First three months in Ethiopia!

You are currently reading my first blog post as an official Peace Corps Volunteer – congratulations to you (and me)! Now, you may be asking yourself what this whole “official volunteer” business is about since I left America to start volunteering in Ethiopia three months ago (exactly three months from the day I wrote this blog entry… who knows when I will actually get to post it… IT TOOK NEARLY A MONTH TO POST!). The truth is, for the last three months I have only been an official Peace Corps TRAINEE. The first three months in any Peace Corps country are called Pre-Service Training (PST) and you must complete this to be sworn in as a volunteer. PST consists of some pretty intense language classes, technical training on our job sectors, and Peace Corps policy training… all while living with a host family. I can assure you this time period of my life was no joke! It is often said that Pre-Service Training is the hardest part about Peace Corps and I can definitely see why. For me, PST felt like three months of culture shock and constantly trying to stay on top of my own game.

Pre-service training for my group of Ethiopian volunteers, G10, was spent in a town called Butajira. We were the second group of three groups that will train in this town. Because there was a group of volunteers in town only 5 or 6 months before us the locals were definitely accustomed to seeing ferenji (foreigners) around. A day didn’t pass by that I wasn’t called out to, high fived, or followed for blocks. No hiding in that town!

Each of us lived with a host family that showed us Ethiopian culture and traditions. Some host families had had volunteers from the previous group but mine happened to be a first-time host family. I lived with my host mom T’sgereda (31), two sisters Aiden (7) and Emily (2), and brother Etan (5). My host dad worked at an NGO in the capital and came home about once a month during my stay there. The first time I saw my house I was shocked! My compound was huge with multiple houses and an impressive amount of trees and plants. I’m not going to lie – when moving to Ethiopia I thought my house would be a small mud house surrounded by dry grass. I was obviously wrong.  My house was definitely more modern than I had expected. We had electricity and an extremely cold shower (running water is running water and I will not complain about that). There was carpet in the living room and an electric stovetop in the kitchen. Ethiopia is definitely one of the harder Peace Corps countries but living in Butajira was not too shabby.

My house is on the left and my classroom is the green building on the right

My bedroom

My bedroom

My host family

We had monkeys!

One thing about PST that is very different from actual service is that our day-to-day life is scheduled hour by hour. Monday – Friday I had full days of 8 am – 5:30 pm language classes and technical trainings. Some days could even be up to 6 hours of language (this were my worst days). By the end of the day I was always ready for dinner, a shower, and going straight to bed. Saturdays were half a day of language class and a test on the week’s material. Sundays were free for us to do what we pleased but because the week was so full I often spent these days catching up on e-mails and hand washing my laundry in the yard. But with the hectic schedule comes some of the most exciting moments you will experience while in country.

Jeannie and Jeff - my only two classmates

Jeannie and Jeff – my only two classmates

My classroom for language

My classroom for language

In May we got the pleasure of “site announcement”! Site announcement is like Christmas for PC trainees. The staff puts on a ceremony where we each find out where our homes will be for the next 27 months. One by one our names are pulled out of a hat and we go to a map of Ethiopia and pin our faces over our towns. There are four regions that we can be sent to throughout Ethiopia. Those who learn Tigrigna language go to Tigray, Afan Oromo to Oromia, and Amharic speakers end up going to either Amhara or Southern Nations. My name wasn’t called for Amhara so I assumed I would be going to Southern Nations… yet again, I was wrong (I’m learning to never assume anything about Ethiopia). When my name was called for Oromia I’m pretty sure I had a look of straight confusion. My town was chosen for me because the working language is supposed to be Amharic. I quickly learned during site visit that that is not 100% true.

