Tag Archives: Adventure

What am I doing with my life?

This is one of a few posts written while I could not sleep one night during my site visit a few weeks ago.

Today I took a 5 hour nap in the middle of the day, so naturally it’s 1 am and I can’t get my mind to shut down. So here are a few ramblings of the future. But first let me take you to a glimpse of the past:

I’ve known that I’ve had a passion for psychology since I really dug into college when I was 16 and since then have been exploring different paths I thought I might want to pursue with psychology. The latest of which was to go back to school when I returned from Peace Corps to get my masters and licensure and then hopefully my doctorate in social work. I’ve been thinking that I want to start my own child therapy practice with an emphasis in trauma and that plan hasn’t really changed, but tonight I lay awake for hours wondering if that was really the best plan for me and if I would really be good at that. I think a major part of why that came up for me is because I’ve been thinking hard about whether I will want to extend in the Peace Corps.

I know at this point you’re probably thinking, what the hell is wrong with this girl, doesn’t she know how to be present and let life just unfold. The truth is, no, I don’t really know how to do that. I’ve always had pride in my motivation, drive, and preparedness and that comes from always thinking about the future. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely live in the present and enjoy the experiences I have, but when my brain just has time to free flow, it goes to the future and that has helped me to accomplish everything I have in my short 21 years. So yes, I’m having this amazing experience in Africa and still thinking of the future.

So originally, before I even got accepted into the Peace Corps, I was already thinking of extending my service. All the RPCVs I had met who had had the best services had extended, you get extra money in the end, and I thought that once I came home, I would want to settle down and build a life in one spot and that wouldn’t leave time to do something like this again. What I’ve realized is that you don’t actually need two whole years to get a good appreciation of a culture (although, I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more in the time to come and all of the views of this post may change). I already have learned far more about Botswana in these 2 months than I would have imagined. So maybe settling down with a career and a house, and traveling and working abroad aren’t mutually exclusive. Once I realized that I could have more experiences like this after I’ve established my career, the need to extend fell away. I realized that I don’t need to prove anything by being away from home for more than 2 years (that’s already a hell of a long time). So maybe I don’t need to extend, but then this changed my thinking of what I would be doing when I got home.

So anyway, I had lots of doubts and questions about what I was doing with my life and after about 4 hours of hard thinking about it and consulting with the people who know me best, I decided to stop thinking about it with the realization that nothing has really changed and who knows what the future will bring. I just need to maintain my way of planning and then changing the plans with life. I’m sure I’m bound to go back to this question many times in my service and maybe it will change, or maybe the plan I’ve been hashing since I was 16 will persevere through all of life’s many changes.

RALEKGETHO!! Don’t Worry, I Can’t Pronounce It Either

This title is a little misleading. I can pronounce it every three or four tries when the phlegm in the back of my throat works right. Anyway, this is my future home! I found out today that I will be living in this tiny village (also called a small settlement) for the next two years. It’s probably about thirty kilometers from Molepolole and maybe sixty or so from Gabs. So I’m below the Malaria line!! I will be working in the primary school (grades 1-7) which is most likely a small school of only about two to three-hundred kids. I won’t be teaching, but I’ll be there as a resource to other teachers and to run clubs and other activities for the littles (this is my favorite term, so I’ll probably use it often). The village itself only has a population of 430. It’s the seventh poorest village in Botswana and is comprised mostly of agricultural workers. It’s in the middle of nowhere with no paved roads entering the village at all. In fact, it’s probably about twenty to thirty minutes of driving on dirt roads to reach a large enough village to warrant pavement. I honestly know very little about it because there is no literature on it. Most of the other volunteers received a little information about the village and what previous volunteers did there, but I will be the first volunteer to ever serve in Ralekgetho, so no such information was available. I have been informed that I will likely have running water (unless the village is out which is common in the drought we’re in), but it’s unlikely that I will have electricity. So it will be an exciting time to figure out how to preserve food and keep up on my blog posts! It’s unlikely that there will be any internet in my village, but I’m hoping to maintain the little internet I’m able to get on my phone. I’m extremely excited! I know that it will be challenging to work with an extremely impoverished community and not have things like electricity that I take for granted, but I also know that I will really be able to make an impact as the first volunteer and I will also be able to grow so much more because I am not relying on my Western amenities. My country director told me that I am going to have a really unique Peace Corps experience because it is actually becoming really uncommon to live in a village this rural. I’m really excited for this experience and I will be trying to maintain a regular blogging schedule, though (I promise!). My host mom is not as excited as I am. She thinks I should have been placed with electricity (I’m not surprised because she spoils me and thinks everyone should [Which, duh! Everyone should spoil me]), and she also thinks I should be working with college age students because I am so smart. She really loves and thinks highly of me. I guess I made a really good impression or she thinks all Lekgoas (white people) are that way.

