Justin's Adventures Through the Looking Glass

The story of my experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I should note that the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They do not represent those of the U.S government or those of the U.S. Peace Corps. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Real World Tanzania

I'm finally here. All the long wait and paperwork was totally worth it. I'm here in Tanzania with 40 other trainees. We're all education volunteers here to teach various subjects. I'll be bio, others will do Chemistry, Physics, Math, and IT. Right now I'm in Morogoro with the rest of the trainees living with a host family. I have a new Mama and several new kaka and dada (brothers and sisters). I like my host family. We can't communicate all that well as I speak little Kiswahili and they know little English, but we work things out. The food here is very tasty, though lacking in much variety. I think I've had wali with most meals here. I have to use a pit toilet. But it is a very nice and clean pit tiolet. The animals here can get pretty loud at night. The dogs really go after each other and then the roosters start at 3am instead of sunrise. Go figure.

The language is very beautiful and very difficult. I'm looking forward to when I become more fluent in it. But I'm just glad I don't have to teach in Kiswahili. My first subjects will be on human reproduction and sexuality. Which should be pretty interesting. All I can say is that I hope that the students ask questions. I'm not going to answer any question pretaining to my own sexuality, but I'll be open with sexuality in America in general. I start teaching them next week so I'll update you later on that front.

But Tanzania is just so amazing. The people and land are just so beautiful and welcoming. Here in Morogoro we have an amazing moutain range that overlooks town. I can't describe how much I love it. I'll have to find some way of uploading pictures one of these days so I can show you a part of what I experience. Not only are the locals great, but my fellow PCVs and PCTs are all great people. I truly believe that the people in the Peace Corps represent the best of America. I gotta run soon. These internet cafes are useful but time always runs out. Tutaonana baadaye!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Well, the time is almost here. Come Monday, I'll be in Philly for staging. Right now, I've just finished six hours of packing. I know it might sound like a lot of packing, but in reality, there wasn't a whole lot to pack. The reason it takes so long is because you have to pack smartly. You can't pack for the Peace Corps in an hour. We have weight and dimension restrictions that have to be met. We're allowed two checked bags and one carry-on. The checked bags together have to weigh no more than 80lbs and each bag can't exceed 62in of linear dimentions (length + width + height). This results in a lot of shifting and forced condensing of our luggage. It's hard work. Now all I have left to do is print out the photos I'm going to take and pack my carry-on bag.

Yesterday, I spent most of the day up at UMBC meeting up with a bunch of friends that are still there. I was pretty lucky in running into a lot of people that I didn't really expect to. Like my old roommate from my Junior year, and two of the other RAs from last year that graduated with me (which was pretty cool). All-in-all, I got to talk to everyone that I wanted to.

A little over 24 hours before staging and I'm still not feeling the nerves that I expected to. I'm pretty excited to meet my fellow volunteers and finally fly over to Africa. But I'm not as nervous as my friends said they'd be in my situation. But I guess that's a good thing. Yay! I'm going to Africa!!!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Some New Info...

Well I've finally received my staging packet. I'm almost on my way to Tanzania. Twenty-five days left in fact (September 18th). Twenty Twenty-seven days left in the States. My staging will be held in Philly. At staging, all the other volunteers in my training group will meet up for the first time, fill out paperwork, and begin our orientation into the Peace Corps. Since it's in Philly, it really is pointless for me to fly there. I think my parents are planning on taking me up there themselves on their way to pick up the Delorian in New York.

Right now I'm still pretty excited about everything. I'm sure that once I've unloaded my bags from the car at the hotel I'll be a little timid...But I'm going to F...ing Africa!!! Come on! That's just...Awesome!

I've still got some items to buy and a lot of packing to do. I got my Power of Attorney and most of my finacial business dealt with. I'm still waiting for the scholarship people to get back to me with the deferment forms. I told them about my departure a month ago. It souldn't take this long...sigh...I'm gonna miss everyone!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Isn't It Strange How Relative Time Is?

June passed by in a blur. From my birthday to Independance Day seems to have only lasted two weeks. Here I am three weeks later and I feel like July's length has doubled. I'm sure it's because I know I'll be serving in the Peace Corps. I still have less than two months before I ship out. I kinda want to be at staging already (cause then things'll start rolling) but I still kinda want to stay here a little longer before I have to leave. I dunno, but I guess things will work out in the end.

I've officially accepted my invitation and have sent out my applications for a Government Passport (my personal one isn't good enough for some reason) and for a Tanzanian visa. I've also started learning Kiswahili (the more correct term for Swahili). The Volunteer handbook they sent me was kind of duh duh. Nothing new there except a good checklist and timeline sheet to help stay organized before departure. The Tanzanian Welcome Book had more interesting information about my host country; its culture, people, geography, history, and government. I also enjoyed the section on the cross cultural experiences for different groups of Americans. They had a section for female volunteers, older couples, volunteers from minority groups, and even us gays. But those two sources are all good and proper, but very limited in scope.