The Oromia region group

Pinning my picture on the map

After site announcement we were sent on site visit – a 4 or 5 day stay in your town, guided by your community liaison. When I first arrived in my town I was overwhelmed by the fact that it was nearly a 9 hour bus ride from Addis, the amount of dirt and mud that covered everything, and that the majority of the town speaks Afan Oromo and I do not. I was scared to death for what the next two years will hold for me! My first full day was spent with my community liaison visiting all the important sites around town – the health centers, schools, health office (where I will work), police station, post office, hospital, and most important – my house! The rest of my stay was spent with my site mate, Delia. I think I can say hands down I have the best site mate out of all of Peace Corps. Visiting site was hugely emotionally overwhelming and Delia somehow managed to make everything fall into place. She made sure I had food to eat, visited everything Peace Corps instructed me to, and made sure I felt safe at any given moment. I tagged along to her classes and was absolutely astonished by the amount of respect she had in town. By the end of my visit she had realizing that although the town may not be the prettiest or cleanest on the outside, underneath the surface is a town filled with brilliant and caring people.

My house is on the left

My house is on the left

The compound of my office - which is shared with a finance building and Ethiopian "Red Cross"

The compound of my office – which is shared with a finance building and Ethiopian “Red Cross”

In April the health trainees took a trip to Ambo and the environment trainees went to Awash Park. Our trip to Ambo was half pleasure and half business. We visited the hospital and a few health offices. I was extremely impressed with an office for people with disabilities that one of the Ambo volunteers works with. Having plenty of experience with the Office of Disabilities back home I was glad to see the office in Ambo fought extremely hard for people with disabilities and offered incredible resources. Thanks to this office I’m hoping to find something similar around my town to work with. For our recreational portion of the trip we hiked down a mountain to a crater lake called Wonchi Lake. This was probably the most beautiful thing I have seen in Ethiopia. It felt like I was right back in Oregon. Unfortunately my photos of the trip got deleted so I am borrowing some from my friend Caitlin.

Wonchi Lake

Wonchi Lake

Playing soccer

Playing soccer

Holly, me, Melanie, Jeannie, Caitlin on top of the lake

Holly, me, Melanie, Jeannie, Caitlin on top of the lake

April consisted of Camp Glow. Our entire training group was split into four teams and given about a month and half to plan camps for children in Butajira. Camp Glow is becoming a Peace Corps wide event and we were lucky to do sort of a trial run during PST. We were given budgets and lesson topics to follow and were told to create a one and a half day camp. We incorporated lessons and games on HIV/AIDS, Water and Sanitation hygiene, Malaria, gender roles, and peer pressure. The point of camp was to give these kids the tools they need to be leaders and role models on the topics we taught. To make being a leader more appealing to the kids we created the theme of “Be Healthy. Be Heroes.” and had an awesome super hero theme. The planning was crazy and stressful but we pulled through in the end with an amazing program. I am going to toot my own horn and say my group definitely had the best camp.

The red group were my lovelies

The red group were my lovelies

Our Camp Glow kids

Our Camp Glow kids

May 2nd marked the end of PST with swearing in at the US embassy in Addis as an official Peace Corps Volunteers. This is the moment that we all worked so hard toward! I’d like to start off by saying that the US embassy is incredibly beautiful. It was like a little piece of heaven in the middle of one of Ethiopia. Of course, being from Portland my heaven involves lots of rain and there was no shortage of rain that day. During the actual ceremony and reception it poured. I felt horrible for the speakers because their tent started to leak on them… which probably made the ceremony go a little faster. The ceremony was actually quite nice. Our country director, Greg Engle, opened the ceremony and then our training manager, Tesfaye Ejigu, gave remarks. Following Tesfaye were three trainees who gave speeches in the language they learned. The U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Patricia Haslach, also spoke. I would like to point out that I was incredibly honored to be in Madam Ambassador’s presence because we come from the same town in the states! After we received our certificates we were fed delicious finger foods and refreshments – PC was very smart to put volunteers (that’s me now!) at the end of the line because they knew we had just spent three months eating overwhelming amounts of injera.

