Sunday, March 27, 2005

Rumors of My Death Are Highly Exaggerated

(Title blatantly ripped off from Wil Wheaton's excellent blog).

My apologies for being so quiet the last couple weeks. It has been a period of glacial change over here. I haven't received anything from Peace Corps in a very, very long time, other than a short e-mail by the Guyana Country Desk folks to let me know they received my Aspiration Statement and Resume e-mail just fine, and that I should spend this time applying for my no-fee passport (done) and studying my Welcome Packet (which I'd love to do, but I haven't received it yet). I check the mailbox every day, even on Sundays, though it is futile. I better receive it soon, because I have now about one month before I need to move from this address, and just about a week before I begin packing my things to move to Texas before staging. I'm visiting my ex-gf "M" in Atlanta this week, where she's going for a Demography conference. It will be nice to hang out with her before I leave the country, for unless she comes down to Guyana to see me, I probably won't see her again for a matter of years, especially if I move straight to Hawai`i upon returning to the States.

My mind has been principally occupied lately with the impending Peace Corps departure. Specifically, what I should be bringing with me and what I shouldn't. I've read God-only-knows how many online packing lists (because I haven't received mine yet -- but I'm not freaking out) and I've had to make some hard choices. Like: I was going to buy a brand new 60 gig iBook and a matching iPod for this trip, because my lovely iBook ("Leilani," I call her) is now over three years old and has passed out of the safety-zone of the Applecare extended warranty, and it cannot be renewed. Which means that anything that happens to it from now on is totally my problem. No more will I be able to call Apple and have the technicians walk me through problems or have me send in Leilani for fixing (which has unluckily happened a few times since I got her -- my fault most of the time).

But anyway, all the talk on the peacecorps2 Yahoo! group, and in personal e-mails I've had with current and returned Guyana PCVs, and various packing lists and discussions online, have all made me acutely nervous about any computer I might bring with me. The problems, to wit:
• According to this great Welcome Book addendum by "Broke Kid," 4 out of 5 laptops brought to Guyana in his group died pretty soon after arrival. The culprit is probably heat and humidity.
• A problem worldwide for PC volunteers -- and Guyana is no exception -- is that of theft. If certain local characters even suspect you have something of value in your home or on your person, they'll find a way to purloin it. B&E (breaking and entering) is a very common problem throughout the Caribbean. Heck, sometimes they don't even care if you're at home!
• About 1 in 3 Guyana volunteers are placed at a site where they have no electricity. Needless to say, having a laptop, iPod, digital camera, and all that stuff will be useless under those circumstances. They would be dead weight.

So between the triple threats of heat, theft, and powerlessness, the odds that I'll be able to enjoy a computer in Guyana are slim, and my hopes of them are repidly shrinking. It makes me sad; I'd really, really like to have them during my two years. I know, I know: a lot of people would be quick to say this somehow indicates I'm not "right" or "ready" for Peace Corps service (it seems some people are just straining at the harness for a chance to prove someone else isn't "Peace Corps material," and they jump at every statement of disappointment or frustration or nervousness to do so). But I, like anyone, would of course prefer to have access to such things, even if on a semi-occasional basis. Who wouldn't like to have power and running water? I bet the people in Guyana would. And so would I. I'm willing to live with it if that's what I end up with, but given the choice I'd take the power and water. Besides, I'm a writer trying to finish a novel, and I don't want to cease writing for two years, so a laptop will be extra important to me. Sure, I could use notebook paper or journals, but things I handwrite lack the flow and quality of my typed words; I succumb quickly to hand cramps when writing by hand and I get this claustrophobic feeling that's hard to explain. Maybe because I think much faster than I can write, even with my crappy corner-cutting penmanship.

I can try to mitigate each of the three threats to my laptop, but such steps are limited. To help with the heat and humidity, I bought this cool little laptop stand, about an inch tall, that has fans to slough the heat out and away from my laptop. Plus it's powered by the USB port -- it doesn't need to be plugged into an outlet! Trés bon. To fight crime, I'm going to get insurance with one of the two companies whose literature comes with the Invitation Packet. It should cost me just under $100 US a year to insure every last thing I own. Although the deductible runs at about $125, so unless several items or one major item are lost or destroyed, it won't be worth it to file. And for the third threat, the problem of having no electricity, I can only knock on wood (although I knocked on wood last fall that I'd make my originaly Nomination in November, and look where that got me). My thoughts are that I should probably be placed in Georgetown, the capital city, especially working at the University of Guyana because A) I have college experience, and B) the Office of Medical Services insists I'm placed somewhere with "psychological support services," and being out in the bush wouldn't match that requirement.

