30 August 2010

Being Flexible

Arriving in St. Luica

So I'm sure that many of you have been following hurricane Earl, and if you have you know that it is currently hovering over St. Kitts, effectively delaying our arrival there.  The Corps volunteers already there have been consolidated to a safe house, and we trainees are marooned on St. Lucia to endure overcast skies and soft breezes.  Those of us going to St. Kitts are hoping for it to pass soon, so we can meet our homestay families.  Instead, for today we will take a historical tour of a nearby city and wait out the storm.  Just another example of being flexible.

Looking Down over Castries

Said goodbye to the St. Vincent trainees this morning, a melancholy goodbye to some very good friends made in a very short time.  But the good news is we will all get to see each other again by MidService Training.  And those of us going to St. Kitts are starting to bond a little stronger - I'm happy to say that we NGO developers on SKN all get along just fine.

The schedule right now has us doing a day of training in St. Lucia on Tuesday before flying out early Wednesday morning.  All of us not going to St. Vincent will take the flight to Antigua, and the 10-or-so of us going to St. Kitts will have a layover at the airport before flying to Basseterre.  From there our families will pick us up at the airport; all, that is, but my good friend, who will yet have to take the ferry from Basseterre to Charlestown, Nevis.

Thanks again to everyone that is in prayer for me.

28 August 2010

Slow Day

Slow day today, as we just have final medical clearances (with hepatitis and typhoid vaccinations for many of us) and some IT business to attend to.  Peace Corps uses Microsoft SharePoint, for those interested, and it comes highly regarded but unfortunately presents a challenging login interface that has the built in security of an attempt limit.  Consequently, our IT professional is getting a bit of a workout.

Be sure to check out my new friend's blog (she is a yoga instructor, and she has some pictures posted) for additional info on activities down here at 15°N latitude.  As for the weather, it is constantly in the 80s with very high humidity and an intermittent breeze.  I have had the opportunity to visit the beach one day for about 20 minutes, and the water could not have been cooler than 80° F.

Also, if you're wondering why I am suddenly more available online, it is because one of our intrepid crew recently discovered that the office lobby has a wireless router hidden from view.  So now it is the popular evening hangout among my fellow trainees; I generally try to find a group to socialize with instead, like on Monday night a few of us sang songs to guitar, on Tuesday night we walked into town, on Wednesday night I played Cribbage with a couple others, and on Thursday night I stitched my new PC patch onto my laptop case (pictures soon, I promise!).

Some things I have learned already: the capital city of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis and the city I will be living in, Basseterre, is pronounced in two syllables.  (bass-TEER) The islands that many of us are at are considered Windward Islands, as they are adjacent the Atlantic Ocean and regularly receive the gale-force winds during hurricane season.  As opposed to the Leeward Islands, which are west of us (Aruba, etc.) and don't receive those winds.

Feel free to send any questions and I'll try to get an answer back soon.  You can comment, or find my e-mail address on my profile page.

27 August 2010

Funnyquote Friday

I'm going to try to post a funny quote or saying from either the Peace Corps or the islands every Friday.  This week's is from the PC Mental Health Safety Tips pamphlet:

"If you see red, turn it into Pink Clouds 
and float away on them."

All of us at training got a kick out of that little gem.  Training on the whole has been quite an experience, with many new things to do and try out, others old hat from my trips to Chosica, Peru.  But for specifics, I couldn't enjoy the first few exciting minutes of arriving at our hotel in St. Lucia, where training takes place, due to the news that I was supposed to have proof of immunization with me (which I sent in to PC headquarters months ago).  Come to find out, much to my relief, the Medical Officers here have those records (including my H1N1 vaccine) and I only needed to bring recent updates.  That was one of the few intrusions into my otherwise chipper attitude while here at a beautiful hilltop resort hotel in Castries.  PreService Training was never intended to have air conditioned rooms to learn in, but my class of EC82 broke the bank and was very lucky in our accommodations.

We are all looking forward to Monday, when we will move to our separate islands and join the host family we will be staying with for the next couple of months.  I will be going to Basseterre, St. Kitts, where I will be working at a post-secondary vocational skills school helping them build database and progress-tracking systems.  Very excited about being in the city, and about what I will be doing.  And especially helping with the kids, which I'm sure there will be plenty of time for during the school year there.  As a secondary project, I would love to extend the chess program began by another volunteer in St. Lucia over to St. Kitts.

More when I get settled in St. Kitts.

24 August 2010

"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to St. Lucia..."

My first taste of island time, and a bittersweet morsel it is.  My class of volunteers (henceforth referred to as EC82) landed in St. Lucia around 2:00 this afternoon to find ourselves greeted with current volunteers from neighboring islands and hotel accomodators.  The current volunteers were, quite frankly, miffed at the special treatment we were getting, being put up in a fine resort hotel where we will spend the remainder of the week working towards meeting expected competencies and passing required modules.

