Sunday, July 28, 2013

A shamefully late update from Rwanda

I apologize for the lack of updates while here in Rwanda but my access to internet is limited and when I get it I'm typically busy typing my scholar's blogs, doing my reporting for ThinkImpact and trying to stay in the loop with news and Facebook. I look forward to putting something together to cover the eight weeks of the program when I return stateside but I'll give a quick summary to tide you all over and there are scholars blogs, photos and updates on the ThinkImpact webpage (www.thinkimpact.com).


The Institute focuses on social entrepreneurship, innovation, design thinking and sustainability so scholars go through several stages (Mind, Immerse, Inspire, Innovate and Shift) as they get to know their community and work with a local design team. Six weeks in, we are progressing through Innovate and the design teams are hard at work establishing their product/service/business idea and starting to prototype. My eight rock star scholars in Nyarubuye ended up creating five design teams and each is focused on a different idea. Mariah is working alone with a mostly female team to create peanut oil to sell in the community while Alison and Rachel have joined forces to create "Team Sass" and tackle the issue of clothing availability by opening a clothing boutique. Brian and Ed's team chose to try growing mushrooms, Karelle and Julia are examining the cooking experience and trying to develop a more efficient fuel source of the cook fires and Vincent's design team will be starting a vegetable garden/nursery in an attempt to provide a variety of veggies all year round. So with two weeks left, they scholars are trying to get a solid team set up with a sustainable project so that work will continue even after we leave.

As an advisor, my role in this process is to lead the scholars through a series of workshops to prepare them for design team work, facilitating guided discussions and reflection sessions, serving as their connection to the country staff and ThinkImpact staff and generally acting as a sounding board/counselor/teacher when they need assistance or just a friendly ear. As a group, we meet at least once a day to go over logistics and curriculum and I have weekly one-on-ones with each scholar. My day-to-day schedule varies a lot but I'm always busy and generally go to bed exhausted. I hit the jackpot with my fellow staff members, especially the other two advisors, but that group deserves it's own post when I can properly focus.

The past two weekends have been spent on excursions (last weekend on safari in Akagera National Park and the past two days at a picturesque resort on Lake Kivu not far from the DRC border) and were a much needed break from the community. And now, we're sitting at Bourbon Coffee in Kigali giving the scholars some research time before we all head home. With just two weeks left in the program, I'll be staying out in Rwamagana District until we reconvene in Kigali for our closing activities on August 12th.

It has been quite the experience thus far and I' ve found yet another potential living abroad option here in Rwanda. This beautiful country has found a special place in my heart and I look forward to sharing my stories and experience with anyone who will listen!
 
 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Change

*I wrote this back in February on how I was adjusting. Sorry it took so long to post*


There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.

-Nelson Mandela, 'A Long Walk to Freedom'


I’ve been putting off writing this blog for a good long time now. I arrived back in Colorado two months ago and have tried to start multiple times but am continuously distracted by the wonders of high speed internet, movies and good craft beers. But I’ve done a lot of “reflecting” the past couple weeks and think I may be ready to put my thoughts and emotions into concrete words. So I’m going to try and we’ll see what I produce.

Leaving Dombe, and ultimately Mozambique, was tough. Overall I felt ready to go and was happy to be finishing the school year but actually getting on the chapa for that final trip through the mountains was surprisingly emotional. One of the last national exams was underway that morning and as Mona and I ran to the road with what was left of our possessions on our backs, proctoring teachers waved goodbye from their classroom doors and I caught sight of a few kids watching from a neighbor’s quintal. We barely spoke on that three hour ride, both of us fighting back tears and headphones firmly in our ears, but by then I feel like Mona and I had figured out how to gauge the others state of emotion. Really no words were needed. It helped knowing someone else knew how I felt.

