Sunday, December 26, 2010

"Whatever will your husband do while you are gone?"

My invite came on Monday the 20th.  It was all very exciting.  I had been expecting a knock on the door at any time because I thought I would have to sign for the invite.  By 6:00, I was giving up and thinking that it would have to wait until the next day.  Colin got home from work around 6:30 and we decided to run out to the video store after we ate dinner.  When he opened the door, there the package was, sitting on the stoop!  Colin asked if I wanted him to open it and read it to me, but by the time he had finished asking the question, I was tearing the box out of his hand and trying to get it open with my teeth/claws/car keys.  I read the first line and got to the word "Botswana" and screamed.  I was so excited.  Colin even jumped up and down with me to humor me.  He feigns excitement so well.  Then we ran to the video store and I called a bunch of people to tell them the good news.  It was received well by most, but my mother and mother-in-law struggled to be excited.  Lots of "I'm happy that you got what you wanted" and "I'm happy for you, sad for me" type stuff.  My program is HIV/AIDS Community Capacity Building and my job title is Community Capacity Builder.  Staging dates: April 1st to 3rd (in Philadelphia, to my knowledge).  Pre-service training in Botswana: April 1st through June 6th, 2011.  Dates of Service: June 6th, 2011 through June 6th, 2013. 

I read through all of the materials sent and absorbed just about none of it.  I sent my official acceptance email on Wednesday and then started filling out the passport forms, etc.  I also downloaded the Setswana lessons and started freaking out because the language involves clicks and a sound that is described as "the sound that you make when you hawk a lougie".  I almost peed when I saw that, because a. I've never seen the phrase written before and b. It actually is that sound.  At least now I know how to spell "lougie." 

I also read the "A Few Minor Adjustments" booklet that came in the invitation package.  It is a little bit scary.  To summarize, "You'll probably hate your life but just be patient and flexible and you'll probably survive."  It's a well-known fact that I'm really great at patience and flexibility.  And sarcasm.

The last week has been pretty crazy.  One of our other cats, Molly, was in the hospital Monday through Thursday.  He's home now, but we had to do the whole ultrasound thing again and we have some lovely vet bills to pay.  It's Christmas, so we were also running around like crazy trying to finish shopping/wrapping and we have had visitors, too.  I still have not mailed our Christmas, I mean New Year's cards.  Needless to say, I haven't started re-working my resume to PC standards or writing my aspiration statement thinger.

I have started making lists.  Actually, I've been making Peace Corps lists for 2 years now, but these are getting more serious.  I have lists of lists.  My packing list is about a million items long.  I have a list of items in our house that Colin will probably not be able to locate without a map.  I have started a calendar for him of things he needs to do while I'm gone, such as replace furnace filters, renew our cars' registrations, and pay the water bill.  I'm planning to make a sort of Instruction Manual for living without me.  This may sound like I don't think very highly of Colin's level of independence, but really it's just that I like to think that he needs me more than he actually does.  One thing that has bothered me about this process is that whenever I tell people that I am joining the Peace Corps and then they ask about whether or not my husband is coming with me, I always get this sort of shaming look and the question, "What's he going to do without you?" as if he isn't capable of feeding himself or something.  They always manage to convey some feelings of doubt about our relationship, our fidelity, or our commitment to our marriage.  I guess it's (sort of) understandable that people would be concerned and a little judgey, but when Colin was deploying both times, no one ever asked, "What's your wife going to do while you're gone?".  It was always assumed that it was sort of my duty to sit back and wait for him and that maybe I would have trouble using power tools by myself or opening jars, but that I'd probably be ok.  Apparently for a wife to leave her husband on purpose, there must be something wrong with me or with us.  Then there's the whole "He didn't choose to deploy" argument that sometimes gets brought up, but it's not as if anyone forced him to join the Army and forced us to get married despite the fact that he might get deployed.  We both went into those decisions knowing the possibilities.  The same goes for this Peace Corps thing.  It wasn't entered into lightly, and though we have no fantasies about it being easy or fun to be apart for so long, it's something we're accustomed to, and it's something that he understands I need to do.  *Removes self from soap-box*

This blog needs some work.  I need to Botswana-ize it and stuff.  I'm also looking for other invitees to Botswana.  If you're out there, let me know!

Merry belated Christmas, PC blog world! This is the best Christmas I've ever had.  I got everything I wanted: three healthy/recovering kitties, a Peace Corps invitation, a dance party on Christmas morning, a Christmas afternoon nap, and a day full of people I love.  All of the gifts were extra bonuses.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I am invited to...

