Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Don't Buy From Bookeen (Andy)

Back when I first thought I was going to be joining the Peace Corps, the tech geek in me asked, "What gadgets do I absolutely need?" Top of the list: ebook reader.

I searched around a lot for one that I liked. It needed to use E-Ink (or some other very low-power display) -- that eliminated the first generation of readers. It needed to have a simple interface -- the Kindle was way too ugly. It needed to be relatively cheap -- under $350. It needed to not be Sony -- I was still (and still am) ticked off about the rootkit debacle. I landed on the Bookeen Cybook Gen3.

Fast forward to a week after my move to New York. I unpack my new toy, excited to bring it onto the subway. This will be a new era of reading my way-too-large collection of digitized books.

While I'm waiting for the train, I whip it out and see that the display is cracked. Fair enough. I'd thrown it into my mail carrier bag, which had been dropped, stomped upon and repeatedly brutalized during the move. The display is delicate -- I knew that -- and I didn't treat it with the respect it required. Andy sad.

So I paid the one hundred fifty damn dollars to have the thing shipped to France and fixed. Lesson learned. I went to my grandmother's and fashioned a case for the thing. I started taking extra good care to keep it out of explosions, collisions and stiff breezes. I took good care of my toy.

Fast forward again, if you can handle it, to our first week in the Peace Corps. We were given the opportunity to put all of our electronics into storage while we got accustomed to our new villages. They weren't saying, "You're gonna get your stuff stolen" or anything, but they thought it best not to add "could lose hundreds of dollars worth of electronics" to the list of fears plaguing new volunteers. So I put up my Cybook.

Having learned my lesson, I didn't simply hurl my Cybook into the bin of volunteers' laptops and consumer electronics. I placed it first into the soft, foam sleeve in which it had been returned to me the first time the display cracked. I then placed it into the cover my grandmother had made. Next, I placed it into a pillowcase and wrapped it very carefully to provide padding on every side. Then a comforter. I made sure it sat at the top of the bin. Guys, that's a lot of protective layers.

Imagine my dismay when I got the damn thing back and the screen was cracked again. Guys, that's a lot of disappointment.

I wrote to Bookeen.

Greetings Bookeen support staff!

In June of this year, I contacted you about a crack in the screen of by Cybook Gen3. After sending it back to you, you quickly repaired it and returned it to me for what I considered a high but understandable price. Thank you!

I've recently joined the United States Peace Corps, and am living in rural South Africa. During transit, it appears that the screen to my reader was again cracked. I say "it appears" because upon arrival, the reader was packed away and put into storage for two months. Only a week ago was I able to dig it out and take a look. I was surprised, because I had packed the reader in a hand-made case and placed it within the folds of a thick comforter.

It was my hope that during my stay in South Africa, I would rely heavily on my Cybook for entertainment and sanity. Unfortunately, living off a volunteer's stipend, I won't be able to afford repairs for the same price I paid last time.

Is there anything Bookeen can do to help me out?

Thank you,
Andrew Kasper

Two weeks passed without a response. I had to write to them to remind them, "Hey, dudes, customer with a legit problem here." They finally wrote back, asking for a picture of the device. I sent them the picture, and they responded:


There is no doubt from the picture that the device has suffered from an impact on the right side.

We consequently will not be able to repair the Cybook at our own charge.

Please let us know if you wish to proceed to repair. We will do our very best for the unit to be repaired in brief delays.

Best regards,
Bookeen Support Team

A perfectly reasonable but nonetheless frustrating response on their part.

Although Bookeen isn't completely in the wrong here, it just doesn't make sense for me to repair my ebook reader again. For starters, the Cybook Gen3 couldn't survive what were essentially optimal storage conditions without a damaged display; either the first repair failed, or the thing's a piece of crap. Second, any company that takes two weeks to respond to a customer service email isn't really worthy of my business.

I really appreciate how kind Bookeen's customer service representatives were to me whenever they responded to my emails. I appreciate that the company has innovated (and continues to innovate) the ebook reader. I even appreciate that the repairs are expensive, and that although Bookeen charged me a lot, it was still a fair price. Guys, that's a lot of appreciation.

But guys, I'm going to stay away from Bookeen and it's products. I recommend you do the same.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lauren Talks about "Work"…and Feelings

The bad news: it’s been a long time since I've written. The good news: nothing is really going on so I don’t have to do the big catch up.

We’ve been here in our village for about a month and a half. The structured bureaucratic government entity that is Peace Corps South Africa has given us lists of tasks to do each week in the schools and our community for “Phase 2” of training which makes up the first three months at our village. During this time we are supposed to get a good enough sense of what is going on to start proposing some projects.

Here’s what Phase 2 has looked like so far for me thus far:
Observing-I have sat and watched most of the teachers from our two schools teach a lesson or two. At the primary school (grades K-6) it was mostly what you would have seen in the US with less stuff. At the secondary school, the school itself is in pretty bad shape and there's a little more "laid back" attitude from the teachers.

Teaching-I have taught a few lessons and then had a couple days where I played a substitute teacher at the primary. I basically improvise an entire day of lessons, as there aren't really such things as substitute teachers in rural South Africa, so there's no lesson plan left nicely on a desk for one to follow. I think I did well given the circumstances. I will say the students here are so enthusiastic about learning and are so well behaved, it'd be hard to really bomb.

Meetings-Meetings make up a large part of the educational world. If it's not a staff meeting, then it's a meeting for the School Governing Board which is an elected group of parents who basically act like a school board but for each individual school. Either way, these meetings are long (at least 2 hours) and almost entirely in Setswana. Sitting in them borders on meditation for me because my mind wanders so far away from what is going on around me. I was able to get on the HIV/AIDS Policy committee which has been slightly more interesting. I'm hoping to get involved with the planning of their health awareness activities for the next school year.

Minor Problem Solving-Need something typed or researched on the internet? Want help with a specific issue in a lesson? Student looking for a bit of tutoring? I'm your woman. Sadly, these are very few and far between. However, when does come my way I jump at the opportunity to actually feel productive. Which leads me to...

Nothing-I'd say this makes up the large majority of my time. I'm going to be honest, most of it is my fault. I'm struggling with the adjustment of living here as well as the notion that they would really like me to be their on-call sub, both of which make me want to run into my room and hide. On the plus side, I've read quite a few books, started a regular journal, and had plenty of time to just think. On the fun side, I've also gotten the opportunity to hang out with other volunteers in the group and we've had a really good time together.

