Gotta be Politically Correct...

The contents of this blog do not reflect the opinions of the US government or Peace Corps.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Post PC

  So after we were evacuated to Morocco for a week and then debriefed on why we were evacuated and then what our options were at that point.  I decided to take the option of finishing my service out and then 'returning home'.  However, I decided to take the option of them giving me the $ normally used to pay for my plane ticket home and then find my own way back.
   I was quite pleased to find that I could find a plane ticket home for the same amount that PC had given me, but only after spending 10 more days in Morocco and then making a small detour to South Africa for another 10 days before landing back in Indiana.  So I took that option because that only makes sense.
   I was quite unfamiliar with what Morocco had to offer and had decided to join one of my friends that knew quite a bit about the country and had a list of cool things to do and places to see.  We traveled around Morocco visiting the cities of Fes, Macnes, Marrakesh, Ourzazate, Essuara, and then Casablanca.  We also were joined by a couple other PC friends on a 3day trip that involved camel rides in the Sahara Desert! The cities in Morocco were quite interesting, and we visited the medinas (street markets) in all the places which is what Morocco is known for.  We were educated on how Berber rugs are made, leather dying, and silver craftsmanship.  We ate the traditional shwarmas, kupto, Berber bread, street fish sandwiches, street egg sandwiches, and drank our share of Moroccan mint green tea.  Our camel trek was quite interesting (but not very comfortable), and we had a driver take us through the Atlas Mountains during our jouney as well, which was quite beautiful and adventuresome.  I had a great trip and definitely feel more educated in my world travels with a better understanding of how people live in yet another part of this amazing place called Earth.
   I then flew down to South Africa where I had rented a Chevy Spark Lite to escort me across the country exploring the many wonders that South Africa boasts of.  I met with a friend in Johannesberg when I arrived who helped me plan out my next 10 days and also gave me some tips for driving on the left side of the road because that was a major difference that I hadn't even seen before let alone undertaken.  I started my travels in SA by visiting Kruger National Park which is famous for its public status for experiencing a safari adventure.  The Big 5 (lions, leapords, elephants, rhinos, and water buffalo) are the iconic figures that everyone strives to see when they go on a safari in SA, and I had a similar goal and desire, only adding to the mix giraffes, zebra, hyena, cheeta, and then any other kind of wildlife that was in the vicinity.  Much to my surprise and just as much to the locals as well, I was able to see all but leapords out of my list of animals and then also checked off kudu, reedbuck, impala, wild boar, springbok, hippos, eagles, ostrich, monkeys, banded mongoose, and an array of different species of birds.  To say the least, it was a very successful safari that I self-catered not in a Land Rover but yes, a Chevy Spark Lite; and I didn't even mention the amazing landscapes that I also saw.  Next, after a 9hr. drive, I spent a night at Sani Pass in the Drakensburg Mts. which reminded me very much of the Smoky Mts. and thus was a cool scene as the sun was fading behind the mts.  I then landed in a little faintly known village named Bulungula which is a '4x4 drive' (the Spark Lite handled it though) 2hrs. off the main road down to the Indian Ocean coast in what is referred to as the Wild Coast of SA.  It was a very beautiful place that was very much practicing eco-tourism to its finest.  I gathered sea shells, walked on the beach, and relaxed by the picturesque hillside community firepit while listening to the local young boys beat out different trance rhythms on the traditional drums.  I spent the next day driving 11hrs. down to the town of Nature's Valley which is just outside of the Tsitsikamma NP; the drive wasn't that bad as I had picked up a couple that were from the U.K. and the Netherlands and then dropped them off in the well-known chill-town of Cinsta as I passed by.  That night, the backpacker's 'as the locals say' (really cool youth hostels scattered all over SA) that I stayed in, I roomed with some actual rocket scientist from Belgium, how cool is that!  After hiking a bit there, I drove to the town of Franschhoek which is located in the 'winelands' just outside of Cape Town.  Franschhoek is known for its fine dining as well as being one of the many towns that is located within a short distance of a plethora of vineyards.  I on the other hand found that the beautiful mountainous scenery and driving was just as much worth the visit. As well as the local backpacker's whose owner was retired from the carpentry business but still actively pursued the hobby and created some really neat furniture and lodges.  After a couple wine tastings the next day, in which I failed in being able to refine my conisour abilities, I drove see the only penguins in Africa, visit the Cape of Good Hope, drive the iconic strip of road from Chapman's Peak to Hout Bay, and then landed in Cape Town.  A lady that I had met when I was at Bulungula was the reoccuring host mother of a family that provided housing to international students at the University of Cape Town, and she had instructed me that I was to stay with them when I arrived in Cape Town to which I had no quarems about as it was easy on the $ situation and it's always best to spend time with locals of an area when given the opportunity, in my opinion.  I continued to check off the Cape Town must-do's the next day by hiking up Table Mt. and then walking throughout the city center to explore the shops and atmosphere of laid back Long St. and the surrounding area.  The most exciting part of me was when I noticed a store advertising Toureg craftwork (which is the traditional tribe of the Sahara Desert whom have a very large influence in Niger).  I stepped in to see what the shop had to offer and then while talking with the owners found out they were from Niger, and much to their surprise we talked in Hausa for the next 20 mintues, which absolutely made my day!  I returned to my host families home where the daughter who is about my age decided she was responsible for my experiencing the other novelty of Cape Town, its night life; we visited 3 different bars which seemed no different than the array of bars that one could find here in the states before calling it a night.  The next day I flew out of Cape Town to Johannesberg where I had one last spurt into the city to try some local food (mashed boiled corn, a bratwurst, and an array of warmed canned food) and then boarded the plane for my connecting flight in Paris.
     I had a 10hr. layover in Paris, so I took the train into the city when I walked about for ~4hrs. where I saw the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Notre Damne, and some other architectural eye-candy buildings before travelin back to the airport.  Finally, I boarded the plane and continued my journey back to Indy via the Atlanta airport for a quick transfer, and was then welcomed home by my whole family with baloons, hugs, smiles, and the peace of knowing you're home.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Shi ke nan (It's finished)

