Dinner & Drinks & A Bag of Rice

22 May

This past weekend, two of my girlfriends and I made the five hour trip to Orlando to meet up (and say good-bye to) Angela, Evelyn, Aneesha, Jazzy and Ty, whom I hadn’t seen in a while.  It was a last minute decision to go, since I’m kind of strapped for cash, but I’m glad I did.  You can’t put a price on great memories with wonderful friends!

We spent most of the weekend lounging around  and catching up, with the exception of Saturday night when we mustered enough energy to get dolled up for dinner and drinks downtown.

just like the old days.

In unrelated news, my Blackberry is currently sitting in a bag of rice.  On my way to Wal-Mart earlier today, I was caught in the middle of a torrential downpour.  Even though the phone was in my pocket as I ran into the store, somehow it managed to get soaked and now the keyboard isn’t working. I knew there would come a point when I’d have to detach from my Babyberry, but this is not what I envisioned!

I’m hoping the let-it-dry-in-rice trick works…or the next two weeks are going to be a little complicated.

please work?


Did I miss the memo?

16 May

I must have missed the memo/blog post/handout/book that talks about how nerve-wracking the weeks before staging are.  Everything I’ve read focuses on your experience once you arrive in your new country. No one seems to talk about the anxiety or nervousness associated with detaching from your life.

“You must be so0000 excited!” – Everyone

I am!

But also…kinda freaked out.  Since I stopped working a few days ago, the reality of my departure reallyyy started sinking in. I’m seriously leaving for 27 months. What will the life I left behind be like without me?  What does my new life have in store?   Then I realized–I need to relax and enjoy the present moment here and now.

So I’ve been spending lots of time doing the things that make me happy:

spoiling princess gia.

trips to the park with gracie.

Other fun things I’ve been doing in between packing:

  • hitting the gym every day
  • meeting friends for lunch
  • looking for the best deals on sleeping bags and mp3 players



10 May

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark. In the hopeless swamps of the not quite, the not yet, and the not at all, do not let the hero in your soul perish and leave only frustration for the life you deserved, but never have been able to reach. The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is posisble, it is yours.”

Ayn Rand

Today was my last day at work.  My company is closing, coincidently around the same time I’m leaving, so this actually gives me the next two weeks to get all my ducks in a row before staging. As I cleaned out my desk, I came across this Ayn Rand quote I taped next to my computer screen. Every time I read it, it made me wonder– what do you really want out of life, and more importantly,  how can you make it happen for yourself?   Don’t be lulled into complacency by the comfort of your current lifestyle. If there is something you yearn for, do not let your spark die.

Peru #19 Training Group

9 May

Now for a REAL staging update! I received two important emails in the last two days….

The first came from Rosa, the Language and Culture Coordinator, asking to confirm dates for a preliminary assessment of my Spanish level via telephone.  Born in Colombia, raised in Miami, and working directly with Hispanic media for the last two years, I have a feeling I’ll do juuuust fine. I wonder if there will be any other native Spanish speakers in my group? A therapy session conversation with a great friend (here’s your shout-out, Poffle!) reminded me that I’m pretty lucky to be headed to a place where I am fluent in the language.  Where spewing out broken French during my six month study abroad stint in Paris was all fun and games, I’m sure a major language barrier would add stress in every aspect of settling into the Peace Corps.  I’m here as a resource, my fellow trainees!

The second, much anticipated, email came from the Staging Unit.  Just as I had predicted, staging will take place soon after I land in DC on June 7.  After a day of activities and presentations, Peru #19 will be headed to Lima on June 8 at 11am!







Thanks, Win Williams

8 May

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Wherever you are.

I came across Win William’s Peru blog randomly, while perusing the Peace Corps Journals site.  And what a blog it is! I’ve been literally laughing out loud going through his entries.

Here is one golden excerpt from his post titled Worm Bins:

On Saturday we built worm composting bins to help with disposal of organic materials. I haven’t really seen it too bad here but in some areas people just throw all their shit in a kind of make shift dump or burn the stuff out back. Worm composting is not some hippie bullshit but a practical way to dispose of organic materials and convert them into a usable product like liquid fertilizer and nutrient rich soils. According to some statistics, over 50 percent of landfill space is organic materials.