Two of my favorite volunteers - Sue and Ernie

Two of my favorite volunteers – Sue and Ernie

My two other language teachers

My two other language teachers

Jeanie and I

Jeanie and I

My swearing in moment with my Peace Corps heads and the US Ethiopian Ambassador

My swearing in moment with my Peace Corps heads and the US Ethiopian Ambassador

My language group - Jeff, me, Jeanie, and our teacher Tekalyn

My language group – Jeff, me, Jeanie, and our teacher Tekalyn

So there you have it – the glorious events of my Pre-Service Training. Of course there are plenty of other experiences I’d like to talk about – shint bets, the dangers of food you can’t pronounce, cultural confusion fiascos – but I’ll save those for another post and keep the focus of this one on the important events that truly make up PST.

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20 Do’s and Don’ts of PST

training

1. DO EMBRACE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION – JUST REMEMBER TO WEAR YOUR REQUIRED HELMET

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2. DON’T BE ASHAMED IF YOU NEED A LITTLE COMPANIONSHIP

Don't be ashamed if you need a little companionship

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3. DO BRING DUCT TAPE… FOR EVERYTHING

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4. DON’T JUDGE YOUR TOWN BY THE OUTSIDE

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5. DO EXPECT TO GET SICK FROM THE FOOD

Do expect to get sick from the local food... sometimes daily

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6. DON’T QUESTION THE SAFETY AND SECURITY TEAM WHEN THEY GIVE YOU THE MAP OF OFF LIMIT AREAS
(WHICH IS BASICALLY THE ENTIRE MAP)

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7. DO EXPECT TO HEAR EVERY AMERICAN STEREOTYPE TO EVER EXIST

Do expect to hear every American stereotype

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8. DON’T LOSE YOU PST SCHEDULE PACKET.

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9. DO FEEL YOU HAVE THE RIGHT REFUSE HUGS FROM STRANGERS (WHICH IS EVERYONE)

Do feel you have the right to refuse hugs from strangers (which is everyone)

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10. DON’T ADD SALT TO YOUR FOOD… YOUR HOST MOM ALREADY ADDED THE ENTIRE BOX

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11. DO LOCK YOUR HOST FAMILY ROOM AND LUGGAGE AT ALL TIMES

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12. DON’T GO ON SITE VISIT WITHOUT A PREPARED SPEECH FOR WHEN EVERYONE IN TOWN ASKS HOW YOU WILL HELP THEM

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13. DO FIND THE CLOSEST AMERICAN MARKET

Do find the one American market

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14. DON’T LOG ONTO FACEBOOK DURING THOSE ROUGH DAYS OF TRAINING… YOU ARE SETTING YOURSELF UP FOR DISAPPOINTMENT

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15. DO REMEMBER YOU ARE THE ONE IN A NEW CULTURE

Do remember you are in another culture and things will be different

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16. DON’T LOSE IT WHEN SOMEONE REFUSES TO ACCEPT YOUR CHOICE OF RELIGION

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17. DO SMILE THE ENTIRE FIRST NIGHT AT YOUR HOST FAMILY’S  HOUSE… NO MATTER HOW AWKWARD IT IS
Do smile the entire time during your first night at your host family home

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18. DON’T SPEND ALL YOUR TRAINING ALLOWANCE ON BEER

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19. DO TAKE COMPLIMENTS FROM THE LOCALS EVEN IF THEY DON’T MAKE SENSE

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20. DON’T GET DOWN ON YOURSELF JUST BECAUSE THINGS AREN’T GOING AS PLANNED – EMBRACE THE CHALLENGES

Demystification.

