Archive | May, 2011

En Paraguay

28 May

I’m officially in Paraguay and living with my host family. Training in Miami was great. I could tell right away that my fellow volunteers and I would get along splendidly. Todos son fabulosos. They are all fabulous. There are 23 of us, and I think we all have what it takes to make it through this whole experience.

We traveled to Paraguay via Uruguay as there are no direct flights to Paraguay from the United States. Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay has a really cool airport, but we didn’t get to spend a lot of time in it since our flight from Miami was delayed almost 3 hours. I met this really cool couple on the plane that is moving to Montevideo to work at the US Embassy there. They were pretty rad young folks (the wife worked for Herb Kohl, of Wisconsin State Fair milk fame) and I have a standing invitation to visit them and their two cute kids in Montevideo if I’m in town (which is likely, as I’ve heard great things).

After arriving in country, they carted us off to a retreat center to spend the evening. It was really nice to have that time to relax and hang out with the other volunteers before training really got started the next day. I walked around looking for birds and fruit trees (and found plenty of both, a good sign). It’s the beginning of winter but the daytime temperatures are really nice, especially outside. It definitely cools  off at night though. I’m not sure showering in the morning is going to be all that fun once it gets colder.

Yesterday was a whirlwind. We started the day at our training center in Guarambare, a town about an hour from the capital. There we had to do a bunch of administrative stuff (get shots, get our photo taken etc) and do language and family placement interviews. They use these interviews to figure out which level of Spanish you need to be in and to match you to a family to live with during training.

After this whole day of stuff, we were split into two groups and driven out to the towns in which we’ll be living for the next 3 months. There I met Marta, my host mom. She’s a super cool lady who lives with her husband (Derlis), father (Angel) and two granddaughters (Jazmin and Maylen)  in a cool house near the school. I have the longest walk to the training center, but since I’m a big fan of walking, I’m pretty happy about it. I love my house. There is a huge yard full of flowers and fruit trees and there are animals all over (a ton of chickens, a rooster, two cats and a dog named Rocky Balboa).

My family is super sweet, though I’m constantly feeling overwhelmed by the language. I’m never sure if I’m a) not understanding the accent b) I’m missing a word or c) if they are speaking Guarani, the indigenous language. It’s mildly amusing to try to figure out. The two granddaughters are 6-year-old twins (gemelas) who are full of energy. They are adorable. It’s fun to practice Spanish with them. I have my own little room with a view of the garden. It’s great.

Today we started language training, and though I’m in a group that will be starting the indigenous language, Guarani, soon, I feel like I need a lot of review. I’m hoping my brain switches over soon. I had a little mishap with my alarm clock this morning, so I’m aware that when I freak out, my brain is definitely still thinking in English. We only have half days on Saturday and we get Sundays off to spend the day with our family, so hopefully I’ll get lots of Spanish practice in  this weekend. My only other thing on the agenda is learning how to do laundry. I’m quickly accumulating stuff and have no idea what to do with it. I’ll let you all know how that adventure goes.



My spring vacation

17 May
As most of you probably know, I quit my job in February to make a long overdue  move to Colorado, and to try to relax and enjoy life. Here’s a photo update of what I’ve actually been up to:

Moved in to my brother’s house
House in Larkspur

Hiked a bunch of local places
Palmer Lake Reservoir
Explored Colorado Springs
Amy waves from Garden of the Gods with Pike's Peak in background
Did touristy things in Denver
Standing on the mile high step at the Colorado State Capitol
Explored Charleston with my sister
Kristen at Drayton Hall plantation
Visited cool ruins in Beaufort
Ruins of Old Sheldon Church, Beaufort, South Carolina
Fell in love with Savannah
Live oaks at Wormsloe plantation
Returned to Arches
Double Arch at Arches National Park
Explored Canyonlands
View from Druid Arch, the Needles, Canyonlands
Checked out Capitol Reef
The Prius at Capitol Reef
Saw Natural Bridges
Sipapu Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument
Saw not-so-natural bridges
Hite Crossing Bridge in Glen Canyon
Snowshoed at Rocky Mountain National Park
Mountains near Nymph Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park
Went to a more castle-y castle
Mars Cheese Castle
Returned to some old conquests
Mount Elbert near Leadville
Climbed a giant sand dune
View from High Dune at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Biked Glenwood Canyon
Glenwood Canyon Bike Path
Went to an old timey amusement park
Ferris Wheel at Lakeside

Stopped to smell the flowersRomantic Garden at Denver Botanic Garden

Ate lots of pinkberryPinkberry

Cheered for the RockiesGirls at the Rockies Game

Check out all my adventures in my Flickr pool.

This is happening

17 May

In a week, I’ll be getting on a plane bound for Asunción, Paraguay to start life as a Peace Corps trainee. I’m currently doing all the last-minute things that need to be done when one leaves the country for 27 months: things to cancel, friends to see, places to go, tetris-like packing to do.

I figured I’d take a moment and think back on how I got to this point. Here is a bullet-point version (with random side comments) of what my Peace Corps timeline has looked like so far.

