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.