BOTSWANA!!!!!!!!!! I'm so excited I can't stand it.  I leave on April 1st for staging, and that is almost all I know right now.  I have to read through the gigantic packet of information that came and then formally accept.  That's all for now! Bigger update in a day or two.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Toolkit updated... Invited!

My toolkit was updated on Thursday morning (the morning after Placement called me) to say:

Congratulations! You have been invited to become a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Very exciting!  So Kristin must have found a slot right after our phone conversation.  I'm just waiting on UPS to find out where I might be headed.  Let the stalking commence!

In other news, May, our sick kitty, came home from the vet on Saturday.  The ultrasound shows that he has cholangitis (pancreatitis) and hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease).  The treatment involves fluids and getting him to keep eating.  He's been doing well so far.  Unfortunately, his littermate, Molly, is now very sick.  I got them new food on Friday (Molly was fine then, just skinny).  I didn't mix it with the old stuff because I just wanted him to eat and the vet suggested that maybe May got sick because he didn't like the old food.  Usually when you give new food to cats, you're supposed to mix it with the old stuff so that it doesn't upset their system.  I didn't do this, so Molly spent all day yesterday throwing up and being generally sick.  He is refusing food now and we're having a hard time getting him to drink.  I have a feeling we'll be calling the emergency vet today for him.  Ugh.  

Good news: I made my official Weight Watchers goal weight on Thursday.  I aimed to do this before I departed for Peace Corps and it's done; I'm 37.8 lbs lighter than I was in June!   I am now at a healthy weight for my height.  I would like to lose a little bit more (maybe 10 lbs?), but I'm very happy that I was able to accomplish this goal.  Now, to maintain the loss over the remainder of the holidays...

For all of you who are waiting for invites/medical clearance/etc., I hope that you hear something soon! Reading the blogs of other applicants has been helpful and maddening.  It's nice to know that others are feeling anxious and restless, and I hope it ends for all of us soon.  Good luck!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

About to become an Invitee! But...

My phone rang this afternoon right after Colin and I dropped our cat, May, off at the vet to be hospitalized overnight.  He stopped eating today and they wanted to cath/IV/force feed him.  He goes in for ultrasound tomorrow.  Needless to say, we were upset.  So when my phone rang and it was the 202 area code, I was kind of thinking, "Really, PC?" I answered, and it was Kristin, my Placement Specialist (a mystery no more)!  We talked for about 15 minutes.  She started off by telling me that my program was full from February through March, so that they were looking at April-June departure dates.  Then she asked me a bunch of questions about how I've been preparing for service, why I want to join, what I think will be most difficult for me, how I plan to deal with separation from my husband, etc.  She also mentioned that as a health worker, I'd probably be somewhere more remote and will be less likely to have electricity, running water, and especially Internet.  I don't think I sounded like a complete moron/emotional basketcase while answering questions despite my preoccupation with May's illness, and she then told me that she was ready to send me an invitation (!!).  She said that I'm definitely qualified for a health extension position focusing on HIV.  Then she said that there is a slot available in March for Eastern Europe, but that it doesn't focus on HIV, and would I be interested in that or would I prefer Africa?  I told her that I preferred Africa (shocker!), especially if the position focused on HIV.  She said that made sense given my qualifications.  Then she said that she would be finding a slot for me and then I should get a package in the mail within 7 to 10 days.  I asked her how long it might take to find a slot and she was like, "Oh, I think we can get you one pretty quickly."  Which to me meant, like, right after this phone call.  SOOOOOO I'm about to become an invitee! And to the program I want!  Possibilities include Botswana, Ghana, and Malawi (according to the PC Wiki as of right now).  Time for the stalking of the UPS truck to begin.  Damn you, holiday season, with your frequent false alarms!

I'm really, really, happy, but I'm also having a really difficult time getting excited because I'm pretty sure our cat is going to die soon.  It's really terrible.  I'm having trouble thinking about much else.  This isn't how I imagined I'd feel when I finally got the call from the Placement Office.  This day has really sucked and I almost wish that the call from Placement could have waited.  I know that makes me sound ungrateful or like I don't want this enough, but I just want these two things to be separate.  I want to be able to think happy thoughts about the Peace Corps without feeling guilty and I want to be able to grieve for my cat's condition without being interrupted by my PC excitement. 

Blerg.  But there you have it!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Uphill Battle for Tolerance

Some disturbing news from this week:

-This article in the Washington Post about persecution of gay people in Africa
-This article about Zimbabwe's chilling politically-motivated rape trend

Both are reminders that while things tend to suck sometimes for women, LGBTQ people, and other marginilized groups in the United States, they might be much, much worse in other parts of the world.  Teaching tolerance, which I think is a sad compromise vs. teaching acceptance or love or alliance, will probably be more of an uphill battle than I realize if it's something I'm able to attempt as part of my PC service.  I say "able" because I am aware that it may not always be safe for me to talk about certain subjects as freely as I do here, so I am hopeful that I will at least be able to attempt it with at least a few people where it's safe, practical, and where it is helpful.  If people are struggling to eat or get clean drinking water, talking to them about trans acceptance or gay rights isn't going to be very productive or helpful.

