything is in and that I am in the last stage of this whole process. I know it's only been a few months since I applied but it has felt like an eternity...

Of course, the email reminded me (in a standard form way) that I may not receive an invitation for my program of nomination and to be open to working with the Placement Specialist in the case I am invited to serve in another location. This is cause for consideration and some deep thought. So that is exactly what I have been doing. This is what I have surmised:

I am open to whatever happens. I didn't have a place in mind when I applied and I said that I would be willing to serve wherever my help was needed most. Yes, I am pretty excited about the idea of serving in Botswana (thank you Peace Corps Wiki and the Mobleys for your inside information) but am also pretty confident that wherever I end up will be the right place for me. Also, I did some research on my Placement Specialist and she has done everything, literally, and is a highly educated and accomplished individual. I have confidence in her and believe she will place me somewhere I am well suited. That being said, I obviously prefer my Sub-Saharan Africa nomination because I have mentally committed myself to going (and my family has started their "Africa funds" and would probably opt to visit Africa instead of me if my location changed).

In the end, it will be a worthwhile and amazing adventure wherever I end up. I am just excited to be rounding out this process and finding out where I will be serving.

"The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure."

Monday, December 13, 2010

We have contact!

It seems as though the Peace Corps Placement Office has, in fact, been reading my blog. I say this because the day after I posted about my RAS and pleaded with Placement to contact me and calm my restless heart, I received an email from the Business Placement and Assessment Assistant! Hallelujah! She requested my updated resume, documentation of my TEFL certification, and additional information on my fellowship experience in Israel. As of 9:00 this morning, everything has been sent in! And, courtesy of my wonderful recruiter, I have direct contact information for my Placement Specialist so she is not a mystery anymore! Could it be that this waiting-for-an-invite may finally come to an end? Until then, I am a happy girl to be at this point!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Human Rights Day: A Challenge For The Future

The promotion and protection of human rights became a primary concern for the United Nations following the atrocities of WWII. The global community weeped at the loss of so many lives and resolved that they would never let hatred and death reign again. Three years later, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it was written that respect for human rights and human dignity "is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world."

On this day, December 10th, we observe Human Rights Day in commemoration and respect for the Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and for their dedication to protect the rights of people the world over. Over the years, nations, agencies, and individuals have joined forces to ensure the primacy of human rights and to confront human rights violations wherever they occur.

Sadly, people continue to suffer from gross misconduct. People in our own backyards are being bullied for their sexuality, communities across the ocean are needlessly being slaughtered, and women and children are victims of sex trafficking at home and abroad.

I believe in the power of a unified group to make a difference and to bring great change. Therefore, it is not enough to declare any one day to be Human Rights Day. We need to take a stand every day to protect the rights and freedoms of our friends, neighbors, and more. I challenge everyone who reads this blog to speak up against discrimination, to not sit idly by when you see someone suffering, and to educate yourself and others about what human rights are and how you can help protect them. For me, today is a day to regroup and prepare myself for the fight to protect human rights in the year ahead. Let Human Rights Day be a celebration of how far we have come but, more so, a reminder of all the work still left to do.

Monday, December 6, 2010

RAS - Restless Applicant Syndrome

I am 126 days into the Peace Corps application process. I have passed all of my clearances and am waiting to hear from the placement office. As I have finished each stage in the application process, the fact that I am fulfilling this dream of joining the Peace Corps has become more of a reality. I am excited and I can't wait to have my invitation in hand. This excitement, however, has made way for a plague that most Peace Corps applicants know very well - Restless Applicant Syndrome.

Restless Applicant Syndrome (RAS) is very real and extremely debilitating. RAS occurs in Peace Corps applicants who are engaging in the long and arduous waiting game associated with the application process. Symptoms include: anxiety, emotional outbursts, nervous twitching, irrational thoughts, self-doubt, and lack of focus. Work becomes increasingly difficult as the applicant tries to calculate ways to contact Peace Corps to find out about their application status. Obsessive reading of Peace Corps Journals is commonplace. Compulsive taking of certification courses has been known to occur in some applicants. Obscurity in the application process only exacerbates RAS. And, although the Peace Corps office tells applicants to be patient as this waiting game teaches skills needed for service, this will not comfort an applicant with RAS. The only known cure for RAS is an invitation.

