Saturday, April 30, 2005

Must...Post...Blog Entry...*gasp*

It's crunch-time over here at Bri-Bri's place. I've been trying up loose ends all over town -- you know: returning pants that don't fit I bought a month ago, reading final drafts and recording grades (I was at my Community College office until 5 am doing grades Thursday night), returning things to people, terminating my employment, finishing up the last adventure in a D&D game, going "one last time" to my favorite restaurant, etc. etc. So as much as I'd love to write another meaningful entry, this is about all I can muster. I still need to:

1. Reattach ball hitch to car to haul U-Haul trailer.
2. Go pick up said U-Hail trailer.
3. Pack the rest of my things (I've done all the books, which amounts to 14 boxes!)
4. Pack another "goody box" to be sent to me later (optional -- I already have one)
5. Backup the rest of my mp3s on disk to bring (I have 25 disks full of about 130 - 150 songs each, and I'm bringing 'em in case my iPod is lost or ruined)
6. Apply for the Peace Corps property insurance thingy.
7. Scan a bunch of meaningful photos before they get packed away for 2+ years.
8. Place said photos in a small photo album to bring with me.
9. Consolidate all my contact info into an address book.
10. Go through important records and photocopy a few I need to bring (loans, medical, etc.).

I said goodbye this week (and tonight at a gaming group) to several people I'll probably never see again in my life. There was a time when I was younger that I'd never have thought that, but I'm old enough now that I've seen many people come and go whom I thought would be constants in my life far, far into the future. So I know that unless I move back to Tallahassee (*cough* yeah right *cough*) I'll literally never see them again. They aren't the kinds of friends one makes a special trip to see. With one exceptiom: an unlikely friend of mine (just friends!) who just began school at FSU as a freshman last year, and is almost young enough to be my daughter. We went on a fun trip to Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure and have hung out a bit over the last few months. I'll miss her. We had our farewell this evening, as she flies out tomorrow morning to spend a few weeks with her family up north before Summer classes begin. She's just arriving in Tally and I'm just leaving. But I'm glad I got to know her, and I know we'll keep in touch. I can tell.

And -- one last piece of good news -- I am fully packed for the Peace Corps and everything came out perfectly. I packed 14 days worth of clothing, a ton of books and computer stuff and other goodies, and it all fits because I used these super-cool vacuum-sealing bags I bought over at Target, the ones you simply press down on and they stay compressed (no pump needed). Now I just need to weigh it...


Friday, April 22, 2005

Have Fun Storming the Castle!

Last weekend the local Peace Corps recruiter hosted a "send-off" party for all those in the area who are heading off to the Peace Corps. That meant current invitees or nominees. It was great to get a chance to meet some others who are heading off to parts unknown like myself. Tallahassee is a college town, but not a very liberal one; most of the students here, based on a sampling of my ex-students, are business majors and don't have much interest in volunteerism or service. Plus this part of the country is not known for being very... cerebral. We have some RPCVs in the faculty, and there's a local RPCV club chapter, but up until a year ago the closest recruiter was in Atlanta. And as such, I actually felt it was possible I was the only person in all of Leon county who was going to the Peace Corps this year.

Turns out, I was wrong. There are about three other people with invitations in hand (two of them were both going to Guatemala come August, in an interesting coincidence!), and a couple more nominees. We met at a local park under a covered picnic area and everyone brought snacks or a covered dish (I brought gourmet bread and seasoning/olive oil to dip it in). Also attending were the local recruiter, the manager of the Atlanta recruiting office, the FSU Peace Corps Master's Degree International program head, and a couple of returned volunteers. It was nice to meet all these people and have this exciting thing in common together. Plus, the nominees knew almost nothing about PC policies, the application process, staging or training, etc. etc. and I was able to excercise what knowledge I've gained over the years, both through my abortive previous service and the intensive research I've done on my own.

My only regret is that I forgot to give the nominees (and the other invitees) the address of the peacecorps2 yahoo newsgroup -- I think it would be a great resource for them, as it is for so many of us newbies. I can't recommend it enough.

Five weeks and counting!!!


Packing for Two Years

I'm currently beginning the process of packing. Why so soon? you ask? Because on the 2nd of May, I will be driving out of Tallahassee with a U-Haul trailer loaded with all my earthly possessions, bound for West Texas, where our family ranch is located (outside lovely* Colorado City). There I will be storing my belongings while I'm away for the next two years.

