Sunday, March 27, 2011

"I have not ceased being fearful, but I have ceased to let fear control me."

Last night I had my first mini freak out.

I was having a hard time falling asleep (this is very unusual for me, generally I look at a pillow and pass out) so I went to grab an excruciatingly boring book from my dresser in the hopes that it would calm my mind. All of the sudden it dawned on me that I am leaving in four days and I will be gone for 27 months and this might be the last time I do this. The magnitude of that sort of hit me and my heart started to race and my mind went crazy thinking of all the things around my room that I won't be seeing for a long long time and the things I would be missing out on.... Eeeeeeek! And then I took a deep breath and came back to reality. The mini freak out lasted about three and a half minutes.

The truth is, I am not scared to go and I don't have any fear or doubt about it. In fact, I haven't been this excited or felt this ready for anything in a long time. I have been through a lot in the past few years and all of those things led me to this. I have gotten stronger and learned that life is precious and I need to go out and live it while it's here. I honestly feel like my life is exactly where it should be and I'm ready to seize it. Yes, there are scary and intimidating things about leaving the comfort of my current life and moving to Africa but I feel like "the juice is worth the squeeze." This IS really happening! The tummy twinge is normal because it's a big change. I believe whole-heartedly that it is worth it! (And no amount of butterflies could change my mind!)

Now onto my second mini freak out..... reorganize my luggage (per the most recent Peace Corps email) and fill out the rest of my paperwork!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Annnnnd we're down to ONE WEEK!

The countdown has gotten intense! The Bots-10 group will "peace out" for staging in ONE WEEK.... annnnnd I'm fully packed.... annnnnd my paperwork is basically done.... annnnnd it's time for us all to do a HAPPY DANCE!!!! (Just like this one!)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Third Goal of Peace Corps...

The Peace Corps has three main goals that support its mission to promote world peace and friendship. The third goal is to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. Well, I'm getting started on this goal tomorrow!

Tomorrow I will be going to East Valley Middle School to meet with my aunt's 6th grade class to discuss Peace Corps and my job in Botswana and to get the students amped up for their Africa Unit starting in April! The premise of the unit is to teach the students about the animals and the ecosystems in Africa but also to open their eyes to something new - new people, cultures, ideas, and perspectives. This second part is what is so exciting to me and what aligns this unit with the Peace Corps' goal.

In preparation for my first day back to middle school in *gasp* 15 years, I am reworking my shutterfly website to give her class a place to communicate with me while I'm in Botswana and ask specific questions about life in Africa, the animals, what I'm doing, etc! On the class' personalized tab, I have put a place to poll the kids about things (like if they would eat worms and what their favorite African animal is) and a place for them to submit their questions. I want to be able to find out and answer the things they are most curious about and keep them interested in learning. The website also includes a calendar and map (so they can follow me around Botswana), facts about Botswana, some Setswana language lessons, and the following funny (and true) cartoon video about being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa (in part to keep them entertained but also to educate them and help elicit conversation):

Tomorrow is going to be a really fun day! I think this is going to be a fun project and I can't wait to meet with the kids!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

CD of Love and Words of Wisdom

At my going away party, my sister presented me with a cd. On this cd are 67 recorded messages from my closest friends and family. Everyone recorded messages of love, encouragement, and well-wishes to send me off to Botswana with. My sister, who orchestrated the production, asked me to wait until I am on the plane to staging to listen to it. Looking through the list of contributors makes me so excited to listen to the cd and I'm doing my best to be patient. (As with everything good, I'm sure it will be worth the wait.) I know the messages are going to make me laugh and cry and that I am going to be soooo grateful to have the cd throughout my service so I can hear my loved ones' voices during the lonely days. For this, I want to send my deepest and sincerest thanks to everyone who recorded messages. I am so thankful for each of you!