Chimoio and Maputo were blurry with final adventures, teary goodbyes and a fair number of Manicas. My two years of service were ending and a part of me felt like I had just arrived. As I hopped around outside Marika’s office, anxiously waiting to get my final signature and that sought after ‘R’ (I would then be an RPCV or Returned Peace Corp Volunteer), I began to allow myself to look forward to what was happening next – Cape Town, Greece and ultimately Americaland!  And those trips were incredible. The final days of Peace Corp-esque life in Cape Town with wine tours, great white shark diving, hiking and daily happy hours. The history and pure astonishment at every site in Greece and the time spent catching up with family over glasses of wine and Greek specialties. But I was ready to be back in the States with a few luxuries, my friends and my car.

So now it’s February and I’ve had all the foods I had been missing, caught up with friends around town and with those more distant on Skype and that fancy gchat thing, got a well-paying although mindless job and am saving money for my next big adventure. But lately I feel like something is missing. So many of the amazing things in America that I dreamed of from my little bed in Dombe have lost their shine. Day to day life over there was often repetitive and could be tedious but the little challenges and unexpected tasks kept me on my toes. And looking back, even the small annoyances I complained about were charming in a way - a neighbor child telling me I was cooking my beans incorrectly, a student knocking on my door at 7am with a homework question and even hand washing my laundry. Now you may be thinking that those things are charming now that I’m away from them and you’d probably be right. I think what I’m missing is the simplicity of it all. Two years of that quiet, straightforward life left me unprepared for the constant hustle and bustle of the U.S. and it’s starting to take a toll on my psyche. The things I thought were so important before just don’t seem as necessary now. And with the tragic flooding happening over in Moz, where over 200,000 people are displaced without clean drinking water or proper medical care, I’ve been getting more fed up with the greediness and materialism I see so often here. I’m not innocent of this charge myself but what I saw throughout Mozambique has given me a perspective too few people here understand.

I’m happy to be home with my family and friends, don’t get me wrong, but when left alone with my thoughts I often feel disheartened. The last two years have been about service and to some degree personal sacrifice. I wasn’t exactly saving the world but I was there to help my students and community by bringing them skills, opportunities and knowledge. I felt like I had a greater purpose, that my work was meaningful. My current job is mindless and thankfully temporary. It is what I need right now – good pay, flexible schedule, nice coworkers – but it’s not exactly benefitting anyone nor it is mental stimulating or getting me any closer to a more permanent work situation. The idea of suffering through a job I hate just to make money doesn’t sound like a future I want. So I’m looking into opportunities abroad that focus on service, sustainability, environmental awareness and social entrepreneurship. And in the meantime I’ll be spending the summer back in Africa working for an amazing Denver-based company with similar ideals.
 
**And now I'm here in Rwanda with ThinkImpact. More to come!**

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I'll be boarding the plane to Addis Ababa in a few minutes and landing in Kigali, Rwanda tomorrow morning to start my summer with ThinkImpact and I realized I never posted anything after getting back from Mozambique. So as I start this new adventure, here is a look back at my adjustment to Americaland and my thoughts on my Peace Corps experience using an excerpt from an e-mail (I'll try to upload a blog attempt from several months ago next time I have a chance):


"I doubt I’ll ever be able to fully describe what it all meant to someone who hasn’t done a similar experience but I’ve been trying. First off, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I kind of thought my experiences moving for college, grad school and Don Lee would have prepared me but nothing in this country truly could have. I cried – more than I probably ever have – over small things, big things, sad events, and beautiful moments. I had strange injuries and wounds and ended up with some cool scars with great stories behind them.  I learned how to simply “be”. How to be silent and still bond with strangers. How to sit and do absolutely nothing and how to clear my mind of all the worries and struggles and enjoy whatever was in front of me. I learned that I need very little in life to be happy and that material goods are often more trouble than they are worth. I was reminded that playing with little kids is the perfect stress reliever after a frustrating day of work and that a simple smile from an appreciative neighbor is enough to make my day.  I managed to learn a new language in nine weeks and had my creativity tested while trying to describe genetics and evolution to tenth graders. Seeing that light bulb of understanding flash in a student’s eye was one of the most fulfill things I’ve ever experienced. I got to go on safaris and see the most beautiful sunsets over African savannas. I saw monkeys on a weekly basis, got chased by a bull, attacked by a baboon and got one step closer to overcoming my ridiculous phobia of spiders. I found a second family among people I didn’t even know existed 2 ½ years ago and shared more details about my life with these “government-issued friends” than with anyone else before. I helped my students, my neighbors and my community but really I got more out of this time than anything else. It’s something you’re told when getting ready to go but you don’t really understand what it means until you finish.  A blog written by a Cambodia PCV was recently passed around and one of the most profound things she said is that “You will become a stronger person for yourself, by yourself” (check out this piece because it describes life well: http://thesharpiemarkerapproach.tumblr.com/post/42420977797/an-open-letter). We had each other to get through the big stuff but sometimes you’re on your own and you alone have to figure out what to do next or how to survive whatever the world throws at you. Like I said, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but it was truly the most rewarding and worthwhile things as well."