demyst

My first couple of days in Ethiopia were spent safely behind the walls of a nicer than expected hotel in Addis Ababa. At the end of our first week all 63 of us were split into small groups and sent on a “demystification” to existing volunteers sites in order to get a feel of what we could experience over the next two years. My group consisted of three other girls – Tayler, Alonne, and Caitlin, and our mentor, Alyssa. We flew to Tigray, a northern region of Ethiopia, and stayed with a married couple, Daniel and Lauren, Danielle, and Daniel couldn’t have been any more hospitable. We were given beds to sleep on and home cooked meals – I honestly expected to be sleeping on the hard, cold floor with a blanket thrown over me and eating only injera and gomen (cabbage). We had a hot shower (which I proudly didn’t use) and a western toilet. Along with the fancy schmancy modern convinces came three bedrooms, a hallway, an Ethiopian kitchen, and a living room as big as mine in the states. When I think of a volunteer living situation the D&D house is definitely not what I imagine. Not all volunteers live like this, though. Lauren lives on a someone else’s compound and has one room that serves as her living room, bedroom, and kitchen. Her shint bet (bathroom) is traditionally Ethiopian and is in a separate area from her room. Not as elaborate as D&D but still something she made her own and can call home. This is much more the common ground for volunteer living – basic and Ethiopian.Danielle (could we just discuss how cute it is they have matching names?). We shadowed a current health volunteer, Lauren, who lives and works in Adwa. This was our first real experience of Ethiopia – it was meant to show us a glimpse of volunteer life but I believe it was really to get us hyped up so we wouldn’t be scared off during the three months of training and contemplate going home.

Market Day

On our first day in town it was “market day”. I had heard about market days from reading various blogs and knew this was a big event. We walked to the market and I was immediately overwhelmed by the environment. We have outside markets back in the states but they don’t even compare to this. The crowds filled the streets – making it difficult to distinguish who was trying to sell you something and who wanted something from you. Being a ferenji (foreigner), all eyes were on us. Herds of children followed us as we scanned the fragrant spices and fresh vegetables. While the children were curious, grown adults grabbed our arms to ask for money. This was my first real experience being the center of attention in Ethiopia and I can tell you it encouraged me to seek out every possible way to fit in. Market day was clearly overwhelming. As the long weekend went on things slowed down a bit. We were still the center of attention but learned to respond to the unwanted gestures.  A couple days later we shadowed Lauren to a few places she works. We were given a tour of the health center Lauren works at. She explained that there will be times when no work is available, like her situation, and encouraged us to be proactive by getting to know the people in your building and finding a project that needs your skills. After the health office we visited the orphanage she works at. I was amazed at how children who have so little could be so happy.

Our first bajaj ride

Basically the entire experience of demystification was insanely positive. The current volunteers we met were so active and engaged with their community. It’s obvious that the work will be both challenging and rewarding. As soon as I heard I would be visiting Tigray I knew I was in for a treat. My boss from the states, Semhal, is from Tigray and had told me stories about growing up there. I was so excited to finally be able to put a picture to the stories. Luck must have been on my side though because upon leaving for the region I wrote Semhal to tell her where I’d be visiting and it just so happens I would be staying in the town her father is from, Adwa. Adwa is right next to Axum – where the ark of the covenant is believed to be. This is a major tourist area so Danielle, and Lauren took us to all the sites – the Ark of the Covenant, the obelisks, and Queen of Sheeba’s Bath. These were all on my list of things to see before I even departed for Ethiopia so I was thrilled to check these off my list within the first two weeks!

Caitlin, Alonee, Tayler, Me, Alyssa at our first Ethiopian toilet

Caitlin, Alonee, Tayler, Me, Alyssa at our first Ethiopian toilet

The Chapel of the Tablet - the secret hiding place of the ark

The Chapel of the Tablet – the secret hiding place of the ark

Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion

Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion

Bell tower view

Bell tower view

Obelisks

Obelisks

 Great Stele, believed to have fallen and broken during construction.

Great Stele, believed to have fallen and broken during construction.

Tombs

Tombs

Queen of Sheeba Bath

Queen of Sheeba Bath

 

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If you have any topics or questions  you’d like me to cover before I leave or while in Ethiopia please leave let me know in the comments.

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2 Week Countdown

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Flowers that beautiful ^ deserve over that top sized photos. They are a lovely parting gift from the wonderful marketing team at Legacy Health. Why the parting gift? Because it’s time for me to say goodbye to all my commitments and make my final preparations for Ethiopia. We’ve hit the two week mark!

flag

I have two weeks to pack my bags and hit the road. In my mind it still feels like it’s months away. It’s taken so long to get to this point that it still doesn’t feel real. I’m still waiting for that moment where I’m doing something completely mundane, such as brushing my teeth or checking the mail, and I have a complete moment of shock as I realize this is all actually happening.