If you or someone you know suffers from RAS, rest assured that you are not alone. I am with you.

P.s. Peace Corps Placement Office, if you are reading this, please help alleviate my RAS by getting in touch with me. Even a standard form letter would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Favorite 2AM Wake-Up Call

At 2:04AM, I received a notification from Peace Corps. "A decision has been reached regarding your medical review." Since my nurse reviewer had told me that I would be cleared as soon as she received my last two labs, and since I talked to my doctor yesterday and she confirmed "non-reactive" results to these labs sent to PC the day before, I can only believe this means I have been MEDICALLY CLEARED! Hooooooray! I am a really happy girl right now! Next up, placement!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Getting closer! One more needle prick and I should be good to go!

I received a rather snide email this morning from my nurse reviewer saying that the labs my doctor faxed over were not right and, basically, that if I want to be medically cleared then I need to send over the correct labs. (Okay, I do, so I will get right on it!) Obviously I wanted to call my doctor's office at 6:18am when I got the email but, alas, they don't open until 8 so I had to wait... So I got ready for work extra quickly, took my dog for a walk, and then sat staring at the clock waiting for it to strike 8 so I could make an appointment to get in for the blood draw to run the labs. (This is evidence of my personal growth through the Peace Corps process - I am actually seeking out doctors and needles and blood draws!) I left a voicemail for my doctor's assistant, explaining everything and asking her to get back to me. Then I waited. At 10:53 I called again because I hadn't received a call back. This time I actually got to talk to my doctor's assistant, who I adore. She said she was going to chase down my doctor and get her to send the tests to the lab right away and that she would call me back to confirm as soon as it was taken care of. It's now 11:56 and I'm waiting again to hear from her. Sigh. Honestly, if Peace Corps teaches me anything during this whole application process it's patience. I will most likely get in to the lab this afternoon for the blood draw and hopefully they can put a rush on the two labs. I really want to get everything faxed over to Peace Corps by Friday so that my nurse reviewer has a chance to look it all over and medically clear me by Thanksgiving - it sure would be a nice little side dish to turkey and gravy! Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Almost medically cleared. Almost.

I am almost through medical... ALMOST.

After eight weeks of waiting, I received an email from my nurse reviewer yesterday. She said that my file was missing documentation of two labs and that once she gets them that I will be medically cleared. I immediately called my doctor's office and asked them to fax the labs over. Well, there may be a glitch - they may not have ran one of the tests. I'm not sure yet but I'm almost certain that I will need to go back in and get another blood draw (and possibly a series of shots). Here's the situation: I wasn't immunized for Hepatitis B (routine Hep B vaccinations didn't start until 1991, I was born in 1983, and my pediatrician never said to get it). The first of the labs for Hep B reflected that I hadn't been immunized. According to my doctor's assistant, the subsequent lab would show the same thing so they put a notice of that in with my labs and that was what I sent to Peace Corps (even though I said over and over again that I need all of the tests done regardless because "Peace Corps said so"... sigh.) Anyway, my doctor's office faxed the labs they had to my nurse reviewer. I emailed her to confirm she received everything and to see if there were any problems (hoping she would say no and I would be cleared). As seems to be the case with all Peace Corps ventures, I'm still waiting to hear back from her...

This morning I received a MyToolkit update saying there is now a hold on my medical. I'm not sure if that means my file is still in review or if that means I need to go get the additional labs done. I'm assuming it's the latter. I put a call in to my doctor to let her know that I will probably need to come in again. And, as I do more research on the Hep B immunization, I'm also assuming that I will need to get that series done as a precaution considering I will most likely be living in an area with high prevalance of Hep B...

So that is the story for now. I am almost through medical.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"Let us rise up and be thankful"

Tonight's yoga class gave me an overwhelming sense of powerfulness and gratefulness and I wanted to share in the hopes that the feeling will spread to others.