More to come from my adjustment after Moz and what I'm up to in Rwanda!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pure Imagination


I’ve decided I won’t jump back into nannying right away because the childcare mentality I’ve been exposed to the last two years probably won’t go over well stateside. Here, kids have the freedom to safely wander the neighborhood without the fear of abduction or being run over at any moment. My 2 ½ year old neighbors run around carefree collecting stray bottles and cans to play with. Whoever is outside just automatically looks out for which ever children are around. It’s a true “it takes a village” way of life. It helps that children take on various responsibilities at a young age. Children as young as five are caring for younger siblings and a 7 year old might be cooking dinner over the fire. So when a band of kids is roaming the bairro it’s safe to say that the older ones are keeping an eye on the younger ones. It’s not uncommon for a kid to be cutting vegetables with a large knife or playing with something they found in the lixo pit (trash).

What this means is that kids grow up fast but they have an imagination that would put American kids to shame. A bottle, can or box can keep children busy for hours if they’ve got a pile of sand or dirt to play in. Throw in some water and you’ve got a regular carnival! Anything is a toy when you’re not overexposed to high tech plastic toys and video games. And while they take advantage of all the time and space to run around, kids here know when it’s time to sit still and shut up. Take a chapa for example, if I child doesn’t take a seat from someone else you don’t have to pay for them so kids are always on someone’s lap or standing in front of their parent or older sibling. That means limited space and nothing to entertain themselves. And somehow these kids patiently sit through hours and hours of travel without a peep. It’s mind boggling! As children we had books, toys and even old school GameBoys to keep us quiet and even now I will get fidgety and irritated without my iPod. Kids here are amazing!

There are downsides of course – less mental stimulation as small children, lack of “out of the box” thinking and limited knowledge of worldwide advancements. But man, are they respectful and appreciative. I could ask a kid to ride my bike 6km into the vila for some veggies and give him a large box as a reward/thank you and he’d be happy as a clam (I’ve never done anything that dramatic but you get the idea). That box will make them the envy of every other kid around and they understand what it means to be popular. I’m going to miss when “bring me something from your trip” means a piece of candy and not a $50 video game. And when I ask a child to run next door or up the path to call on someone or get something, they’ll take off on a run and not just look at me like I told them to climb Mt. Everest.

So I’m going to let myself re-acclimate a bit before taking on any babysitting gigs. Because I’m hearing that it’s not kosher to send a 5 year old across the street to buy bananas or leave an 8 year old alone to prepare dinner. I don’t really see why not but when in Rome…
 
 
 
Pure Imagination - Gene Wilder, Glee or even the version by Maroon5
 

Monday, October 1, 2012

On Top Of The World

 