So let's talk about schools in Rural South Africa. They have a lot working against them, there's no doubt about it. They face the same issues that rural schools in the U.S. do like declining student population, difficulty finding qualified teachers, and lack of resources, but it's on a much larger scale.

The secondary school has entirely bare walls and the ceilings of some of the classrooms are caving in. The furniture is definitely old and falling apart. Our host sister has brought home several science assignment where the students are required to "perform" a lab, without actually doing it. Instead they are expected to draw pictures of what it might look like and create imaginary data. This really breaks my heart. How many of us fell in love with science because of the experiments we were able to do in school? I took Anatomy and Physiology in high school and we dissected, mircroscoped, and manipulatived our way through that course and I was obsessed with it. I can't imagine if all I had was one worksheet for 10 students and lecture after lecture.

At the primary school the kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade classes have over 40 students (the largest class has upwards of 50) in them and I really feel for these teachers. There's no art or gym class built into their day so they can have a break. In fact, there's no support staff save a secretary and a couple ladies who make lunch for the kids. The teachers "cope" by letting the students go unsupervised for long periods of time. But honestly what are they supposed to do? This aspect has been the most shocking for the majority of volunteers. That and corporal punishment, but that's a whole other blog topic and I personally haven't witnessed it.

The curriculum itself is very modern and looks a lot like the standards movement in the U.S. Each grade has a certain number of learning areas with learning objectives and assessment standards they are expected to cover. It's all very organized and excellent in theory, but virtually impossible given the resources available.

On top of this, there's the language issue. South Africa has 11 different official languages. Grade R (kindergarten) through 3 is all taught in their home language. When they reach the 4th grade they switch completely to an English immersion curriculum with one hour every other day in their home language. And just like in the U.S. this is creating students illiterate in two languages more than anything. They are also being taught by teachers who can be far from fluent and therefore might bend the English rules a little bit. Completely understandable if the students weren't going to have to take a giant exam during their senior year called the "Matric". If they cannot pass this test which is written only in English and Afrikaans (don't even get me started about that), they do not fully graduate and cannot go onto any college-level education. And let me tell you this test is no joke. The science and math on the exam is stuff none of us had seen until our first year of college.

And now it's time to talk about feelings. I would like to find a way to put a nice sugar coating over all of this, but I'm having a hard time doing that for myself. In discussions with many of the volunteers, it seems we're struggling with the same issues. We are noticing that projects we might have been interested are either low on the list of priorities or just wouldn't be sustainable. South Africa appears to have the financial resources it needs, it's just still healing from the years, decades, centuries of inequality. And that takes time. The difference we can make here will be small. Baby steps. I believe as Peace Corps volunteers we will be successful in meeting the goals set forth by Peace Corps, but is it enough? Are the baby steps and global friendships and whatever personal gains/growths we gain worth two years of our lives? Of our friends and families? Of Bailey's? I'm not sure it was what I was expecting, but I guess so little ever is. For better and for worse.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tweets (Andy)

Every day, about 100 things happen that make me think, "Damn, I need to blog about that." But the event can, in its entirety, be summed up in one sentence... let's say under 140 characters. If I had a reliable, cheap internet connection, by God I'd be tweeting. I'd be tweeting like a self-important 20-something "in line at starbucks :-) #starbucks". Part of me would be doing it to keep friends and family updated on the weirdness that is Peace Corps life; part of me would be doing it to inform curious PCVs-to-be about life in South Africa; part of me would be doing it to irritate my wife (and everyone else who hates Twitter).

If you hate the tweets, give up now; else, read on.
  • Remember the landing scene in Serenity? That's what it's like to ride the bus down a dirt road in rural South Africa.
  • I swear to God, a first grader who barely speaks English just used the phrase, "2D object"
  • Math class was a lesson on collecting poll data, but it just descended into a debate on which animal is best. (ans: leopard)
  • Not sure what exactly that teacher was saying in SeTswana, but he had to briefly switch into English to use the phrase, "twisted pervert."
  • Stepped outside this morning to a herd of goats silently staring at me. Very "Children of the Corn."
  • Impromptu praying
  • Just saw a lesson whose lesson was (according to the teacher), "You must not be colorblind."
  • In Tswana culture, under no circumstances do you ask someone to leave. Even if they're ruining graduation.
  • Even if they're interrupting your well-rehearsed dances.
  • Even if they're blowing a whistle in your face.
  • Yup, Mama will call you fat, right to your face.
  • Writing a blog about Twitter

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Owl and the Pussycat(s) (Andy)

Some stories about some encounters I've had with some animals of some country called South Africa.

The Owl

On my second day in South Africa, we trainees had a few hours to ourselves to explore the college campus. We'd all seen an old, concrete watertower on the edge of campus, and rumor from previous volunteers was that failure to climb this tower before the end of training would result in eternal regret.

During our free time, we made our way over to the tower, which I estimate was about 100 yards high. One by one, people climbed to the top and telled down, "You absolutely have to see this!" But I couldn't shake the image of slipping off the ladder and hitting every steel support on the way down. By the time it was my turn to climb, I was absolutely certain that I'd die, and death just didn't seem worth it.

I had a few nightmares about the water tower that night, each featuring a more gruesome bone-breaking noise than the previous. I woke up an hour before sunrise and couldn't get back to sleep. I got up to wander around the campus for a bit.

I'd decided that if by the time I got to the tower, if there were people there, I would climb it. After all, I was here for adventure, and I had to get used to overcoming fear and discomfort. To my dismay, when I arrived, there were two trainees sitting at the top.

So I started climbing. By the time I realized what I was doing, it was too late to change my mind. It was only going to be worse going back down, because I was going to have to look down and see how high off the ground I was. I focused on the rungs in front of me and made my way to the top.

At the top of the tower, inside the concrete drum, my fear was at its peak. Falling from this height, at best, would result in severe mangling. Every detail seemed to suggest that I would soon be dead. The sweat on my hands made it hard to grasp the rungs. The cool wind rushing up from below was drying out my eyes. My feet ached from stepping on the thin rungs.

At the very moment that I was most certain that I was going to die, the owl who lived in the drum decided that he didn't want me in his nest. He flew between my body and the ladder, back and forth, wailing and clawing wildly. I made a conscious effort to hang on as tightly as possible while I leaned back and gave him room to get away. He didn't want to get away. He harried me a bit longer. I was somehow going to have to fight back. Between the terror and the adrenaline, I managed to muster the willpower to take a hand off the ladder and gently brush the owl away.

When he was finally gone, I pulled myself the last twenty feet to the top of the tower and plopped myself down. I looked to see if I'd peed my pants. I hadn't!