Unfortunately, this means that I will not have cell phone coverage nor wireless internet access for the next week, as I am posting this from the hotel's single rental internet station.  I will summarily be out of touch for this time, and really I'll be too busy with work during that time anyway.  But I'm taking additional notes on my moleskine, so I'll be able to relate the events of PST (PreService Training) when I have a more stable internet connection.

We have already lost two group members, (30 -> 28) before leaving the hotel this morning.  The word is that 9 of 10 potential volunteers make it through staging and PST, so we may be due one more before the week's out.  It's a shame, because we've got a great group here, very enthusiastic and positive.  The work will prove to be very challenging, though, and that chipper attitude will be chipped at.  I'm being challenged by some anxieties of my own even now, but I'm trying to maintain a positive and carefree attitude as best I can.  Please continue to pray for me, that God would watch over me in an as-of-yet foreign land.

23 August 2010

I won the Peace Corps Lottery

I made about 30 new friends today - that is to say, all in all I met 29 other people all motivated to spread peace and friendship among our brothers in St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  We are here for staging in Miami, FL, just a day before starting Pre Service Training in St. Lucia.  The group is about 75% female, about 20% middle-aged or older, and every background and reason for joining you can think of.  The most exciting thing is that I am constantly challenged with setting aside my preconceived notions about what the Peace Corps means to someone; for some it's a temporary escape from a boring career, for others its a Bucket List item, for still others it's a career-furthering personal expansion project... I was very pleasantly amazed. 

Sadly, I don't have a whole lot of time to write about all of the events that went on today, as I have a very early morning: 5 AM to be exact.  So I'll try to make this brief.  Over four or five hours, the lot of us got to know each other, what the Peace Corps expects of us, and some logistics for our flight to St. Lucia tomorrow.  The group was very enthusiastic, (for my part, I found myself at a table heavily weighted on extroverts, so I fit right in) and we got lots done in a short amount of time with a very positive tone.  Afterward, many of us went across the street for dinner to a Cuban food restaurant, and we had a very good time commiserating together about the replies we get when we tell people our Peace Corps station is in the Eastern Caribbean - things like "Oh, so sad for you" or "That's not exactly roughing it" or "When can I come visit?"  One of my new friends said she heard an acquaintance say, "St. Lucia? That sounds like a place you go when you've won the lottery..." So we decided that was right: we all won the Peace Corps Lottery, and we're off to spend our winnings serving the good people of the islands for the foreseeable future.

Feel free to post specific questions about staging, it was a very packed event, and I don't think I can relate it all so suddenly and thoroughly.  Also, a few answered prayer requests.  Thanks to everyone that is continuing to pray for me and for God's direction in my life away from the States.

17 August 2010

A Call From my APCD

Like my new header?  I love doing this kind of image manipulation - knowing me, I'll probably end up replacing it with a new picture every six months or so...

I received a call from the Assistant Peace Corps Director of St. Kitts this morning.  She had a few preliminary questions for me, and informed me of one of my assigned workplaces in St. Kitts: a youth skills training center.  I told her I had special interests in math and music education, and she seemed pleased by this.  I also added recreation; the guy in me is looking for any opportunity to kick around the soccer ball!

She also had some basic interview questions for me, two of which stood out.  The first was asking me to anticipate my biggest challenge, e.g. cultural interference, variant or unstructured work schedule, living in a remote/rural area, etc.  I explained that finding a balance between my future co-workers' expectations and my own expectations was my biggest concern, as I tend to be very goal oriented, even to the point of so-called tunnel vision, while I know the work culture in the EC is far more lax and fluid.  She pointed out that this is a very common concern and had two wise ways to overcome this: first, other volunteers will be there with me to share my frustrations, and second, focusing on building a relationship with those people I will be working with needs to be my focus for the first six months or so, rather than accomplishing things right off the bat.  I took the advice to heart, and will use it to moderate my own frustrations for the first quarter of my service.

The second question was whether I had a "creature comfort" or specific thing or ritual I couldn't live without.  I was caught off guard, because I had not stopped to think about it before, considering such thoughts futile at best.  So I said I had hoped to have semi-regular internet connectivity, and that maintaining contact via e-mail and this blog was important to me.  She laughed and called that a "given" rather than a luxury.  So I feel a little better about that now.  I'm getting more excited and anticipatory by the day now, a big step for me, who for several months went into interviews thinking, "I wonder what's going to go wrong about this one?"  Thanks again for everyone's love, support and prayers.

16 August 2010

One week before leaving...

... And I'm starting to buckle down here – lots of packing and preparing left to do.  I am confident that I am caught up on any and all activities that take longer than a week to accomplish, so no additional stress there.  But it is a big step into the unknown, so everyone has been understanding of my small degree of nerves.  I'm sure it will increase by the end of the week, but any steps I can take in the meantime to lessen that will be promptly taken.

Thanks to everyone that made it to the going-away party on Saturday, and thanks to everyone that tried but couldn't make it.  It was a blessing to see everyone, and I was grateful for the opportunity to thank each of you in person for your support and contributions in getting me to this point in my life, and for seeing me through the last six months.