So to give you an idea of how they kept our excitement growing today: They had us all sit in designated seats for trainees, raise our left hand, drop it on our arm rests, reach underneath, and guess what was there! Used chewing gum, just kidding, it was a small slip of paper that had a number on it. So that’s how they decided what order we went in (I was number 26, my best friend, AKA my PC spouse AKA Bethany was number 5). Then they took us up, one by one. We opened a small envelope with our names on them, read a proverb (all of them were different) that ended with in (insert village name here). Then we all screamed and got excited. We then walked to another table, got an envelope with more information in it (that is if you had someone in your placement before, mine just informed me what school I’d be in), walked onstage and got our placement put on the map. Then we got a cookie with the number we were sited on it and watched and screamed for everyone else! It was the most exciting day we’ve had and there were only a few people upset by their placements. It really is a crazy time now because we are all just ready to be there. Our next two days are spent meeting our supervisors and doing supervisor workshops to make sure we’re on the same page. Then on Saturday we travel to our sites and are there for a two week site visit. We stay with new home stays; mine is a woman on the staff at my school who has a three or four year old. I’ll be trying to write more posts during my site visit, but it’s going to be a pretty crazy time. Then on the weekend of the 25th, I’ll travel to a neighboring village, Thamaga to shadow two volunteers who currently live there. They purposefully placed me near this village because there is a large pottery/ceramics community there. The only thing I requested was to be near pottery, I didn’t ask for amenities or a specific grade level, I just wanted to be near the possibility of continuing my wheel throwing. After the shadowing, I will be traveling (by myself for the first time) back to Moleps for three more weeks of training. I think it will be hard to go back to Moleps after getting a taste of my village, but at least we’ll all have a chance to debrief together. I am so excited for this adventure and every day it becomes more real. I can’t believe it’s already been a month, because I feel like I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg. I can’t wait to see my village and discover where I can help for the next two years!

UPDATE: This post was written on September 10th before I went to my site and has a few facts wrong. Since then I discovered that I will have power during my two week visit, which started on Saturday September 12th. I will however have no running water. For the house I will be staying at starting in October, for the balance of my time here, I will have no power or running water. I will also have reasonable internet (although more limited and no MySocial plans) and phone. It is also about 88km from Molepolole and 95km from Gaborone on the roads. The distances in the above post are as the bird flies.

They Call Me Kesa

Dumelang borra le bomma. O thlotse jang? Leina lame ke Kesaobaka. Sefane same ke Gosalamang mo Botswana. Kwa Amerika leina lame ke Joiwyn. Sefane same ke Lewis. Ke tswa kwa Washington State kwa Amerika. Ke gorogile mo Botswana ka di 3 tsa Phatwe. Ke moitaupi wa Peace Corps ke dira le tsa banana mo Botswana. Mo Molepolole ke ithuta Setswana le ngwao. Kwa Amerika ke ne ke le moithuti gape ke bereka ke le morutabana. Ke rata go bala le go robala. Ke a leboga!

Did you figure all of that out? Don’t worry, I won’t test you yet. Let me translate for you:
Hello gentlemen and ladies (don’t be surprised, men always come first). How did you spend your day? (the mid – late day version of how are you?) My name is Kesaobaka Gosalamang in Setswana (Kesaobaka means I praise him [for giving me another daughter]). In America, my name is Joiwyn Lewis. I am from Washington State in America. I arrived in Botswana on the 3rd of August. I’m a Peace Corps volunteer working with youth (banana) in Botswana. In Molepolole, I am learning Setswana and culture. In America, I was a student and a teacher. I like to read and sleep. Thank you!

Can you tell we’ve been working primarily on introductions? On the one hand, I can’t believe it’s been over two weeks since I left home already and on the other hand, it feels like I’ve been here for so long. I absolutely love it here. The people are so welcoming, the other volunteers are amazing people that I am so happy to have in my life, I’ve changed so many bad habits already (I have been really good about my dietary restrictions, have had better hygiene, haven’t watched any movies or TV besides the religious TV and news my host mom watches, haven’t been spending countless hours on the internet, and have been sleeping better and actually waking up in the morning like a normal person), I’ve learned how to do laundry by hand (sort of), have been doing much better with Setswana than I expected, and have been the least anxious I’ve ever been in my life. I can’t believe how much stress I’ve let push me around in life. I’ve had this amazing sense of calm and contentedness this past week. I know I am in the honeymoon phase of Peace Corps and there will be more ups and downs to come, but I honestly am just so ready to take this journey. But enough about my crazy Peace Corps high, let me tell you a little about my life as a Peace Corps Trainee.