 The way the worm bin works is you throw in a little soil or manure and then just add organic waste, like egg shells, peels, leaves, things like that. Throw in a couple of worms and they eat through all that shit crapping out nice fertile soil which you shake out and use in your garden. Another benefit is worm piss (the other black gold) which is rich in nutrients like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. Not only that but you’re saving valuable landfill space and keeping the backyard free of debris that attracts pests. OK maybe it is a little hippie bullshit sounding.
Post after post, Win describes his sometimes unfortunate, sometimes enlightening, but always hilarious experiences as a middle-aged gringo serving as a water sanitation volunteer in Peru. This is just the kind of funny and encouraging testimony I needed to encounter, after a few days of anxious restlessness. Yes, it is a lot to leave my whole life behind and move to another country I’ve never been to BUT I signed up for this adventure.  I can only hope that by focusing on the positives and making light of uncomfortable situations I, too, can have as much fun as Win did during his two years as a volunteer.

Staging Update

6 May

Sort of…

Staging is the initial orientation where you are introduced to your training group members and take care of some last minute trip details. Everyone meets in a predetermined US city (still don’t know where yet) to spend 2-3 days learning about your future home country.

For some reason, I had been thinking that staging lasted a whole week.  According to the Peace Corps wiki page, its 2-3 days.  And after talking to a returned volunteer, she says hers was only one day–one long, full day!

This came as a shock to me, although I’m not sure why.  I guess I thought there would be more time in the US getting to know my training group and preparing for our Lima departure. Not the case at all!  Apparently, it’s an extended, activity-filled, information-packed layover on our way to Peru.

So that’s the update — I’ll probably be in Lima as early as June 8 or 9. …!

P.S. – spent some time today snuggling my little gracieee

Babysitting with Beyonce

5 May

Today I woke up early with the intention of being productive. I planned to return some items to Best Buy, shop around for a sleeping bag and start a serious packing list.  Instead, I babysat the neighbor’s adorable (and energetic) 6-and-11 year old daughters.  We ate, sang Beyonce songs and painted our nails.  I explained to them that I’d be leaving soon to tutor kids in another country and they promised to look over Gracie while I’m gone. Gracie will love that!

I’m exhausted and behind on my ‘to-do’ list but so glad I got to spend some time with my little friends.  I hope they’re still as sweet and innocent when I get back.

I leave you with (one of) my favorite Beyonce songs to sing at the top of my lungs:


Assignment + Job Description

5 May

Now that I’ve shared a little bit of the history of the PC program in Peru, I wanted to touch on the overall role of a youth development facilitator (I wont be given my specific assignment until I complete training sometime in August)…

Although Peru is a fast growing country, its young people have seriously been affected by the current global economic crisis.  Peru is the country with the lowest reading comprehension standards in Latin America, and many children don’t stay in school.  Some are still sent to the streets to sell candy or find other ways to earn a few coins a day.  Among disadvantaged low-income youth, there is often a feeling of hopelessness and low self-esteem that can result in a myriad of problems including drug use, illegal activities and unemployment.

The Youth Development Project in Peru looks to address the fundamental challenges of preparing low income adolescents to lead productive, fulfilling lives.

The goals of the Youth Development Project are:

1. Healthy Lifestyle Development – Peruvian youth will be engaged in strengthening their personal and social skills to become better equipped to meet life’s challenges through healthy lifestyle programs and activities that meet the youth’s individual needs.

2. World of Work Development – Peruvian youth will be better prepared with the skills and knowledge to participate in future vocational and/or advanced educational opportunities through developing goal-setting skills and by enhancing their ability to access local resources to develop livelihood and educational opportunities.

3. Youth Leadership Development and Community Involvement – Peruvian youth will be engaged as active and contributing members of their community through developing their leadership skills, connecting to supportive community networks, and being involved in community-benefiting projects and youth service groups.