Although I won't be listening to the cd for another 9 days, my always funny and insightful sister did give me some insight and advice for while I'm in Botswana.... in the form of "rules". Her three simple rules go like this:
  1. Do not get HIV.
  2. Shake out bedding, clothes, and shoes each and every time I intend on using them.
  3. Do not get eaten by animals.
If my cd has words of wisdom like this, I can't wait to hear what everyone else has to say! Thank you kiddo!

Dance Party Weekend!!!

This past weekend was a double dance party weekend! Yes, that means it was an exceptionally good weekend to be on 26th Ave!

The first dance party was at my going away party on Saturday night. It was a really really fun party! All of my neighbors, my family, and most of my friends were in attendance. My friend Vanessa even drove up from Portland, my cousin Madison from Seattle, and my sister and her boyfriend from Southern California! (Yes, I do feel extremely loved!) There was a seriously delicious array of African dishes and we drank "Kalahari Killers" (2 liters of tequila mixed with orange, mango, peach fruit juice), 11 bottles of wine, and a lot of beer... proving once again that "If it's there, it will get drunk!" (I am still shocked by this feat!) That amount of alcohol will almost always make for a rockin dance party! This dance party was extra fun though because it was joined by all of the neighborhood kids and let me tell you they can boogie! We had kids break dancing around their parents wiggling and grandparents doing the mashed potato! I. Love. Parties. I really couldn't have been happier! Everyone had a great time, I got a billion hugs, and my feet were sore at the end of the night!

We did it all over again the next night for my mom's 60th birthday surprise party! There were times when I thought the surprise wasn't going to work but boy was she shocked! Her face in the pic to the left says everything! The neighbors came back a second night to celebrate and some of my mom's dearest friends joined us! We laughed, we ate delicious food (courtesy of my Aunt Patti), and then we danced and danced and danced! It really was another fun night!

Overall, the weekend was beyond amazing! It was filled with so much love and fun! I've said it before but it's soooooo true: I have such a blessed life full of the most wonderful people! Thank you to everyone who was a part of the parties and who shook their groove thing!

Monday, March 14, 2011

See Ya Later Seattle! Emotional Overload and Hugs Galore!

This past weekend was my going away party in Seattle. And, let me tell you, it surpassed even my wildest imagination!

First of all, my sister surprised me by flying up from southern California and "randomly" showing up at the bar we were at. Now, if you know my sister then you know that surprises are her forte but I'm also a teeny bit on the nosey side so it's hard to surprise me, especially this much. Honestly, for about a week before the trip I had been asking if there was a surprise because I had a hunch something was up but I definitely didn't expect her to come walking through the door! It was A-MAZ-ING! I literally cried and cried and smiled and then I cried some more beforing hugging the bejesus out of her! It was crazy and wonderful! (Major thank yous go out to Madison and Stephy for making that surprise possible! And whoa baby was I ever surprised!)

And then, as if I needed anything else to make my weekend complete, the next night was my actual goodbye party! The theme was "Africa" (DUH) and everyone was encouraged to interpret the theme as they saw fit and dress up accordingly. (Let me just state that I LOVE costumes and have never lost a costume contest to date!) Outfits ranged from animal print tops to full on costumes of cheetahs and meerkats! I dressed up like a "Peace Corps Volunteer" (of course!) and made a pretty sweet puff paint t-shirt and "survival kit" toolbelt, complete with carrots "for the zebras", mice to "thwart elephant stampedes", catnip "to calm the lions", a fly swatter "for malaria prevention", and lip gloss because "even in the bush, a girl's gotta look pretty"! The party was out of this world! I would guess that more than 50 or so people showed up throughout the night, including almost everyone from my sorority pledge class. I spent the entire night running around, talking to everyone, giving out as many hugs as humanly possible, and dancing the night away. I couldn't have asked for a better send-off in Seattle! I saw so many wonderful people and spent a lot of really quality time with my besties - it meant so much to me that everyone came out to support me!

The weekend was also a wild ride of emotions however - bittersweet, happy, nostalgic, and a little sad. Until then, I had only been living in the exciting parts about going on this journey and letting the surrealness of it all captivate me. Honestly, it was the first time it hit me that I am actually moving to Botswana and the first time I felt anything but pure happiness and joy. Plainly, it was a reality check.