It was an easy decision disguised as a tough one. Tough, because I'd much rather keep my stuff in Florida, since I intend to at the VERY least reside in Florida when I return from my service. (Hawai`i is my ultimate goal.) But it turned out to be an easy decision in that it's hard to turn down free storage. So off to Texas I go! I'll begin packing all my things next week, but for now I'm packing for the Peace Corps. At first I was going to just "test-pack" everything just to see if it will all fit, do an "official" packing job the week before I depart. But as I was laboring over the shirts and slacks today it hit me -- why not just pack it all now, and not have to worry about it again? I have plenty of other clothes and supplies that don't need to go in there... I'll just wear those for the next month instead. Simple! And anything I can't pack just yet, like my cap or rain coat, can easily be included in a heartbeat once I'm ready to go.

This is nice, because it gives me the time to pack and do it right. Last time I desperately packed under an insanely-tight deadline, and I'd like to avoid that again. Plus I've already had one nightmare about packing and I don't care to have another. I don't need that kind of anxiety. In addition, I'm notorious for not remembering everything the first time I pack, and then having a terrible epiphany in some airport terminal that I forgot socks or something, so this gives me five weeks to add things I initially forgot.

The problem of the day: to bring, or not to bring, a pair of jeans. The packing list from the Peace Corps says bring two. Brokekid's packing list says bring one. But I'm sorta basing my decisions on what I'd be willing to wear during a Tallahassee summer -- summer around here can be pretty intense, topping out at like 100 degree Fahrenheit and 95 percent relative humidity -- and jeans are not something one wishes to bear on days like that. I also remember one evening during training in St. Lucia looking down into my duffel bag and thinking, "Jeans... I'll never wear those down here!" So I'm leaning toward not bringing any jeans. If there are any Guyana PC readers who wish to vote pro or con, I'd love to hear from you.


Monday, April 18, 2005

A Trip Through Guyana

More links. These constitute an interesting account of a couple from Utah who are sailing around the eastern Caribbean and spend nearly a month tooling around in Guyana from her shores to her interior.

Backlog of Blogs
Up the Essequibo
The Cast
What It's Like
Maybe the Macareo River
Big Wheels
A Perspective
The Interior
Odds... and Ends

Interesting reading, and very descriptive!



I found this site about the floods in Guyana while cruising Google for "Guyana Blogs." Scroll down and look on the right side of the screen for jaw-dropping information about just how much rain fell during January's disaster. Especially look for a graph that depicts it against normal rainfall. Stunning.

Hope it's a fluke.

But -hey- they don't have to deal with hurricanes!


Thursday, April 14, 2005

Memories of Dominica, Part II

The three days leading up to Staging were flurries of activity at my apartment. I lived in Bellingham, WA, walking distance from the university I had just graduated from, Western Washington U. For the last few months I had shared a two-bedroom apartment with, oddly enough, the twin sister of my girlfriend Michelle's roommate. Odd situation, that, because when I was home I would see Lindsey, and every time I went over to Michelle's place I would see Brooke, and there was this odd sense of displacement.

Anyway, Lindsey was moving to college in California -- good timing -- while I was packing for the Peace Corps, so everything was crazy around the apartment. For three days I barely got any sleep, staying up until dawn trying to get things packed not only to store with Michelle but to take with me to the Eastern Caribbean. Effectively, I was packing twice! By the time the day of my departure finally came around, I was exhausted and nearly delirious with sleep loss. Michelle drove me in my car to the Bellingham airport, which was just a tiny little local airfield, really. We sat there for a couple hours waiting on the tiny plane that would take me to Seattle for my connection to Miami. I was weeping bitterly, but Michelle was stone-faced. At the time I attributed that to Michelle's sometime stoicism. I figured she was trying to stay strong for me, or something like that.

When my plane arrived I promised her I'd return to her one day, and boarded the plane. I didn't stop crying for most of that leg of the flight, which probably lasted 45 minutes -- Bellingham isn't far from Seattle. At Sea-Tac I had a pleasant surprise: three of my bestest friends were waiting to see me off during my layover. We had about 40 minutes together and we got a nice picture taken with me in the new Indiana-Jones-style fedora they had bought me for my graduation party only a couple weeks before. These loyal friends performed a service I still appreciate to this day. Having them take my mind off the pain of loss and the fear accompanying such a huge change helped brighten my spirits immensely.