Now that I'm at the part where I pack two bags with (almost) everything I need for the next 2 years, I am forced to consider the clothing restrictions for a Peace Corps gig in the EC.  Essentially, one caveat: no touristy clothes.  No shorts, no silk shirts, etc.  In fact, when I am not traveling or in the privacy of my own apartment, I will be expected to dress "Business Casual," i.e. slacks, button-down shirt, dress shoes.  Which itself isn't so bad – I went and picked up a few more cotton shirts the other day and I altered a few older pairs of pants that had shrunk over the years, so I would have a more full wardrobe for service.

As for packing restrictions, I am allowed two checked bags each weighing no more than 50 lbs. and summing to no more than 80 lbs., and of course a carry-on.  I imagine the distribution ultimately looking something like this: 75% clothes and 25% everything else, like sheets, hygiene materials, decorations, chess board...  And a carry-on bag full of whatever doesn't fit in my luggage, like this laptop.  They say to not take anything I am unwilling to lose, but they also encourage bringing a laptop... My buddy suggested a happy medium: bring an external hard drive as well, and periodically transfer a disk image to it.  Sounds like good advice.

08 August 2010

Anxieties and the Truth

Now that the news that I accepted the Peace Corps assignment has had time to get around, I have been approached by a handful of people the last few weeks telling me that I am an "inspiration" to them, citing my willingness to leave my home country and serve others despite my young age.  I have had to grapple with this notion, since it is in such stark contrast to my own perception of events.  I would be far less taken aback had people approached me and intoned that my choice to pursue this purported deviation from a strong career path was only natural in this tough economy, or some such mollification.  Heck, that's what I am often tempted to believe.

But the truth of the situation is slightly more profound.  I believe that God has led me to this point, has seen to every necessary step to put me in a position to set aside my own aspirations for two-and-a-quarter years and serve people I have never met in countries I have never been.  Every step, from watching my fiancée walk out on a future life with me, to being unemployed following school and wallowing through a job search that was drawn out to 18+ months, and even to seeking counseling for a mixture of anxieties that were causing some recurring failures and was, on the whole, debilitating.  God asked of me to suffer these trials simultaneously, all of which amounted to the lowest 7 months of my life.  With no income, I could not even hold on to the comfort or empowerment of being able to provide for myself, and was forced to bring my depression home to my family, the last place I wanted to find myself 8 months after graduating college.

Amidst all this negative sentiment, I was invited to a Peace Corps info session by a very good friend, and although I am often loathe to make spontaneous alterations to my plans, I found the fortitude of spirit to suck it up and go.  (The wise reader may correctly infer this as a nudge from the Holy Spirit, though I did not recognize it at the time.)  I chose to jump through the bureaucratic hoops in order to submit my application, despite already being dropped on my head by the National Security Agency already once.  I wasn't particularly inspired to see myself as a Peace Corps volunteer; frankly I just wanted to see what would happen, if they would even take me.  I had no such luck with a military officership, so I didn't have the highest hopes for this particular government recruiter either.

Even so, God turned a spur-of-the-moment decision, mixed with a lackluster interview, combined with an increased level of placement competition, and added a touch of bureaucratic ambiguity to make something special: a chance for me to drop all of my reasons for relying on my own strength and instead find my way back into His will.  The more I think about it, talk about it, and pray about it, the more I am convinced that this is indeed His will for my life at this moment.  That's an answer to prayer.  This revelation has taken time coming, and it wasn't always apparent – in the seven months I've been in the application process, not once did I feel God speaking to me with the words, "Go here, this is what I want you to do." I just took one step at a time, not even in faith as much as mundane curiosity.  But God was there, at work around me, as we know he always is.  This was just another opportunity for me to learn yet another way that God reveals Himself in my life: as the river between the stepping stones – behind me, going ahead of me, all around me.

06 August 2010

Plans Before Staging

*Raise Glass*
Here's to the first post of the rest of my life.

In about a week I'll have my going-away party; I'm looking forward to thanking everyone that has supported me in this trying time, and adding a little closure to my time at home before shipping out on the 23rd.  I took care of talking to SatoTravel and reserving my travel arrangements (arranging my travel reservations?) to Miami earlier this week, so I think I'm all caught up on my list of to-dos before staging.

Staging, for those that do not know, is an evening at a hotel conference room in Miami, FL. where I will join about 29 other first-time volunteers preparing for their own stints in the Caribbean.  I will finalize my official papers, purchase insurance, get any lacking immunizations, and discuss travel and arrangements once we arrive in St. Lucia, where I will undergo training for the following eight weeks.  During that time, I will be living with a host family who works closely with the Peace Corps and has hosted volunteers before.  I can't think of a better way to start ingraining the home culture I will be trying to emulate during my two years in service.

In the meantime, I have plenty of PC publications to familiarize myself with.  To reading!

Also, see prayer requests.