Welcome to my blog! Thoughts, updates, and photos from my 2 years in Peace Corps Guinea.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Next Phase: Grad School

I am registered for research credits at UMD. Going back to where I did my undergrad, and I couldn't be happier. I traveled for nearly a month, and no place felt more like home than McKeldin Mall. This all came about in the most sudden way, but now that I'm an RPCV, it's not stressing me out as much that I don't know all the details. It'll come about.

I had some really great travels. I got to see lots and lots of my college friends and even some high school friends in DC/Baltimore. I ate out for restaurant week twice. I hemorrhaged my readjustment allowance on delicious food. Ask me if I regret this after I start paying rent and car payments. Currently, no regrets.

I explored Philly, from fine art to dive bars, from beer gardens to one of the top 5 beer bars in the states. There was beer. I also had a cocktail with Tang. Because, why not? I had a great time in Philly and stayed in the best 4-star hotel ever. Actually Chris and Michelle's apartment, it was sweet. I owe them a fantastic time. You guys rolled out the red carpet!

Then it was on to the hometown, and I thought I was done with my gastronomic adventures, but no! There was Skyline and Graeters and Marion's and Laura's cookies. It was fabulous to "come home" and see where I come from. And yet, I don't see myself living there. But who knows?

Then on to Erie for my niece's birthday. She had a blast at Chuck E. Cheese, and then we had a special night out. I picked her up from school and we went to the mall, where she got to pick out an outfit. We also got matching shiny gold belts, soo anyone with fashion advice on how to wear a children's gold belt, lemme know. Then she got to pick where we went for dessert, and she picked Red Lobster, because she loves to touch the lobsters, even though every time she gets shy. She is awesome and smart and sassy and good God, I love that kid to death. I'm hoping this can be a yearly tradition, even if I don't make it for her birthday every year. Here's Shae in part of her outfit: (not pictured: hoodie, leggings, socks, and sparkly purple belt)


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mary No Longer in Guinea

FIRST:

I just heard that at least 3 of my students passed their BAC, meaning they can go to college! I can't tell you how much of a success this feels like. One of my science girls passed--the one who came nearly every afternoon to study physics and English! Sooooooooo happy!

Now then:

I've been home now for nearly a month, and I just haven't been able to bring myself to update this.I'm already feeling much better--I came home with a nasty ear infection and stomach problems, probably from taking too much ibuprofen. My arm is improving, but not "better" yet.

It's been a relief being home. I'd say I'm definitely still in the honeymoon phase, no matter how much US politics/judicial decisions have gotten me down. I haven't been having nightmares, and I haven't run into any fous yet!

I'll try to update more often about my readjustment.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

En route

At the boarding checkpoint for my last flight, the woman in front of me is being questioned in detail about her bags. I walk up to the second agent and he asks where I am coming from. 
Guinea, I reply. And how long was your stay?
Two years. He begins to ask if I am living and working in guinea. 
Not anymore, I say. I'm going home. 
He abruptly closes my passport, smiles, and says have a nice flight. 

I skip down the walkway. I'm going home! 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Coming Home

I've gotten a lot of feedback recently on my "On Homesickness" post from last week, mostly about my use of the word "failute". What I was trying to say is that I am not thriving, not that I'm failing as a volunteer or a teacher. But I do feel that I have failed to feel like myself, a self that I could maintain. I guess it's sort of like running a half-marathon and realizing you can't run the full. I have limits, and I have seen them. And in a lot of ways, that's really good.

The last few months have been fairly dark (and not just because rainy season clouds FINALLY moved in). But in the past week, I've really gained some insight into myself and the sort of person I am. I think I've been waiting for a long time for the incident that "breaks me". Something big that would happen that would make me say "I can't take it, it's over, it's time to go." But it turns out, I kept going through the fou attack, I made it back from the gastro-problems, I fought my way through the school year left-handed after I injured my right, I kept on going after a kid was killed in my site. I kept going. And last week, another volunteers said to me something along the lines of
"You've been through a lot. What makes you think something would break you? You're underestimating your strength."

I really thought about that. And I realized she was right. There wasn't anything forseeable that could happen that would straight-up break me. I didn't need to stay here to prove to myself that I was strong enough to meet the challenge I set for myself when I accepted my assignment in Guinea.

I also realized I was challenging myself for the sake of the challenge. I'm in pain from an arm injury/malady going on 6 months. And I've been dealing with anxiety on a level that's not normal for over a year. I've been hyper-aware of anyone approaching me, I've tensed up every time a truck has passed me. For over a year. And I still managed to be a hella awesome volunteer in the meantime.

But now it's time to take care of myself. Time to figure out why my right arm is in a world of pain. Time to remove myself from walking 2 feet from carelessly-driven, poorly maintained trucks hundreds of times a week. It's two months early, but I'm coming home. I expect to be back in the US by June 26, although, like anything in this life, it's not for sure.

I am sad to be leaving my Guinean friends and family and the PCV family I love so much, but I feel really good about this decision. I came to this decision from a place of strength, not because I was broken.