For almost a year I have felt like I couldn't breathe a whole breath in. This is something I struggled with after my dad died but I had healed most of those wounds. This felt different. Honestly, I have generally been pretty happy and have very little to complain about but I obviously had a lot to let go of still. Well, somewhere in the midst of Surya Namaksara B I took a deep breath and realized I was able to fill my whole lungs. I felt empowered. By the hundredth chataranga, when I normally would be getting tired, I found myself pushing for more and feeling stronger. I couldn't help but smile because it felt like mile 12 of a half marathon when the end is finally in sight and you take a deep breath and just go for it. It felt amazing. So grateful.

I found myself feeling grateful for others too. I heard my fellow yogis breathing and I felt grateful that they had oxygen to fill their lungs. I heard a tummy rumble and I was grateful their bodies worked and they had food to eat. And by the time we took rest it had become less about me and I was grateful for all the things that filled the room - the people, the warmth, the energy. It felt like a hug from a long lost friend.

It takes more than motivation and passion to accomplish great things. The strength to do it has to come from within. I needed to find this "friend" again, this more powerful and grateful version of myself, in order to truly make a difference. Tonight was a step at getting that inner strength back. I can breathe again. I am so grateful.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Friendly Reminder from Good Ol' Dr. Seuss

Oh! The Places You’ll Go!

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

You’ll look up and down streets. Look’em over with care. About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.” With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down a not-so-good street.

And you may not find any you’ll want to go down. In that case, of course, you’ll head straight out of town. It’s opener there in the wide open air.

Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you.

And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.

Oh! The Places You’ll Go!

You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights.

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed. You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead. Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.

You can get all hung up in a prickle-ly perch. And your gang will fly on. You’ll be left in a Lurch.

You’ll come down from the Lurch with an unpleasant bump. And the chances are, then, that you’ll be in a Slump.

And when you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?

And if you go in, should you turn left or right…or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite? Or go around back and sneak in from behind? Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find, for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.

The Waiting Place…for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. Everyone is just waiting.

No! That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying. You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing. With banner flip-flapping, once more you’ll ride high! Ready for anything under the sky. Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!

Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all. Fame! You’ll be famous as famous can be, with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don’t. Because, sometimes, they won’t.

I’m afraid that some times you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win ‘cause you’ll play against you.

All Alone! Whether you like it or not. Alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.

And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some, down the road between hither and yon, that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

But on you will go though the weather be foul. On you will go though your enemies prowl. On you will go though the Hakken-Kraks howl. Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. On and on you will hike. And I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are.

You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)

Kid, you’ll move mountains!
So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

(Trust me, I'm trying to get on my way! Do you hear that Peace Corps? Dr. Seuss says that today is my day! It really is time to push me through to placement!)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Everything and Nothing

I've often said that I want to do everything and nothing at the same time. It's a strange feeling to want that and I've wondered about the complexity and the paradox of that statement. I think I've finally figured it out...

I want to do everything, but not because I necessarily want to do it forever. I want to be able to live my life knowing that I did it. Like Peace Corps and law school. They are both things that I have said I want to do for a long time. And I unequivocally do want to do them. Sadly, I haven't because I have been hung up on the "why" for doing things. Why should I do this? What is it that I want to do and why will this help me get there? I'm not sure if I want to be a lawyer some day or if I want to spend my whole life working for the UN. I do know, however, that the idea of doing those things intrigues me and inspires me and is exciting. I also want to go to Bali and practice yoga and I want to sit and watch the sun set and then rise over the Grand Canyon without moving a muscle. I want to be a dog walker and play fetch and wander through the park with no other purpose than being outside. All of these things are entirely different and none of them are leading me to any great end or specific goal other than doing things that make me happy.

Life is short and we consciously only live once. I want to do these things because I want to do them. Isn't life really all about the things that you do and people that you meet anyway? I can't imagine life being about more than that. If you go through life having experiences that make you happy and doing things because you want to, then I can only assume that you will be leaving the world a better place because you will feel joy and accomplishment and will want to share those things with others.

So I've decided that I don't need a purpose or a reason for wanting to go to law school or wanting to sit and watch the leaves change color. I should do those things because I want to. I have been letting the fact that I don't know what I want the end to look like to hold me back from doing the things I want to do. I need to let go of the "why" and try to hold onto the "why not".