The two trainees at the top -- Matson and Kristen R. -- were completely unaware that anything had happened. For the next half hour, I sat up there with them; they were waiting for the sun rise. The morning light was enough to watch the owl go off and catch a mouse.

About ten minutes before the sun came up, I'd caught my breath, and my heart rate was back to normal. I didn't want to watch the sunrise, so I calmly made the climb down and went back to the dorms.

I'd see that owl a number of times again during my training at the college. Every time, someone would comment on how cool it was to watch an owl hunt, or what a beautiful creature it was. If only they knew.

The Pussycats

The campus was swarming with stray cats. During lunch, the cats would make their way to the Americans who were eating outside and beg for scraps. At first, they ate whatever we gave them: carrot scraps, cookie crumbs, break crusts, whatever. After they fattened up, though, they started to get picky. They would only eat meat.

Among the swarm was a mother/son pair. Our first week at the college, the mother was very nurturing to her son. When she got a scrap, she'd get it away from the other cats and share it with her kitten. As the weeks went on, however, Mama clearly grew annoyed. At first, she would only share non-meat scraps. Then she stopped sharing altogether.

But Baby didn't realize what he was supposed to do. Instead of going to the Americans and begging for food, he started to attack his mother every time she got food. She was a lot tougher than he was, though, so he never got to eat much.

I thought the mother's message was clear: baby kitty had to grow up and learn to take care of himself. Mama wasn't going to be around forever, and even if she were, she didn't have to energy to take care of him.

Finally, after a few agonizing weeks of watching the little cat fail to learn to beg, he had a breakthrough. He figured it out. He was hungry enough to eat the scraps that the other cats didn't want. And once he got his energy up, he was even bold enough to fight for meat scraps. He won some too.

One day during lunch, Baby and Mama made their way around the corner to where I was sitting. They were walking together and seemed to be getting along fine. How nice, I thought, that after all the savage beatings, Baby and Mama still get along.

And is if they'd heard my thoughts, they both turned to look at me. Mama sat down and Baby made his way over to me to beg for some food. He'd learned! How exciting! I picked a little piece of sausage off my spathlo and tossed it to him.

Mama instantly caught Baby with a full-on body tackle. There was hissing. There was clawing. There was much kicking up of dust. Finally, Baby ran away and Mama wolfed down the chunk of meat.

Gray the Dog

In SA, animals are treated much differently than they would be in the States. As you can imagine, people aren't as willing to fork over hundreds of dollars to cure their dog's case of worms, for instance.

In fact, the most common treatment of a pet dog that we've seen is that the dog gets chained up outside all day. He gets some food, gets some water, and generally is neither miserable nor thrilled with life. The people here aren't cruel to animals; they just don't treat them the same way Americans do: like their own offspring.

During our first visit to our site, I found cowering in the back yard a dark gray dog. She looked emaciated, and was apparently terrified of everything. When I went over to pet the dog, someone from the house yelled at me not to touch her, no one knows where she's been.

Every time we saw the dog, it would run up to me, as excited as I've ever seen a dog. It would cheer me on as I walked to the pit toilet or fed the chickens our vegetable scraps. And although she was happy, she was also clearly terrified that I would boot her in the head.

If I was with someone when I saw the dog, they would give me a reason not to touch or feed her. She had killed a goat (although there was apparently no missing goat or a corpse to substantiate the claim). She had rabies. She belonged to a witch.

I thought about it for a long time. Would it be worth it to watch out for this dog? If I taught her that people weren't trouble, I'd be doing her a dis-service. No one in the community seemed to want her around, and if any of the things people had said about her were true, her best bet would be just to run off into the desert and learn to live there.

So for a week, I ignored the dog or chased her away every time I saw her.

But I couldn't stop thinking about it. It was hardly an ethical dilemma: she was just a dog, and many dogs in SA have it a lot worse. I had no obligation to this dog, and encouraging her to take care of herself (in the style of the Mama cat) was probably the best thing I could do for her.

But one day, when she made her way up to me, she wasn't going very fast. She looked sick and even thinner than usual. I just didn't have it in me to turn her down.

So I grabbed a Weet-Bix, put some peanut butter onto it and tossed it to her. Two bites, gone.

I went inside and felt guilty for a few minutes. Lauren came in and said, "I know I probably shouldn't have, but I snuck that gray dog some food this morning." Before this moment, Lauren and I had never talked about feeding that dog. I was pleasantly surprised to see that someone else had taken notice, even if it was an American.

The next day, when I went to the backyard where Gray usually relaxed, I saw a bowl with some bogobe and meat scraps. Our host father had put it there.

My theory about no one caring about the dog had been blown away.

Now, she gets all our scraps, and a Weet-Bix on special occasions.

Friday, September 25, 2009

"Survivor is Only 40 Days, You're Here Two Years"

This one goes out to my fellow members of SA20, because we survived. We survived PST and became volunteers. And after our swearing in, on our long trip to our new home, I am feeling sentimental.

There is nothing like a shared experience to bring people together. We shared common enemies: roosters, the chaos of Peace Corps, the training itself. We came out with the same battle-scars (bogobe burns). More importantly, we shared the same extreme joys of being in a new country, discovering a new culture, and finding strength within ourselves and each other.

I am remembering one of our first sessions at training where, I think it was Jeff, who quoted a poster that got him through his service, "You can get used to anything." Looking back on our first eight weeks here, it is absolutely true. You CAN get used to anything. For all those who think "I couldn't do that" about anything involved in this process (leaving friends and family, giving up the conveniences we are used to, surviving without running water and consistent electricity, pit toilets, etc.), you absolutely, 100%, without a doubt can. People don't just survive under these circumstances, they flourish. I don't mention this because I think that I, or anyone in our group, has done anything extraordinary by being here or making it through two months in a place where people live-out their entire lives. I mention it because I was one of the people who thought "I couldn't do that", both before I left and many times while I've been here, but I got used to it, and I did it.

In order to get used to training, we made family out of each other. We left the U.S. mentally prepared to go to our sites, deal with the isolation, take our grand ideas and put them to work. Instead, we were thrust into the organized chaos that is training. We spent the next 10 hours a day, 6 days a week together learning language, medical, safety, and technical information while complaining about it every chance we could get. We made the kinds of friendships in two months it would normally take years to make. And just as we were starting to really get used to it all, it was over. If everyone else was like me, we got so used to training, we forgot why we came in here in the first place. All of a sudden I felt completely dependent on people I barely knew, and I was faced with saying goodbye to them, just as I had to all my friends and family two months before.