This week was filled with goodbyes as I ordered my last cup of earl grey from my favorite coffee shop and tipped my favorite bartender one last time until 2016. I thought saying goodbye would be the key to make this all seem real, yet I’m still sitting here twiddling my thumbs . I’m starting to think it will only feel real when I hug my family goodbye and let TSA do a “virtual strip search” of my body in the airport security line (Dear TSA, could you not?). Though the one thing I did get from all those final coffees and drinks with my lovely friends was a feeling that I will never be not loved… no matter how lonely I may get at times dying of heat in Africa.

So here’s to my two final weeks of American food, sleeping in my own bed, and hugs and kisses goodbye.

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If you have any topics or questions  you’d like me to cover before I leave or while in Ethiopia please leave let me know in the comments.

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“You can’t just ask people that!” Oh, you can.

Tick… Tock…

Take off for Ethiopia is right around the corner and people are buzzing with curiosity about where I’m going, what I’ll be doing, and how I will possibly deal with living outside my comfort zone (come on people, have some faith in me!). Basically, I’ve been having conversations like below on the daily.

Okay, it only feels like that some times.

The point is – I’m getting lots of questions. All sorts of questions. Some are sincere. Some are humorous. And some just make me scratch my head and wonder if any thought was given before opening their mouths (Thank you, Karen Smith of Mean girls). But he questions I enjoy answering the most are the ones people are scared or embarrassed to ask but muster up the courage to do so anyway – curiosity did NOT kill the cat.

I thought I would share with you the top reoccurring “awkward” questions people have asked me – because maybe you’ve been wondering too. Or maybe you haven’t. Either way here they are!

*Quick disclaimer: I don’t look down on ANYONE who has asked any of these questions. I’m a shy person, it used to take a lot of mental prep just to raise my hand in class to ask a question. So anyone who is able to speak their mind and welcome an honest response, kudos to you. Thanks for asking!

  1. “Are you scared to go to the Middle East?”
    I get this question a lot and I always answer the question, “Maybe if I were going to the Middle East” *Inset playful smile*, and then explain that although Ethiopia is close to the area, it is in fact part of Africa. I love geography but there are honestly a few countries I couldn’t locate on a map to save my life (sorry, Tuvalu) so I’m I’m not too hard on these people. This question always makes me giggle, unless they insist it’s in the Middle East. *I wouldn’t be scared to go to the Middle east.
  2. “Aren’t you scared of getting AIDS?”
    Okay, this one I pass a little judgement on. If you think everyone in Africa has AIDS or I will contract aids just by being around someone who has it, shame on you. Are you not aware of the AIDS population in the states? Are you not aware you can’t get it by breathing the same air? This question bothers me a lot. But if you’re asking because you think that I will be working one-on-one with AIDS patients, performing procedures and using needles, I have a little more forgiveness. I will not be assisting people in this way. I’ve worked with HIV and AIDS patients before and know the safety procedures – I’m not scared in the slightest. At a later date I will share more about what I will be doing.
  3. “Will being overweight make things harder?”
    It’s okay to ask – after all, I asked about weight discrimination in my application interview. Keep in mind that someone’s weight isn’t a taboo topic in much of the world like it is in the states. Also keep in mind that I am going to a country where the general population is very thin and tall, two things I am not. Even someone who is average will experience some weight discrimination.  But it is no secret it will definitely make some aspects of the experience harder. It will make the heat more difficult to handle. Clothing will definitely be harder to find. And I probably will be told I’m fat quite often (I’m thinking probably more as a statement, hopefully not an intended insult). These aren’t new occurrences to me, it happens in the states as well. I know that my weight does not define me as a person. I eat pretty healthy. I exercise daily. I can do a full days work on my feet. I’m not too concerned it will hinder my ability to perform in Ethiopia.
  4. “Will you have to poop in a hole”
    Yes. It’s more common across the world than you would think. There’s scientific studies to show it’s a healthier position for your body rather than sitting. I hear you get used to it. It will eventually become the norm for me. But who knows if I’ll ever prefer it over a Western style toilet, some say you will! If anything, I’ll get great leg muscles out of the experience.
  5. “Couldn’t they have sent you some place nice?!”
    If by nice you mean Paris, no. If by nice you mean a tropical island, yes. I could have ended up somewhere on a beach with a grass hut and hammock to lay in the sun. I could have ended up in Eastern Europe and traveled to a new country every weekend to explore famous castles. These placements DO exist and are often referred to as the “Posh Corps”. However, just like any placement, they have their down sides. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have enjoyed a placement like that, but I honestly wanted to go to Africa. Eastern Europe was at the top of my list too but Africa was #1. I wanted to go some place I honestly felt like I would have had a harder time making it to later on in life. I wanted to go to a country that would give me the most unique experience compared to where life has already taken me.