Just some thoughts for the day.

PC Prognosis and Cat aside

A little more PC news...  I sent Jill (my Placement Assistant) another email asking about her service and she replied with lots of information about her time in Paraguay.  It sounds like she did a TON of stuff in 2 years, which is pretty cool.  Some of the books I've read don't seem to describe much in terms of the projects that people do, so it's exciting to know that it is possible to accomplish quite a bit during the short service.  It's weird that I'm describing two years as short, but in thinking about my past experience, I feel like it can take a lot of time to accomplish very little, especially when dealing with work-place politics and red tape and bureaucracy.  I would expect this to be amplified when dealing with foreign and U.S. government.

Anyway, Jill recommended that I read some volunteer blogs (LOL!!!!) and also said the following:
"I am glad you have taken some time to consider how important flexibility is! The best way to go into Peace Corps is with an open mind and remembering why you wanted to do Peace Corps in the first place. Most of us what to do Peace Corps to help others and continue with service work, so this is possible no matter what country you may end up in."  So true.

In response, I sent another email on Sunday and pushed my luck by asking if she knew when I would hear from my Placement Specialist, even though last week she told me the "few weeks or so" that had me so incensed.  I lucked out and got this response yesterday:
"I think your Placement Specialist will most likely complete her final review of your application materials sometime this week. She may contact you with some follow up questions once that is complete."  Did you read that?  SOMETIME THIS WEEK!!! No, "OR SO"!  Even if "sometime this week" means next week, it's definitely more promising than "a few weeks or so."  I'm happy.

In other news, one of our cats, May, is very sick.  I took him to the vet yesterday and he has something wrong with his liver and has lost a majority of his body weight, which we didn't notice because he is so fluffy and I guess we're terrible cat parents.  He's on antibiotics and some sort of liver functioning medication and on Thursday, we're taking him for an ultrasound.  Yes, to those of you without pets, this probably sounds really crazy.  And for those of you with children, I don't mean to offend or minimize human offspring, but our cats are like children to us.  We'd probably feel differently if we had children, but this is as close as we've gotten, and it's heartbreaking to think about losing one of them.  I know it's inevitable, and every time I've lost a pet, I wonder why anyone would ever have pets because it's so hard when they die (and you typically outlive them).  Yet, somehow, after losing a cat and a dog growing up, I find myself with three cats to whom I am unnaturally attached.   May is our sweetheart.  He wants nothing more than to sit on a lap and be rubbed.  He loves to be touched or spoken to and tolerates everything (except blowing air in his face, to which my sister can attest).  He and Molly (his brother) will be six years old in March.  We've had them since they were about six weeks old.  We've had Moo since she was only a few days old and now she's four.  It's hard to think about leaving them for two years.  When Colin was deployed both times, you could tell they really missed him.  Molly went on Prozac (really) to deal with his separation anxiety.  The cats are the best thing about being at our house to us.  They drive us crazy sometimes, but they've enriched our lives and we really love them.  Most people who meet our cats think they're pretty strange, and they are.  They're all very affectionate and needy for human attention, which is sort of unusual because a lot of cats are all aloof and independent.  They're lap-cats who like to be carried around and we indulge them in that.  We're really hoping that May pulls through.  I know it's off-topic and makes me out to be a crazy cat lady, but it had to be said.  We love our May. 

That's all for now!  On to more waiting... for PC and for May's prognosis to become more clear.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Adjusting Expectations

I thought that Jill, my Placement Assistant hated me, or at least found me to be incredibly annoying and impatient.  Well, she probably still thinks I am impatient (and I am), but at least we had this exchange today after I emailed Health Placement with my updated resume:

Me: Thanks so much, Jill.  Again, I appreciate all of your help! Do you mind if I ask you about your PC service?  Where did you serve and when? 

Jill: No problem, I am here to help! I served in Paraguay from 2007-2009 as a Youth Development volunteer. I had wanted to go to Africa originally (because I had studied abroad there) but was super flexible and went with the flow and I loved it. As you have probably heard, Peace Corps service can vary a lot, but in the end it is what everyone makes of it. It hard to just talk about it in general, but if you have specific questions, I would be happy to answer them for you.  You should also check out volunteer's blogs on the internet, there is a lot of great information on them, and it gives you a view of the varied experiences that Peace Corps volunteers have.

