Thursday, February 21, 2008


Um, I know we haven't even gotten on the plane yet, but we miss you already, and would you please send a letter please?

OK thanks.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Training + eating

We started the morning with bagels and too much coffee with Trevor's dad and his wife, then drove up the street to visit the National Cathedral, where the docents wear hats fashioned of purple silk pillows.

After lunch, we said our last round of goodbyes and checked in for training, beginning with a long get-to-know-you exercise in which I got to tell everyone that I am a yoga teacher.

Of the 52 people in our group, I appear to be the second oldest one. PC has a push on to recruit more volunteers over 50. It may be working, but there sure aren't any baby boomers going to Zambia with us.

We've wrapped up the day as we have most days for the past six weeks: by eating as if there is no tomorrow. I hope I hate the food there, or people are going to have to start sending me my "fat" clothes.

We met a friendly Georgian waiter at the pizza place where we enjoyed calzones the size of our dog, and unleashed our one word of Russian on him. As a bonus, there is a Whole Foods three blocks up, complete with a three-row deli and lots of cheese samples.

The snow flurries and biting wind here make me glad we're not going to Eastern Europe, after all. Remind me of that when I start complaining about the heat, ok?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Trevor is having a stellar and unusual birthday! First Castro resigns, then we join the Peace Corps.

We met up with our PC buddies A&A at curbside drop-off in St. Louis and got to be nervous with them at the airport. We compared luggage-- we're roughly equal, with about a zillion pounds each. I may even have a kitchen sink in there somewhere.

In DC, Trevor's dad met us at the airport with dried prunes. That's a birthday cake Trevor can get excited about.

Our hotel room has free (albeit slow) internet access, warm M&M cookies in the lobby (also free) and a rack rate (posted on the back of the door) of $500 a night. Thanks, taxpayers of the USA!

Having a wonderful time; wish we were there (Zambia, that is-- we're anxiously/ eagerly awaiting that 16-hour flight).

Monday, February 18, 2008

Last day

It's our last day in Columbia. We spent the weekend saying 'bye to friends in a series of events that felt like attending our own funerals. Despite my loud and overbearing personality, I really do hate being the center of attention. But being surrounded by the most interesting, kind, generous, funny and best-looking people (see left) in town made me marvel at my own good fortune.

I managed to get through the entire weekend in a buoyant mood, but I'm on the verge of dissolving into a weepy mess. Just looking at the dog this morning brought me to tears.

What a gift to have friends so precious to leave -- and to look forward to coming home to.

The best thing is that I get to take my most favorite one with me.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Some of our treasures have made their way to the curb in hopes of finding new homes. Our house is empty except for the random items rattling around-- the phone, a few towels, extra boxes, lots of hardware bits.

Fez went to her new home last night. With her gone, it feels like any old house.

An administrative note: On this blog, "I" means Lisa. Trevor is an inspiration and travel companion and may become an occasional contributer at some point. If he behaves.

The blog title is inspired by John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley in Search of America, in which Charley is a poodle. For the record, Trevor is even better than a poodle.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Being the type A person that I am, I have often squirmed, suffered and freaked out rather than asking for help.

We have been the recipients of a bunch of it lately, and this repeated exposure to my phobia is starting to smooth some of my sharper edges.

My mom spent an entire week packing up our kitchen. Our wonderful neighbor showed up with delicious lunches twice last weekend.

We spent the night at Trevor's grandmother's house this weekend. We had fretted over inconveniencing Millie or getting her in trouble-- technically, she's not supposed to have overnight guests in her senior apartment complex.

By the time we arrived at her house, she had fluffed up the carpet, pulled out a stack of blankets and cranked the heat to "tropical." She spent an hour telling us goodnight. In the morning, she sprang out of bed the minute she heard us stir and fired up her tiny coffee pot.

Millie was so thrilled to offer us her hospitality that it felt like we were giving her a gift in accepting it. When we bought her a loaf of bread later, I thought about how giving and receiving helps build the web of relationship. By the end of the weekend, we were "even," but from sleeping on her floor and drinking her coffee, I felt a depth of connection with her I had not experienced in the twelve years I've been part of her family.

These experiences make it harder to leave home, of course. But they also reminds me that when I get to Africa, my job is not just to sweep in and help the Zambians. Just as important will be accepting help.

(PS: The dog photo-- completely gratuitous. Isn't she cute, though?)

Monday, February 11, 2008


Our house feels like quicksand. We went over this morning, thinking it wouldn't take long to finish up a few small details. Two truckloads and one ice storm later, we're a baby step closer, but finished still looks pretty far off.

And the packing piles and to-do lists grow while the clock ticks down: tomorrow, it's exactly one week until we get on the plane.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Home again

If this was an episode of Macguyver, he'd start sweating right about now.