1/10/12
 
This past week the Moz15 PCV’s celebrated two years of service and I officially started counting down to my COS date (46 days from today!). It’s been two years since I received my big blue invitation packet and learned I’d be going to Mozambique, two years since I frantically packed those infamous 80lb bags, two years since I said tearful goodbyes to my family at DIA and two years since I landed in Africa with a group of strangers that would quickly become some of the most important people in my life. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and those few expectations still floating around in my mind were quickly shattered. I took it one day at a time and eventually found a rhythm and a way to deal with the changes being thrown at me. I dealt with the dramas of my host family, found my niche within our group of volunteers and prepared myself to move to what would be my home for the next two years. I unwittingly allowed myself to make predictions about where I was headed and was of course completely overwhelmed upon arriving in Dombe. Our house wasn’t even close to being ready, the temp place was real small, real hot and had been invaded by various large and creepy creatures, the neighborhood had cleared out for the summer ferias and oh yea, there was no energy. But Mona and I powered through with only a few breakdowns and eventually our house was built and we were able to really settle in for the long haul. And then last week I woke up in my little breadbox of a house and two years had passed. I honestly have no idea where those years went! I have had incredible adventures, learned a new language and discovered I am capable of so much more than I thought. In the grand scheme of things two years isn’t all that much but my time here in Moz had changed me in such a way that these may be two of the most important years I’ll ever experience.
Moz15 - two years later

So now, as I rapidly approach the end of my Peace Corps service, I am a mess of emotions and reflections. Most people reading this know that I tend to be incredibly private with the emotions and thoughts rattling around in my head but this experience has taught me (often out of necessity) that sometimes things simply need to be said out loud or put down on paper. I’ve learned that I can’t always work everything out on my own and since I am amongst a group of 59 other people about to go through the same major life change, I’ve gotten better at sharing my thoughts.

The transition I am preparing to make is unlike anything I’ve ever done. Sure, I left Colorado for college, then left that home in North Carolina for grad school in Maine, went back to NC for a bit and then left it all behind to come to Africa. But the difference is that with those moves I was venturing out into the “unknown”. So while I was sad to be leaving the familiarities behind I was excited to jump into something new and different. This time I know exactly what I’m leaving behind and what I’m headed towards. I am ready for something different but at the same time I can’t imagine leaving my life here. The Dombe isn’t exactly the easiest place to live and it will be nice to have a few more of those basic comforts but my life here is so simple. After I’ve been traveling for a while or have been dealing with frustrating public transportation, I know I’ll be returning to Dombe where I can simply sit, relax and rejuvenate. I teach just two days a week and have plenty of time to sleep, read and spend time with my friends. Simply traveling to my provincial capital can be an adventure and I meet so many wonderfully kind people everywhere I go. I can make a last minute trip to the coast and sit on the beach with a beer with absolutely nothing to worry about except where I might eat that night. I have so much freedom and I don’t know if I’m ready to give that up.

But then I know I’m going back to another home full of family and old friends, concerts and football games, four distinct seasons and the resources to make myself comfortable no matter the weather. I’ll have the opportunity to find a job within my chosen field or go back to school. I’m going to see the many babies my friends have popped out over the past years and be present for my future niece or nephew’s first days. I can have a fountain diet coke or Chipotle burrito anytime I want and travel on my own schedule, stopping when and where it suits me. I will live in a house in which I can sleep, shower, cook, do laundry and relax without going outside and be able to buy perishable items and put them in a fridge. Going back to Americaland means returning to a world of convenience and comfort but also to a place of constant activity, action and stress. I’ll have to get a “real” job with a firm schedule, deal with traffic, worry about health insurance and pay bills. I’m not sure it’s a lifestyle I'm ready to return to.

So, where is my head right now? That’s a question I ask myself each day in an attempt to focus my energy. I’m going to be leaving Mozambique is 46 days and I want to enjoy every second I have left here. Because in 46 days I won’t be able to walk up the little path to visit with Cecilia and play with Veronica or cross the road to buy bananas from the women in front of the mission. Going to work won’t involve walking 500 meters from my door to the school or controlling a classroom in Portuguese. I won’t spend my weekends away in Chimoio or Tofo or Tete and buying produce will never again be so cheap. But I’ll be going back to the States with a new appreciation for those simple pleasures and an outlook on life shaped by two years in one of the poorest countries on the planet. So while my emotions are a bit of a mess at the moment, I’ve decided to live the life I have right now and go back to the mindset I had when I first arrived and just take it one day at a time.
 
On Top Of The World - Imagine Dragons (I just found this song the other day and but the words are perfect)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Baboons, Bungee and Borders, oh my!