This makes me feel better.  Again, I know she's telling me to be patient and flexible (I wish I could just flip a switch to make it so!), but I love hearing about other volunteers' experiences.  This is especially helpful because she talked about what she wanted vs. what she got (similar to James' experience).

I am adjusting my expectations.  I can honestly say that I am open to the idea of serving anywhere (yes, even Mongolia).  It's not easy to change my train of thought from Africa to somewhere unknown.  And I'm pretty sure that I may feel some level of disappointment to an invitation to somewhere that isn't Africa, but at this point, I'll be thrilled just to get an invitation to an amazing opportunity.  As I've been obsessing over Africa for a couple of years, it's like I have to re-train my brain.  I don't feel entitled or short-changed, but I was just finding it hard to believe that an HIV/AIDS position in Africa would be difficult to find for me.  I'm figuring out how this PC thing works though, and it's not like they're just filling up slots to fill up slots.  They needed people when they needed them, and my file wasn't ready- I'm sure hundreds of others were that were well-qualified for those positions and thus the slots went to them, end of story.  Hopefully, when my file is ready, a slot will come up that my placement specialist thinks is perfect for me and I'll get an invitation to fill it.  I am joining the Peace Corps because I want to make a difference in the world, however small.  I want to be a better person.  I want to be a part of something bigger than myself.  And, it doesn't matter where- I can be an asset to the PC wherever they need me.  That's what it comes down to.  It's not about me- it's about where I'm needed.  After the last 28 years of always getting what I want and everything being about me, it's time that my life is about something else... which is the whole point of me joining the Peace Corps.

In other news, I've finally shared this blog with the PC Wiki page and with Facebook.  I am not under any delusions that I'm writing anything other than self-centered blather that isn't remotely interesting, but it's been pretty therapeutic and I think Colin appreciates me dumping on the Internet rather than on him.  But he's still probably fired as my blog manager.

Also, in a recent post, I mentioned that my sister was in Kazakhstan once.  She called me a few minutes ago from Korea to tell me that she was not in Kazakhstan, but Kyrgystan.  We discussed the differences between the two places (all we could come up with was the spelling of their names) and decided that I probably wouldn't know the difference between the two even if I had been to both countries.  I should probably learn more about them.  So, sorry Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan!

Restless Applicant Syndrome

Now that it has actually been a month since Jill in the Placement Office told me that I would hear from my Placement Specialist "within the next month or so" (obviously I'm in the "or so" category), I have once again re-started my frenzied anxiety to hear some news.  This typically means frantically checking the Peace Corps Wiki page and reading blogs of other applicants.  One applicant who blogged about the Waiting calls this Restless Applicant Syndrome (RAS), which I like, though I'm not sure it quite conveys the manic, unfocused, and desperate Internet browsing that happens when someone is suffering from RAS.  Anyway, last night, in reading these blogs, I came across some more news that mostly sucks.  March departure dates are also full.  This only mostly sucks because most of the March countries were not ones that I was thrilled about.  I am not over-the-moon about having to wait into spring/summer for departure, but I would rather go somewhere awesome a little later than, say, Mongolia, a little sooner.  I really didn't think I would still be around in March 2011.  However, there are only a handful of countries that have staging dates listed for April, May, and June right now.  I don't know for sure whether this is only because not many invitations have gone out for April, May, and June yet, or if there are less countries that have departure dates during these months.  It seems like both are true.  But anyway, in addition to Botswana and Indonesia in April, Panama has been added.  I would put it in the "OK" category.  In May, Armenia has been added, which I would put in the "DON'T WANT" category.  Mongolia, my night terror, has been added to June.  Obvious "DON'T WANT".

It's hard to explain, but as this process has been going on for so long, and I knew I would be applying to Peace Corps since late 2009 or early 2010, I just started thinking of "lasts" as they came up.  For example, I thought that Feb. 14th, 2010 would be my last Valentine's Day for awhile.  Then Evelyn's 2nd birthday came, March 12th, and I figured that it would be the last I'd get to celebrate with her until she was turning 5 or 6 (five or six! I can't believe I probably won't see her until then).  Then we had a Memorial Day picnic and I thought, this may be the last picnic I throw at the house before I leave.  But it looks like I'll be celebrating Valentine's Day with Colin in 2011, three with Evelyn.  I wonder how many other "lasts" I thought I had that won't actually be my last.  It's disappointing because I savored those moments and now they feel sort of cheapened or even fake because it has turned out so wrong.  The uncertainty of it all is what's driving me crazy.  Then again, I could die tomorrow and then my "last" Christmas that I thought I had ahead of me would actually be last year's. 

