Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hot n Cold

Taking the advice of a PCV on a message board somewhere in all my research I went ahead and got some business cards printed for dirt cheap from Vista Print.  I put them out at work today and most people were excited to see them.  Many have mentioned they want to keep in touch and have asked for an e-mail address, so now, voila...Their wish has come true!  I'm just like a fairy godmother...only in street clothes.  Anyway, the point of this is the share the best and worst response I got today.

Bad news first - (I'm not really sure this is bad news, but it didn't leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.)  One woman who picked up the card told me she herself was a RPCV and served in Turkmenistan from '06-'08.  She said her experience was less than stellar and that country specifically has the highest turnover rate for PCV.  Apparently that government is not cooperative and there was an important man in her area who stood in the way of every project she tried to start.  They have very little trust in Americans and she said the old Cold War mentality and old commie ideas are still very strong there.  She told me doctors are not trained in normal schools (normal being Western, I suppose).  Rather, there is (was?) one man in the government who supposedly knew what was best and wrote a book on how things are to be done, a la dictator status, and that is what doctors are taught from.  I suppose it's good that despite how behind they are it's good the PC has a presence there because maybe someone, some day will have a breakthrough and things may begin to advance a little there.  Oh well, I guess this just makes me glad I'm heading down to Latin America, where they seem to have a decent acceptance of Americans and are willing to be work with us.  We shall see...

On to the good news!!!  Another woman, who is a regular of ours, picked up the card and told me that she had been researching the PC since I told her I was leaving a few weeks ago.  She said she may be interested in doing it, since all she has now are grown children and grandchildren.  (I presume she's single, since she didn't mention anything of that nature.)  Basically, she said she liked the idea of the PC and expressed interest in possibly pursuing her own volunteer service someday!!!  I encouraged her to research more and go for it if that's what she truly wants.  She's a nurse, so heaven knows she would be of great use somewhere!  It just made my day that even though I haven't even begun service yet, let alone training, I'm helping create awareness of the Peace Corps and helping people learn more about the opportunities they have to be volunteers as well.  It's very exciting!!! 

So crew, hasta la proxima vez....

Sunday, January 10, 2010

So much change to consider

Ever since our last presidential election the words hope and change have left a bitter taste in my mouth and I cringe a little on the inside every time I hear them.  But, enough said on that political front.

The odd thing is hope and change are going to be HUGE words in my upcoming life. 

Change is inevitable.  For once, this is a change I'm eagerly anticipating!  (Not like Senior year of college winding down and the only thing staring back at you is LIFE.)  My life has been quite routine and mundane the past year plus.  Now taking this opportunity to serve I will notice a few differences.  I will be changing my personal hygiene habits - "showering" with a bucket of water, which may or may not be hot.  This sounds like a worst case scenario from blogs I've been reading of current PCVs.  I may get lucky, but I'm still trying to prepare myself mentally, should I not be one of the lucky ones.  Odds are I will be washing my clothes be hand...I don't even hand wash my delicates that call for it as is!  I will have to change my eating habits.  That Cold Stone I just had this afternoon?  Nice knowin' ya scoop shop!  (I'm actually not sweatin' the food issue that bad.  I survived Spain after all!)  Getting beyond the superficial stuff, I will have to change my perspectives and cultural identity.  This also is something I'm not too terribly paranoid about either, but this time around will be A LOT longer than Spain lasted.  I just read one girl's blog who was serving as a PCV in Honduras but decided to ET (early termination - PC jargon for she peaced out before her 27 months were up).  It seems some things just grate on your nerves and some people do have a breaking point.  I hope I don't become one of them.  As I sit here on my soft bed, in my climate controlled home and tap this out on my new laptop it's easy to say, "I'll stick it out the whole 27 months."  Yet, time and time again I've read that expectations in the PC are worthless and impractical.  The cliché of your world turning upside down doesn't even seem to begin to cover it. 