Since you formally heard from me last, I got matched with my host family and started official training. In the matching ceremony, they called out the trainees one by one and then called out their families. When I stood up in front of everyone waiting to hear who my host mom was, I really had no idea what to expect. When they called out her name, Solofaleng Gosalamang, she jumped up and started yelling in Setswana. She came running to me, grabbed me in a big hug, tried to pick me up a few times and continued yelling in Setswana. Then she presented me in front of everyone with a few more yells. Since then, she has done this in other groups, and I believe her shouts are mostly “this is my daughter, my daughter, my daughter, my baby”, but that is a very rough translation. After we sat down, she told me my new name, Kesaobaka, told me I had three older siblings and started asking me questions. I was quite overwhelmed because I am really used to being the loudest most affectionate person I know, and she trumped me, by a lot. When she took me home, I was a little worried at first because I felt like a complete outsider being treated as an insider, which essentially, I was. She took me in as one of her children and immediately started worrying that I wasn’t eating enough and I wasn’t liking it at her home. At first this was a little hard for me to handle because I pride myself on being pretty independent, but then I started to realize how much she cared and how to navigate the situation and now I really do feel at home. She’s an extremely sweet women. She is very religious, but also very liberal. We have had amazing talks about diversity, labeling, race, and how we are all just humans and should love each other both because and despite of our differences. She says her English is improving already from talking to me and my Setswana is perfect (which, thanks to her, the few phrases I know are, but there is still so much I don’t know). Our house is great in love, but small in space. It has two nice size bedrooms, a very small kitchen (It has a refrigerator, freezer, and stove!), a small bathroom (but it has a working bathtub and toilet! No hot running water, though), and a decent size living room. Her son, my brother, Laone, lives in a house about the same size 10 feet in front of us on our compound. There are about 10 neighborhood children who love to watch me and talk to me. They will yell at me through the kitchen window when I am helping to cook, swarm around me when I am walking home from training, and watch me when I am walking around our compound. I am working on remembering their names and love to talk to them. They love to greet me and then they will occasionally yell to me that they love me when I am around.

Everyone is so friendly here. I have a small walk home after my daily training sessions (we have language classes from 7:30-9:30 Mon-Fri and then other classes until 5 on those days and then more language classes from 8-12 on Saturdays). During my walk, I am always greeted by at least 5 people, honked at by passing cars, waved and yelled to by young children and usually stopped by at least 2 people to have actual conversations where they ask me how I am in Setswana and when I respond correctly they reply with an emphatic “You people know Setswana!” It is also common for people in the neighborhood (known as the ward or Kgotleng here) to know my name. My mother is very well known and is often parading me around. We went to meet the chief of our ward, known as the Kgosi, on Friday. We had to do a small introduction of ourselves. After I did mine, my mother got up and ran over to me saying how well I did and hugged me. All the other mothers stayed in their seats. After the meeting was over, she was yelling to everyone about “her Kesa” and having me speak Setswana to them all. There was even one woman who came up to me and said, “Kesa, do you want it?” holding out her baby girl. At first I was very confused, but she kept pushing her infant toward me. One of the current volunteers here told me that that happened occasionally, but was usually a joke. It didn’t really seem like a joke though.

Otherwise our days aren’t too eventful. We just go to training and then I come home and have dinner. Every three days or so, I take a bucket bath (it’s common here for people to take a bucket bath twice a day, but I used the drought as an excuse with my host mom to get away with twice a week instead of twice a day.) I typically go to bed around 7 and read until I fall asleep around 8. The only things that hinder my sleep are the loud bar about 50 feet away, the pack of dogs that wait to bark until it’s about 9 and then all bark in tandem, and the man who walks around with a megaphone giving the village information about meetings and other events occurring in Setswana. That doesn’t stop me from reading though. I’ve already finished 5 books and am almost finished with my 6th. I’ve also been working on a long letter to my mom (it’s at 13 pages right now). I promise I’ll start writing to everyone else soon (and by soon, it will probably be more around my lock down, I mean community integration period, when I get to my site in 9 weeks). I of course miss you all, and there are things happening that I wish I could be there to support everyone with, but I really am extremely happy here and so proud of myself for doing this. I want to thank you all for your unending support and love. It makes this adventure so much more rewarding, knowing that you all support me. Sala Sentle (Stay Well).

Outside Motel


I don’t even know where to start. We’re sitting outside on our last night in Gaborone (Gabs as I will from now on refer to it as). It’s 63 degrees outside and we’re under a beautiful starry night sky. Even the sky is strange with all new stars that I’ve never seen and millions more than I’m used to seeing, and we’re in a well-lit hotel in the middle of the capital city! I can’t even imagine what the sky will look like in my village. It’s been a jam packed few days with lots to do and lots to think about and lots of crazy early mornings!!