Hey everyone,
   So I have some news. Peace Corps Niger has gone through an evacuation which means that all of us PCV's are finished with their service in Niger, and the program has been postponed until it is deemed safe enough for the PC to reenter.  We were evacuated  because of some kidnappings which lead to murders and heightened activities and threats of Al Queida in Niger.  All of the PCV's from Niger are safe and are only hurt in our heart-felt sorrow for the Nigerien people that will suffer more than anyone from these actions.
   All volunteers were evacuated to Rabat, Morocco which is where I am currently residing.  PC Morocco has spoiled us and we've been stationed out of a really really nice hotel with lots amenities that we're not used to.  After a few days of debriefing and sessions about what happened, closing out our assignments in Niger, and what options we have available to us now.  I have chosen to travel around some while in Africa and the opportunity presents itself and will then return back to the states where I'll look into what options I will be available to me next.
   Thank you all for your prayers and support for the time I've been in Niger and just as much the time leading up to my departure.  I hope to see and talk to all of you when I get back. 
    So, obviously, don't send any more letters or mail or anything to me in Niger because I won't get it.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Let the fun begin

   Dec. 30th 2010, I was offcially sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I will be serving in the Maradi region of Niger, Africa for 2yrs. starting at the end of the 1st week of Jan. as an Agro-forestry agent.  The swearing-in ceremony was held at the US Embassy in Niamey, the capital of Niger, and there were 41 of us that took the oath, which puts the total number of PCV's in country upwards of ~100 strong.  I celebrated by having 3 scoops of ice cream from one of the Very few places that it can be found in Niger!  The majority of my stage-mates had very traditional and taylor-made outfits made and everyone looked their finest; I on the other hand was unable to find the material I wanted and so borrowed an outfit from my host brother that is really cool.  We were treated to a very delicious dinner that evening as well with fried potatos, mixed salad, tender and delicious meat (goat), egg rolls (quite odd for Niger), and cake. 
    Once I'm posted in my village, I will stay there for 3 months before going back to the training site for more training.  I will only be allowed to leave to travel to the nearest market, 7km away, for weekly food supplies and the such and then also once a month I'll be allowed to go into Maradi for team meetings with other PCV's.  Fortunately for me, the village that I will travel to for market is also a post of another volunteer; I'm super pumped about this because she's smart and actually went to school for International Agriculture, not to mention that she's also really cool and a great friend as well. 
   I'm anxious to get started but also enjoying a few days off before I get 'installed' in my village.  There are PC hostels in the regional capitals which are a great place for us volunteers to hang out and take a break from the daily grind of typical PC life.  Examples of our amenities include: internet, couches, tv/movie room, fully stocked appliance kitchen, library, showers, toilets, and best of all other PCV's to converse and hang out with!  I will do my best to keep you informed from here on out but can only guarentee that the posts will be fewer and between as I'm starting my official 2yrs. of Peace Corp service.
   Thank you all for your support: prayers, mail, e-mail, FB, and comments on here even.  It definitely helps me and lets me know I'm loved, and I also hope that I am able to help you understand a little bit more about Niger, it's people, and the culture that I'm being blessed to get to experience as well.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It's gonna happen

Since I last posted...
Christmas was a good time as we celebrated it together as trainees.  We sang Christmas songs (which I was very much appreciative for), had a secret santa in which I got phone credit so I could call home and American snacks!, and we had a dinner.  I was able to talk to several people on Christmas Eve, and then with the whole family and Becky on Christmas (always such a blessing to hear from/talk with). 
  I also was blessed with the ability to pass my language proficency exam which means that I will be swearing in on Thur. Dec. 30th as an 'official Peace Corps Volunteer'!  Sorry for the abruptness but time is short. Love you all, thanks for the support!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Progress and Excitement