I am actually kind of relieved that I finally had some new emotions about this experience. I was telling my friend Shelly on the airplane to Seattle that I was a little concerned because I hadn't felt angst or anxiety or doubt yet and it seemed like everyone else going was experiencing it in some way. I justified this lack of emotion by saying that I have been considering joining the Peace Corps for so long that the fact that it is finally happening overshadowed anything but happiness and excitement Well, being surrounded by my family and friends all weekend, having so many people come out for my going away party, and getting a billion hugs from people I care so much about sort of brought the emotions out of me. And I have to say that I have spontaneously cried since... a lot.

Now, please don't confuse my tears with second-guessing myself and not wanting to go. I am still completely and whole-heartedly committed to and thrilled about going to Botswana. Like I said, this is something that I have dreamed about doing for a long long time and I am beside myself about finally getting the opportunity. I am ready to go. My decision to go was actually validated and strengthened in the encouragement of my best friends and all of the kind words spoken to me over the weekend. It is just that now it is becoming real - very very real - and I am having to face the entire reality of what I am doing. 

Hugging my besties of nearly a decade, I finally had my first big cry realizing that I won't be seeing them for 27 months or more. They have been my rocks through so much and have always been there for me. At the same time, this also inspires and empowers me because I know that, despite the distance, they are always there for me, they support and love me unconditionally, and they are on my side. It is good to feel emotions and I am grateful that I have. This is a big change and it is nice to know that I have so many people here to encourage and support me through it. I'm a pretty darn lucky girl!

THANK YOU to everyone that came out to celebrate with me! It was definitely a celebration and I want each of you to know that I am finally able to do this because of your love and support. You mean the world to me!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Saying goodbye to Oscar and other major milestones

On Monday afternoon I put Oscar, my car, up for sale. By yesterday afternoon I had sold him. It's weird to think that my car now belongs to someone else. He's been a good car - never given me any major problems and has hauled me and my friends up and down the mountain and to camping trips and concerts for the last five years. I'm not gonna lie, I did not expect him to go so quickly (and I was in a minor state of panic for about 24 hours at the reality of it) but I am also really excited for him to start a new life as someone's first car. The young girl who bought him absolutely fell in love and is thrilled to have him. I'm sure she will love him for some time to come. For that, I am happy. My parting note on this is: Thanks Oscar for being so cool and drive safely little dude!

In other "major milestone" news, I am in the midst of my first "unemployed" week! Last Friday was my goodbye party at work. It was so fun - full of balloons, streamers, and home-cooked food! I am so grateful to the Board members and staff who came and for my amazing coworkers and wonderful interns who put the party on! You guys are the best! THANK YOU! I will miss you all and will be sure to stop by for a game of Clue and a soy latte at Indaba before I go!

Another thing that has occupied a lot of my time is learning about technology... It is no secret to those who know me that my grasp on technology is a little lack luster. Most days this is not a problem (I mean, I can use everything in Microsoft Office and can process data and statistical analysis on SPSS) but, when it comes to buying a computer and understanding the lingo, well I fall a little short. This has been stressful for me because I like to research. A lot. But it really does me no good to research things if I have no idea what it's talking about. Yes, I am referring to the fact that I'm attempting to buy a new laptop to bring with me. The whole process has caused me some angst and I've had to call on a number of my more tech-savvy friends for guidance. Although I still haven't picked a laptop yet, I am getting much closer to that fateful day and I feel like I'm much better equipped to make the decision. The clock is ticking (22 days!) so I know I need to make that decision sooner rather than later! (Stay tuned!)