Some specific duties might include:

  • establish a summer program
  • organize career fairs
  • encourage youth to identify personal goals
  • promote business ideas
  • help families understand the importance of diet and exercise
  • promote parenting techniques that improve familial communication
  • explain to youth the importance of healthy behaviors and choices

This is the part of the experience I am looking forward to the most! Since my application process took forever and a day, I was willing to accept whatever assignment they chose for me, but secretly I was hoping (and wishing, and praying) to be placed in a youth development program.  The year and a half I volunteered at the Miami Bridge, a transitional home for at-risk youth, was extremely challenging but incredibly rewarding and I knew I would love to continue the same kind of work.


A Brief History…

3 May

**The following information was obtained from Peace Corps Wiki

The Peace Corps first opened a program in Peru in 1962.  Over the next 13 years, some 2,600 Volunteers worked in health and nutrition, city planning, social work, agricultural extension, agricultural cooperatives, savings and loan associations, elementary and secondary education, community development, and earthquake reconstruction (after the severe earthquake and landslide of 1970). Peace Corps’ departure from Peru in 1975 was due to political and economic instability.

In 2001, then-President Alejandro Toledo invited the Peace Corps to return. As well as seeing Peace Corps as part of his development plan for the country, President Toledo had a personal relationship with the Peace Corps. When he was young, his family had hosted a Volunteer in their home in Chimbote.  Volunteers taught him English and were instrumental in his attending college and graduate school in the United States.  President Toledo also worked at the Peace Corps training center in California, teaching Spanish while he was going to college.

Teams from Peace Corps headquarters made assessment visits to Peru in late 2001 and early 2002, and a country agreement was signed in Lima on March 23, 2002. Staff was deployed to Lima in May 2002. The first four Volunteers, third-year transferees from other Latin American countries, arrived in August 2002. They were followed by the first new group of Volunteers, who arrived for training in November and were sworn-in in February 2003. A second group arrived in September 2003. Since then, two new groups of trainees arrive to serve in Peru each year.

All Volunteers in Peru are required to live with a family during their entire service. Living with a Peruvian family allows volunteers to quickly integrate into the community and greatly enhances their safety and security. In addition, living with a family reinforces language and cross-cultural skills daily.

Volunteers sent to Peru today find that it is a poor country with significant development challenges.  According to USAID, 48 percent of the population lives below the official poverty line (U.S. $58 per month), with 18 percent living in extreme poverty (under U.S. $32 per month).  Peru is plagued by high unemployment (around 10 percent) and underemployment (estimated at 43 percent). Health indicators show that large sectors of the population suffer from nutritional deficiencies (24 percent of children are chronically malnourished), a high infant mortality rate (43 per 1,000 in rural areas), and limited access to basic healthcare services.

Learning about President Toledo’s personal connection to the Peace Corps Peru program was an eye-opener.  His experience alone stands as a testament to the power of the Peace Corps.  Would Toledo still have learned English, attended school in the US and reached his full potential to become president of his country without the help of the Peace Corps? We’ll never know, but probably not.  And that’s why he made it a priority to bring this program back to his country in 2002.


Planning Ahead

2 May

From the time I submitted my application until I received an invitation to serve as a volunteer, I read as much as I could about what Peace Corps service was like, including many blogs written by PCVs from around the world.  I began to notice that many, if not all, of the volunteers I followed seemed to go through a kind of emotional rollercoaster throughtout their service.  And each had their own way of reacting to the occasional feelings of excitement, nostalgia, frustration, achievement, isolation, etc. How each individual handled the mental and spiritual aspect of PC, not the physical, is what ultimately made their experience.

Soon, I will find myself joining the ranks of these volunteers and I have kept their writings present in my mind.  In an effort to better prepare for the aformentioned emotional rollercoaster– I have decided to store my happiness in a jar and take it with me to Peru.

write down memories that make you smile. revisit when you need a little boost. remember life is good.

I came across this idea while pinning on Pinterest (follow me here).  I think its cute and practical for everyone to put one of these together.  Who doesnt enjoy recalling their fondest memories?  But, if you’re moving to a foreign country, away from friends and family, for the next 27 months, this Memories Jar will be indispensable in holding on to the slightest sliver of sanity necessary to survive.