Saturday, April 24, 2010

But Aren't You Afraid Of...

After speaking with a great number of people who have not been to Africa, but have been able to correctly identify it on a map, I have learned that Africa is exceptionally scary. No one said Togo itself was specifically scary, but that's because no one had ever heard of Togo until I told them it was my new home. I will address these fears because we have nothing to fear except things that are truly scary like Spider Bears and simultaneous Global Warming and Global Cooling thus confusing you on whether to buy more Winter clothes or just scrap your Winter wardrobe altogether.

What about the super-spicy food?
I do admit that I have never been known to have an iron stomach or the ability to handle Taco Bell Mild Sauce. I am not worried about this. I am eating more spicy foods in preparation and am 65% positive that no one has ever died of spicy food. I also once ate a piece of molded bread by mistake, and I think that says a lot about why you should look at your food before you eat it.

What about the rumors that drinking is more prevalent in their culture?
Once again this problem is solved before I get there. I saw an episode of Happy Days where Richie drank a bottle of Olive Oil. I think that says it all.

Running Water? Electricity?
It is true that parts of Togo do not have these things. Ever been camping? Me neither, but I have heard of camping and plan on asking about it at The Sports Authority before I go. My title is Information and Communications Technology Advisor. That has to indicate electricity at some point doesn't it?

What about jokes?
I am glad you asked. Here's one: What do you call a blind dinosaur? A DoYouThinkHeSaurus. HAHAHAHAHA!

Isn't that joke from Jurassic Park?
Next question.

What about giant spiders?
My assumption is that I will encounter wildlife and insect populations that I am unfamiliar with. Unless one of these is Spider Bears, or worse... Robot Spider Bears, I think I will live through it. But seriously, if there are Middle-Eastern Desert-Style giant spiders...you know, the ones that are 8 inches across...yeah, that will take a little getting used to.

Won't it be a challenge to not speak the language?
Yes. Yes it will. I mean Oui. C'est vrai. I am hoping that learning French will be like falling off a bicycle. That's probably not the saying, and if it is, then it's a dumb saying. Not speaking the language well will give me an opportunity to listen more closely to what people say. I know, crazy, but I'm going to try it.

...and what about having your support system missing?
I have not personally confirmed this, but I think there are people over there. In the unlikely event that everyone in the whole country does not want to be my friend, then I will make shadow puppets who I am hoping will like me very much. Secondarily, the mail is slow, not missing. My old home is a letter away.

Isn't it dangerous to assume so much before you go?
Nope, it will make for hilarious reading a year from now when I find out how wrong I was. If I knew any less about what I would be doing day to day, then I would literally have a knowledge-sucking black hole in my head.

I am not a traveler by nature. I feel that you really can make a home anyplace and enjoy what is around you. Togo will be my home for 27 months or more. It will be different than I am used to, and in the end I will be, too. When people point out all the worries I could have, I think of this quote: "Fact. Bears eat beets. Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica." What does that have to do with it? Exactly.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Was It Tough To Get In?

The Peace Corps application process is rough. It's similar to fighting off a crocodile in a swimming pool filled with tapioca pudding...in the dark.

So you go to an Information Session and hear how The Peace Corps is super hard and super awesome at the same time. Returned volunteers tell stories about what their time was like. The stories are amazing. You imagine yourself in these stories. The people in the room with you have one of two looks... They are excited and inspired, or they are completely glazed over. It doesn't take long to realize when Peace Corps service is not for you.

Next you go online and fill out an application. The application is very long, and covers everything you've done professionally, as a volunteer, in school, you name it. Filling out the application has the side-effect of pointing out that you may not be as qualified as you had hoped. Unlike most job applications this one comes with mandatory essays, so get your reasons for wanting to go and start writing.

Within a few weeks a Peace Corps representative contacts you for a face-to-face interview. This interview covers all the things on your application. The representative helps you to consider everything you've ever done as additional experience. This is probably the first time you start to see yourself actually making this journey successfully, and it's exciting! Which is a bummer, because getting excited at this point is a wee bit counter-productive, because...

...then comes the medical, the legal, and the waiting. SOOOO much waiting. To help you to get a feeling for the waiting period I will now paste the entire text of War and Peace backwards for you to read. Consider that wait month one and get ready for month two, three, four, etc. Oh drat, my copy and paster is broken. I knew once Google owned BlogSpot things wouldn't work right anymore...

So you've waited by your mailbox for month after month. You've been patient. You've lost patience. You feel like you are going to be someone's patient if it goes on much longer....then it arrives!!! A letter asking for more information. Rinse and repeat a few times.

Each year 12,000 or so people apply. 95% have college degrees (yours truly is not one of those...) Nearly everyone has lots of experience volunteering to go with their smarts. 4,000 or so people get in. Not everyone that ships out stays shipped out, but the ones that do end up with the best stories, the widest horizons and the experience of a lifetime. That's going to be me. You can hold me to that.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

So When Did This Happen?

To the people around me it came as a bit of a surprise that I had joined The Peace Corps. (I didn't tell almost anyone that I had applied.) It was more of a surprise that I was accepted, but most of them were nice enough to not mention that. I suppose people had gotten used to having the same old "Wanna know why a Brazil Nut is better than a Three-Toed Sloth" conversations with me and hadn't considered I may have had global volunteering aspirations simmering under the surface. Well, it went like this...

At the end of September 2009 I was looking hither and thither for jobs outside of the United States. I had never been outside the US and was ready for a break from the norm. I looked at government positions, private sector positions and non-profit as well. There was a Peace Corps Information Session at Colorado College and I figured that would be a fine place to spend the afternoon. Speaking to the returned Volunteers (RPCVs) I could see that "Life Was Calling" and maybe it was time to see how far it would take me. I started the application process soon after, and March arrived with a letter in my mailbox. The adventure had started.

More tomorrow...

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's Time To Go! To Togo.

I think you can't help it. When you are assigned to Togo you just have to make some lame comment with the words to go and Togo in it. It's genetic. Wait, did I really mean genetic? Probably not.

I applied so many months ago, and as any volunteer can tell you, the process was hilarious fun. Sarcasm? Yeah. Sooooo, last month I got my assignment and it's been a whirlwind since then.

More to come...of course. Quick shout out to all my new best friends leaving this Summer for Togo!!!