Our trip started on Sunday morning as we got up at 4:30am EST to get all of us to the airport. As you all know, we then had our little bus/taxi accident that left us on the side of the road for over an hour. Once we got to the airport we had few hitches, just a little less time. Our fifteen hour flight was exhausting for our butts and minds, but otherwise uneventful. I read half a book, watched two movies, and slept for about three hours. When we arrived in South Africa, there was a long period of going through passport control and a whole other set of security checks, but that was also not as bad as I expected. We were there for a little over 4 hours, but most of that time was used to get through passport control and security, otherwise, I just looked around at the shops, got a neck and back massage, and bought some post-cards. We were then shuttle bussed to the little propeller plane to get us to Gabs and I promptly passed out as soon as we started taking off and woke up as we landed (shortest plane ride that I’ve ever been on). Once we arrived in Gabs, we were bussed to the hotel where we started our training! We got information about what was to come this week, ate an interesting meal (I’m doing really well avoiding gluten, dairy, and eggs so far!), and then turned in super early. Tuesday, we started bright and early with breakfast, then had some logistical stuff (immigration paperwork, receiving our allowances, getting bug nets, and taking head shots), did some Setswana training, and learned how to take bucket baths! And today, we woke up even earlier, had two hours of language before I got pulled out for medical clearance and the end of immigration, the we had information about our training village and what pre-service training (PST) is going to be like, and received our cell phones. It’s been a crazy packed schedule and now I’m getting ready to go to bed before getting up at 5:30 to head to our training village.
Tomorrow we move to Molepolole (Moleps) and meet our host families. This is a big deal. We’re going to be participating in a matching ceremony and have to look really snazzy (which means I have to cover my tattoos, so I’m borrowing some tights). It’s going to be another crazy eventful day. Then we start our typical training schedule of language lessons at 7:30am-9:30am, and then training from 10am-5pm. We even do language lessons on Saturday’s. While in Moleps, I probably won’t have internet more than once a week and I definitely won’t have it until after the first week. We’ll see how it goes. My goal is to post once a week.
The awesome part of this week has actually been getting to know all the amazing people. I have met some awesome people that I already click with extremely well. I can’t wait to see where this adventure takes me, it’s already been eye opening and amazing. I know this hasn’t been the most exciting post, but I wanted to let you all know that I’m here safe and I’m having a great start to my adventure. I love you all!

Lower Manhattan Skyline

It’s Finally Getting Real

I’m sitting on a bus, on the side of the road because a taxi hit us, no joke. But that’s a long story for another day. Oh, well, why wait? Let’s just take an early tangent. We’re on the bus and for some reason there is a taxi sitting on in the gore area on our right side with no signals or anything. It looks like it might try and pull in front of us, though, so our driver honks at him. He doesn’t pull out until we are already passed him for a little bit and then he decides to try to use the shoulder to get passed us, hits us, hits the guard rail, and bounces back and forth a little bit, then speeds off. He didn’t look that worse for wear though. So we’re sitting here, waiting for the police, which we have been for close to thirty minutes and I’m starting to think, what if we don’t make our flight? I think this is making it hit harder for me that this is really happening. I’m moving to Botswana! It’s been fun saying that to random strangers for months, but now it’s real. I’m flying out in 3 hours! I think that this is also why my goodbyes weren’t that hard. That is until the last couple of days. It didn’t feel real, but now it is. Saying goodbye to my brother and mom who have been my everything this summer was the hardest. They have been there for me through the entire process and I can’t imagine not talking to them every day. When my mom dropped me off at the airport, I cried through the whole security line (quietly and discreetly, of course! Although people have been talking about how they were sobbing in the airport.) It’s a tough transition to go from so much communication to an unknown scenario of communication.

As soon as I got on the plane to Newark though, with my friend Kyra, I realized that this is the most exciting thing. I’m moving to Africa and my family is also excited for me! They support me unconditionally on this decision and I think that makes this so much better. When I got into Newark, I was sad, but of course there was so much going on that I just got sucked into new experiences and that is great! I met new friends, had a great dinner, went on an adventure to find a bar at 1 am, and had a great night sleep. Then the staging began. I got up around noon, went down for registration, got sent back to my room to put socks on to cover my tattoos (I’m kind of of the opinion that white athletic socks with black dress flats is more unprofessional than some tasteful tattoos, but oh well), got registered, and then sat through 5 hours of talking about the basics and history of Peace Corps (PC). Then we had an adventure in Jersey finding a little hole in the wall Mexican place (which was a BYOB restaurant, I’ve never heard of that before!!), and then hit the town for our final night out before we leave America! So in other words, it was a very eventful weekend with little time to feel sad for leaving. And I’m really not sad to leave, I’m mostly just excited to see this next chapter of my life unfold. I’m sure that I will have highs and lows though and you’re just catching a high right now. I’m really looking forward to sharing my experience with you all and seeing where this crazy life takes me. So stay posted on that, but of course, I also miss you all and wish I could take you with me. It’s time for me to take this journey though.