So, that leads me to hope.  All I can hope for is that I will have the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical strength to endure this adventure I'm embarking upon.  Nope, it won't be easy.  I was just telling my mom this morning how lucky I am that I've never been robbed in ALL my travels.  It seems like my luck should run out sometime soon, right?  Just something I'm trying to get in the mindset of.  I hope nothing will happen, but it's a very real possibility.  That's life though.  Aren't car accidents the #1 killer in the US?  Yet, we all go out and hit the road each day, essentially putting our own lives in our hands.  And so, I'm not going to rest on my laurels and watch life pass me by, day in and day out, not making a difference in anyone's life.  As it is, I feel my past year has been mostly wasted because (aside from volunteering a few hours a week) I haven't done anything to better myself or other people.  That should be the goal in life.  Better yourself so that you can better fill the role of helping others.  Sounds crazy to some, I'm sure.  But with my Christian upbringing and personal beliefs of the same Christian effect, that is what I believe.  Hopefully, I will be able to improve lives to the best of my capabilities during this experience and at the same time I will learn/improve life skills to make me a better person. 

I feel a John Lennon lyric coming on..."You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."  I look forward to joining forces with my fellow dreamers out there in the PC and as we have our worlds turned upside down, maybe we can do the same to this one here.  ¿Quien sabe?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

It's kinda like the alphabet...

...it all begins with a single letter. In my case that letter was one from PC (Peace Corps) inviting me to serve as a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) in Honduras. Now, my name didn't just come off a list like, oh say...jury duty. No, no, no. This has been a 2+ year thing that all started with me filling out an online application for PC service while putting off doing homework at Kim's one night. Yes, it's been THAT long.

After being "too busy" to ever submit the application and required essays during that last year of school, I finally got the cajones (nerve) to submit it sometime during the summer of '08 after I'd graduated. October of '08 I was contacted by my local PC office in Oakland (they say it's SF...but any of us living near there know better) for an interview. After making the drive out to Oakland and interviewing, making all my business classes sound way more important than they ever were to me, and waiting it out I learned I was a nominee! All that means is my recruiter in Oakland felt I was suitable for PC service so she told the main office in Washington, DC about me. I'm pretty sure all this nomination stuff came about November of '08. At that point I was ready to get into to PC and serve! Well, apparently at the end of the year EVERY recruiter from EVERY Peace Corps office is trying to get their last minute nominations in. My recruiter and I played phone tag (over the course of an AFTERNOON) and her initial voice mail asked me what I thought about working with bee keeping. I thought it would have been freakin' sweet and called her back to tell her as much. Thus, began the phone tag and by the time we finally got in touch at the end of the afternoon, someone had beat her to it! Sad day. My recruiter told me to be patient and she would get my name in for something again just after the new year. ::sigh:: And I put it off all through senior year only to have to wait when I was ready...

December...

January 2009...

(OK, well those months weren't that bad! I was still taking some classes online and at CSU Stan to finish up my Business degree. I was working PT doing the same thing that I'd done in high school, but it was money!)

In the meantime I began to lose hope that the PC was going to work out for me. I started looking for other "cool" overseas programs that I could do instead. One called Chung Dam Institute caught my eye. I fully researched them, found people on Facebook and talked to them about it and eventually applied to teach English in Korea with a salary of about $32k. I went through that whole application process and was waiting for them. (I don't think it's as competitive as the PC.) Then comes the e-mail: Congratulations, you have been selected to be an English teach in Korea! Great news right?! The thing is, I just was not excited about it. In my heart and the back of my mind...I wanted the PC. I like the mission of the PC better. It suited me better. I just wouldn't feel the same making that kind of money in Korea and it would be a totally different experience. Not a bad one, but just not what I was looking for. So, yah...I e-mailed Korea and said, "Sorry, I cannot accept your offer at this time." ::sigh:: Now, after all that...

This is when I get impatient and e-mail my recruiter to see what's happening since I just turned down another amazing option for the PC (which was leavin' me hangin'). Her reply tells me to keep an eye out for something she sent in the mail. Well, I'll be...there it was! A nomination packet which has medical and dental forms. Yay...I have NO insurance...BOO! That's very off putting when you need medical and dental checks galore, not to mention blood work up the wazoo. Oh, and vaccines...