I think I am so proud of myself for finally applying to the Peace Corps because it means I am starting to live the "why not."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yes, I Want To Party

Since word got out that I finally took the plunge and applied for Peace Corps, everyone has been asking me about my "going away party." Well, folks, I am here to say that I have absolutely no idea when this blowout party will be yet. The problem is that I am still waiting for confirmation that I passed medical so that I can talk with a Placement Officer and receive my formal invitation to serve. Without these things, I cannot set a date for this "going away party." Yes, I want to party. And yes, I want to know when it is going to be just as much as each of you (probably more). So, if you want to get this party on your calendars soon so that you can start getting excited about it, then you are going to need to contact Peace Corps and let them know it's time for me to finish up the process and receive my formal invitation. Once I have that, we will get this party started!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day: Be Grateful for Water

Today is Blog Action Day. Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world's bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking a global discussion and driving collective action. This year's topic is water.

I love water. I probably drink 70 oz of water a day, it is always refreshing, and my favorite water is straight from a hose. I haven't had to worry about getting sick from drinking contaminated water from the only muddy river nearby. But this is a reality for nearly half the world. And, if you consider that only 1% of the world's water is suitable for drinking and that the population is steadily increasing and the health of our environment continues to decline, the number of people without access to clean water may soon be rising.

In about six months, I will be heading to Sub-Saharan Africa and will most likely have to face this reality and will truly understand the impact of the global water crisis. In the meantime, I am proud to join the Blog Action Day movement to help people learn more about the importance of clean water. It is vital that we realize how lucky we are in the United States to have clean water and begin to take action towards helping those less fortunate.

Here is some information you should know:
  • Water problems affect half of humanity.
  • Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.
  • Access to piped water into the household averages about 85% for the wealthiest 20% of the population, compared with 25% for the poorest 20%.
  • 1.8 billion people who have access to a water source within 1 kilometre, but not in their house or yard, consume around 20 litres per day. In the United Kingdom the average person uses more than 50 litres of water a day flushing toilets (where average daily water usage is about 150 liters a day. The highest average water use in the world is in the US, at 600 liters day.)
  • Some 1.8 million children die each year as a result of diarrhoea.
  • Children lose 443 million school days each year from water-related illness.
  • Close to half of all people in developing countries are suffering at any given time from a health problem caused by water and sanitation deficits.
  • Millions of women spend several hours a day collecting water.
  • To these human costs can be added the massive economic waste associated with the water and sanitation deficit. The costs associated with health spending, productivity losses, and labour diversions  are greatest in some of the poorest countries. Sub-Saharan Africa loses about 5% of GDP, or some $28.4 billion annually, a figure that exceeds total aid flows and debt relief to the region in 2003.
There are a number of organizations already in place to help bring clean water to people around the world. Take a minute to look at some of these websites to find out how you can help! Clean Water Campaign, The Water Project, Global Giving, Clean Water Action, and Charity Water.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Few Things I've Learned About Myself

For the last few weeks, I have been implementing my "pre- pre-planning" list-making and have learned a few things about myself...
  1. I have a lot of stuff. Literally just stuff - stuff that I have collected over the years and have carried with me from place to place. I like all of this stuff but it plays no significant role in my life other than my liking it.
  2. I have a lot of clothes. Yes, I like these clothes and I'm sure I get around to wearing them all eventually but I always reach for my wardrobe staples - a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, my moccasins or my TOMS, and a fun necklace or scarf. This realization is very comforting to me as I look forward to packing.
  3. I use Q-Tips a lot more than I ever realized (and for a lot more than just cleaning out my ears). And, honestly, I think they would have been something I didn't bring with me because I would have thought they played an insignificant role in my life.
  4. I really don't use very much stuff. This is another comforting fact.
  5. I am ridiculously prepared. I have read countless blogs by current Peace Corps Volunteers, I have read every blog I can find by volunteers in Botswana (which is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa that stages in April says Peace Corps Wiki), and I have studied about Africa. I have an idea of what to expect from where I get stationed and I am learning more and more about what I can bring with me (both literally and figuratively).
I am excited and I am ready. Now if only I didn't have to wait another six months....

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pre-Planning (Or Is It Pre-Pre-Planning?)