P.S. The bus is moving again and it looks like we’re going to make our flight (crossing fingers).

Peace Corps Volunteers In Gaborone

Welcome To Africa

This post was written by Nick, Joiwyn’s Brother.

While Joiwyn has been traveling to Botswana she has sent me a few pictures that I posted to facebook and/or twitter along with some real-time updates on her progress across the globe. She traveled from Seattle to Newark, NJ on Friday and spent Saturday there. On Sunday morning she took a bus to New York and then a 15 hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. She had some text message and WiFi access there and then took a flight this morning to Gaborone, Botswana. She is now out of reliable contact and has a post written that has more details about her trip that she will send me as soon as she has a better internet connection.

For now here is an update from the Peace Corps Country Desk Officer for Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and Botswana:

Hello family and friends of the newest members of the Peace Corps Botswana family,

Below is a picture of the Peace Corps/Botswana 2015 training class upon arrival at the airport in Gaborone, Botswana. All trainees arrived safely after some extensive travel time. By all accounts from Peace Corps staff in Botswana they are doing extremely well, in great spirits, and excited to get started on the next couple of months of training. You should hear directly from your loved one soon, but it will take some time for them to get situated and the days are full of training sessions.

Peace Corps Volunteers In Gaborone
Peace Corps Botswana Safe Arrivals Photo

Stop Limiting Your Life

With the enormity of this move, comes a lot of introspection for me. I keep thinking of how long two years is and how much change comes in those years. I feel so different than the person I was two years ago. Around that time, I was 19, just becoming a manager at the movie theater (working more than 40 hours a week), had just gotten a part time job as a teacher’s assistant, was taking 20 credits, renting out the top floor of an amazing house (best roommate situation that I’ve ever had), trying to apply to grad school and decide what I for sure wanted to pursue in my life, and deciding to leave the place that I had made my home (Olympia). I was anxious and stressed all the time, and feeling so unsure of what I wanted, which was extremely out of character for me. I had gained the 40 pounds that I had lost back and then some. I was feeling uncomfortable in most aspects of my life and it was really time for a change, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for it. I didn’t think that I could leave everything I knew behind and go to a place that I knew nothing about or no one around me. But when I made the decision to pursue the Peace Corps, I knew I had to make that leap and live completely on my own.

Since then, I have moved to a new state for the first time, lived with people I had never met before, navigated a city I had only been to once before, took my first graduate school classes, received grades for the first time in two years, took tests for the first time in two years, learned to not take myself or those around me so seriously, learned how to battle my depression and homesickness, made new and amazing friends, turned 21, had major oral surgery, and handled a lot of personal stuff relatively well. My biggest lesson though, was that you can’t control everything in your life. Your family goes through shit that you can’t always help them with, you get a bad teacher and lose your 4.0, you don’t jive well with your co-workers, but still have to make it work. You can’t plan life and you can’t control it. It just happens. You have to do the best you can with the cards you’re dealt and not stress because your life hasn’t gone exactly how you think it should or you haven’t changed in the exact ways you thought you would. You really never know what is going to be a catalyst for change in your life. It could be something as simple as a bike ride to the farmers market, or as profound as an amazing professor. You just have to be open to every experience and stop trying to control it. Controlling life just limits it.

There are so many events in my life that have changed me and molded me into who I am today and so many more to come. I wouldn’t be as sure as I am about this decision today if I hadn’t fallen into depression in Montana and realized that I could pull myself out. I wouldn’t be as independent and self-sufficient as I am if it weren’t for my best friend and mom who have so much belief in me and are there when I really need them, but also know what situations I need to handle on my own (sometimes before I know it). I wouldn’t have gotten into grad school by twenty if it weren’t for my brother and sisters who were so convinced I could succeed in college that they helped me test into it at fourteen. The people around me and the situations that I’ve been in have drastically and dramatically changed my life forever. I am constantly changing and evolving and I don’t want that to ever stop. I have no doubt that the Peace Corps will lead to even more dramatic change in my life, but I can’t wait for it! I can’t wait to see what my life looks like and what my values are after this experience. Like many people say, this is going to be a life changing experience. I’m not afraid of change, I’m euphoric for it.