So there you have it – the most common awkward questions I get asked. Like I said, they don’t bother me. What does bother me is when someone makes a statement, not a question, that is just rude, disrespectful, and closed minded towards me, Ethiopia, or the Peace Corps. And I get plenty of these.

If you have any questions about the Peace Corps, my experience, or Ethiopia feel free to ask in the comments. Or if you experience any of these questions yourself let me know.

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Where are you from?

Tangled

I have thousands of views from over 100 countries and I honestly cannot figure out how all of you are finding Ethiopia Catalog… but I’m glad you are.

The point of this blog is not the broad at all – the Peace Corps (somewhat general) in Ethiopia (specific). I am assuming that the majority of views came from searching terms about the Peace Corps – “peace corps time line”, “peace corps interview”. I can’t imagine many came from searching “Ethiopia”. I never would have guessed someone outside of the Peace Corps (or connected to it by “5 degrees of separation”) would bother to read my unorganized rants on the subject but it turns out there’s hundreds of people out there who are! The Peace Corps currently serves in 65 countries, how did the other 60 countries come across me?!

My stats page shows a good chunk of views come from Facebook and Reddit – those are for the most part easy to trace. But I cannot figure out for the life of me where everyone else is coming from.

If you’ve happen to come across this post let me know how you found Ethiopia Catalog.
Tell me what or who brought you here. Was it Facebook? Reddit? Someone else’s blog? An accident?
Where are you from?
Is there anything you’d like me to write about?
What’s one country you’ve visited and loved or dream of going to? I’d like to know that.

If you’ve liked my blog you can sign up for e-mail updates every time I write something (which isn’t too often, but good when it is). Thank you for reading – I write mainly for myself but find a great amount of happiness that someone else cares too.

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Real vs Imaginary Numbers

Time is very slow for those who wait;
very fast for those who are scared;
very long for those who lament;
very short for those who celebrate;
but for those who love, time is eternal.

– William Shakespeare

^ Word, Shakespeare

In exactly two months I will being my Peace Corps journey towards Ethiopia.

February 10, 2014 – February 11, 2014: Staging
February 12, 2014 – April 23, 2014: Pre-service Training
April 24, 2014 – April 24, 2016: Service

If you’ve ever met me, or even talked to me, you know very well that I am a planner. I have no greater joy than making lists and physically crossing tasks off one by one. I thrive for the feeling of accomplishment and knowing that something is taken care of and where it belongs. With that knowledge, you can imagine the hardest part of this experience so far has been not having control over anything – not where I am going, not when I depart, not what I do.

The fact that in exactly two months I will be boarding an unknown flight, at an unknown time, to an unknown destination should have my skin crawling with anxiety. To an extent, it is – I would very much like to know where I will spend those two days of staging, how exactly I will get there, and what/who will I be encountering. The fact that after those two days I will live in a third world country, for 27 months, on my own, not having the slightest clue of what to expect should be killing me. Honestly, it isn’t.

In exactly two months I will be thrown into an entirely new world. “Two months” seems both imaginary and real. At this point, I am neither overly frightened nor overly excited. I am simply at peace with the fact that it will happen.

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