But because we got used to all this craziness in eight of the longest and shortest weeks of our lives, we CAN do this. We can get used to what's coming up in the next four months before we all get to see each other again. No matter what is facing us at or sites, we can get used to it. Don't believe me? Just ask your Trainee self sitting back there in Washington DC what (s)he is capable of. I'm going to guess none of what we just went through is on that list. And yet, here we are.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Site Visits and How Showers Can Sometimes Make You Feel Human Again

I honestly don’t even know where to begin. Let’s start with the fact that I should be studying for my language exam right now, but I’d much rather be talking to you.

It’s hard to describe a week packed with so many events, people, triumphs and struggles that it easily felt like a month. I guess I can start with a good ol’ timeline.

August 28-Everyone is given a small sheet of paper that states their village and the schools and supervisors which they would be working with, along with a mini-description of their host families. Our slip told us we would be living in a small village in the Northern Cape working in a well-resourced secondary school that had a computer lab with 40 computers and a primary school. Our host family would be grandparents living with their 17 year-old host granddaughter.

There were tears of terror and shouts of excitement from others in the group. I would say we were pretty neutral. The pros were that our site would be well resourced and one of our good couple friends would be relatively close. The cons would be that we were an hour and a half from our shopping town and we were definitely on the remote side of life.

August 29-We had a fieldtrip to Pretoria to the Voortrekker Monument followed by another visit to a mall which was as disorienting as the first. The highlight was definitely this restaurant, Spur, which is an “American” themed place that centers around Native Americans in a very bizarre/enforcing stereotypes kind of way. We got nachos that contained cottage cheese. Weird.

August 31-We drive the 8 hours from our training site to Kuruman where we will be staying for the “Supervisor’s Workshop”. They put us up at this very nice lodge with AMAZING food (I had a lamb chop there that changed my life and made me believe that some meat can be substituted for dessert), air conditioning, and hot showers. In fact, the first thing I did when we arrived was get in the shower for 45 minutes to try to feel clean again. It suddenly dawned on me that not being able to keep one’s idea of “basic” hygiene can start to severely impact one’s mental status and ability to feel human. I left that shower reborn.

September 1 to 2-Supervisor’s Workshop. We meet our two principals who are fantastic, motivated people who are eager to work with us and tell us what they think their schools and the communities are lacking. No first meeting is free of awkwardness, but I think we all did pretty well.

The 18 of us in the group who are stationed in the Northern Cape definitely bonded during this time. We are the few, the proud, the out-of-their-mind Peace Corps volunteers facing two years of life on the edge of the Kalahari Desert.

And let’s talk desert. On the afternoon of the 2nd, a fellow volunteer along with Andy and I and three other South Africans, load up into a pickup truck meant for five. It was an interesting hour and a half drive through what they described as the “semi-desert” and what I would describe as the freakin’ desert. There are trees, I’ll give them that, but there’s also an awful lot of sand…

That evening we meant our new host family and got a preview of the space we will be living in for the next two years. Our area was currently under construction, so we stayed in a nicely prepared guest room. The situation was very similar to what we had at our training homestay: electricity, no running water, and outhouse. However, the new addition that is going to contain the two rooms that we will be living in SUPPOSEDLY is going to contain a bathroom with a flush toilet and shower. I am trying hard to manage my expectations here since when we left there were only cement brick walls with broken windows and no floor or roof. I am definitely interested to see how it all turns out!

Our family was very nice. Our grandparents have ten surviving adult children who live all over South Africa. Several of them came home for an important funeral in the village and so we were fortunate enough to meet them. The highlight though was the 17 year-old granddaughter who will be our host sister. She speaks fluent English, has a great sense of humor, and patiently helped us cook, find things, translate, and learn Setswana. She will be one of our greatest assets in the village. Plus she wants to be my jogging buddy. What else could I ask for!?

September 3 to 6-Site Visit. We tour our schools and meet the teachers and students. We see the awesome computer lab with the 40 computers (not all of them in working condition, though a few of them are connected to the internet!). In addition, we found the internet cafĂ© across the street from our house (yay!). We went to our first South African funeral which was an experience. All in all, it was a very good experience and we’re very excited to be living there for two years.

Interesting items:

-The village we are living in is really the equivalent of an African reservation. The people who live there were forced to move by the Apartheid government in 1977 from their lush village where they farmed cattle to the edge of the desert. Many of the community members mentioned this to us when we spoke with them including the exact date. You can tell it’s an important part of the community’s identity. However, despite the fact that no one in the village is “from” there, they seem to have a strong spirit to make their village a better place. For example, to get to my village you need to drive 45 minutes on a gravel road, but once you arrive, they have paved their own main roads.

-In Setswana culture, the younger females/wives are expected to cook for the family. Therefore, since we’re not considered guests, but family, we have been consistently asked/expected to cook for everyone. It has led to some interesting/stressful moments. It’s hard to convey that though I may have had the ingredients used for most South African food available to me in the U.S., I have not had to prepare them without running water or a stove or in South African style.

-There have been groups of German and Australian volunteers in addition to another Peace Corps volunteer that have been in and out of our village. The good is that they brought supplies and workers to remodel the primary school, the funds and supplies to build the computer lab and a library for the secondary school, teachers to work with the South African teachers, and the supplies and knowledge to start a garden. The bad is that I think they are hoping for the same kind of miraculous progress from us. I guess it gives us something to strive for!

September 7- Our Northern Cape group got together and hired a couple taxis to take us back to our training site. We were so happy to see each other and discuss all the craziness from the previous five days. And now we’re back at the training college. We officially become volunteers on the 17th and then it’s off to our permanent site to live for two years! Let us know what you’re up to.

Love and miss you.

PS-I didn't get to post this until today and, no worries, I passed my language exam. You're now reading the blog of an Intermediate-Mid Setswana speaker.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What South Africa Thinks of the US (and other weird things)

Let me preface this entry by saying that this is definitely from my very limited perspective and is mainly absorbed through pop culture.