For those of you who know me well, you know I like to plan and organize and that I love lists. So much so that I have been scouring the internet reading as many packing lists of Peace Corps Volunteers as I can for as many African countries as I can find (since I don't know where I will be exactly yet). Each list has basically said the same thing - pack less than you think you need, only bring essentials, and that you will find out when you get to your post that what you thought you needed really isn't all that necessary.

Well sheesh. For a planner-type, that isn't terribly comforting. So I have decided to put my organizational skills to use and figure out what I use from day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month in order to ease the stress of packing for 27 months and help me figure out the difference between what I need, what I want, what I like, and what I can't live without. I am consciously aware that there is a difference between these things but sometimes that line gets blurred. I need to distinguish between them. The way I see it, I have just enough time to analyze this correctly. In October and November, I will go about my life as usual but start recording the things I use in the different key rooms of my house (my bedroom, my bathroom, and the kitchen) so that I can clearly see the things I use and how often I use them. In December and January, I can cut out the things that I rarely used in those months (the "wants") and see how that changes my life, if at all. In February, I can cut the list down even more by taking out the "likes". By the time I leave in April, I should be down to only the "can't live withouts." This way, I can live more simply, be less reliant on unnecessary things, and I will be ready to pack and hit the road.

"The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak."

You may think I'm crazy, but I couldn't be more excited to simplify.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Clearance Update!

I got an email notification this morning that Peace Corps officially received my medical packet and it's in review! And I've already passed both legal and dental clearance! Hooray! What a great thing to wake up to!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined."

In the year between undergrad and graduate school, my friend Leigh-Anne and I used to get breakfast together every Sunday. After eating bagels and drinking copious amounts of coffee at our favorite nook, we would wander through Pike Place Market. On one of our trips to the market, we met this older, portly Kenyan man who had a little corner shop in Post Alley. We found him sitting patiently in his shop whittling away at a piece of wood.

I used to visit him whenever I came to the market and he would tell me stories about his village in Kenya and about his family. I was fascinated by him and enthralled in his stories. During these visits, I would buy a carved figure of an elephant or a zebra or a giraffe to go with all of the other African figures and paintings that adorned my walls. I loved everything about his shop - the way it smelled of old wood, how filled to the brim it was with artifacts from his home on the other side of the world, how quiet his shop was while the rest of the market buzzed, and how it made me want to be a part of everything it symbolized. He was on his own and working hard to help his family, he was bringing a piece of his homeland to passersby, and he was sharing his wealth of experience with me. And I listened, longing for the day I would get to experience the things he was telling me about, unsure if it ever would happen.

The last time I went to the market to say hi, his store was closed up. I hope that it means he has made enough money to go home and be with the family that he loves. I have been thinking about him a lot since accepting my Peace Corps nomination.

I can hardly believe that I will be going to Africa in a few short months. I truly never thought it would happen. The reality is hard to believe sometimes. I will be seeing and experiencing many of the things he told me about in our afternoon talks. I will be living a new culture, learning a new language, and creating friendships with people literally a world apart from me. I am so proud and humbled by this opportunity. I have been waking up with a smile on my face, looking around my room at the things I bought from him years ago, knowing that I have something very profound to look forward to. I feel like it has been a lifetime in the making and that my dreams really are coming true.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Medical Evaluation Packet and "the Day of the Needles"

Less than a week after I received my nomination, a rather large envelope came in the mail for me courtesy of the Peace Corps. In this envelope was my medical packet. Being the (slightly) OCD person that I am, I had already made all of my medical and dental appointments and had prepped all of the doctors to the extensive evaluation that was required. In fact, I had a pre-physical exam appointment with my doctor a few days after my nomination and gave her a bunch of forms that I had printed off the Peace Corps Wiki website (super useful) to serve as examples so she would be ready. (Don't judge me, I like to be prepared!)

So, I opened up the medical packet and started looking through all of the documents: exhaustive physical exam, immunization records, blood tests, dental records including recent x-rays, eye exam, lady doctor exams, mental health exams, and so on. It was a lot. While I completely understand the need for the Peace Corps to be thorough (they are, after all, responsible for your health and well-being while in remote areas of the world for 27 months), it was almost overwhelming how much information they wanted. They truly wanted exams done and records sent of things that I never would have considered (some of you know what I'm referring to here and it's so not cool!). However, even after reading through all of the paperwork they sent and reading all of the exams and everything, the one thing that freaked me out the most: needles.