I've learned much more about my host country from my correspondence with a current PCV in Tanzania. I found him...well I guess to be more accurate, he found me. I posted my invitation on the lgbtafrica yahoo group and he responded answering many of my questions. It's usually a week between emails, but considering in the middle of Africa I think that's pretty good. He's been a great help, but his term of service ends in November and it seems (according to him) unlikely that we'll ever meet in person. That'll suck, but apparently there is a lot of support from the other volunteers so it's not so bad.

I'm so excited!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A New Address!

I finally received an invitation to serve in the Peace Corps! In fact, my prediction about my probable site was 100% accurate.

I mentioned the phone conversation with my Placement Officer in the last post and that she was going to look at my file more and call back about possible placements with me. As with most of my communications with the Peace Corps, that wasn't what happened. I randomly check my email two days after the phone interview and see that my PC account had been updated. I login to find out what's happened and it tells me my invitation has been mailed out! The bad news; it would arrive after I left for PA to help a friend and be an actor in their independant film (while I refuse to see how much of a fool I was, if you want to watch it, it is titled Armageddon Confession). When I got back, I had about four hours to look through my invitation before I had to leave again to go visit my grandparents.

But finally after all that, I finally have time to tell everyone where and what I'll be doing for the next two years. I am invited to serve as a Secondary Science teacher in the East African nation of Tanzania and leaving for staging on September 18th (don't yet know where though). I've got a lot of final paperwork (passport, visa, etc.) to fill out and get sent out before hand. But right now, I'm just excited to finally know!

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Adventures of Rocky and Bulwinkle

When we last left our hero, he was left hanging perilously on a cliff over the Seas of the Unknown having clearing himself safely away from the Dental shark , Legal Man-O-War, and Medical Kraken. Boris the recruiter had lured our into these dangerous waters with encouraging words and playing into his sense of adventure. When our hero arrived, he found things to be different than expected. Caught up in these stormy unknown seas, struggling against the unknown, he kept being distracted by Natasha, the PO's questions about motivation and devotion to service.

Now...off in the distance. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? NO! It's a squirrel! It's Rocky to the rescue, and it appears as if he's carrying some sort of communique. What lies instore for our beloved hero? Find out next time on The Adventures of Rocky and Bulwinkle.


For a clearer picture:

"Peace Corps sent you an invitation kit on June 29, 2006. Within 10 days of receiving your kit, please call us regarding your decision to accept or decline our invitation. If we do not hear from you within this period, the assignment may be offered to another applicant."

Thursday, June 29, 2006

"Your account is currently under review"

As you can tell by the title, I've moved another step forward in my PC adventure. This began yesterday when I received a phone call shortly after lunch. It was a PC Placement Officer looking to ask me a couple questions about my expectaions, fears, etc. She started off by asking why I decided to join PC. So I started off mentioning things like adventure, seeking other cultures, learning a language, etc; basically my initial reasons for applying. Then I went on to talk about living amongst the people I'd be going to serve so as to find exactly what they need and focus my efforts to give them what they really need instead of just throwing money at them hoping that would solve their problems. She seems quite relieved when I mentioned this aspect of my motivation. It seems that she was a little worried by my motivation statement and the things my recruiter wrote after our interview because they were both missing the service aspect of being a PC volunteer. And looking back I realized that I, in fact, had not mentioned service in either instances. It wasn't just a simple overlook on my part. I was being completely honest in those communications. You see, the reasons mentioned in the statement and interview were the things that initially attracted me to the PC. It wasn't until I started to do more extensive research into the PC; it's mission and goals, and volunteer experiences, that the PC service bacame a part of my aims.

The Placement Officer continued onto subjects like what do I think would be the toughest aspect of PC service and about how I'd cope without the day to day ammenities that we have in this country. The latter was easy to answer. I had the most day/nights of camping of everyone in my patrol in scouting and I'd been the cook for my patrol for just as long. If I can make a meal with some of the things I've had to work with and with the tools I had to use, I think I could adjust to not having a fridge. With the first question, I didn't really discuss all the things that worried me. I mentioned the learning of language (and not feeling like an idiot when I make a mistake), the difference in culture, and being away from people I know. All very valid concerns, however, I refraimed from mentioning the fact that I'll have to lie to the people I'd be living with. Why would I have to lie, the same reason I lied to everyone here for a good portion of my life. Not only will I be lying by ommition, I'm planning on making up a girlfriend a thousand miles away, just so I won't be asked everyday why I don't have a girlfriend and be set up with every available bride in town by the time I leave.

In the end, she seemed satisfied with my answers and told me she'll being reviewing my file and call back sometime next week with either more questions or possible programs to discuss with me. So I'm looking forward to next week!