The US is:
  • Otherwise known as “America”. It’s of no use to explain that there are several Americas which are also continents. To say that Brazil is also in an America is absolutely absurd.
  • The home of Barack Obama. These are usually the first words that are said to you after you say you’re American. I definitely don’t mind this one!
  • The birthplace of KFC which I am going to say is the more popular than McDonald’s around here. To quote a South African, “South Africans love their chicken. It’s the most important food.”
  • Where excellent music comes from. Music like Michael Bolton, The Backstreet Boys (I heard “Larger Than Life” like 5 times in one morning on our bus driver’s mix. I could have gladly gone my post-middle school life without ever hearing that one again…), Boys II Men, Whitney Houston (Andy can do an AMAZING falsetto of “I Will Always Love You”. I’m very excited to find out that there are still things about him I don’t know), and Beyonce (this is the most recent of the tunes I’ve gotten to hear).
  • Where excellent TV comes from. TV many of us have long forgotten such as Silk Stalkings, Girlfriends, and the OC. Then, there’s the TV I wish I could forget such as the hours (yes plural) of WWE wrestling I’ve been subjected to, though watching our host grandmother yell “One, Two, Three” every time a guy goes down is pretty amusing.
I can’t vouch for what’s playing in the theaters, but the movies that have come to television are absolutely top-notch (I’m dripping with e-sarcasm right now, if that hasn’t translated). We did take the time to view The Whole Ten Yards (a downright awful sequel to The Whole Nine Yards which I’ve never actually seen) and a large portion of 2 Fast 2 Furious, and have seen previews for Around the World in 80 Days (the Jackie Chan version) and I Spy (an Eddie Murphy/Owen Wilson team-up?!).
  • Seemingly not that interesting in terms of news. I have seen fairly constant coverage of the gender scandal of the South African world-record runner, but unless someone important from the US is actually in South Africa, talking about South Africa, or is Michael Jackson, there’s nothing interesting to report about it. So if anyone wants to send me emails with US news, it would be much appreciated!!

Some weird things about South Africa (and life in general):
  • If you don’t want to get stuck eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch again, you can run on over to the “Tuck Shop” and buy a sandwich from the Sandwich Man. What kind of sandwich you ask? Why a hotdog, bologna, french fries, American cheese slice, and Achaar (a pickled mango spread) surrounded by 4 slices of bread sandwich, of course!
  • If you get sick (like I unfortunately did last week), no worries. They have effervescent tablets with aspirin, vitamin C, and pseudoephedrine (the real stuff) that you just plop in water and drink.
  • If you have trash or seemingly annoying brush, just burn it! I have inhaled more smoke in the last month (I can’t believe we’ve been here a month!!), than I have in my lifetime.
  • If you are a valley girl in search of a good home, have no fear. You can just hop on over to one of the big cities (Johannesburg, Pretoria) and go to a mall. A mall. A mall like any mall you would see in the US, but with different names for the stores with the same kinds of items. I had Thai food. I went to a Woolworth’s that had a grocery store. I experienced First World/Third World for the first time. My mind was officially blown.

That’s all for now, folks! We’re getting our site placements on Friday which everyone is quite anxious for, and then it’s off to the site for a week to check things out. That means internet might not be in my future next week, but I’ll do my best to report sooner rather than later. Love, love, love!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Lauren talks about South Africa (and feelings)...finally

Since this is the first one back, I’ll make it a good and long one. I’ll start with a quick recap of the craziness that was my last month in the U.S. (sorry Katie, I will take your advice after this one).
  • Move from Brooklyn went VERY smoothly.It was organized and-dare I say-almost enjoyable.I had never driven through the eastern states and I was impressed.I definitely want to make it back to Pennsylvania someday.
  • Brief stay in MO to visit my family.Relaxing, but busy with the first part of the to-do’s. My mom patiently helped us find our supplies and helped us with shopping. We also got to eat Cracker Barrel and other delightful home cooked meals thanks to her and grandma. Also, had the joy of seeing Texas relatives which is always exciting!
  • Up to MN for about a week and a half which contained a 3 day trip to Duluth, the Taste of MN on the 4th of July, my first trip to REI (thanks to Linds, my eternal lifesaver), and assorted friend/family visits.
  • Farewell party at the Kasper’s which was just incredible.I cannot thank everyone for coming, particularly those who traveled and those who made surprise visits.It truly meant the world to us to see everyone and made it that much more difficult to leave.The party ended in tears which lasted into the next day and the next day….
  • Down to MO again for a day to get ready for……
  • My surprise trip to California planned by my awesome husband.Great friends, great food (Denny’s: that’s all I’m going to say about that), great beaches, and an AMAZING Tori Amos concert.
  • Back to MO to finish up the to-do’s and pack. Again, my parents were a huge help and got to visit with grandparents! The night before we were to fly to Washington DC, we still had so many loose ends to tie up, we got an hour of sleep before packing it all up in the car (we were underweight!), and heading to the airport. Thanks dad for the 5am car ride!

Then, came the blur that was “Staging”. Basically we fly into DC, have lunch with some of the people in our group, sit through 6 hours of intro stuff, have dinner, attempt to catch up on sleep, get up early the next morning, drive to some health building in DC, get a shot, go directly to the airport, and wait for 5 hours until our flight takes off.

Next, was the 19 hour flight to Johannesburg with a half hour layover in Dakar, Senegal. Notes from the flight: the food was surprisingly good, there were plenty of interesting movie choices (I finally got to see He’s Just Not That Into You), and I was able to get some sleep thanks to Benadryl and the sleep pillow/eye shades given to me by my awesome coworkers (thanks ladies, I’ve used so much of the stuff you gave me!).

We arrive in South Africa at about 6pm, grab our luggage, immediately get on a bus and travel 2.5 hours to the place where we’re staying. We had our first South African meal and went to our dorms where ice cold showers awaited us. Only to find out the next day that our dorm was the only one without hot water. :-) We were all just ready for a true Peace Corps experience.

The facts:
  • Weather: It’s definitely cold at night (full body outfit under 4 large blankets), but warm during the day (short sleeves and pants).We’ve had one hour of rain so far which is normal.August is “spring” and is supposed to be windy and then it’s rainy in September.
  • Time: 7 hours ahead of central.It gets light at about 6am and dark at 6pm.
  • Living: No water, tin roof, concrete house, outhouse, cooking on a hot plate, rural area.
  • Food:Pap/Bogobe which is cornmeal and water and then some kind of meat, salad (salad meaning side dish which has ranged from coleslaw to a spicy carrot/bean dish called chocolaca (sp?)), and veggie gravy to go with it.Needless to say I’ve had a lot of chicken and more starch than I ever thought possible.
  • Animals:Chickens, cows, and goats in the classroom, roosters at 4 am, dogs and cats, crazy looking birds, no safari animals yet!
  • Shots: Tetanus, Hep A/B, rabies, Yellow fever(no malaria pills)
  • What I’m doing: Training consists of language Setswana, job related info, medical/safety info, observing and light teaching in a local school, and learning culture by living with a host family.
  • What I will be doing: Working at a school or two either teaching, teacher training, or some other school related project.The first three months are observation and discussing what would be the best projects for the site. Sites will be announced in 2.5 weeks.Eeek!