As applicants with RAS are want to do, I looked for any reason to get in touch with the Placement Office just as another reminder that I am still alive and still Waiting (Waiting will henceforth be written with a capital W when it refers to "Waiting" in the RAS sense, as opposed to just "waiting").  When I spoke to James on the phone two weeks ago (?), he mentioned that I might want to update my resume again and send an email to rather than bugging Jill again.  So, last night, I updated my resume.  I revised some of the stuff about AIDS Care and added my Project SHAPE training in college since that was pretty significant.  I also changed my Objective portion to be Peace Corps-specific.  In case it wasn't clear that I actually am looking to join PC.  Anyway, I emailed this around midnight, and this morning I had a response (from Jill, great) saying that it would be added to my file (which is currently with my Placement Specialist) and that my Placement Specialist would be in contact "within the next few weeks OR SO."  Again with the fucking "OR SO".  I hate this category.  It's clear that I am destined to be relegated to "OR SO" for the rest of forever.  Jill appreciates my patience during this process.  !!!!!!!!!!!!

One thing that I am looking forward to once (and if) I receive my invitation is getting the constant loop of  "The waaaaaaaiting is the hardest part" out of my head.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The first of probably many posts about poop

This morning I had a terrifying (and short) email waiting for me:

Please call asap regarding your medical clearance.
Elizabeth, RN
US Peace Corps
Screening Nurse
Office of Medical Services

A little bit of history- Elizabeth is the same person who had previously terrified me regarding my medical clearance.  She called very early one morning to "discuss" my mosquito "allergy" (I don't have a mosquito allergy).  Anyway, the result of that conversation sent me to the doctor's office (for the 9th time) and to an allergist.  She scared the crap out of me when we talked and I was just sure that I was never going to be medically cleared.  After writing some personal statements, endorsed by my doctor, my clearance finally went through, and I received a letter in the mail from PC saying I was all good.  So I was surprised to see this email today.  I called Elizabeth and she said that sometimes after a medical clearance is given and the file is forwarded to the Placement Office, they have questions and send the file back to Medical Review.  My heart was racing and I felt like throwing up.  I'm thinking, are they still flipping out about my non-existent mosquito allergy? Did I need some dental work done? Do they need more lab results? Then she asked me about my lactose intolerance and the pills I take for this.  Honestly, I had forgotten that I told PC that I was lactose intolerant because I figured it would have come up before now during the medical clearance process.

Elizabeth:  Is it just Lactaid that you take?
me: Yes! I take Lactaid!
Elizabeth: Do you avoid dairy?
me: No, I just take Lactaid.
Elizabeth: If you don't, what happens?
me: I get diarrhea.

PC people really want to know about my shit.  I've had at least 3 conversations about poop with PC medical people.  Next time, I'm going to tell them how the anxiety of waiting for PC affects my poop cycle. 

Anyway, she said that was fine and I asked if she needed another personal statement from me detailing the effects of lactose on my bowels, and she said that we're all set.  She also re-asked about the medicine I take for my irritable bowel syndrome (poop again!) and said that it had been approved (so I assume this means that they will be ok with supplying it to me while I am in-country).

This conversation means that someone in Placement has been looking at my file.  Maybe it means they are considering possible placements for me- possibly ones where I might consume a lot of dairy.  I think Kazakhstan is one of those places where they drink a lot of fermented mare's milk.  Aside from the fact that this would no doubt make me vomit, I don't know if it has lactose in it.  I don't want to go to Kazakhstan.  My sister Katie was there for a few days when she was on her way to (or from?) Afghanistan.  It sounded cold.  The PC should just send me to Africa, where most people are lactose intolerant and so dairy probably won't be the main staple of my diet...

The March departure countries, according to the PC Wiki page, are Dominican Republic, Kazakhstan, Senegal, Albania, Morocco, Belize, Kyrgyz Republic, Ukraine, and Bulgaria.  The April Departures are Botswana and Indonesia.  The only May departure listed right now is Fiji.  June is listing Ghana and Malawi.  If I could categorize these into Don't Want, OK, and WANT:

Don't Want: Kazakhstan, Albania, Kyrgyz Republic, Ukraine, Bulgaria
OK: Morocco, Dominican Republic, Belize, Indonesia, Fiji
WANT: Senegal, Botswana, Ghana, Malawi

