Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Some Light Reading

For those of us who are also in the application process, information can be rare and tantalizing when we receive it. It's like finding a puddle of pure water while crossing the desert. Blogs or online journals written by other Peace Corps volunteers are extremely useful for this reason, letting applicants satisfy their thirst for knowledge. And, in some cases, can serve to allay fears or warn against problems. One of the most important things soon-to-be volunteers need to know, for example, is that they will never be able to predict what their experience will be like, but that they can expect certain things to happen. Look out for homesickness, alienation, feelings of disenchantment, culture shock. Look out for the self-defeating tendencies to crumple under pressure and want to return to comfort and safety. But also look out for instant friendships from the tight-knit volunteer group, experiences so exciting and new that you feel more alive than ever, some of the best sleep of your life, wonderful stories, etc. etc.

Here are some of the blogs and journals I've been reading over the last few months (and some new ones). Every one of them is different, and not just in location and assignment, but in attitude and outcome. Some are from people who have ETed, some are from volunteers who have just arrived, some are from others still waiting for an assignment, some are from RPVCs. All of them tell just a little bit of what all PCVs need to know about the Peace Corps and what your experience will be like. The more you read, the better.

So It Goes. A recently-departed volunteer in Senegal.
Jason Pearce/COS. A site that chronicles the experience of a volunteer given his walking papers for being too truthful in his blog! Important to read for anyone planning to electronically record their PC experience!
Erika in Kyrgyztan. A volunteer who is serving in a place that is radically different from my Pacific/Caribbean experience.
Wanderlustress. A volunteer in Uzbekistan.
Caroline's Peace Corps Site. Caroline just finished her assignment in St. Lucia, where I did my training back in 1998.
Caribbean Blue... a St. Lucia Journal. This was made by David Waters, fellow volunteer from EC 65, back in 1998. If you look through his journal, you'll see a picture of a heavily-illustrated plastic drinking cup... that was my cup from training! (It was very exciting to find that randomly on the internet!)
American Idle. Someone who ETed from an assignment in Samoa.
Kris Rush/Peace Corps Samoa. Another volunteer who ETed from Samoa... (What is it with Samoa?)
Lindsey Wolf's Peace Corps Site. A volunteer currently serving in St. Lucia.
The Palangi Files. Another volunteer from the Pacific.
Paul W. Neville's Tonga Experience. A volunteer from Tonga, obviously.
Mijal's Blog. This one hasn't been updated in a really long time, so I'm curious how she is. Any Tongan readers in the house?
AdventureDivas. Peace Corps. Hard Core. Not a blog, but has good information resources.
Justin and Rebecca in Tonga. A cute couple serving together in Tonga. They should be entering COS soon.
Travels in Bananaland. An RPCV who served in St. Lucia.
Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean. A site by Greg Carlson, who I assume is still in St. Lucia (he hasn't updated in a while either).
Patrick's Blog. Someone who just began the application process.
Following My Heart. Also someone who just began the application process.
The Quiet American. A volunteer who is close to finishing PST in Senegal.
The Peace Corps Site RIng. Many more sites can be found here. I tried not to duplicate, but I think one or two favorites fell through the cracks.
Peace Corps Online Blog List. An extensive list of blogs that I won't try to copy here. Lots of goodies!
Websites About Our Countries. Yet MORE links to scores of pages, these sorted by country. If you haven't found what you're looking for yet, here's your solution.
So You Wanna Join the Peace Corps? Not a blog or online diary, but very useful for people poised on the verge of applying and in need of a final nudge.
Peace Corps Online Information Network. A site chock full of links to stories about service.

I'll add to this list as new stuff comes in. If you are a reader who has a site, or knows of one not listed here, please drop me a line in the comments box or send an e-mail (I love getting e-mail!)


Sunday, October 17, 2004

Ruminations Late at Night

As of last week, the hurdle in front of me from the mental health specialists is over. Finally. I got my ex-counselor to give the Medical Desk a call and I guess talking to him eased their nervous minds. Strangely, I'm still not clear yet. When I check online, I keep seeing my progress held up in the "Legal" section. It says I have a legal hold. Nobody's contacted me. If that hasn't been cleared by midweek, by God, I'm going to call and see what's up.