They were darkened again in short order, though. Somewhere over Oklahoma, I began to feel an odd tingling sensation in my upper lip. It took me no time to realize a fever blister was coming on, no doubt the spawn of so many sleep-deprived nights in a row, combined with the physical labor of packing and the mental stress of my impending journey. It couldn't have been better timed -- I would have to face 60+ new people the next day, people who would be my fellow travellers in the Peace Corps adventure, not to mention my homestay family a week or so after that, and all the myriad people in between, from trainers to shopkeepers. Everyone would see this wound which is associated with venereal disease, and this would be their first impression of me. Great.

(For posterity's sake, to this day I do not know where I got it. My first one showed up in my early 20s, and I've had one approxiimately every year and a half since. It's been a long time since my last one, so I'm going to intentionally bring one on just a couple weeks before I depart this May to avoid a repeat of history. If that's possible.)

I hadn't been to Miami in years. Not since when I was there in 1992, coincidentally enough during Hurricane Andrew. That summer, I was turning 21 and my loving parents had paid a hefty sum to Earthwatch (another volunteer organization) to send me on a trip to the Bahamas. I had gone to Bimini to a shark lab led by Samuel Gruber and several grad students from the University of Miami. They were studying the ability for adolescent Lemon sharks to inerringly navigate and they worked with Earthwatch to get a steady supply of volunteers to help with the manual labor. At the Bimini Biological Field Station, we helped them study the sharks by capturing pre-tagged sharks and taking them far out to sea, where they were then tracked via GPS and hydrophones using "pingers" implanted in their bodies. When we had arrived, Hurricane Andrew was pummeling the Eastern Caribbean. Over the next three days, it made an absolute beeline for Bimini. By the 22nd, Gruber decided to evacuate us all. We fled to Miami where half of us stayed in his home and the other half stayed in an empty house a friend was selling. It was my first time in Miami and even then I felt the place was magical. Miami has a tropical vibe I find very exciting, second only to Honolulu. Anyhow, over the next 24 hours we stayed holed up in this empty house while Andrew ravaged Miami. I remember looking out and seeing distant paper-like objects whipping through the air, and realizing they were rooftops. We were in the Kendall area, not too far from where the eye went through, so we didn't have the house collapse around us, but a small hole was torn in the roof and a window I was standing next to exploded. Good memories. Afterward, we spent about four days trying to find food in the devastated city, and then Gruber flew us all back to Bimini to clean up the lab. Turns out the damage there wasn't as bad as Miami, but there was no way to know that. We tugged the boats back into the water, piled windblown trash, and four days later headed home. Twelve days of shark tagging had turned into four, with the rest spent enduring the hurricane and its aftermath.

So there I was, several years older, arriving in Miami for the Peace Corps. It was just as I remembered: coconut palms fluttering in the wind, exotic-looking palmettoes and ferns lining the airport road, banyans in the parks. It was sunny and gorgeous, and it took me back to the days I had spent here in the early 90s. All the scars from Andrew had been cleaned up and Miami was pretty again. The taxi driver took me down Biscayne Boulevard to my hotel (the Radisson?) where I checked in and was directed to my room. I discovered I had a roommate, another volunteer named Walter. Walter was the first fellow PC volunteer I met that year, a quiet fellow who, I discovered, had just finished two years with the Peace Corps in Africa. There he had helped with carpentry and construction, and evidently he wanted to do another tour. I thought we'd be closer than we turned out to be -- you never can predict relationships. Turns out Walter ETed a few months into his Eastern Caribbean experience. Maybe he was trying to recapture his first two years, make the magic last a little longer, and discovered what all volunteers eventually learn: no two PC experiences are the same.

The next day and a half were filled with information. We assembled in the hotel's small conference room in the morning and spent through to afternoon talking about Things to Know: PC policies on drugs, dating, work attendence, leave, sickness, Caribbean attitudes on dress, that sort of thing. For some reason, specific details elude me. One thing I do remember, however, was a group exercise we did wherin we tried to predict some of the good and bad things we worried might be awaiting us. Every group was given markers and posterboard and we made an illustration of the various "bad things" we imagined, from tsunamis to hurricanes to floods to plagues. The trainers then tackled these fears and tried to alleviate them. Overall, it was good, but the best part was that information -finally!- began to flow. Anyone who's been through the Peace Corps application process will assert that information comes few and far between, and when an oasis in that desert pops up it is usually just a glorified puddle. But during Staging, we were given books and papers and forms and pamphlets. It was all quite overwhelming, compared to the starvation of the application process. Feast or famine!