I'm back to being anxious again.  Thanksgiving kept me busy and thinking about other things, but this Monday morning wake-up email has brought me back to the purgatory of PC waiting.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I have spent the last week feeling anxious and dramatically full of dispair.  Last Monday, when I got the bad news about my program being closed, Colin even made me a cave out of blankets and couch cushions so that I could wallow properly.  He's a good man (enabler).  I did send an email to James, my PC recruiter, asking for some perspective.  He was hoping to be invited to Latin America, but was invited to Mozambique.  In my interview, I asked him whether he ever considered rejecting that invitation and he said, "Not for a second."  I really want to know how to get myself in that mindset.  So I sent an email and was pretty honest about my feelings, saying that I would have to think long and hard about an invitation to Mongolia, Bulgaria, or the like.  Then I checked my email every 3-4 minutes for a response.  Flash forward a week later, and still nothing.  Yesterday, I sent him another email (I know, stalker!).  The second email was significantly less dramatic and conveyed that given the time to think, I've been able to start adjusting my expecations.  If I have a choice between scary PC destination and no PC destination, I'll take scary.

Just when I was beginning to think that James had obviously forwarded my manic emails to the placement office with the "REJECT FOR IMPATIENCE AND INFLEXIBILITY" stamp, my cell phone rang with a 212 (NYC) area code.  James and I chatted about my frustration.  He said that what I'm going through is pretty typical and that this waiting is purgatory.  Which is perfect, really.  He said that in 6 months I won't be able to remember quite how this feels, and I hope he's right.  I have never been so anxious- not when Colin was in Iraq or Kate & Brent were in Afghanistan/Iraq,  not when I have moved up and down the East Coast alone, not when we were buying a house, not when writing my thesis or preparing my final Master's curriculum, not when loved ones are sick or have died.  Wow, even my anxiety is super self-involved! He talked about how expectations are so different from reality regardless of whether or not I end up where I want to.  Interestingly, Mongolia was his ultimate nightmare PC placement too, so we talked a little about what will happen if I do get invited there.  He basically wants me to chill and try not to think about it until I get an invitation (which could be anywhere, and probably not Mongolia).  When I do get an invitation, I'm supposed to call him and then he can hook me up with current/past volunteers from that country so that I can make a well-informed decision.  I feel better than I did last week, but I am just ready for this waiting to be over.  I'm really glad James called me.  He's been so helpful through this process.

Last Wednesday, I went into AIDS Care to talk with the Women's Prevention Program about their storytelling during their monthly meeting.  I've been observing them when they present to different groups in the community.  My supervisor, Lucia, asked me to give feedback, and figure out some ways to help streamline the storytelling to make sure that the messages intended by the program are the ones received by the audience.  I was nervous about having to critique these women without sounding like I was criticizing their stories/lives.  It went well, though, and I think we're getting somewhere with this.  They've agreed that practicing telling their stories to one another and getting peer-feedback would be helpful, so hopefully we can set that up soon.

Last night, I did outreach in the van with Lucia and Karen (on the women's prevention team) and Dan (another volunteer, student at U of R, also wants to join the PC, lol).  I guess we're trying to do more outreach later in the day or at night in order to be able to reach more of the sex workers in Rochester.  The crowd at noon is a lot different than the crowd at midnight, obviously.  We were out from 5 to 7 last night, which isn't late by any means, but it was dark, and so it was a change for sure.  We found a pretty busy corner with a corner store with a lot of activity.  We gave out condoms, mostly to men, because the women we tried to talk to were already pregnant, and what else would you want condoms for if not to prevent pregnancy?  We tested one person, but it was raining and kind of typically nasty Rochester weather, so testing one was better than nothing! 

At least the rest of the week will be full of activity.  I won't have time to sit around in my pajamas and feel sorry for myself.  Caitlin comes home from NY with her boyfriend, Mike, tomorrow, and Grandma Prosch (Colin's dad's mom) is driving up from Binghamton.  I have to start making pies and food for Thursday.  I got my snow tires put back on the Fit today, eww. Tomorrow I am going to try to give blood, and then I'm babysitting Evelyn, and then my mom and I are going to our last Weight Watchers meeting before the holiday.  I have one more stupid pound to lose before I make my official WW goal weight and become a lifetime member after 6 weeks of maintaining that weight (I'm trying to do this before I leave for PC).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bummed is not strong enough a word.

In a continuation of the stalking I have been doing, I emailed Jill from the placement office again today, mostly as a reminder to her that I'm still alive.  The results were not good.

Me: Hi Jill,

I was just wondering if you know whether or not the program I was nominated for (Health Extension, Sub-Saharan Africa, Feb 2011) is still open and if there is still time for me to be invited to this program.  I am looking at the training calendar for the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute and I'd like to schedule more training for myself before I leave for Peace Corps.  Space is limited so I'd rather not sign up for anything that I'm likely to have to cancel. 