So I just got back from two weeks of travel and crazy adventures and I am ready to be back in The Dombe. But since my mom threatened to throttle me if I didn’t write a blog post (and I believe she could find a way to do it from Colorado) I’m going to try and describe some of the more exciting moments of the trip. A good 50% of the days were simply traveling but that’s an adventure in and of itself in this part of the world. The weekend leading up to this grand trek was our Central Fourth of July party in Dombe where 12 other PCVs descended on our quiet little home to stuff ourselves full of good ol’ American cooking (grits, coleslaw, chili, potato salad, real hamburgers, onion rings, hot dogs and beer). ‘Bairro 12’ may never be the same but we all had an amazing time and Mona and I were thrilled to finally show so many people our life out there!


The following Monday, Amanda and I set off for Nampula and with amazing luck we traveled the 1070km in about 15 hours while paying just 55mets (that’s about $2). Our first destination was the Ilha de Moçambique (Mozambique Island) which is a small island off the north part of Moz with a rich history and some beautiful views. We were staying at this super cute backpackers called Ruby’s with hot showers and cold beer! That first afternoon we explored a little and got our bearings before having an amazing dinner of seafood gnocchi on the rooftop of a little restaurant in town. The architecture of the island is either old colonial Portuguese or traditional ‘Macuti’ and it was hard to believe we were still in Mozambique. It was first settle by the Portuguese in the last 1400s and was used as the capital of colonial Portuguese East Africa until 1898. The church at the far north end, Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte, was built in 1522 and is now considered the oldest European building in the southern hemisphere! And in the sixteenth century the fort (Fort São Sebastião) was built around the church to withstand attacks from the Dutch. It was an important trading post, a major missionary center and is now a World Heritage Site. You’re able to go in and explore the fort and see the tombs in the church all while being surrounded by the beautiful turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. We wandered through the narrow winding streets where you find the overgrown remnants of houses sandwiched between currently used residences, cute shops and little restaurants. We were also lucky enough to get a free bike tour of the whole island from an Australian couple trying to test out their new business. So Amanda and I were joined by a European couple living in Mocuba and we were guided by a local guy who shared stories and histories of the island and its people. It was a really unique way to see the community and those hidden gems you might normally miss. This part of Mozambique is predominantly Muslim so there were several mosques and each night we could hear the call to prayer. There’s not much nightlife so we spent our evenings on the sunken roof lounge of the backpackers enjoying the cool air and some cold Manicas!


From the Ilha we returned to Nampula to catch the train early the next morning to Cuamba near the Malawi border. We met up with some other PCVs and had enough people to get our own “sleeper” in the 2nd class section of the train (There is no first class, just 2nd and 3rd). Each little room has 6 bunks and the middle ones on each side fold down to form proper benches. We were able to sleep those first early hours and then stretch out and read and talk for the remainder (It was a 10 hour ride). As you glide through each little villa you are met by people selling vegetables, sodas and food which you can simply buy through your window. From Cuamba we took a three hour chapa to Mandimba right on the border and stayed with a volunteer so we could get an early start into Malawi. We spent one night in Lilongwe before crossing into Zambia and making our way to Lusaka. We were having really good luck with boleias and transport in general up to this point but the ride we flagged down when we got into Zambia ended up being the slowest driver in all of southern Africa and the trip took over nine hours (we were told it should be 6). We actually calculated it out and his average speed was barely 60km/hr! It was painfully slow and we arrived too late to get to see anything in the city! But we were safe and still made it to Lusaka so I shouldn’t complain too much. We left early the next morning to go to Livingstone, the closest town to Victoria Falls on the Zambian side, and got in with time to walk to the market and get food. Plus we would finally be in one place for three nights!