I am all over the place. At times, I think I’m crazy for even thinking of doing this when I could be in my cozy Brooklyn apartment never having to cook or do laundry. Mostly, I’m ridiculously happy to be here and to experience something truly extraordinary. I am constantly discovering that I am so much stronger than I even thought possible, and that alone is worth the hardships. I am excited for what is to come when I get to my site. As it usually is for me, I am looking forward to getting to work and to actually be doing something productive.

I think the best way for me to describe moving to an entirely different life is to compare it to a second infancy: I can’t speak the language, I don’t know how to do the simplest of tasks, they teach me to be afraid of everything and so I am, everything takes me forever to accomplish, and because of all this I go to bed at around 8:30 every night.

Time moves at the strangest pace. It feels like I’ve been here for months, yet the days go by so quickly. My mind can’t even comprehend that it’s been three weeks since I got on that plane. How could that even be true when everything about me and around me has changed? There isn’t a part of my day or a thing in my world that I can recognize. I am learning every single second.

I am relearning how to live and how I fit into the world. It strips me of my confidence. Why would anyone want to work with me when I can’t correctly take a bucket bath, do laundry (I scrubbed until my fingers were bleeding), or even say a simple sentence? What skills could I possibly have to offer as an infant in South Africa?

It’s strange to have Andy here because as I am figuring out who I am all over again, I have to figure out who he is and how we fit together again. That being said, it’s been wonderful to have a partner and someone who remembers who you’re supposed to be. I am always grateful to have him and so thrilled that we get to experience this together. And let me tell you, he’s doing awesome. He doesn’t falter for a second. I am extremely proud of both of us.

Some highlights worthy of discussion:
  • Our host family is amazing.We live with a great-grandma and her 2 year-old great grandson.She’s super sweet, helps us learn how to cook, do chores, and learn the language.We definitely are lucky to have her.
  • The school that we’ve been working with has been really interesting and inspiring.They barely have anything in them other than torn apart benches with tables and a chalkboard.Every morning they have an assembly where all the children line up in this perfect, tight rectangle and sing songs and pray.It’s truly moving.I also got my first taste of helping someone this morning when I helped a teacher figure out how to use stem and leaf plots.Yay for little victories!
  • South Africa has the best soap operas which play all evening.Our nightly line up is as follows: The Bold and the Beautiful (the American one.Can anybody help me out and tell me if it’s an hour in the states?It’s only a half hour here), then an awesome show called Scandal which Andy deems his favorite, and finally Generations.Generations tends to be the group’s favorite and I am partial to it because one of the main characters is Dineo (which is what my host mama named me) and she’s all kinds of trouble being pregnant by her husband’s son and in constant turmoil about whether to keep the baby or stay with her rich husband.I think you get the idea.
  • The other volunteers in our group are fantastic.It’s a fairly geographical and career diverse group.There are five other couples in the group along with us.Forty-two volunteers total and we range from age 20 to 60-somethings.I’ve really had a good time with them and have made some great friends.
  • The sky is so huge here because the land is so flat.It feels like you can see forever, and because it’s the dry season, there is not a cloud in the sky.I’ve never seen anything like it.The sunset one of the best parts of everyday.
  • Okay, now for the winner.So let me first begin by stating that in the states there was a particular junk food that, though extremely rare, was my absolute favorite.This food was so rare in fact, that I had not seen it in months.I can actually remember the last time I was able to locate and enjoy this particular treat and those that were with me when I discovered them can attest to how much they mean to me.Yes folks, they have Habanero Doritos in South Africa.What else is there to say?

That’s all I can think of for now. Please send me questions if you have ‘em. Love and miss you all!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I Leave New York (Andy)

My whole body aches from the packing we did today. That might make it sound like I did a lot today, but in reality, we've got a pile of about 20 boxes that I'll need to take out to the truck tomorrow morning, plus a couple of box springs and a mattress. No other furniture to speak of -- we're leaving a lot of it with the landlord, and we gave away my two favorite chairs today -- so a relatively small move.

Small because we've known for a long time that the Peace Corps was a possibility. We didn't want to put up pictures. We didn't want to buy a frame for our bed. We didn't want to buy a ton of new clothes. Overall, we didn't bring a lot of new things into the apartment... and it was already the smallest apartment we've ever lived in together.

I'm mentioning that my body aches because the fact terrifies me. How out of shape has sitting on my ass and programming all day made me? More to the point, how out of shape have I made myself? Not a good sign that four hours of packing was enough to almost make me "too tired to blog." Not sure what the Peace Corps will bring, but I promise I'm not as physically prepared as I'd like to be.

How convenient my life in New York has been. We had everything we wanted a phone call away. Want groceries? Order online and they'll be here tomorrow. Need to do laundry?

The place down the block will pick it up and drop it off for you; I didn't realize that it could get easier than "walk less than 10 feet to your laundry room," but Brooklyn found a way to make it easier.

In the mood for Mediterranean food? The best pita you've ever had in your life will be here in less than 15 minutes. Vietnamese, French, Chinese, Cajun, Thai, Japanese and Italian also have great contenders within a ten-minute walk of our front door. Oh, hell yes, the Italian.

Want to do almost anything you can imagine? It's probably happening somewhere in the city. Get on the subway and, for $2.00, be anywhere else in the city within an hour or so.

Let's also talk about my job. I would wake up at about 9:00, go into the living room, browse the Internet for half an hour, then start "working." I put the word into quotes because it is not "work" as most people know it. I do not share an office; I work from the comfort of my own living room. My co-workers are not assholes; they are some of the most like-minded people I've ever had the pleasure of working with. My co-workers are not incompetent; the programmer who is supposed to be my "peer" is one of the most impressive web developers I've ever seen. My bosses actually listen to my opinion. Add to the mix that I'm doing something that I love, and that I'm doing pretty well for myself, and you have one dude who was not happy to say goodbye this past Friday. Not a job. A hobby that pays.

And despite the fact that I'm saying goodbye to all of these things about my life that I love here in New York, I'm thrilled to leave. In the short term, I'm looking forward to seeing our parents and being on an extended vacation. I'm looking forward to all the good food, and all the friends I'm going to see. I'm looking forward to the awesome party my parents are going to throw us.

But more than that, this is the line I'd had drawn in my mind for when the Peace Corps would become real. "Leaving New York" = "It's really happening." Serving in the Peace Corps really is a dream come true for me. I can't wait to see another country, learn another language, and meet new friends.

