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.