I am horrifically afraid of needles. When I had mono in 2005, the doctor literally had to sedate me in order to draw blood and diagnose me. The medical review required, I believe, six tests requiring a blood draw, one TB test, and two boosters. That's four needle pricks. I kept reminding myself to keep calm because this is worth it, oh so worth it, it'll be fine, but ahhhhhhh! Sure, I had known this was coming when I booked my appointments so I had already told my doctor that needles freaked me out but I was still nervous. What it came down to was that I had finally applied and I was finally at this point so I had to suck it up and do it. Plus, I reasoned, I had a few days to pump myself up and mentally prepare for "the day of the needles."

When the morning for "the day of the needles" came, I was feeling alright. My Mom had offered to come with me and hold my hand and my friend Shelly had offered me the assistance of her daughter's presence (I would have to be tough in front of her, right?) but I decided to be a big strong tough girl and do it on my own. So I marched straight to the Lab at 8:00 am and told them, with every ounce of courage I could muster, that I was there to get my blood drawn. The lady behind the desk called me up and, in a VERY hushed voice, informed me that because the Peace Corps required an HIV test that I needed to go see my doctor to get a form signed that said I'd had HIV counselling. Okay, this seems a little ridiculous considering the reason behind the test, but I obliged and went upstairs to my doctor's office. The doctor, slightly annoyed at the Lab lady for not having me just read and sign the paper down at the Lab, decided to run my physical before having my blood draw. Phew, I thought, I had another hour to prep myself. Ha, right.

Physical happened, not all glamorous but I got through it with a clean bill of health, and then came the needles. The doctor pulled out the TB test needle and said, grinning ear-to-ear, "I used to work in a TB clinic, this is my favorite thing to do!" Then, in that same moment, she jabbed my forearm with the needle. (Some warning would have been nice.) Then it bubbled! Who knew that TB tests bubbled like that?! I certainly didn't so I freaked. Noticing my panic, the doctor informed me that "it was fine" and that "the bubble will go away"... unless I had been exposed to TB, at which point my arm would "bubble up more and turn colors" and they would have to give me a chest x-ray... but "don't worry we will know in two days." Needless to say I freaked out more because A. a needle was just in my arm, B. my arm bubbled, and C. it could spread and become a rainbow of colors. (Gee thanks.) Seconds later, the nurse came in with a bigger needle, TDAP I assumed at that point. I looked her straight in the eyes and told her that I was a little freaked out. She pointed at the wall on the other side of the room and said "Hey, look at that, let me tell you a story about it... 'Once upon a time...'" and she jabbed me with the needle. (Tricky little nurse!) Yes, she treated me like a 5-year-old but it worked! It was done and I didn't have time to hyperventilate. Then I headed back to the Lab...

I got back to the Lab, they made me wait a few minutes, I peed in a cup, and then they sat me down in this sterile chair at the side of this long hallway. Even though where they sat me was bare and cold, the chair across the way had really pretty pictures so I pretended like I was sitting over there. I did not forewarn the lady with the needle this time that I was scared because I wanted to be prepared when the needle came at me. So I sat there and I took deep breaths and I thought very very hard about WHY I was getting this all done. In that moment, I got really calm and they took six vials of blood and I was okay - all while the Lab tech taught me about some Saint that she said nobody knows about but is really awesome (I can't remember the Saint's name because I was concentrating so hard on being tough!). I left with instructions to come back in two days to get my TB test read and pick up my labs. I made it! (And, honestly, it really wasn't that bad!)

Two days later, I went back to get my TB test read (my arm had returned to normal, thank goodness) and to pick up my labs. Once back in the doctor's office, we found out that the Lab failed to run half of the tests! So, you guessed it, I had to get my blood drawn again! The second time I was very tough. I walked into the Lab without a fuss, I rolled up my sleeve, and I sat like a champ (even when the lab tech screwed up and had to poke me again. I had a pretty good bruise for about a week and a half.) I did it (again) and the worst of it was over! (I'm actually sort of a pro at needles now. I am going to consider it all a blessing in disguise.)