It’s hard to really describe the immense beauty of Victoria Falls. It’s a sight that amazes you every time you turn back to it. The indigenous name, 'Mosi-oa-Tunya’ ( literally meaning the 'Cloud that Thunders'), describes it perfectly. As you approach you just see this misty cloud and hear the incredible rumbling of water surging over the cliff and pounding the rocks and river below. The combination of its width and height (1,708m wide and 108m tall) classify it as the largest waterfall in the world although it is neither the tallest nor widest. But whatever you call it, it’s absolutely one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.  There is one set of “wet trails” where you can rent a big poncho and go out on exposed areas and really appreciate the amount of water moving over the falls. One moment it feels like you’re in the middle of a rainstorm and the next you’re back under the clear blue sky. You look over the edge and it’s as if it’s raining upwards. At one point you can clearly see the bridge just downstream that connects Zambia and Zimbabwe and watch people bungee jumping off the far side. It was at this point that I realized I had to bungee jump, no matter what. But we moved on, returned our soaked ponchos and headed down another set of trails that lead down to the river.

At the first overlook Amanda saw a large baboon emerge from the brush and head towards us. She booeked it back up the hill to Stephanie, leaving Alissa and I to fend for ourselves. I don’t know if the thing actually smelled something or was just feeling confrontational, but it bee lined towards me and I spun to face the railing clutching my camera. The little punk (he was actually probably at least chest high on me if standing) proceeded to grab the back of my shirt and jeans and attempt to rip my over the shoulder purse off my back. He succeeded in ripping the bag nearly in half and was rewarded with the entire contents spilling onto the pavement. Then the little bastard had the nerve to just sit there in front of me and rifle through my possessions.  Cell phone, chapstick, passport (Gracias a Deus) and hairties were tossed aside until he found what he wanted – a half-finished pack of Vitamin C cough drops I’d bought the week before when I thought I was getting sick. In the meantime, a ranger type guy heard us freaking out and came over to help. He told us to just stay still but when the thief’s buddies began pouring out of the woods and he started with this threatening “hoo hoo hoo” crap and we took off in the opposite direction. Our hero scared the baboons off with a big branch and retrieved my scattered belongings. My legs were like jello and my heart was pounding as I attempted to shove everything into the dry bag I keep my camera in. Needless to say we did not continue down the baboon infested trails but rather did some shopping in the parking lot.


Still feeling a bit shaky we walked out to the bridge where I learned I could go ahead and do my bungee jump right then rather than returning the next day. So I got signed up, Alissa and Steph did a zip-line across the gorge, and I went back out onto the bridge to harness up! Never once did I get nervous and second guess my decision and when it was my turn to get hooked up I was shivering with excitement. I had done my research and knew about the girl whose cord snapped last January, but honestly I felt incredibly safe the entire time. The crew was friendly and professional and very conscious of every safety check that needed to be done. Before I knew it the guy was telling me to keep my arms out (like I was flying) and to jump out as far as possible when he told me to go. Then it was “toes over the edge” and “one-two-three-four-five-BUNGEE!” and I was gone. You drop and drop towards the water and then snap back up towards the bridge feeling rather weightless. At the bottom you just spin like a top (glad I didn’t eat anything before hand) and continue bouncing until you settle at the bottom and a guy comes down to rope you in and bring you back to the bridge. I bet the whole thing is a little over a minute but what a thrill! I was walking like a drunk as I weaved my way through the catwalks under the bridge and emerged back at the street to my entourage of cameras (Thanks for documenting the whole thing girls! You got some amazing shots!). It was a pricey activity and I had to opt out of some other things the rest of the trip but it was worth every kwacha!

The last few days of the trip were mostly travel although we finally managed to arrive in Lusaka early enough to explore and found a mall with Subway and a movie theater! And I’m talking a legit theater with stadium seating and concession stands not the shack on the side of the road playing kung-fu movies like we have in Moz. We had early travel days getting back to Lilongwe (burgers, pizza, shop-rite, cornnuts, etc) and then finally an easy day down to Amanda’s site just over the Malawi border in Angonia. We got lasagna and cheesecake in the Malawi border town of Dedza, meet the Malawi education PCTs who are in training just down the road and were back in Mozambique for dinner. And now I’m going to return to The Dombe for a couple of weeks of much needed peace and quiet. I have less than four months left of my service and while I’ll still travel, this was my last big adventure. One trimester left and I’m homeward bound – with stopovers in Cape Town and Greece!


