What is PCT?

Before signing up for Peace Corps, my only knowledge for PCT acronyms were PCT=Pacific Crest Trail.  Alas, the Pacific Crest Trail has absolutely nothing to do with becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer, but becoming a Peace Corps Trainee has everything to do with becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer. So after jumping through all the hoops between the point of application and getting on that place, one does not if fact become a PCV at that point. Nope, at that point, one becomes a PCT… a mere trainee, and lest you forget that, Peace Corps staff will take every opportunity to remind you that you are in fact, just a trainee.

So Staging—what I like to refer to as the first circle of hell.

It goes something like this… You arrive at the hotel where staging is occurring and sign in. This a big deal as it marks the ‘official entry’ into Peace Corps’ world. Staging itself is the most benign part of training. You meet your fellow ‘trainees’. You learn about Peace Corps history. You do ice breakers.  You think about what makes a successful service. You get about $100 from PC to feed yourself during staging.  After the day is over, if your group is like mine, you go to a big dinner.  For us it was California Pizza Kitchen, where I in fact, did not order pizza.  I had salmon.  Yes, I know the absurdity of ordering fish at a pizza joint, but it was quite good.  Then after dinner you break into smaller groups, and head over to the neighborhood Target to buy new clothes, and any forgotten items [I went to Target 3 times in less than 24 hours and still forget to get a portable power supply, but I did manage to get 3 Caramel frappuccinos. Priorities, I say].

Then its a good night’s sleep in the last nice hotel for the immediate future, a 3 hour bus ride to JFK airport in New York City, checking in, waiting around, boarding the plane for Brussels, flying 8 hours to Brussels, having another layover, boarding the plane to Kigali, another 8 hour flight, going through customs, being picked up by a dude [dude = country director as we found out later] wearing US Embassy credentials, and finally eating dinner and crashing at our nunnery.

Not exactly enjoyable, but certainly not terrible… just like the first circle of hell.

Settling in

Days 2 and 3 involved getting ourselves safely to Kigali–an adventure by itself. Our bus was about an hour late getting to Philadelphia. Then the driver wasn’t really sure where he was going so he was on his phone both as a GPS and texting.  There were a couple of close calls where he tried to occupy a currently occupied lane, but we made to JFK airport without incident.

Luggage airport
Imagine this time 23 others and you’ll have some idea of how we looked as a group head through JFK airport.

While yes, we are all legally adults, and have a fair amount of life experience, I thought there’d be a little more assistance in the getting from Philadelphia to Kigali, but nope, once we waved good-bye to the desk officers, we were on our on.  We departed the US with 24 Peace Corps Trainees and arrived in Kigali with 24 Peace Corps Trainees so I call that a success despite sitting in the last row of seats on the trans-Atlantic flight [they don’t recline… at all].  Nearly 24 in-transit hours later, we were reunited with out bags, successfully passed customs, and were whisked away to the convent for our first chance at settling in.

You may think I’m kidding when I say convent, but no, out first two nights in Kigali were spent in a Catholic convent/ Jesuit priest retreat [thanks US budget cuts].  The nuns were nice, the food was basic, but entirely edible, and there were flushing toilets.  I call that a win.

We spent most of the time in Kigali being herded around like cats, interviewing with several people about several things, setting up Rwandan bank accounts, getting an intro into the Kinyarwanda language [it’s hard], and getting up-to-date on shots.  Then just as we were settling in at the convent, we are whisked away again–this time to our training site which will be our home for the next three months.

These three months consist of a lot of language training and some basic ‘how-to survive in Rwanda on your own classes in health and sanitation.

Friday ended with us being placed in our host families which I lovingly call –being dropped off at the pound– since we were like little lost kittens anxiously awaiting our ‘adoptive’ family to claim us.

Mine finally did, and once again I was herded off to yet another location to attempt to settle it.  Let’s just say this week has been… ummm Interesting.