It's as if I'm an adventurer now. Like Indiana Jones, but not as awesome. Now all I need is the adventure.

New York State of Mind (Lauren)

The apartment is packed. We did it all in about three days which really only speaks to the lack of things we have accumulated here. Moving tip 1(especially when storage is involved): create an inventory of what's in each box so you can easily find whatever you are looking for. This was an important lesson after the move from California where I found that boxes entitled "Linens and Things", though clever, were extremely useless. We'll get to repack those once we get to my parents' house. Fun!

So let's talk some feelings. I have to say this was one of the better transition periods I have gone through. Ending work was difficult. I really loved the people I worked with and I really hope I can stay connected with them. (Shout-out to my DTW peeps! Much love.) Moving tip 2: Really take time to see people and say goodbye. We had a party of lovely friends here in Brooklyn and it just warmed my heart, which hands down beats the slowly slink out of town approach I have used in the past.

New York snuck up on me. I was determined not to like it here because I thought it would be betraying California and more importantly Andy would have been right about something. Not a chance! Turns out, New York is freakin' awesome. There are endless things to do, the food is amazing, you never have to drive, the seasons are distinct and there are even four of them, you can take a train to Long Island and spend a day at the beach (thanks Kate!) or head upstate to ski, and the people are fascinating. Who knew?! I definitely don't feel done here which makes it easier and harder to leave all at once.

I guess the grand struggle is taking it all in. I can't seem to wrap my mind around the vast amount of change I'm about to experience. I know the Uhaul is coming tomorrow, but I can't understand it. I can think and read about South Africa endlessly, but it doesn't bring me any closer to being there and understanding what it will be like.

For now, I just mentally compile todo lists. The lists mainly are made up of things that need to be bought and packed, people to visits, food that needs to be eaten for the last time in 2 years. One of the items packed for storage was my pie dish. It suddenly dawned on me that I wouldn't be able to able to make a pie for 2 whole years, so "making a pie" got added to a list. I'm definitely open to hearing what other people think should be on the lists. I know I'll forget a bunch of stuff and kick myself later, but I'm sure that's part of it.

In the meantime, the top priority is spending time with the people I love and spending time preparing my mind for what's to come. I'm sure I'll have some time on our 25 hour drive to MO starting tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Game On (Andy)

It's come to our attention that the work we're going to be doing is sort of open-ended. Moreover, the literature the Peace Corps has sent us makes references to self-directed side projects.

I've thought a lot about what exactly I want to contribute. In a perfect world, I'd show up, teach everyone Ruby on Rails, and when I left my village would be full of startups and outsourcing firms. It would spark economic growth, which would lead to improved living conditions, which would lead to me being remembered as a hero forever.

But let's be realistic.

I'll probably end up somewhere with very limited Internet access. The machines I'll be working on? I'm guessing there will be three of them, and they'll all be i386s running virus-ridden Windows 95 installations. I can't count on the people I'll be teaching knowing how to use a mouse, let alone being ready to learn the basics of programming and scripting. In fact, I can't count on them even caring about computers or understanding why they might be important.

So I had an idea. What got me into computers? What made me want to learn more?


I'd like to bring a bunch of classic DOS games with me... games with low hardware requirements that can run on DOSBox. Hopefully, the students will fall in love with the games the way I did. If a few of them then grow a curiosity for how games are made (or at least how to hack and cheat), I can use that as a lead-in for teaching programming. Maybe we could even program a simple game together?

I've recently discovered Abandonia, which has a bunch of classic abandonware DOS games. There are some really good ones that I can't wait to show my future students. "Buck Rogers," anyone?

I'm not sure this is the kind of project that the Peace Corps would find acceptable, or that others would deem important, but I'm very passionate about it. So far, I believe in it. And if it gets nixed or there's no interest, at least I'll have a great way to spend some of my free time.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What We'll Be Doing (Lauren)

We are both slated to be “Resource Specialists”-Andy in Computer Science and me in Math Education. From what we can gather that can be anything from teaching students in the classroom to training teachers to working with school administrators to helping develop curriculum .

The Peace Corps also encourage volunteers to pick up a secondary project based on your interests/community needs. I am hoping to do something in women’s health. Andy and I have both talked about doing theater or after-school programming projects as well (Andy’s thinking about a computer game club) .

Some details (Lauren)

So around the end of May we got access to a Message Board where all the old South Africa volunteers and the ones who will be in our group can post about questions and advice. Today we got word of the two possible regions we will be placed in and the languages we'll be learning.

Languages: Setswana and some Afrikaans

Regions: Northwest Province or Northern Cape

Links to the wiki articles about the regions.


Aspiration Statements

After you receive your invitation, the country desk asks that you write an essay stating what you think your job will be like and what you plan to do with the work while your there and after you leave. Though it was difficult at first to write another essay, it turned out to be a great experience for both of us and to read what the other wrote. They're written in 5 sections, but I blended them altogether so sorry for any confusion. Still, thought they'd be nice to share.....


Professionally, I rely heavily upon both my basic computer skills such as mouse operation, touch typing, word processing and spreadsheet writing. I suspect that I will be teaching these skills, so I also expect to grow as both a communicator and teacher.

Moreover, I hope to learn a great deal about computer programming by teaching about it. It is my hope that I will be given the opportunity to teach advanced computer usage such as script- and program writing, in a capacity that will not only give important skills to my community, but will also give me new insight into my craft.

Because I do not yet know the skill level of my students (I'm not even certain I'll be teaching!) it is hard to speak specifically about my strategies for working effectively with host country partners. However, when it comes to teaching others to use computers, in my experience, there is one strategy that works almost universally: be patient. I remember my wonder, amazement and confusion when I first started using a computer. Learning to use a computer -- one of the most complex machines on earth -- is a skill with a steep learning curve. By remembering what it was like for me the first time, I will put myself into my students' shoes and better be able to guide them to mastery.

Unsurprisingly, I intend to adapt to the culture of South Africa by keeping an open mind above all else. In the past three years of my life, I've experienced a great deal of personal growth by living in communities such as New York City and Southern California that differ so greatly from the suburban Minnesota I grew up in. Keeping an open mind helped me adapt to and quickly become a participating member of those communities.

In South Africa, I intend to make myself a member of the community I live in, and the skill that will best help me achieve this goal is language. During my pre-service, in addition to knowledge about the culture of my community, I hope to learn a local language. The best way to speak to people is by speaking their language, whether in a metaphorical or literal sense.