Any information you're able to give me would be greatly appreciated.  I haven't heard from my Placement Specialist yet, so if this is a question better saved for him or her, let me know and I will continue to be patient. 

Thank you,

Thank you for your email.  Your Placement Specialist currently has your file and will be completing her final assessment and evaluation of application materials sometime within the next month or so.  While I do not know what program she is potentially considering you for, I do know that the program you had been nominated to is already full.  This probably means she will be looking at a program with a tentative departure in March for you.
This is all the information I have regarding this right now. You will have to wait until your Placement Specialist contacts you with follow up questions to receive more.  We appreciate your patience during this process.
Thank you.
So my program is full.  That really fucking sucks.  First of all, because I now have to wait until at least March to depart, and second, because this means it is less likely that I will be going to Africa and more likely that I will be going to Eastern Europe.  Blerg.  Also, I feel like I could have made it into the original program provided my medical clearance didn't take so long.  But it did, and there's nothing I can do about it now.  And now I've annoyed Jill, too.  I'm considering re-stalking my recruiter, James, with a freak out email, but I'm thinking this will only make me more anxious.  I'd really like to hear from my Placement Specialist regarding my options.  As much as I'd like to leave ASAP, I'm also willing to wait to ensure that I get Africa.  I know, I'm supposed to be flexible and all, but I've accidentally gotten my heart set on Africa because I've been thinking about it for the last 8 months that I've been nominated, and before that it was the center of all of my PC fantasies.  I'm really broken-hearted about this.  BLERG.

Fat Tracy would like to eat a gallon of ice cream and one of those huge canisters shaped like a barrel of generic cheese balls, followed by a really long nap.  Skinny Tracy is having a hard time convincing Fat Tracy to get on the elliptical instead.   Wagers on the winner?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On Stalking...

I've made a huge mistake.  So, there's this thing called the Internet.  And I've been using it to drive myself INSANE.  Tons of other PC people (nominees included) have blogs, and I've been reading them.  Why is this a mistake, you ask?  Doesn't the Peace Corps recommend this as part of your preparation?  Why, yes, in fact they do.  The problem is that I am using (ok, stalking) these blogs to over-analyze what is happening with my file.  Why haven't I received an invitation yet (because they hate me)? Have others received them (yes, and for programs that start even after February)?  Is my program still open (who knows? How do I even find that out?)?  Will I get to go to my original program (I want to!!!)? What if I get invited to Eastern Europe instead of Sub-Saharan Africa (I will be totally bummed)?  Are other people getting invites to MY program (as if I already have some sort of ownership over a yet-unknown program)?

I have also been stalking my mail carrier.  I sit and wait for him.  He usually arrives between 2:30 and 4:00.  He walks by my living room window- if I miss this, I can usually hear the clink of the mailbox next to my front door from anywhere in the house.  I usually try to wait until the mail carrier is off of my lawn before opening the door, sometimes in my pajamas (yes, sometimes I'm still in pajamas at 2:30, no judgement) to retrieve what is typically junk mail or bills.  Today is Sunday, which means I have been waiting for the mail for approximately 30 hours.  And I still have at least 15 hours to go.  If anyone is wondering why sometimes I'm in pajamas at 2:30, it's because I stretch my sleeping out as long as possible.  If I can sleep until 2:00, it may only be a half hour of waiting for my mail.  Some people might call that lazy/crazy, I call it efficient and adaptive.

I've assigned Colin with the task of naming my blog, as "Tracy's Peace Corps Blog" is pretty boring and not as cool as the titles of these other PC blogs.  I mean, they have some awesome titles that are witty or esoteric or inspiring.  Colin said, "At least everyone will know what your blog is about!"  Then I decided we could name it something cool with "Tracy's Peace Corps Blog" in parenthesis after aforementioned cool title so that there would be no confusion and yet I'd still be cool.  This was followed by some stupid suggestions by Colin, to include "Chumbawumba (Tracy's Peace Corps Blog)".  So for now, I'm calling my blog, "Interesting Title (Tracy's Peace Corps Blog)!", which Colin thinks is better and less disappointing than, "Fuck Me (Tracy's Peace Corps Blog)!".

Oh yeah, I should put a disclaimer on this- I swear a lot and make no apologies about it.  Colin, blog manager, find some way to put a disclaimer on the bottom about how I say inappropriate things and how it doesn't reflect on PC or the State Department or the government or whatever.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Yesterday, I sent an email to my recruiter, James, to let him know that I had heard about my medical and legal clearances.  This was his response:
Wow!  You are very, very close to finding out, then!  Keep me posted!  I’m probably as excited to find out as you are!

Very, very close... A little cryptic perhaps? I didn't get a letter in the mail yesterday about my medical clearance, despite stalking the mail carrier.  I'm hoping it will come today. 