That night several people formed a group to go out to Miami's famous South Beach. At the time I had never been (now that I live in Florida, I've been several times). But I was feeling very shy because of my fever blister, and was convinced everyone saw me as some kind of Typhoid Mary or something worse, so I passed up the invite. I don't think I'd do that now -- I'm more adjusted about fever blisters, for one, and have made great bounds in self-esteem issues. I actually surprise myself with my firtations and friendliness these days -- quite a turnaround from the depressive and socially paranoid me from just a few years ago. But at the time I couldn't bear to be seen, so I stayed in and attended a movie at the theatre in the mall adjoining our hotel (the movie was Small Soldiers, a bad choice for last American movie to see for two years).

We gathered our things the next morning and formed a massive mob in the valet parking area until our buses arrived. We packed into them and made our way through the freeway interchanges to Miami International, where we formed yet another massive mob in the terminal. We were all given lengths of pink string to attach to our bags so they could be easily spotted as belonging to this group, then we boarded a small plane to head to St. Lucia. I was still mortified to be seen, and shy in general, so I played it quiet. During the flight, we passed directly over the Bahamas and I watched with rapt attention as the flat little swampy islands drifted by below us. I had never been past Bimini, so I was pleased to see Andros, the Exumas, and Inagua pass underneath us (I've been a sort of passive Bahamian history enthusiast for a while now). Had I been on the left side of the plane, I could have seen Bimini as we passed overhead -- something I've always regretted, since it would have provided a sort of parallel to that long-gone other phase of my life. But this time I was going beyond Miami, beyond Bimini, beyond the tropical fantasies of my younger self. I was moving to the Caribbean, and even though I had since moved to and from Hawai`i, I knew the Caribbean would be worlds different, if it was anything at all like Bimini. My life was changing.

(Continued in an earlier post)


This is the Future

Recently on the peacecorps2 Yahoo! newsgroup, someone posed a question about Staging. I replied by describing what I remembered about Staging in Miami.

It got me thinking about those first hours of my Training in 1998. That, and the fact that I received my Guyana Handbook a few days ago in the mail... finally! Getting the handbook is like verification that this is real, it is really happening! But unlike the late 90s, the Peace Corps now offers their handbooks on CD-ROM, a new strategy which, I think, reflects the growing impact of computers in our lives, and even those of the people we will serve. After all, one of the fastest-growing segments of PC service is Information and Technology. Most of the people out there writing blogs during their service are IT people, so maybe that has something to do with the seeming explosion in IT volunteers, but still. Anyway, I read everything the CD-ROM had to offer, knowing based on experience that like 99% of it would be recovered ad infinitum during Staging and Training. It consisted of a .pdf file of nearly a hundred pages covering all aspects of Guyana, from history and politics, to living conditions and health concerns. Identical in all ways to my old Eastern Caribbean handbook, save being on CD, it helped round out my understanding of Guyana. Maybe some day I'll post some of the information, but I remember a certain volunteer who ran afoul of Peace Corps information standards, so faithful readers will have to wait a while until I determine what is safe and what is not.

The CD, however, did come with something very useful -- a packing list! As soon as I finalize mine, I'll post it here. Until then, check out the great one over at brokekid's site.


Saturday, April 02, 2005

Nicely Put

This quote is from the peacecorps2 yahoo! group. I thought it very succinctly captures the essence of the application process, from start to finish.

you wait (just like the web site says) to hear from a recruiter. you'll get a big batch of paperwork (assignment area sheets, FBI background check, fingerprint cards, etc). you'll have an interview. you'll be nominated. you'll wait some more. you'll get your medical and dental paperwork. you'll have a lot of drs appts and this will take a long time. you'll send it in breathlessly, and wait an even more ridiculously long time for medical and dental clearance. you'll undergo legal clearance, during which time property you own, child support you pay, credit cards and mortgages and student loans are all investigated. you'll be medically cleared. you'll be frustrated and excited and impatient at this point. then you'll receive an invitation. by this time half a year or a year on average will have passed.

Still no sign of my Welcome Packet and Packing List. I'll call them be the end of this coming week if I haven't received it.