In addition, I look forward to formally learning more about teaching. Specifically, learning how South African students expect to be taught will help me be a more effective instructor.

It is my expectation that the Peace Corps will give me an opportunity to make myself a stronger person. I have lived a largely sheltered, easy life in the U.S. Exposure to hard work, minimalist living conditions and an alien culture is an opportunity for me to grow.

This exposure is in keeping with my personal goals for life after my service has ended. My life's goal is to make a difference in the fight against global poverty. Through the Peace Corps, I will learn more about the people and the need so that I am better able to help in the future. My plan for fighting global poverty has only two specifics: I will volunteer my time and money to charities with the same goal. There is no way I can give myself more time, but I can increase the amount that I donate by growing as a professional; how specifically, I am yet unsure.


The lessons I have learned from teaching in southern California as well as my time as a training coordinator for the Fundamentals Center will be invaluable during my Peace Corps service. As a teacher, I found patience I never knew I had, strength when I was ready to quit, and hope in the small and infrequent victories. Teaching by nature is a profession of constant growth and self-evaluation. Through this, I have learned to keep a very open mind when confronted with new people and new ideas; because this is where relationships are built and good work can begin.

My time as a training coordinator will be useful on a technical level. From this, I learned about managing multiple sites and understanding that each community-no matter how similar-has vastly different needs and must be dealt with in a personal, thoughtful manner. I also learned how to package materials in a “train the trainer” type model which I plan to use in my service. My hope is that, though I will leave in two years, the programs and curricula that I help establish will go on for as long as they are needed.

In addition to my duties and aspirations for my math education placement, I hope to be involved in women’s health work for my secondary project. My hope would be to apply the public health concepts I have been studying independently, and create or continue a program that the community I am serving desires.

My greatest wish for all my work is that I truly listen to the people who have brought me to my placement, and give them whatever services they desire, and not the ones I think they need. I know that programs like these make the most effective and lasting changes. Just as in teaching, when I meet students where they are at, we can all forge a better path towards where we want to be.

As I stated in my previous passage, I think the most effective strategy is keeping an open mind and really listening to what the host country partners are saying. I have just as much to learn from this experience, if not more, as they do. Though my training and skills will be useful, it will only be through discussing their wishes, that we will find how those skills can best be used.

I believe the second most valuable strategy is persistence. Change never comes easily, no matter how much I and the country partners want it to. People have to learn to trust me and my motivations, and this is not an overnight process. If I fail to help someone today, or I am being met with great resistance, I know the best thing I can do is go home, reflect on those challenges, and go back again tomorrow.

My background as an army brat (a child of someone in the military) has done nothing but teach me strategies for adapting to a new culture. I have learned to be an excellent observer. Through this observation, I can learn whatever outer aspects will make people feel comfortable, as well as have them know that I am trying to understand and appreciate their culture (i.e. clothing, food, day-to-day routine).

At the same time, I have learned that this process does not mean changing what is important to me. It just means valuing where I have been, while appreciating what my new surroundings have to offer. This way I emerge a better, wiser me, but still me at the core.

On a technical level, I am hoping that the pre-service training will provide me with the essentials needed for my job placement as well as strategies that have been effective for past volunteers. I am expecting to learn any language requirements in addition to other basic cultural and safety adjustments I may need to make.

On a more personal level, I would hope to learn strategies for dealing with struggles I might face during my assignment. I look forward to hearing a variety of tools past volunteers have used or created to help them with the transition to South Africa. I would hope to hear about secondary projects that were successful, and what made them successful. Mostly, I am hoping for an immersion experience with a strong and knowledgeable support system that will help me through the initial culture shock of living on an entirely new continent.

I think of all the questions, this is the most difficult to answer. My service will influence me greatly; there is no doubt in my mind about that. However, if I have learned anything from my past experiences, it’s that you can never predict how something will change you, and that is the beauty of it.

I have aspirations to serve my community wherever I live. I’m not quite sure what that service looks like yet, but I feel like with every new experience, I am getting one step closer. I am contemplating a career change into health, and my service might solidify those dreams. However, I know that I love teaching, and my time in South Africa might place me firmly back on that track. In the end, I could be shown something entirely different I could have never imagined.

In all honestly, I am content to let the journey decide. I will work as hard as I can and pour all of myself into my time with Peace Corps and my service beyond. Because what matters most to me is that I do the very best I can, and perhaps make the lives of the people around me a little better. What I get out of that is completely secondary, and in the end, not really in my control. Like the great poet said, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

The Application Process (Lauren)

So let me bring you up to date with a little timeline

  • Andy and Lauren talk about traveling abroad August of 2007 in Redlands, CA at a little restaurant called Farm Artisan Foods (which you should eat at if you ever have the chance). We decide that traveling is cool, but we'd like some service element, and we don't want to go there for just a month, we'd really like to stay and live there, and isn't there a program that.....
  • Andy and Lauren apply to Peace Corps at the end of September 2007. The application includes two essays, the longest questionnaire you've ever seen, three references, and ten years of work history.
  • Andy and Lauren have an interview with a cool gal outside of L.A. in mid-November 2007
  • Andy and Lauren get nominated for Sub-Saharan Africa leaving in summer of 2008 in January 2008
  • Andy and Lauren go through the crazy process that is Medical/Dental/Legal Clearance and miss their anticipated leave date (through no fault of their own and despite my expert organizational skills) and are told it will take another 6-12 months to get a placement because placing couples is a complicated/delicate process
  • Andy and Lauren contemplate moving back to my parent's house vs. moving to NYC June of 2008 and temporarily withdraw from the Peace Corps process
  • Andy and Lauren move to NYC August of 2008
  • Andy and Lauren decide to give Peace Corps another go in November 2008 which entails writing two more essays, a new resume, and a new reference.
  • Andy and Lauren are reactivated February 4, 2008
  • Andy and Lauren receive email notification that they are receiving an invitation to a country Feb 20, 2008.
  • Andy and Lauren receive the actual invitation stating they were going to South Africa to be Education Resources (Andy-Computers, Lauren-Math) by mail March 5. I note the two different invitation times, because that was probably the most excruciating time of the entire experience.
  • Andy and Lauren prepare, which means new Dental Clearance, tons of new paperwork, and the ups and downs of telling people our news.

And there you have it! Currently, we are enjoying the last weeks of work and NYC. We will truly miss them both.

The Uhaul is scheduled for the 22nd and then we're off to the Midwest to visit with the friends and fam. After that, we travel to our Staging Event somewhere in the U.S. around July 21st, and then off to Africa!