See you soon, USA!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Not What I Expected

When I started Peace Corps, I was told repeatedly to leave all expectations behind. And in small ways, I think I did a good job of that  for the things that I encountered during Pre-Service training. Bucket showers? Huge cockroaches and spiders? Terrible food? Sexism? I knew it was coming but I didn’t know how, and I adapted. But the unexpected parts of my Peace Corps service haven’t been small things. They’ve been pretty big.
I didn’t expect that I’d be tackled by a crazy man while inside a walled, razor-wired compound, or that I’d still be reeling from the effects of that trauma more than a year later. I didn’t expect to spend 6 weeks in America miserably sick to my stomach. I didn’t expect to have to become ambidextrous because of a repeated stress injury that took me out of site for nearly 3 weeks. And I really, truly, didn’t expect to see parts of a child strewn across the road I live on after a tragic truck-pedestrian accident in late May.
I made myself a promise when I joined Peace Corps that if I felt like something had happened to me that would give me permanent damage, I would come home. Otherwise, I told myself, I would persevere. Honestly, I think I’ve broken that promise to myself at this point, and I’m not sure it’s a bad thing. When I come home, I’ll have to see doctors about the wrist problems that have plagued me for two years without explanation, and I’ll have to deal with the anxiety and perhaps even PTSD of my attack. I’d like to think that both of these aren’t truly permanent, but aren’t those the sort of things that I had given my permission to come home for? Sometimes, especially recently, I ask myself: what is the straw that could break this camels back?
 Today, I thought it was the death of this child. I don’t even know him, but he was walking home from school, minding his own business on the shoulder of the road (our sidewalk) when a truck came along and I quote “totally destroyed his head.” This is my absolute greatest fear, and I have on occasion been laughed at for jumping across the drainage ditch as a truck barrels past. I live in a country with no regulation. Do their brakes work? Could their steering column snap? It all seems possible, especially to someone who as experienced the “impossible” twice in my life. Why yes, when I fall sick, I prefer it to be a rare disease with only 200 cases in the preceding century. Why yes, when I’m assaulted, it would be within a guarded, walled compound. It’s become very hard for me to identify what real risks are as opposed to fantastical imaginings that would never happen.
But I’m still here. And I think I’m going to make it to my COS date in August (barring completely unpredictable political issues). I think I’ve stayed because for every bit I’ve been “damaged” from this experience, I have also grown. For every moment that it feels like misery is out to get me, I remind myself that my friends and neighbors live in this crazy, uncertain place, for their whole lives. While they are upset and angry about the death of a child, they are not distraught in the same way I am. I have learned that sensitivity is a privilege. That I have so rarely experienced loss is an underestimated privilege, one which I have done nothing to deserve.
Never before in my life have I seen the stark difference between youth and adulthood as I do here. And frankly, I think I fall too often in the youth category. I have felt naïve and protected at times. I have wanted to joke around and befriend my peers—but then I would lose their respect as my students. I am starting to recognize that I must soon take on my burdens of duty and responsibility, although in Peace Corps, with no dependents, it is easy to feel free and young, at least sometimes. But other times, when I am dealing with the mayor or teaching adults older than myself how to be entrepreneurs, I am reminded that I am no longer a child. When I go back to America, it will be time to be a “real person”. And I hope that that “real person” will be stronger, and more determined, and more mature, because of the unexpected events that have unfurled during my Peace Corps service.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Slac (take 2)

I know I’ve posted before about my best guy friend at site, but it bears talking about him more. He has been an invaluable friend and asset at site. We met on my first day at site, because he lives in the same compound I do. Somehow, I just knew he was someone I could trust. His actual name would give him the initials SLC, but he took a little bit of freedom with the acronym when he created his own nickname. He is known around town as Slac or DJ Slac, because he works at one of the night clubs in our town. He is as well known as I am, which is pretty impressive considering that I stand out a lot more than he does. I am fairly certain he never sleeps.
He is also a university student, getting his undergrad and masters in a 5 year program in the Administration of Cultural Resources (or something like that). He just got his undergrad last week, and he got a remarkable mention! No surprise there, he’s incredibly intelligent and hardworking. Sadly, the students who didn’t receive “mention remarquable” are throwing a fit and saying everyone should get one. This is just one facet of a cultural epidemic that doesn’t appropriately reward hard-workers or effectively punish lazy hangers-on.
He also owns multiple fields, works on a group-owned plot of land, and recently completed construction of his own house. He told me that he has been saving and investing his money since high school. Which is pretty clear, considering that he’s maybe 6 years out of high school. He went to a Peace Corps sponsored food security conference and learned about permaculture and other gardening techniques, and he is super excited to implement the things he learned on his plots of land.
Slac has helped me in pretty much everything I’ve ever attempted in Tanene, from getting clothes made, to running and entrepreneurship program, to translating malaria materials into Susu. After a few unfortunate mishaps, I have learned that it is always better to ask Slac first, before attempting anything new. He just knows a ton—about Tanene, about Susu cultural values, about where to buy things and how much they should cost, and the world in general. It is fantastic to have a conversation partner about just about anything. He is just as curious about things as I am, and we have had great conversations, usually in our courtyard in the fading evening light before prayer about politics and equality and education and current events.
Slac is also a devout Muslim. He says his prayers five times a day, every day. I have never seen him miss prayer, even when he has to leave in the last ten minutes of the first half of a Barca game. He doesn’t drink, even though he works at a nightclub and they sell alcohol. He is always happy to answer my questions about Islam. It is clear to me that he doesn’t just repeat the Arabic sounds (as some people do here) and he has educated himself on what Islam means and how it applies to his life. When his mother died last year, I believe his religion was a comfort to him. When I think of a young Muslim man, I will forever picture Slac—in jeans and a tee, wearing a baseball hat and laughing about some inane observation I’ve made. I could not have found a more true friend.

The Top Ten Things I want to Eat in America

  1. Lasagna
  2. Sushi
  3. A spinach salad with walnuts and cranberries and feta cheese
  4. Sausage pizza from Marion's
  5. Graeters' cookie dough chip
  6. Mom's spaghetti and meatballs
  7. Chipotle burrito
  8. Pretzels and beer (This is one food, I am Andy Tellers' daughter)
  9. Unsweetened iced tea (also counts as a food, also related to my parentage)
  10. Cheese on everything