T-minus eight days. Egads.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


The pre-departure visiting bonanza has begun. We've taken a break from whipping the house into shape to eat our way across St. Louis county.

It being Lent, we plan to take advantage of a fish fry tomorrow night. We spent last night with Aunt B. After dinner, Uncle J gave a little speech about his scapular. He explained that you wear the amulet under your clothes to keep you safe. Then he gave it to me. He gave Trevor his dad's rosary.

This all made me cry.

Then we drank more beers and watched some cable.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


The noticing types who visit this site may have seen a new name under "Contributers."

My friend Grace has agreed to take on the role of Press Secretary. She'll update the blog if we become unable to do so, will forward emails as necessary, and generally will act as head gossiper of all things Trevor & Lisa-related.

Grace & I met on the Appalachian Trail in 1996. We told stories, sang bluegrass songs, laughed until we almost peed, shared care package booty, and agreed on the necessity of decent underwear at all times.

The other night, Trevor and I had drinks with our neighbors R and A. R is a returned volunteer from West Africa. Eight months in, he got medically evacuated to DC with kidney stones, accompanied by a morphine drip and a French nurse wearing leather pants. He calls it a highlight of his experience.

R's spin on the PC inspired and reminded me what I learned with Grace on the trail: Everybody hikes her own hike. On the trail, sometimes that meant we took a day off or stuck out our thumbs. My last job taught me that trying to hide your essential self -- for me, humor and irreverence -- kills your soul. Being myself is amazing grace.

Monday, February 4, 2008


Since we're about to jet across the world to live in a mud hut with no electricity or running water for two years, we have packed up our possessions and officially moved in with my folks.

Living in the lap of luxury makes me cringe a little bit. Their house is bigger, newer and a million times nicer than ours. But I am enjoying perks like taking a long, hot! bath in a tub without the fear of contracting a fungus on my butt cheeks. And tonight when I was making a vegetarian pizza, I found, inexplicably, a huge pastry box in the fridge marked DESSERT'S! OK TO EAT! This rivals in thrill factor the time I found $72 blowing around a deserted parking lot.

We have strewn the house with our thrift-store clothes and cluttered their kitchen with our wheat berries and Fair-Trade coffee. It's already starting to feel like home.

Deployed for peace

Re: the ongoing conversation of "why did you join the Peace Corps?"

I hate war.

Specifically, I hate the killing, torture and misinformation currently being perpetuated in my name and with my tax dollars. You don't win allies by bombing people's houses and murdering their children; you breed enemies. I thought everybody knew this.

Two years ago, I took a temporary job as a military subcontractor, teaching literature and composition. I hoped to understand the people who volunteered to travel to distant lands and kill complete strangers because a guy who can't even string together a coherent sentence told them to. What I found out shocked me: The soldiers didn't seem to think much about the war at all.

If even the soldiers whose lives are on the line are disaffected, is it any wonder most Americans pretend the war doesn't exist?

I have spent a lot of time fuming, ranting and crying. The yard sign disintegrated months ago.

So I have "joined up" in the name of peace. It is something I can do.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


One of the information books we've received from PC tells us to prepare for the possibility that some of the people we work with may die while we're there.

I wasn't prepared for people to die here.

Gail Shen died this week. She embodied childlike wonder and old-soul wisdom, wrapped in a package of baby-doll dresses and bouncy blonde curls. She operated a magical little shop that captivated me (and many of my $3 allowances) as a child. I worked there off and on as an adult, until pursuing a "real job" seemed more important.

One reason I quit my job to join the Peace Corps is that I resented being consumed by full-time work that kept me from treasured relationships. Unfortunately, this came too late for me to renew my friendship with Gail. I neglected her in the last months of her life. I will always regret this.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Good reasons to be worried

One of the reasons I had trouble sleeping a few weeks ago was my life-long habit of obsessing about terrible things that could happen to us in Africa (ie, hippo + canoe = death).

This morning when I was brewing up my (arguably unnecessary) next cup of coffee, I mused to Trevor about our former upstairs tenant’s comment that her new neighborhood seems safe, except for the gunshots. People get killed in their own living rooms from stray bullets. This makes perfect sense; a wall is nothing more than wood studs, drywall (paper and dust), fiberglass or foam insulation and plastic or wood siding. None of these is particularly bulletproof. Do people living in high-crime areas have bulletproof walls? Do they even make such a thing?

Trevor says my next book should be called Worrisome Things that Would Never Occur to a Regular Person or, Tapping into the Vast Reservoir of Lisa’s Paranoid Curiosity.

I realize that while I am nervous about moving to Africa, high anxiety is a normal state for me and no reason to be alarmed.