Free and Easy - Dierks Bentley

Sunday, June 10, 2012

“There is great strength in letting go to realize that our actual needs are few and that our journeys are many.”


I look back at my decision to come here, to join the Peace Corps, and I can honestly say that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We joke that we all joined  to “save the children” or “change the way the school system runs” or “bring peace/water/education to some struggling community”, but is it really a joke? I didn’t come into this thinking I would read 200 books in two years but I essentially have. I didn’t think I’d be teaching six hours a week and spending the vast majority of my time avoiding the ridiculously intense African sun. But I also didn’t expect to meet so many people that would so quickly become my family. Nor did I predict the relationships and bonds I would form with fellow PCVs that I may only see every couple of months or even once a year. I didn’t see myself bonding with my counterpart and his family like I have or having his daughter trust me almost as much as she trusts her parents. I couldn’t have told you that I would miss the smell of clothes fresh from the dryer more than I’d miss running water or my beloved fountain diet cokes. Or that I, someone who generally hates talking on the phone, would choose sketchy cell service over electricity any day of the week.
So what was I thinking when I started the application process? Honestly? I was thinking that I was about to finish graduate school and after having spent the majority of my life in class, writing papers and studying for exams I had no idea what to do next.  Sure, I could go get a job, but doing what? I could continue on with more school, but study what? And then I saw the flyer on the door of Alfred Hall as I went inside to prep the lab for my next class. If I didn’t know what to do maybe someone else could tell me. What little I knew about the Peace Corps included the fact that you couldn’t just walk in and say “I want to go to Madagascar to study the lemurs and teach local children why they should care about the environment”. Someone would look at my work and education background, talk to me about my interests and goals and send me somewhere to do something I was reasonably qualified for. Seemed like just the push I needed to get me moving – somewhere, anywhere.
And so I ended up in Mozambique teaching biology to eighth and tenth graders in a villa about the size of the Costco down the road from my mom’s house. I live in a cement house that would fit inside your average American living room where I cook on a charcoal “grill” and get light from a solar powered bulb. My water comes from a pump up behind the school and I bathe with a bucket behind the house. My housemate is someone I didn’t even know existed before September 28th, 2010 but she now knows more about me than anyone else. My closest friends here, the people I would most likely confide in, are 12-15 hours away from me with less than reliable transportation. I went a year without seeing two of them.
But you know what I’ve learned? I can adapt to almost anything. I can learn a new language in nine weeks and starting teaching in it a month later. I can make a meal out of almost any combination of food items but still can’t seem to get a pot of rice to turn out right. I will gladly walk 6km to town just for a bottle of cold water but will usually choose a soda once I get there. Traveling eight hours each way for a weekend away is nothing if it means time at the beach with friends. There is not much more exciting that arriving in the city after six hours in the back of a truck to find a package from home waiting for you in an air conditioned office. Even better if it contains Nutella, shells and cheese, caramel Cadbury eggs or pictures of your best friend’s new baby. I’ve learned that I can get by with far less than I thought possible and that a bike wheel and stick can keep a kid occupied just as long as a fancy video game. I know that I am most definitely not the same person that left Colorado 20 months ago, or even 12 months ago, but that those changes might not be obviously seen. I know that I have the most supportive family and friends and I’m reminded at least once a week when I open a letter that people out there are thinking of me, praying for me and cheering me on.
So why did I come here? Honestly? Because I didn’t know what else to do to learn about myself. And I am again approaching that time when I will need to decide what I’ll do next, but now I know that it’s okay not to know. That it’s okay to take a risk and do something that may not turn out the way you think it will but that you will get something out of the experience anyway. Did I have to come half way around the world to learn these things? Probably not but it’s been an amazing journey and an incredible way to learn what I am capable of. And when it comes down to it I still don’t know anything for aure – why I’m here, where I’ll go next, what I want to do with my life -  but I do know that I’m the person you want with you when you get stranded in the woods!
 

*I couldn't find a song that truely followed my train of thought while writing this so I just let it be. any suggestions?