Tuesday, January 29, 2008


People have been asking me what my job is going to be in Zambia.

Officially, I am working with Rural Education Development. Here's what the official PC website says about it:

Peace Corps' education project builds on the initial success of a national radio education program called 'Learning at Taonga Market.' This interactive radio instruction program produced by the Zambian Ministry of Education covers the primary school curriculum in a fun and engaging way, and is broadcast over the national radio station.

I read the official program guide several times, but zoned out over phrases like "capacity building." Cabinets and houses I've built. But capacity?? Hopefully it comes with a blueprint, maybe a pattern printed on tissue.

Perhaps my job will include editing the official program guides. I could build the heck out of some capacity there. And remove some random commas while we're at it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Hunt & gather

Last week I spent a long time at the outdoors store looking at camping gadgets. In the end, I bought this wildly overpriced coffee thing.

We're going someplace where people are dying of AIDS and don't always have enough to eat. We will show up with bags full of camping accessories, technical clothing, electronics. Every day, I try to resist the urge to buy more crap. But until we get there, filling up my shopping basket feels like a way to prepare.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Emptying out

We went to a wine tasting tonight with returned PC volunteers. I wanted to bring some nuts and dried fruit, so I went looking for the Mexican dish I usually use. It was already packed.

Our house still looks full, but we must be making progress, because several times this week, I have looked for something that is already in my parents' basement-- or has gone to the Goodwill. Or the trash.

Yesterday was my last day of work. There's no turning back now-- even if we don't get on the plane to DC, everything has changed. Hanging out with the RPCVs changed my mental state, too. Our friends and family are excited -- some of them -- but it's tinged with sadness, fear. We will all miss each other, and they worry. But the RPCVs we met tonight were thrilled for us. It was contagious.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Before work, I stopped by my brother's house to drop off the dog. My nephew was laying under the kitchen table with the golden lab puppies they're fostering for the humane society.

We are both into animals, so I told him I read this weekend that it's unwise to go canoeing in Africa, as hippos sometimes knock over the canoes, and then crocodiles might eat you.

He did not believe this. Who can blame him? The internet is notoriously unreliable.

He told me that he had seen a television program on hippos, on which he learned that hippos weigh three million pounds.

Who needs internets when you have a nine-year-old nephew?

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Making up an Amazon order a minute ago, I laughed at one of the items on my wishlist, a book called "30 Days to a Simpler Life."

Thirty days from today, we get on a plane to Zambia. I'm thinking I can cross that book off my list.

A saying

Part of my very important preparations include spending massive amounts of time surfing the internet for shreds of information about what to expect. I turned up this saying the other day:

PC volunteers to Latin America come back political; volunteers to Asia come back spiritual; volunteers to Africa come back laughing.

I don't know whether that's happy laughing or crazy laughing, but I like the sound of it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


I've started packing: piling up a stack of stuff I think I'll want in Zambia. There's no way to know what I'll wish I had brought, though I'm trolling blogs for hints and ideas. My Target list grows.

One advantage of Zambia over Eastern Europe: smaller clothes! I had been planning to cram the backpack full of coats, hats, long underwear, wool socks, boots. Now we're packing tank tops and t-shirts, sandals, sun hats.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cookie time

My niece called the other night to hawk Girl Scout cookies. By the time they arrive, we will be gone.

Not that I need any cookies. And I'm sure they have cookies in Zambia.

Still-- we'll be gone. Yeeks! My mom came over this afternoon to help me pack up the Christmas decorations. We loaded up a bunch of books, too. The house gets emptier and it seems more real.

Monday, January 14, 2008


My brother bought me a cheap used laptop online, back when we still thought we'd be going someplace with electricity. I'm ripping CDs like a madwoman, in hopes.

The touchpad is a little wonky, so this afternoon I stopped by the office supply store and bought a wee little mouse that is smaller than a twinkie. I want to kiss it, it's so cute. For a mousepad, I'm using a quilted coaster.

Speaking of mice, our friend HD said he's been online researching, and was going to cook us some Zambian food, until he found out they serve caterpiller and mouse. Did I mention I'm a vegetarian? Good to know I have the source of tonight's bad dreams lined up already.