   I spent 2wks with a group of other trainees and a couple language trainers in a small village as an immersion experience.  It proved to be quite helpful as I passed my 2nd language proficiency 'exam' with a rating that (if I can keep) would allow for me to be sworn in which is in ~2wks!  Hard to believe that after 7wks. in country they have taught us the foundations of a language well enough that we can function within the society! (Don't get the wrong impression though, we're still nowhere near being fluent though).
    We all found out what village we will be posted in for our 2yr. term today!  We were all anxious to find out and I will be in the Maradi region, which only means that I'll be within a 3-5hr. distance from Maradi using a variety of means of transportation (feet, donkey cart, bush taxi to list a few).  I'll be in a village that's considered a 'bush village' of ~2000 people.  There were 2 other volunteers that have been posted in the village before me but the 1st left after a month and the other took on a different postion within the PC after a year.  From what I've been informed, the people are extremely nice and I'll have the opportunity to look into a few different bigger projects that would be accepted well within the village (although this is very subject to whatever direction the village and I are able to manage).  I'll be able to explain a little bit more after I've actually been there, met the people, and seen what  life will be like (I've been told that I also have the best hole in the ground 'toilet' out of all the PC volunteers in Niger!). 
  Hope you're all staying warm; its getting all the way down to the mid 60's here!  It's hard to think that it's Dec. and that Christmas is a week away without the snow, Christmas songs, and fun seasonal gatherings and spirit. 
  Thank you all for your support and prayers, LIVEITUP, Peace and Love to all,

Saturday, November 20, 2010

1 month into it

   We had our 1st language proficiency 'test' today which means that our language classes will change so that we're matched with other trainees that are at the same level.  Despite feeling like I am understanding the language to some extent, I feel like I did poorly on my 'test' which means could be a good thing as I'll probably be placed with a trainer that speaks some English for the duration of my Pre-Service Training.
   I feel like my body is starting to catch up with the change now: the heat, food, learning, and sleeping pattern (or lack there of at times).  I am starting to realize how important yet difficult it is to find fiber in the Nigerien diet too as we eat a lot of carbs: rice, millet, corn, sorghum, and fried dough, with the supplemental foods being beans, yogurt in a bag, oil, a little bit of meat, and some veggies (onion, potatos, peppers, okra, and eggplant).
   So far I've been able to start a garden which only has tomatoes now and a tree pepiniere with an assortment of different trees, but we won't be at the training site long enough to get to reap the benefits of them before we get placed in our posts.  They've been teaching us all kinds of things that we'll be able to use so that we're actually 'qualified' in our technical field before we leave.  The most impressive thing being a tree called Moringa ore. that I will hopefully get some seeds for before too long as I have an idea of creating a 'portable and reusable' pepiniere system.  Oz. for oz. Moringa provides more Vit. C than oranges, more Calcium than milk, and is possible the most nutrient dense food in Africa, and what's more, it's adapted for the arid climate that Niger has.
   We don't get much time for internet service at this point so this is it for now, but maybe after PST, I'll be able to be more elaborate.
  Lastly, my roommate is quite the popular one and has put together a short bio on all of us PC Trainees that are in the same Stage (FARM and Community Health 2010).  So check out his website if you want to check out our cool and diverse group...
   Thanks for your support and prayers,

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

3 wks in

Hey everyone,
   I'm doin good and enjoyin Niger while on a pretty tight schedule.  We have lots of training (language being the most intense, then medical, safety and security, cross-cultural, and technical) which keeps our minds movin and processing things all day long.  We stay with host families during the week and meet up as a whole group of trainees a couple times a week, otherwise we're in small groups for our language training. 
    The most shocking things have been the enormous quantities of trash (esp. plastic bags) that is strewn about everywhere: in the streets, fields, and even living quarters.  The environment is very much like what I've seen in AZ with red rock, lots/mainly sand, trees and low-lying shrubs stewn about, hot (90+ after 9:30 am) and ~75 at night, 12 hrs of sun 6:30-6:30, and millet grown wherever possible (with sorghum, beans of sorts, and and peanuts).  Right now it's going into cold season which means that people are starting their gardens with tomato, cucumber, corn, beans, lettuce, onion, peppers, eggplant, and other garden plants being sewn into the community or personal gardens.  Some common sights are Trash Everywhere, sand, millet, stucco or millet stalk houses, children all over (some with, some without clothes), goats, donkeys and donkey carts, bulls, chickens, sheep (short haired w/ the tail), pigeons, street vendors, and lots of curious people starring at the white people.  Typical meals have been rice and sause, rice and beans with oil, millet fixed many different ways, different types of fried doughs for breakfast, bits of goat meat, pasta (maccaronni or spaghetti), different types of potatoes, okra, and water, coke or a local pop to drink.
    I have 6 more weeks of training before I will be assigned to a post.  It's fun getting to be in the place in life that I've always wanted to be; I realized this the other day that I'm truely living what I've dreamed and talked about for quite a while. It's difficult, really organized and intense for training, but the other 40 trainees that I'm here with are going through the same thing and it's a good time getting to know knew friends and a new culture. 
   I hope all of you are doing well and thank you for all the support and prayers you provide me with.