So that means still no word on an assignment. I know my faithful readership out there are dying to know. Trust me -- nobody is dying to know more than me. As soon as I know, you'll know. I'm going to try and finesse an assignment in either the Caribbean or Pacific, though. I really want to go to one of those two places. I know, I know: PC volunteers should be selfless and willing to anywhere the PC needs them. I must say, in my defense, that I do have an aversion to snow and cold weather that would keep me from serving in most of Asia and all of eastern Europe. I think I mentioned this in an earlier post. That leaves Africa, of course, and I have nothing against Africa but -- two years there?

Anyway, I'd go if they asked me to, but I think it would be a criminal waste of my knowledge. See, I have more exposure to the cultures and languages of the Pacific and Caribbean than any other place in the world. I lived in Hawai`i for a time, and have self-taught myself a lot about the culture and language since then (my friends would say I'm obsessed). The language of both Tonga and Samoa are very close to Hawaiian, giving me a leg up there. Heck, the modernized culture in both those places is recognizably very similar to Hawaiian modern culture. Shaka signs, floral prints, the works.

As for the Caribbean, my recent ex-girlfriend was from Jamaica and I spent a lot of time with her family in Miami. They liked me a lot because I was already way more informed on their way of life than most stupid white men, and I think this impressed them. I'd eaten breadfruit, salt fish, ganips. I didn't lose track of the conversation when they spoke in patois. I could talk about Caribbean politics.

Please, Placement Desk people -- if you want to maximize my value as a volunteer, send me to one of those places. I don't claim to know everything about life there, but I am familiar enough at least to be able to adjust faster and more thoroughly than most. Don't think my choices are based on some kind of American idiot notions of "paradise" or visions of white sand beaches; life in the post-colonial tropics is more complex and exciting than a beach can ever be. And, besides, you could say I have "unfinished business" in the Caribbean.

Sigh. More to come...


Monday, October 04, 2004

A Little Whine with that Cheese?

Well, I haven't posted on here in a while, partially because I'm still waiting for the results of this latest fiasco. Hopefully I can figure out a way to get this cleared up that doesn't involve spending hundreds of dollars.

Here's the gist of what's new: after my last post, I talked to my ex-counselor, the fella I went to when I was having trouble with writer's block. This guy is also a licensed psychologist in his spare time, and he was quick to denounce what this Peace Corps Medical person was demanding of me. He said he'd call her at my behest and talk to her. However, he wanted me to call her again and lean on her. I did so, but of course she wasn't in the office, so I ended up leaving a detailed message. Point is, there's no use in applying pressure to her because she doesn't trust my word to begin with. The time I did talk to her on the phone she had this suspicious tone to her voice, as if searching for clues among my protestations that would prove I was more of a nutter than she thought. It was like when convicts go before the parole board to review their incarceration -- the parole board is looking for anything, any small clue, that might betray the convict as a fraud, a lying scoundrel hoping to get out of his sentence, rather than someone who legitimately has been rehabilitiated.

Anyway, so almost three weeks on and still no word from my ex-counselor about whether he ever got around to making that call. He's a good guy (obviously) -- I believe he'll do it. I mean, he told me that, if he can't talk Ms. Suspicious into relenting, he'll just fill out the damnable paperwork himself and be done with the mess. He feels very strongly that I should, under no circumstances, have to go consult a $200-per-hour psychiatrist for three sessions just so the Peace Corps, and this woman in particular, can feel a little better about me.

But as I said, no word. No word from Peace Corps Medical either. And no change to my status on the website. I've called all the parties involved and have received no callbacks. PLUS! I called the Peace Corps Placement Desk and they confirmed the info I'd heard from my Recruiter that the PC needs at least six weeks between invitation and departure date. THAT MEANS I'VE PASSED MY WINDOW AND I WON'T BE GOING IN NOVEMBER. Yes, you heard right: this fiasco has ruined my chances of going to the South Pacific in November. The Placement Desk woman said instead I'd have to work with them, once I received Med clearance, to find me a new assignment. If things are as grim as they seemed when I was talking with my recruiter last summer, that probably means I won't be going ANYWHERE for a while.

A side note: If I want to make lemonade out of this lemon, I could say I hope this means I get a Caribbean assignment. Jamaica or Eastern Caribbean, where I was before, to leave in June 2005. When I talk it out with the Placement people, I'll try to push the angle that I have "unfinished business" in the Eastern Caribbean, and that my pre-exposure to life there would make me an ideal candidate, one who would minimize the "culture shock" that cripples so many volunteers. We'll see.