Researching is a hot topic among our friends & family this week. I think we've already fulfilled PC's famed "third goal" of raising awareness of other cultures among people back home. There are many people in this midwestern town who can now find Zambia on a map.


If you're planning to go to Zambia as a PC volunteer, I recommend that you don't read The Unheard by Josh Swiller. I picked it up at the library last week and was so excited to find a book by somebody who had served in the country we're headed to.

Then I settled into bed Saturday night with it. The book opens with Swiller getting nearly killed by an angry mob. From there, it's downhill. When I closed my eyes, I imagined getting chased by angry villagers and wild animals. My imagination had a party imagining all the horrible possibilities.

With packing up a house crammed with junk, saying goodbye to my friends and family, and myriad other details, I'm having enough trouble sleeping as it is. I haven't gotten a decent rest since last week. I'm starting to feel undead.

Maybe I'll give that book another try in two years.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Before I announced my resignation at work, I was scheduled to write a feature for the summer issue on clutter. I passed all my notes along to my irritated boss, then found out that the woman I had been planning to interview used to live in Africa. Now she helps people clean out their closets.

The whole notion of writing about clutter strikes me as ironic right now. Our task for the next 40 days is to clean out the mountain of junk in our house preparing to live in a grass hut with nothing but what we can carry in a backpack.

I was online a few minutes ago changing my address to Country Living so my mom can send magazines to me and Trevor pointed out a cover blurb: "15 Pretty Ways to Get Organized." He said, "I'm sure that will be very useful in Zambia."

Friday, January 11, 2008


First thing this morning, we accepted the offer to Zambia and within an hour the FedEx man had delivered a thick packet of materials that make it seem even more official: passport and visa applications, a million other forms, and a letter from George W. Bush.

While I walked the dog, I ran into the mayor, who was riding to work on his bike, so bundled up I could barely recognize him. I yelled out, "We're going to Zambia!" and he stopped to chat for awhile.

I said goodbye to our houseguest Hank and came to work, where I tried to quit, but my boss was in a meeting. Then her meeting was over, and somebody stepped into her office just ahead of me. Then she had gone to the bathroom.

But I finally did it! There's no turning back now. I will take next week as vacation, then come back to help ship the magazine the following week. Then, the next phase of the adventure begins.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


The waiting (part of it, anyway) is over! We're going to Zambia in six weeks (pending our official acceptance of the offer, which we plan to do tomorrow morning).

I'm so excited I couldn't sleep, and I feel a little sick to my stomach.

This morning when I dropped the dog at my brother's house, all I had to tell my nephew was 'Africa' and 'animals' and he was on board. "Can I go with you?" he asked.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Biding my time

All this waiting has me chewing my arm off. Some ways I'm finding to deal with the anxiety:

1. Getting snippy/irate with boss, husband, the guy who edges into the intersection in his W-sticker-plastered SUV while I'm trying to cross the street.
2. Drinking copious amounts of coffee, water and green tea.
3. Shaking; making numerous trips to the restroom. (see number 2)
4. Obsessively surfing blogs of places I think we might be going, and obsessively combing excel spread sheets found on a listserv to try to figure out where we might be going. (Note to self: if PC doesn't work out, consider work as private detective.)
5. Scratching psychosomatic rash that has sprouted across legs, arms, and midsection.
6. Dumping as much energy as possible into spinning class. I actually think my eyeballs were sweating this afternoon.
7. Eating more than my share of large pizzas plus rooting around desk drawers and coworker desktops for broken candy canes, Halloween-era Tootsie Pops, and even chewable vitamin chocolates (last resort; not recommended). (Hence number 6.)
8. Fretting.

Monday, January 7, 2008

News is no news

Apparently I spoke too soon before. Trevor got a returned message from our placement officer saying he's working on three potential sites for us, all in Africa.

Africa? For a month we've been telling people Eastern Europe, probably Albania. But Africa, hey that's cool. Perhaps we will get to live in a hut, after all. (The laptop I ordered comes in tomorrow; that'll be handy in a hut.)

