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.