So here's what I've decided. I'm not getting a new computer. I'd hate to blow $1100 on a new iBook and not be able to use it, have it destroyed, or have it stolen. Instead I'll bring my old one. It's beyond warranty if something goes wrong, but at least I won't be out over a thousand bucks. Similarly, I'm not getting a new iPod, something I also salivated over (have you seen the 60 gig iPod Photo?!?) but I may order one later, once I get out to my site and have an idea about the conditions.

It's better this way, because I'll save beaucoup bucks that I can use on travelling to various South American or Eastern Caribbean sites next year. And, as Broke Kid mentioned, it might be better to wait until I get out to my site and get a sense of what's possible, then just get a "cheap desktop" -- maybe one of those $500 US new iMacs that are nothing more than little tiny boxes.

Another long post, but just some stuff weighing on my mind. There are other issues, but I'll explore them in a later post.


Saturday, March 19, 2005

Keep in Touch

I added a link to Bloglet, a site that allows people to subscribe to e-mail updates to their favorite blogs. If you would like to get an e-mail every time I update this site, please add your e-mail information to the right. It's safe -- no spam. Plus, it saves you the hassle of loading up my site just to see if I've added new info lately. (And at the rate things move around here, that isn't very often.)


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Earth Below Us, Drifting, Falling

And the countdown starts.

At the top of this page you should see a cute little ticker marking off the days until I depart for Peace Corps Staging in Miami. I knew it was three months or so, but seeing it in print was a little scary. I've lived in Tallahassee now for a while, and my life here has been pretty slow-paced. And for the last five years I've dreamed of the day when I'd be outta here.

But now, seeing it counting down like that... I'm overwhelmed with several emotions: excitement, fear, sadness, happiness. This is that mixture of terror and anticipation I remember so, so distantly from before, the same feeling every soon-to-be-volunteer starts feeling as the deadline grows closer. At some point it begins to gradually shift from some abstract future event into a looming, real future event, and that's when the emotions begin to cycle like a mad coaster. I had a dream a few nights ago that I was leaving for Peace Corps and was meeting all the new volunteers. But the problem was, I hadn't had a chance to finish packing entirely, so I showed up to the airport with a huge empty duffel bag and armloads of plastic grocery sacks full of all my possessions. But of course by the time I arrived to check in I had like 30 minutes to pack my duffel bag before the flight was to begin loading. I dashed into the huge waiting area only to see that there was nowhere to sit anywhere close -- it took me about five minutes to cross the massive area and find a spot. It was, coincidentally enough, next to some other volunteers waiting to go, and the distracted me endlessly as I tried to frantically jam everything in the bag. And, wouldn't you know it, the stuff I brought wouldn't all fit in the duffel bag. I dumped everything and tried again, realizing with horror that I had about six minutes before boarding. I tried organizing everything but still it didn't all fit so I realized I had to leave some stuff behind... but what? And that's when they announced the airplane was done boarding, and I looked u p and realized the PCTs around me were gone -- already boarded!

I woke up in a state of panic, which was followed by a flush of relief when I realized it had been a dream. If that's the kind of thing I'm getting now, what will it be like a week before Staging? I dread that.

Oh, and I get a little anxious when I think about the BIG DAY, the ultimate day in the Peace Corps when Training comes to an end and they drive everyone out to their sites and drop you off and then you are all alone. I dread that moment most of all, the moment when all the fun and games and companionship and relative safety of Training is irrevocably over and you now have to fend for yourself in this utterly new environment. I never got to that point, if you recall, so I don't have memories to reflect on. All I have are a few eerie stories I've heard from RPCVs about the terror of that day. It all gets better from there, I understand, but that must be the hardest day of all. Made even harder for those people with really, really remote sites, I can imagine. PCVs who live near one another, in the same town even, probably have a less stressful transition (I say less stressful, though I'm sure it is still plenty terrifying for them, too). I know I can get through it, but until then I'll try not to worry about it too much. It's part and parcel with this whole experience... in fact, the main part of the volunteer process can't begin until that day happens.

Juse jitters. I'll be fine.


Friday, March 04, 2005

All Quiet

There's been nothing really to report, lately. Life is plugging along. I teach three days a week, grade papers, waste time on the internet, and every day blurs into the next. No new details on the Peace Corps front. I'm basically waiting for my Country Packet to arrive; it will have TONS of great tidbits to place up here. But until that happens, or until I get some kind of word from HQ, there's nothing to report.

Oh wait, I have been seized a couple times lately with sudden flashes of terror about my impending Peace Corps stint. Mostly this comes at the times when I realize I have three months until I leave. That's two months until I move out of Tallahassee for good, carting all my crap to my mama's place in West Texas. I'll follow that (hopefully) with a trip to the Seattle area to see family and friends (my sister is in Portland, two friends are in Seattle, and my dad lives in Bellingham). Then its back to West Texas, final packing, and then I'm off to Miami for staging.

When I think about it, I feel both excitement and fear. For those of you unfamiliar with the pre-training stage, this is quite normal. Yipes!

Three months and counting...