I have also been talking with my aunt about visiting her sixth grade class to discuss Peace Corps and, in particular, Botswana. In looking through past lesson plans, she came across one she had done many years ago about Africa. (Coincidence since I am going? Um, probably not!) Because of this, she has decided to do a unit with her team teacher about African animals. To get them excited about the unit, I am going to come in and talk to them and then, hopefully, be able to touch base a few times via Skype while I'm in Botswana to talk about the animals I'm seeing, so they can ask me questions about the ones they are studying, and so they can learn more about my experience. In doing this, the kids will be learning about the animals, the environment, the culture, etc of Africa. This is especially important for this group of kids because a number of them may never get the chance to travel or experience so many of the things we take for granted. (My aunt works in a very low income school district.) I am so excited to be able to share something like this with them and I hope so so much that this interaction will show them what is possible and inspire them to rise above their lot. I know the idea inspires me. I am so looking forward to it.

And tomorrow I leave for Seattle for a weekend of hugs and "see ya laters" with some of my very best friends. It is going to be a wonderful weekend! Which reminds me, time to go work on my costume... pics to follow!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us"

Today should be like any other day except that today I woke up with butterflies in my stomach. Why? Because it's official: my dreams are coming true. My life feels sort of surreal right now and it's hard to believe that everything is falling into place. I mean, holy cow is this really happening?! My flight to Philadelphia for staging is booked, invitations to my going away parties are sent, and today is my last day of work. THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING! I have dreamed about this for a long time, wondering if it would ever happen, and it's hard to believe that it finally is. I am moving forward from a job that I have been at for nearly four years and am preparing for something that feels like a lifetime in the making. All that's left is tying up the loose ends and getting on the plane...

I just finished meeting with the man who will be taking over my job doing grant writing and development for my nonprofit. I am confident that he will surpass even my high expectations for our agency. It makes me feel good to know that the programs I have been working for will be taken care of and the agency will continue to grow and help children and families. It is such a relief.

At the end of the day, I will toast a martini with my mom and be grateful for all that I learned in this job and for the opportunity to move forward into this new life journey.

What will I be doing until I leave in 28 days? I will be organizing and packing, spending time with my family and friends, eating delicious food, rekindling my yoga practice, walking my dog, and enjoying every minute of time I have left in the United States. This is going to be good! :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Flights are BOOKED! This is really happening!

I just booked my travel arrangements to staging! I fly out of Spokane at 6am on March 31st and land in Philadelphia at 3:48pm! Registration starts at 6pm and bright and early the next morning we're in the clinic being used as a pin cushion! Although I am really sad to be losing an entire day with my family (we had mentally committed to the April 1st staging date and hadn't even considered my leaving before then), I am also extremely excited about this journey and can't wait to meet my fellow Bots 10ers and get this show on the road!

For those of you that are curious, my travel information to Botswana looks like this: Leave for staging in Philadelphia on March 31st; spend a few days doing paperwork, clinic visits, and icebreakers; then, on April 2nd, take the bus from Philly to New York, departing from JFK at 11:15am for a 15 hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa followed by a 1-hour flight to Gaborone. This means that I will officially be in Botswana on April 3rd! Ahhhhhhhhhh! It's really happening!

Worms - To Eat or Not to Eat?

I think I need to address the concept of eating worms. I am getting asked a lot of questions about it and people get squeamish when I say I will try them while I'm in Botswana. The way I see it is this: it's all about perspective. People are different around the world and customs/norms, even those around food, are different wherever you go. (I mean, artichokes?! They are definitely odd if you think about it but oh so delicious!) I am going into Botswana with an open mind about everything. I do not want to judge someone or something based off of preconceived notions of what I think is normal or acceptable. I am determined to go outside of my comfort zone, to experience life in Botswana as it really is, and to try new things - even if that means a worm or two. Plus, why not?! They may even be tasty... so eat up! :)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Happy 50th Birthday Peace Corps!

I am very proud to be joining the ranks of men and women who have served in the United States Peace Corps since its birth on this day in 1961. Peace Corps, making an impact around the world for 50 years...


“Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language.

But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.”

--President John F. Kennedy

My turn begins in 30 days... U.S. Peace Corps, Botswana 10