After getting all my labs and reports and x-rays and exam information from all the required doctors, I finally was ready to mail in the Medical Evaluation Packet. I made some cardstock dividers so the Medical Reviewer that got my file would have an easy time looking through everything (insert comment about my OCD behavior here), I organized the documents, I made a copy of the packet for my personal records, and then I marched it to the mailbox and sent it on its way to DC. That was last Wednesday. By my calculations, I'm guessing it should be there some time in the next few days. Fingers crossed they find everything satisfactory (my doctors did!) and I get through Medical Clearance soon! Then I can breathe easy for a while!

Friday, September 10, 2010

From Application to Nomination: A Whirlwind Experience

I officially submitted my application for Peace Corps at 6:00 pm on Saturday, July 31st. I was really excited because I finally was making it happen - I had FINALLY applied! I quickly went to Facebook to post about this massive accomplishment (because who wouldn't, right?!). Within a few minutes, I started receiving messages of congratulations and good wishes from friends and family, along with a number of "now the waiting begins" and "prepare yourself for the waiting game" replies from friends that had been Peace Corps volunteers. So I prepared myself for the wait they said was sure to come. I had to wait all the way to 9:00 am on Monday, August 2nd. Just over 24 hours later, I received a phone call from a Peace Corps recruiter in Seattle asking me if I could be ready for an interview THAT WEEK. Of course I said yes because I was tired of waiting (sure it had only been a day or two but those couple of days were six years in the making already). By Thursday afternoon I had finished my interview and, before I had even left, the recruiter told me that she was definitely pushing me through to nomination! The following Tuesday, August 10th, I had a follow-up conversation with the recruiter. At that time she gave me three options for nominations to choose from and I officially accepted a nomination to do Business Development and NGO-Capacity Building in Sub-Saharan Africa! It took me one week and two days to get from Application to Nomination! Whoa, what a whirlwind experience!

Why the Peace Corps?

I have been asked a lot about my reasons for wanting to join the Peace Corps so I decided to start out with that explanation. My desire to be a part of this movement has been a long time coming and I genuinely believe that the experiences in my life have gotten me to the place where I can be a very positive and constructive volunteer.

The basic principles of unity, justice, and service are the ideals that have driven my life, motivated my actions, and shaped my experiences. I have defined myself as someone who cares about people, who gives back, and who wants to make positive changes in the global community. In the workplace and in my volunteer experiences I have consistently assumed leadership roles that bring people together towards a common goal. I believe the best way to accomplish this is through passionate dedication, openness, and compassion. The Peace Corps encompasses these desires and is the perfect catalyst for me to continue on this path.

I have experience in the non-profit sector working with at-risk youth and families, managing equestrian programs, and teaching a variety of curriculums to coaches, staff, and students. In my volunteer experience, I have successfully put together and managed events. My efforts have raised money for charitable organizations and have brought people together to promote change and benefit the community.

I am fascinated by social development and its effects on cultures. Because of this, I have devoted much of my time to understanding the differences in people within this dynamic global community. I participated in a study abroad program in the Czech Republic, where I examined cultures of resistance and peaceful revolutions. I also served as a delegate at a Middle East peace conference and as a service fellow in Israel. These experiences have shown me how much of an impact one person can make and has made me confident in my ability to fulfill the Peace Corps’ Core Expectations that require cultural sensitivity, dedicated service, and strength of character. I am inspired to continue reaching out to people from a variety of backgrounds, with the goal of increasing my understanding and capacity to help others.

I have been dedicated to helping people and am devoted to world peace, creating friendships, and fostering understanding between people. The decision to commit to the Peace Corps comes from the confidence I have in my ability to be a valuable volunteer. I know that I can be successful and overcome all the challenges presented to me during my service because I have been through some of life’s hardest challenges and have come out stronger and more inspired. I have an unbelievable support system that has helped me overcome hardship, sometimes despite distance. I understand the value of life and loss, I have learned how to take care of myself when I felt alone, and I have overcome great obstacles. I believe in the worth and capacity of individual initiative and in group commitment. Our lives are transformed by the events we live through. While I know it will be difficult being away for 27 months, I am not afraid to go and to live out my life’s dream to promote peace and friendship between people. I am confident in my ability to help people, I am filled with compassion, and I am motivated to make a change in our world.