Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Packing and Staging

Well I'm assuming from the spike in "views" on my blog page that it means people found my blog. That's a plus and I'm glad you're all on board!

So here's what I've been doing since I left Vermont on Saturday.

On Saturday afternoon, I flew out to Philly to meet up with some lovely Wells ladies. Kaylin, Hannah, and I went to the park on Sunday by boathouse row and chilled in the sun. So I got a little roasty-toasty before my trip. And yes that means sunburtn...oops... We saw the most ADORABLE family throwing a birthday party for their massive Great Dane puppy. Talk about jealous! Monday Kaylin and I walked around Philly and got some delicious drinks and food. I've been eating everything in sight. I'm definitely going to miss pizza, shredded cheese, and microwaveable food.

Tuesday has come and gone as I write! Kaylin dropped me off after a fun night with some cool City Year alums. I was nervous getting into the hotel and definitely felt like spilling the beans on the sidewalk, but I got here before my roommate so I was able to go get some Chipolte (heck yes guacamole and cheese!!). Who isn't a little happier and braver with a full stomach? We registered, sat for what seemed like no time at all in the room, and then it was back to the conference room. The training session was pretty basic but for the love of took forever! I had the attention span of a fish and it was really hard not to just chat with everyone about their life.

So you'll probably ask what our group looks like. There are two married couples, a few Californians, more midwest folks than I imagined, and a good handful of New Englanders. We all got to run through some scenarios of awkward and difficult situations. Of course, my group got the religion situation. As I don't generally practice any particular religion, this will actually be an issue for me in Swaziland I imagine. It's not that Senegalese people tried to push any religious beliefs on me when I studied abroad, but the concept of atheism or agnosticism is really difficult to explain. Luckily Swaziland speaks English rather than French. Why I ever studied French is still beyond me. I have no use for it....seriously so much struggle over a useless language.

Speaking of language, no pun intended tehehe, I'm super stoked to learn SiSwati. We were sent audio files and a PDF to learn from but in my experience sassy pre-teens and curious children are the most effective and blunt way to learn you f***ed up what you were trying to say. They have no shame and hopefully us Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) won't either. It's a learning process for both parties involved.

The next steps have been a little irritating to explain over and over again but I'm thrilled people are so excited for me. Keep up the questions!! It may drive me a little crazy to repeat myself but a huge goal for Peace Corps is to foster understanding of you culture among the U.S. community as well so hey the more you ask the more I can help that process along.

Step 1: Staging (this is what we did today in Philadelphia)
Step 2: Pre-Service Training (or PST because everything in PC has an acronym). This is three months (well really until August 29th for our group) of intense language, culture, and technical training to really get us volunteers up to snuff. This should cut the learning curve a little and hopefully it gives us the tools to effectively implement projects in our host community. During this time we live with a host family so we can learn to cook, do laundry, live without the lovely U.S. amenitites we are typically spoiled with (oh much I will miss you). The Swearing In ceremony on August 29th is a huge deal. It means we passed our language tests and that we are ready to venture off alone. That's right I said alone.

Step 3: At this point in the process, and in the last week, I think I have been asked this question by every single family member and friend as I said my goodbyes. Will I be alone in my community? Sure will be! Swaziland is slightly smaller than New Jersey and has a population of approx. one million so lets not get carried away. It's not like there's no one around at all. Actually that's one of the advantages of being in Swaziland. It's small enough that other volunteers don't ever seem worlds away. Imagine being in China. Holy wow would that be a lot of traveling. So yes I'm alone but there's a really good reason for that. It's easy to lean on your good ol' American friends when the going gets rough, and if you've ever been on the outside of a group looking it, that can make it difficult for host country nationals (HCNs) to feel included. It becomes so easy to just coast rather than to really push yourself and integrate. At least that's my opinion from my study abroad trip. It's nice to have people around who understand what you're going through, but PC is really about pushing yourself to be a part of a whole new community for their benefit and yours. Then it's two years, lots of tears, possibly some illness, and many other hurdles and handshakes.

Well I leave y'all to ponder that stuff for now. Like I said if you have questions feel free to ask. This is the final blog posted stateside so my posts will probably be really random and come in large chunks rather than a smooth stream. Training is intense and time consuming so family and friends be warned it may feel like I fell off the face of the planet. Also, a final note for everyone that our training really helped me with today. A lot of times it's difficult to understand how to support someone in a time of depression and need. There will no doubt be days I cry, whine, and prepare to bail out. Remind me that I've wanted to do this since high school and that it's an amazing experience. Rule #3: Suck it up.(rules 1 and 2 were way less interesting don't worry).

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