The things that I currently find challenging are the outside expectations of what my life should look like at the end of my service, or the changes I should go through. It seems like I’ve hit that spot in life where society expects me to start thinking of settling down. Yes, I’m only twenty-one, but I’ve already had people start asking me when I’m going to get married. It isn’t anyone close to me, they all know that that is barely on my radar, but just the other day, I had a client who I’ve known for probably close to six or seven years ask if I was going to get married right after my service. How the hell do I know? But this question is not just coming from the outside, I’m thinking it too (I said it was barely on my radar, OK? Not non-existent.) I have a really strong desire to do more than one Peace Corps service for multiple reasons, one of which is that I feel that I will want to settle down when I return. Whether that is settling into a career or with another person, I don’t know, but I don’t think I’ll want to do something else like the Peace Corps after being back in the states for a few years (Unless something similar to the Peace Corps ends up being my career). So I have been thinking a lot about whether I even want to get married and have kids or what I think my life will look like in the future. But what is the point in wondering about all of these things that I can’t control. So what if I don’t get married and have kids, or so what if I have a giant wedding and pop out 20 of the little buggers? It doesn’t really matter right now because I am absolutely not in a place to do it. I could try to control what my future looks like, but there are way too many variables. I really can’t predict what is to come, so I have to just let life take me down all the intricate paths it has in store for me. Like Queen Elsa says, “Let it go!” Or as the Beatles said, “Let it be.” Either way, the message is the same, stop being a control freak.

You Can’t Live Your Life in Fear

I get this question or variations of this question a lot: Are you afraid? My brother, Ivan, even asked me the other day why I was watching so much X-Files when I was about to move to a place where I would probably have to go outside in the dark to go to the bathroom. My answer to these question is pretty simple, no, I’m not afraid. I don’t think you can live your life in fear. How limiting is that? I can’t limit myself by being afraid of new experiences. There are millions of people who have lived long, full, and happy lives in Africa. And yes, there are lots of killer animals and diseases, but that’s just a small part of the amazing journey that I am about to embark on. Also, I’m a pretty smart person, I don’t think I’m going to put myself in too many unnecessarily dangerous situations. Of course, I’m sure that I will come across some scary experiences, but that’s just a part of life.

Of course, as I get closer and closer to my departure date (just fifteen more days) I get a little more anxious and nervous. I’m not scared, but it is a little unsettling going into a situation like this where you can really make no assumptions or expectations for what your life is going to look like for the next two plus years. It’s also hard to have so much still to do and so little time. I’m feeling the pressure to get packed up and have everything in order, but that’s not quite possible yet. There is also the added stress of making sure I see the people I love before I leave and getting some good quality time in. I’ve already had the beginnings of goodbyes and am not looking forward to the really official ‘I won’t be talking to you for months’ goodbyes that are coming. I can’t even begin to think of how hard it will be to say goodbye to my mom when she drops me off at the airport. But as Winnie the Pooh said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

The Woes of Preparation

Most people know that I love planning. If I could plan everything out a year in advance, I probably would. It’s really only been in the past year that I’ve calmed down on the planning front. I used to have to plan everything out because I was doing so much, but when I moved to Montana, I vowed to work less and consequently plan less. I didn’t need to have every second planned out because I didn’t have quite as many responsibilities. My responsibilities shifted from making sure that I arrived to my overbooked life, to making sure I got the twenty-five million hours of homework done. Homework can be done at one in the morning and a paper can be written the night before its due, but you generally can’t show up to a shift at three in the morning. I also knew when I got to Montana that my end goal was the Peace Corps and I was definitely going to have to give up planning, and expectations, and toilets, and hot water, and electricity, and heat, and many other things we take for granted in the U.S. That’s a whole other post though, so back to the point. I was and am doing better about being flexible, but my planning nature does scream out for acknowledgement still. Suffice it to say, I’ve been planning for Botswana since October, five months before I got my invitation, and it’s a good thing I have. There is a lot that goes into planning to be in a foreign country with who knows what kind of communication methods and living conditions. My packing list alone has been a five month process and honestly that’s been the biggest focus of the whole process. How do you know what to pack for 2 years in 2 50-pound bags and two small carry-on bags? I’m sure I will write another blog post about what I did decide to pack, but for now this one is simply about the process.