I checked my application status this morning and the legal holds have been removed, which is awesome! I also received an email from Jill in the Placement Office:


I hope this email finds you well.  I'm writing to you from the Peace Corps Placement Office in Washington, DC.  We are busy reviewing and evaluating your Peace Corps application to be sure that everything looks good for you to be considered for service.  I have reviewed your file and identified an item that needs follow-up before I can pass your application along to your Placement and Assessment Specialist for further review.

Please send me an updated resume that includes the details of all volunteer or professional experiences you have gained since you first applied for Peace Corps.  If you do not have any new experience to report, please let me know in a response to this email.  For all work and volunteer experiences included on your resume, please state:

  • The name of the organization you worked with
  • Your activities/duties
  • Which months you worked there
  • Number of hours per week

Thank you, and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.



I emailed her my updated resume with my volunteer experience at AIDS Care and the trainings offered by the NYSDOH AIDS Institute at the Center for Health and Behavioral Training in Rochester, REACH-CNY in Syracuse, and the Buffalo American Red Cross.  

This was the response I received:

Thank you for sending in your updated resume. I will add it to your file and pass your file along to your Placement Specialist to complete the final suitability review and assessment of your application materials.  I work in the Placement Office, but I anticipate you will hear from your Placement Specialist sometime in the next month or so.  Once this final review has been completed, you may be contacted by your Placement Specialist with some follow up questions.  If your Placement Specialist then qualifies your for service, you will potentially be issued an invitation.
There is nothing else we need from you at this time. We appreciate your patience during this process.

Another month (or so) of waiting? I don't know if I can handle it!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Legal Clearance?

I decided to start nagging the legal office of the Peace Corps today.  I have had a legal hold on my account since about the beginning of this process.  All it says is, "Your legal eligibility to serve in the Peace Corps is currently under review. If further information is required, our legal eligibility specialist will contact you. TIP: Some commonly requested legal forms are available in the Download Center."  I have not been contacted by a legal eligibility specialist.  When I had a medical hold, I didn't get any information until I called my medical liaison, so I decided that I would call the legal office right away to get things cleared up more quickly.  When I called, I spoke to Jeff, who said that a colleague had been working on my file this morning and that all holds have been lifted.  This is great news, but I'm trying not to get too excited until I see that the hold is officially lifted in my online profile.  I imagine this will happen by tomorrow morning, as all of my profile update notifications have happened at around 5 a.m..  Jeff told me that all I need to do now is wait to hear from the Placement Office.

Some guesses as to where I could be going:  If I am invited to the original program for which I was nominated (Sub-Saharan Africa Health Extension, departing Feb. 2011), and if past years reflect what is likely to happen next year, I could be going to Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Namibia, or Zambia.  These countries have all had departure dates in February over the past few years, according to the Peace Corps Wiki page. I would be thrilled with any of them! 

This is what my online profile says regarding my medical clearance:
Complete. A decision has been reached regarding your medical review. Please look for a letter in the mail.

My medical assistance officer, Marta, told me on Friday that they will be mailing a letter to me on Monday (today).  I don't know if that means that they're sending it out today or that I should receive it today.  I'm hoping it will say that I am cleared without any limits.  Sometimes they'll put restrictions on where you can go based on your medical history, and I hope that I will avoid that.

That's all for now...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Still waiting...

I've been planning to start a blog and have been putting it off at the same time for a few years, ever since I decided that I wanted to join the Peace Corps.  Now that I have finally been medically qualified, I decided that I may actually be getting in, and thus it is safe to start my blog.  This has been my timeline, so far:

June, 2008: Decided that I wanted to join the Peace Corps with Colin, started application
February, 2010: Re-started Peace Corps application, to apply by myself
March 01, 2010: Submitted Application
March 22, 2010: Interviewed with my recruiter, James, at the NY Peace Corps Headquarters in NYC
March 22, 2010: Nominated by recruiter to Sub-Saharan Africa Health Extension Program to depart 02/2010.
June 25, 2010: Peace Corps received my medical kit after many co-pays, labs, and visits with my physician, dentist, and OB/GYN
November 05, 2010: After lots of waiting and no news, followed by panic regarding my medical status, Peace Corps notified me that I have finally been medically qualified.

Now, I am waiting to hear about my legal clearance (possibly some difficulty there because I am married and serving without my spouse and because my spouse has a government clearance), followed by placement and invitation.  Supposedly, invitations usually come between one and four months before the departure date.

In the mean time, I will continue to volunteer at AIDS Care in Rochester, read books about the Peace Corps, and be generally anxious about when I will hear more news from PC.