At this point I'm getting tired of my job, I'm done with both my degrees and my hours had gotten cut at work. It was time to find a new job and put those hard earned, expensive degrees to use! Yet again, Peace Corps got put on the back burner. I spent who knows how many days driving to Napa (as in the Napa Valley with resorts and restaurants galore, for those of you not familiar with the area I went to school in) and back (about 5-6 hours driving round trip) because I was told, "Now's the time everyone is hiring for summer. You'll get something for sure!" Yah, right. I looked at things on Craigslist, Career Builder, Monster for the Modesto area...NOTHING. I went to a Sports and Entertainment career fair out in Oakland at the arena and scored an interview with THE OAKLAND RAIDERS. (Can we say DREAM JOB?!) Went out to the interview and obviously didn't get it. ::sigh...again:: Life was getting more depressing by the day. Here I was, two degrees, bilingual, working part-time, minimum wage and then it hit me, "Hey retard...PEACE CORPS IS WAITING!"

Pulling out all those forms I'd dreaded for so long, I started to research what was available for low-income health care. Luckily, I was working in the county Health Services Agency building and much of what I needed was readily available to me. I got on the Medically Indigent Adult (MIA) program because my income was low enough, so I was able to see doctors for around $5 a pop. I got the physical, vaccines and blood work taken care of for about $100! Some people have to pay for this all out of pocket and it adds up. However, that left the dental check-up which required x-rays. MIA didn't cover dental for check-up reasons...what's that word...preventative? Crap...how was I supposed to afford dental care with out insurance?? Then perusing the newspaper one day a special insert caught my eye. "Free x-rays for new patients only!" What?! Could it be true?? What dentist would do such a crazy thing??! I read on, "For new patients only." OK, I'm obviously a new patient...have no clue who this crazy dentist is giving away FREE x-rays. I call and inquire about the offer...what's the catch? NO CATCH! I make my appointment, am seen, get my FREE x-rays and learn I have 2 cavities. Crap again...I can't afford to get cavities filled w/o insurance! (Besides not being able to afford fillings, I was TICKED! My old dentist had found a cavity about 4 days before I was leaving for Spain back in '06 because I didn't floss. We had to schedule an emergency appointment to get me in before I left the country for nine months with a rotting hole in my tooth. From the time I got to Spain to present day, I'm a daily flosser and twice daily brusher. Yes, I was TICKED to learn I could possibly have a cavity, let alone TWO!) Anywho...I talked to my friends around work and found out that I DID have dental coverage for these type of things under the MIA program. It was a process to get special permission to see the dentist, however I did get it. They thought I was trying to work the system, "How did you get x-rays taken if you only have MIA?" OMG...again, it was the CRAZY dentist. Luckily, they didn't launch a full fledged investigation into my case. It was already June and like everything else, more cuts were being made to MIA come July (new fiscal year) and dental was one of them. So...got my butt in and got them teeth filled! And NOW if I ever learn I have another cavity, I will just proceed to have all my teeth pulled and get dentures...because really...what's the point of brushing and flossing if I still seem to get cavities??! But I'm off topic here...

Sometime throughout this whole process I got my full hours back at work and I was in full swing Peace Corps mode, so it made it a little more bearable after nothing panned out in the spring. Plus, volunteering kept me sharp and motivated with all the events I got to work on. Anyway, it's about August and I get all my medical and dental stuff sent back to DC. My online application status (called Tool Kit) sends me e-mails when things are updated. I get an e-mail saying all my information had been received and was being reviewed. However, if your program isn't set to leave in the next 4 months, don't hold your breath...that's basically what it said. (Since I was nominated in Feb. '09 and I was supposed to be leaving in Feb. '10, I didn't fall into that 4 month category) I'd finally got this stuff together and in to them that I'd had sitting around for six months and now they told me to wait. ::sigh::