When I started to think about what my life is going to look like half way around the world, I realized that the way I live now is vastly different than what’s to come. I doubt that I will be coming home after a long day’s work to an insulated house with air conditioning and ice cream. No, I’ll probably be going home to a small uninsulated house with no freezer and maybe a little unreliable electricity, but I won’t know that until after I am in country. So how do you plan what to pack when you don’t even know if you’re going to have electricity or running water? Or when you expect that it’s going to be hot all the time (it’s Africa, right? Isn’t it always hot there?), only to learn that they actually have a very chilling winter six months of the year. Or at least I think they do, but I’m not positive because I’m not there yet, I’ve heard multiple different stories that contradict each other. So really I’m just making educated guesses. Another complication to this whole process is being a poor college student who has lived from paycheck to three days after getting my paycheck for over 3 years. How do I manage to scrounge up the over $1000 I need for everything I’m bringing to my service, not to mention the hundreds of dollars spent on medical clearances, and the $6000 in credit card debt that I’ve acquired from paying for over a thousand dollars in repairs for my car, $2000 on oral surgery, and $3000 on a tonsillectomy while being a poor college student living from paycheck to three days after my paycheck?

Luckily, I have an amazing family who fully support me and this adventure I am going on. I wouldn’t be able to do this without my mom and brothers. My mom and my brother Ivan figured out a way they could afford to pay off my credit card debt for me. I’m working for them for the summer in exchange for a debt free standing when I leave for the Peace Corps. Thankfully, my brother Ivan and his wife Amanda, did an amazing job on their flip and were able to sell their house and acquire a little extra money to help pay off my debts. Now getting the money to pay for everything else was the main focus. In order to get that money, I really needed another job, but working 8:30-5 every weekday and living an hour away from your work doesn’t leave a lot of time for a second job. I also didn’t want my whole summer to be about work. I’m about to move to Africa for two years, after all. But I needed something. So with the connections of my other brother and sister-in-law, Nick and Jenny, I was able to find a subbing position for a paper route. Now working a paper route is one of the worst jobs ever, especially when working from 8:30-5 as well. I would get up at midnight, drive in to pick up the papers, leave after doing the inserts and checking on route changes around 2:30 am, drive the route until about 6am, drive to mom’s work and arrive around 6:30, take a nap until 8:15, work from 8:30-5 and then get home around 6 to try to sleep until midnight. It was exhausting and frustrating, but it was a little extra money and I made some pretty cool friends.

Between trying to decide what exact items I needed and how cheap I could get them, it’s been a very time-consuming and stressful process. There have been countless e-mail and text streams between my awesome brother Nick and me. “Hey, I think this sleeping bag looks better. Oh wait, actually you should go with this one.” “Wait, Nick, what about this one?” I seriously would not be able to do this without my brothers. Luckily, I am almost done with the process. I have made all of my orders but one and have gotten some pretty neat discounts for being a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer). I’ve almost made my money stretch far enough as well. I only need about a hundred dollars or so to cover any social life I may want over the summer (so no heavy drinking nights, guys). Just a couple days of donating plasma (hopefully I’m not anemic this time) and I’ll have the money I need. Now I just have to figure out how to pack all of this stuff.

The Start of a New Adventure

Beginnings are always the hardest because you don’t really know what’s to come. I’ve been racking my brain for the first thing I want to say, but each time I am hit with this question: “How can I start writing my blog when I haven’t started my adventure yet?” But in all honesty, my adventure started years ago when I first started thinking about the Peace Corps. My journey began when I was seventeen and thinking about which four year college to transfer to. I was looking at my options, Evergreen being number one, and asking myself if I wanted to take a break from school, (because I was so unsure of where I was going to come up with the money), when I stumbled across Peace Corps. Most Peace Corps programs require a bachelor’s degree, but at the time, to work in the agriculture field, you just needed an associates and at least six months work experience in agriculture. Now, coming from a two acre hobby farm, being vice president of the Students for Environmental Action Club, and thinking that I was hot shit, I thought for sure that I would be able to find a summer job and learn agriculture skills to become an agricultural volunteer. Yeah, fat chance of that one. It wasn’t until a day working on a farm, with an angry farmer who didn’t want me there, and my allergies flaring up to where I could barely see, that I realized that was not the life for me. I was not going to make it as an agriculture volunteer, but I was determined to not give up on the Peace Corp.

So I decided to continue pursuing psychology, after all, all the other Peace Corps programs required at least ten years’ experience or a bachelor’s degree. I chose The Evergreen State College (they were ranked number seven in schools to have alumni join the Peace Corps) and focused on school for a full year before thinking about the Peace Corps again. It wasn’t until I was done with my first year at Evergreen, my junior year of college, starting to think about grad school, and feeling completely burnt out that I started considering Peace Corps again. I was having an overnight with two of my best friends at the time, and we were all talking about life after Evergreen. Both of them were considering a year off and one of them in particular (*cough cough* Franny *cough cough*) kept telling me that I really should take a year off. Now I have never been one to take a substantial break in the middle of something. I just want to power through and get it done. But after that first year living on my own, working full-time, going to school full-time, losing both my grandparents in one day, trying to handle a tough living situation, and losing a credit in a class I didn’t think I deserved to lose; a year off sounded really good. Especially because the Master’s programs I was looking into were four or five year long programs. So I thought, “Well, I’ll apply both to grad school and to the Peace Corps, and then we’ll see which one I get into.” So I started to look into each of them individually.

