Thursday, November 13, 2008

2 Months

I will be training up country in a village w/ no electricity, let alone internet, for the next 2 months--More postings in January.


I turned 24 last month, which at the time made me feel exceedingly old. I think living near a college town full of drunken co-eds contributed to this feeling, as well as my sister and her herd of high school friends frequently high-jacking the house. During the past week, however, I have routinely felt as if I were a minor again. Why? Because Peace Corps training involves being led around by the hand as if this group of college graduates were a junior high field trip.

The whole trend began at staging. We spent 10 minutes drawing pictures of our fears on butcher paper, acted out a public service announcement regarding PC drug, travel, and safety policies, and broke the ice throroughly enough to make snow cones. This experience was sweetened by a $140 stipend for food and drink while in Philadelphia, which let us briefly remember our age while rooting for our candidate of choice over beer and cheesesteaks.

2 shots, a bus ride to Newark, 12 hours+ flight time, 5 hours layover stateside, and a mixed-up 3 hour ordeal in Brussels later and we were in the Gambia. Once again we were bewildered children, surrounded by unfamiliar sights, herded into buses and taken to Kombo. Here we began training at the Gambian Pastoral Institute. The tone of this leg of our training was more akin to a summer camp with foreign language classes and spicy food. They did take us to a bar to meet some of the currently serving volunteers, which was fun, but the general tone of said veterans was "Aww, I remember when I was training," as opposed to "hello, respected colleagues." Now we've moved on to a Peace Corps transit house, and tomorrow we go to our villages to begin our first real immersion into Gambian culture. This is a big step on our way to independent work in our final sites, but we still have the bulk of training to go.

During this productive, yet sometimes frustrating phase in my service, I'm reminded of my summer working at Preferred family healthcare--a rehab center for kids 13-17. The kids at PFH had often been exposed to adult experiences at an early age, including sex, violence, bad language, and drugs. This gave them the attitude that they were already adults, despite their immature, childlike behavior. A common assertion among the clients was, "I'm gr-own," with an attitude best described as "sassy." I had to stifle my laughter at the time, when a 15-year-old with his underwear hanging out the back of his pants and a milk mustache yelled that he was "grown." Right now, however, I can sympathize. When we're told we can't leave the compound without volunteer guidance, or taken on a "field trip" and given box lunches, part of me wants to shout, "I'm a grown up- I get to do what I want!"

But then I realize--I'm in a country thousands of miles from home, where most of the people don't speak more than a few words of my language. Also, in 9 weeks we're going to be largely on our own, with only limited supervision from PC staff. There are going to be times where I would very much like someone to hold my hand and tell me just what the hell I'm supposed to do. So, for now, give me the box lunch and constant supervision. I'm going to work hard to try and be ready for service, and until I am, a little child-like security doesn't sound so bad.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Civic Duties

So it's 5 days away. To most of you that means a chad or a lever or a marker and the end of 2 years of bullsh#$. To me it's a plane ticket and the prospect of an obscenely early morning, then a country I only know from photographs and factoids. At this point I possess the knowledge of a 3rd grader who drew The Gambia out of a fishbowl and spent a couple weeks learning about agriculture and demographics and sticking photos of bustling marketplaces and crocodiles on posterboard. What will I do when I get there? That information as of yet is a bit fuzzy.
The first 2 months seem to be devoted to cramming an overload of information into my currently atrophied brain. The last year or so I spent memorizing bagel sandwich construction and sales pitches for movie rental bundles. Nothing particularly difficult or important in either the long or short run. Starting next week I will be assaulted with 2 years' worth of vocational training, language skills, and cultural sensitivity, over which I will be regularly graded and critiqued. This prospect is honestly more frightening than the spectres of exotic disease and wild fauna. After this initial training, assuming I pass, I will be inducted into the corps and placed in a village where I will be...improving it in yet-to-be-defined ways. Basically, the assignment will be what I make it.
Yet while the task seems daunting, it is equally invigorating. It is exactly the kind of stimulation to jar my dilapidated cognitive abilities, atrophied from a year of minimum wage drudgery. Case in point- it has taken me almost two distracted months to read Sons and Lovers, which at 400 pages isn't light reading, but should be easy to dispatch within a month for someone with a B.A. So, while Obama and McCain are revving up for what appears to be a very difficult presidency, I am preparing for my own modest contribution to our image abroad, and hopefully revive my own ambition. The purpose of this blog will be to document the successes and struggles of my service--and maybe work on my writing skills a little bit. Comments and criticism (within reason) are welcome.