Also, the PO said we'd be leaving any time between the end of February to July. February, as in the month after this one. That would be right at six weeks from today. Egads! As Trevor said, better not send in those checks to the Little Rock Marathon, eh? (It's March 2.)

If all the Africa projects fall through, we're also up for one in Eastern Europe, leaving in May.

The PO is waiting to hear from African country #1, according to his voice mail. My research has taught me to expect this to take A Long Time.

Also, Trevor is no longer doing urban planning, but environmental education.

Well, at least it's news, right? Pardon me while I go have a small nervous fit.

Still waiting

Well, we still haven't heard anything, despite more phone calls. But I have developed an itchy rash all around my midsection and on my arm: the physical manifestation of the angst coursing through my body.

If I were an animal, surely I would have chewed off my own arm by now.

Still, we move forward. This morning I made a lunch date with a former colleague who is a lovely person, a former debutante, and an ESL teacher. Over pad thai Friday, she will give me tips culled from her years of experience --including the famous "Animal Sounds" pronounciation guide. If only I could somehow learn to channel her wonderful personality.

I just accepted a meeting for next Tuesday and sadly erased "Last day of work??!" from my calendar.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

What started it

I’ve always assumed that eventually I would join PC, since I first heard about it when I was a kid. I’ve even sent away for the application packet before, at least once, but always chickened out before I finished and sent it in.

But I got started applying this time around because of AS, who sat in the adjacent cubes at work.

I was so impressed when I first met her because she seemed to effortlessly elegant and perfect, this California girl with blonde hair and expensive-looking clothes like a wrap dress that draped exactly right. On me it would have gaped open and showed my ratty old bra.
She had three framed pictures above her computer of her and her husband outside the hut where they lived while they were in Kyrgistan. They had just gotten back. Amy had been working in the office just a few months and probably already had another job lined up when I met her, though I didn’t know that at the time.

She had a fascinating resume, too, at glossy magazines. She was freelancing, too, and I could never figure out how the hell she had time for that plus grad school plus a full-time job plus going to the gym regularly (as she clearly did) plus making these amazing gourmet lunches that I would gaze upon covetously as I shoved my generic diet soda and PB&J into the office mini-fridge.

Just like with the cool kids in junior high, I was always a little sad that she would ask our other coworkers to get coffee and never me, though later I realized it was because she was already starting to disassociate with the job, which also explains why she didn’t pounce on my marginally better cube when she had the chance.

AS planted in me the seeds of dissatisfaction with my job, right from my first weeks in the office. She hated our boss; she wasn’t even planning on putting the job on her resume. Of course because she was so glamorous and cool and because I was new and soaking in everything, I too started to see the chinks in the armor and the stains on the carpet.

But it wasn’t until after she took another job and moved on that a bunch of us were having falafel at the International CafĂ©, sitting outside on a gorgeous spring day, and I mentioned again that I had always thought about doing PC and she said, “If you’re thinking about it, you should just do it. Don’t think.”

It was in the elevator going back up to the office that I thought, “Yeah, I should.” And when I got back to my desk, I went online and started working on my application.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Still nothing

If I listed all the times we thought we were going to know something new and then were disappointed, this would be the world's longest, saddest and most boring blog.

I called the DC office last Friday for news and our placement officer was out for the weekend. Somehow I decided that he would return my call Monday with news. Monday, he emailed to say everybody is out of the office and he may have an update Friday.

Friday?!?!? What about Wednesday and Thursday?

Breathe. It's the federal government, I keep reminding myself. All in good time. Patience.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Movies, or, Why We Will Never Get Netflix

In the morning I got a phone call from our friend JM, who owns our town's only remaining locally-owned video store. She had some screener copies of DVDs she thought we might want for our upcoming travels; did we want to come paw through them?

Yes!!! Yes!!!

We spent a lovely hour or so in her store's cold, grungy basement filling a box. I'm already imagining movie nights with friends, showing films in English classes, watching something fluffy and silly when I'm feeling homesick. I hope they have popcorn in Eastern Europe (or wherever we're going).

This is why we will never get Netflix. Can you imagine them calling up with such a magical gift? (OK, if they call, I will take the movies. But our rentals dollars will always go to JM's store.)