Then I get another update to my Tool Kit. You are medically, dentally and legally cleared. A BIG hurdle cleared. But, I was still waiting! Word on the street from people who had been through the process is that you will be contacted and need to send in an updated résumé and final transcripts. Well, it was November and I FINALLY got that e-mail. The girl who contacted me from DC gave me a generic time frame and when it had passed...yet again, something taking longer than normal for me in the application process, I wrote her and asked what was happening. I was beginning to fear that the competition had beat me: someone with a better transcript from a better school, someone with more volunteer experience, better written essays... She told me that my Placement Officer (PO) had unexpectedly been out of the office for three weeks and reminded me that not everyone who is nominated receives an invitation. (Thank you oh, so much for the encouragement!) Then, not even two days after the discouraging e-mail, I'm e-mailed by my PO requesting a phone interview. THE final step before an invitation is potentially extended! We schedule a time, she calls, asks me the questions which had been flagged by my initial interview in Oakland (how do you handle stress, how will you adapt to a different culture, is your family supportive, how will you work with people who are at times not eager/interested). Luckily, I had my Spain references (as in, 'been there, done that') for the stress and culture situations. Gave her good answers for her other questions and she told me she didn't have any major concerns about my application and I should hear from her within 1-2 weeks. Mind you, this was the Thursday before Christmas, so 1 week from then fell on Christmas Eve and 2 on New Year's Eve. ::sigh:: Yet again, I was thinking 1-2 weeks wouldn't be the case for me. Sure enough, I didn't hear any word from my PO. But then came the e-mail "Your application status has been updated in your Tool Kit." I log on and OMG...it no longer says Nominee ToolKit...it now says INVITEE Toolkit. Could it be true?? Without contacting me as promised, my PO invited me for a position with the Peace Corps??! Indeed! It was true. My Tool Kit told me I had been mailed an invitation packet December 22, 2009. ::sigh:: But, then there was Christmas and the weekend and the mail wouldn't be running. I've never resented the holidays as much as I did this year! And then, my mom calls me at work on Dec. 29, "You have something from the Peace Corps in the mail." I wish I could adequately explain the irregular rhythm that my heart went in to and the knot of nerves in my stomach for the rest of my time at work and the drive home. It was a mere 45 min, but definitely one of those 'this is taking FOREVER' type situations.

Opening the FedEx envelope with nerves galore, I see the blue folder which has been emblazoned in my mind for quite some time now. From on top comes the letter. "Congratulations! It is with great pleasure that we invite you to being training in Honduras for Peace Corps service." My heart drops (I mean really, I was hoping for Costa Rica against the odds of the Wiki time line. I've been there twice and would LOVE to spend 27 months there. I had also hoped for Peru or Chile, but the PC tells us to go where we're needed.) I start pulling all the papers out of the blue folder and begin reading the "Your Assignment" booklet. I learn a little more about Honduras and about what I may be doing. My mom is anxiously waiting to hear all I can tell her from the book and the dates on the front are pretty intimidating: February 22, 2010 - May 11, 2012. No lie, that's a good chunk of life. But, what am I gonna do? This has been a notion in my brain since the fall of 2007 and you've just read what all I went through for this! I absolutely cannot wait to see what adventures this will bring.

Well, getting the packet in the mail is not the final step. You have to call DC and let them know if you accept or decline the invitation. So, it's like an RSVP?? I try to call Dec. 31 when it's only 4PM back in DC, yet the slackers must have taken off early for the holiday. ::sigh:: I guess I'll have to wait until after the long weekend. Again, I'm despising the holidays this year. After the longest weekend of my life, it's Monday morning, Jan. 4 and I make sure to call DC early on this time around. SUCCESS! I speak with the girl (formerly discouraging e-mail girl) and tell her, I'm RSVP'ing for this gig! OK, accepting my invitation to serve in Honduras. Whatev...

And this puts us in the here and now! I wrote an Aspiration statement and had to make yet another special version of my résumé to send to PC Honduras. Now, it's time for me to wrap up loose ends and prepare to leave the country for 27 months. Believe me, it's a daunting task. It's hard not to let the negative emotions take over and worry. But at the same time, I'm too level headed and grounded to be complete giddy and off the wall excited. It's good though, I think I'm where I should be for something this HUGE. I'm researching so much, learning tons and taking it one day at a time. The PC slogan is, "Life is calling. How far will you go?" Well, life called, I answered and how far it'll go...I'm ready to find out! So adieu...or I should be getting back to my Spanish...adios for now!

*Author's note: Please accept my deepest apologies for the horrible grammar and writing style of this blog! I realize I switched back and forth between my tenses, used more clichés than anyone should and didn't always maintain a coherent thought. It is my first blog of this nature, intended for a mass audience, and I was both excited and tired. Here's hoping I'll get better with time! (Not to mention, it's so long...I'm just publishing it for now and not even going back to edit...ENJOY!)