  • December 2009 – Attend Peace Corps info session in Chicago. Know immediately, this is for me. Think that by fall 2010 (oh foolish me) I’ll be somewhere far away doing something meaningful.
  • Christmas to New Year’s 2009 – Float the idea to some family and friends. Get lots of serious and some preposterous questions.
  • Early January 2010 – Start application and line up some people to give me recommendations. Order transcripts. Try to remember everything I’ve ever done because they seem to want me to document it all.
  • Mid-January 2010 – Submit application. Wait. Start sending friendly reminders to my references to get stuff back. Start wondering how many reminders it too many?
  • Early February 2010 – References submitted (yippee). Wait.
  • Late February 2010 – Get email from Chicago recruiter asking me to fill out more paperwork (More paperwork!? What info didn’t I provide on that insane application?). Fill out paperwork in record time and resubmit. Wait. Get scheduled for interview on St. Patrick’s Day at the Chicago office (one last look at the green river).
  • March 17, 2010 – Interview. Talk in an animated way, then sit awkwardly as the recruiter types verbatim what I’ve said. Get fingerprinted. Find out that my recent choice to go vegetarian means I get to fill out more paperwork (ugh). By end of interview  I’m being nominated for Central/South America (awesome) departing mid-February to mid-March 2011 (whoa, that’s not remotely anytime soon).
  • Early April 2010 – Get insane medical packet in the mail. Furiously make doctor, dentist and eye doctor appointments.
  • April 2010 – Get massive amounts of medical paperwork filled out. Watch 7 vials of blood leave my body and wonder why on earth they’d need that much. Try to track down old vaccination records (do not recommend). Get cavities filled (regret the long no-dentist run there in college). Get a second pair of glasses (required to have two). Wonder how on earth, despite the fact that I have insurance, this is costing me so much money.
  • Early May 2010 – Triple check all the forms and addendum, then mail back the medical packet. Start waiting again.
  • May to September 2010 – Obsessively check my email waiting for the Peace Corps to send me any “Application Status Updates” (aka emails that say you’ve moved along in the process or that they need something from you). Read blogs by other applicants in the same limbo land to make me feel better about not hearing back. Try not to get annoyed when people ask “Have you heard yet?”
  • Mid-September 2010 – Application status update. Evidently my doctor’s office didn’t include “reference ranges” on some of the test results. Have no idea what this means, but frantically make phone calls, send faxes and get this ironed out in a few hours time.
  • Early October 2010 – Clear medical! Thrilled. Clearly this screws with my head, leaving me to think that things will coast along at this point (oh foolish me).
  • October to December 2010 – Wait. Compulsively check email. Try really hard to be patient. Start realizing that I’m probably not leaving in February (oh realism, about time you showed up).
  • Week after Christmas 2010 – Get contacted by placement office in DC asking when I can set up a phone interview. Try to make the response “as soon as humanly possible” not sound desperately pathetic.
  • December 29, 2010 – Phone interview with truly awesome woman in the national office. Hear about her experience. Feel really great throughout the interview. At end of conversation, she tells me that I’m being offered an invitation departing for Central/South America in May 2011. Jump up and down. Call a few people at a stupid hour in the morning to share. Freak out. Calm down and realize the final wait is probably going to be the worst.
    • So Peace Corps is mildly cruel in that they just tell you you’re invited and you have to wait for the actual physical invite to come in the mail to figure out exactly where you are going, when you’re leaving, and what you’ll be doing. At this point you psychotically check Peace Corps wiki to guess which country you might be invited to. You go check blogs to see how long the mail took for other people to get. I figure I’m going to have to wait at least a week to get my invite.
  • New Year’s Eve 2010 – Go on fun adventures in Chicago with a friend, only to get the phone call from my Mom saying the envelope is on the doorstep (of course). I give her permission to open it, as long as she does it neatly so I can open it again when I get home (I’m sort of crazy like that). It’s Paraguay, May 25th departure (woohoo)! Jump up and down inside Macy’s on State Street. Get strange looks from passersby. Go home, rip packet open and read it cover to cover (which takes a very long time). Evaluate (I have 10 days to accept my invitation). Type my acceptance e-mail. Breathe huge sigh of relief.
  • February 2011 – Quit my job, move to Colorado and plan to enjoy life until May 25.
  • March 2011 – Get contacted by Peace Corps telling me my dental clearance (already done) was only valid for one year (mine will expire like a week before I’m scheduled to depart). Mildly freak out. Wonder why no one mentioned this to me when I still had insurance in January or February. Make more dental appointments. Frown at money leaving my bank account. Mail back dental stuff by end of April. Decide to not breathe huge sigh of relief, as perhaps they’ll be asking for more stuff again.
  • April to May 2011 – Brush up on Spanish, start getting together everything on the packing list, spend quality time with people I love. Get booked on a flight to Miami for May 24th for pre-departure stuff. Decide I should probably get the blog I’ve been talking about doing actually up.

So here we are. Blog started. New adventures on the horizon.