I found over forty Graduate programs to look into, worked for months trying to whittle the list down, and then happened upon a little thing called Masters’ International. It was almost too good to be true. “I could get my Master’s degree while doing the Peace Corps?” I had never found such a happy medium in my life before. So I started looking into Psychology programs in the Masters’ International field. There were only two, one in Montana and the other in Michigan. For me, Michigan wasn’t even an option. It was too far away and I was going to be paying out the wazoo. Montana on the other hand, that was doable. I could become a part of the WGRP and get in-state tuition, it was only an 8 hour drive from home, and it wouldn’t be quite as shocking as moving to Michigan. It was like a little tiny baby step before I left everything I knew for the Peace Corps. Of course there wasn’t a guarantee that I’d get into either the Master’s Program or the Peace Corps, but as the all or nothing person I am, I decided “to hell with it” I’ll just throw all my eggs in one basket and only apply to the one program. If I don’t get in, it really is time for a break.

So I agonized over this one application for months. There was rewrite after rewrite that my amazing best friend was kind enough to give me feedback after feedback on. She and I made a goal that I would submit the application before my birthday, almost a month early, and I did. Then I agonized over my Skype interview, and then I agonized about how long I wasn’t hearing from them. This is why I will always remember the day I was sitting in the lunch room at my first grade teaching assistant job, eating my lunch, when I just happened to check my e-mail and see the news that would change my life completely: I was one of eight students selected for the Global Youth Development Master’s program at the University of Montana. This was the most exciting day of my life because I really had no idea it was coming. I, of course, had people saying that I was going to get in and that I should start planning my future, but I really had no concrete thoughts that I was going to get in. On top of that, I had a giant fear that I wasn’t ready. I was worried I was rushing myself and that I would get to Montana and fall on my ass. I was only 20, I had never lived more than a couple hours from my family, I had been surrounded by the same sorts of people my entire life, and always had a support system around me. How did I know that I could handle all of these challenges? This was the most excited I had ever been, but also the most scared I had ever been. I knew that if I wanted to succeed in the Peace Corps, I had to at least succeed in Montana where I at least still had reliable phone and internet contact with my mom.

So I finished my Peace Corps application, packed up, left the amazing friends and family I had in Washington, and moved to Montana where the first question I was asked is if I had a gun to register with the apartment. It was my first situation with an assigned roommate, my first Montana Summer, my first time trying to navigate a place I had only been once, the first time I knew absolutely no one within eight hour travel radius, and the first time I wasn’t either working, going to school, or doing both at the same time. I had a month to settle in which ended up translating to wallowing in self-pity and loneliness, doing endless online shopping, and watching every movie I had in my collection while avoiding my overly conservative, boy crazy roommate who was generally never alone. It was a rough transition and I really wasn’t prepared for it, but it was probably the best way for me to discover coping mechanisms, learn my needs, and prepare for two years of loneliness and self-pity in the Peace Corps (just kidding, I’ll only be lonely and self-pitying for the first year ;). Once school started, I was plagued with more insecurities of being so young, and not fitting in. I was worried that my lack of experience compared to everyone else would be a hindrance to my success. I was also worried that the two years of going to school with an ungraded system would have ruined me for traditional school. “Could I really do this? Or who was I kidding?” About half way through the first semester, I realized “Who was I kidding. Of course I could do this!” It wasn’t without its struggles though, especially as we played the Peace Corps waiting game.

The application is just the first part. You apply, go through an initial medical clearance, and then wait, and wait, and wait. Then you might hear that you are being considered for a country. I heard in September that I was being considered for Zambia for an English teaching position which I promptly turned down because I knew that every Peace Corps position came with teaching English and I didn’t want it to be my focus. So then I did some more waiting while they thought about my decision to turn down a position. “How entitled am I?” Then I heard I was being considered for Botswana! So there was a burst of excitement and then some more waiting and a bit more waiting. Then one of the moments that I was waiting for, I got a request for an interview! So then there was a bit more waiting. Then the day of the interview, at seven in the morning, a half hour before the interview, and after I had already gotten to the school and settled in, I got an e-mail saying that I my interviewer was sick and we’d have to reschedule. Meanwhile, all the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV’s) around me were saying how prepared I was and how I was for sure going to get in. It really didn’t feel like it after that interview was cancelled though. So I got the interview rescheduled, it ended up being with a different person, and as soon as the interview was done, I knew. I knew that I was going to Botswana with the Peace Corps. It only took three days to hear back that I had my invitation. Second best day of my life.