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Holy Hell, I’m going to…

Rwanda.!

and the new departure date  in June 4–which gives me about 2.5 months to get ready. I’ll be in the Maternal-Child Health sector which focuses on the first 1000 days of life.

It’s not Madagascar; it’s certainly not where I thought I might go, but it is an opportunity to do something in a field I’m qualified to serve in.

Map of eastern Africa showing Rwanda, Congo and Kenya

So RWANDA?…

  • It’s a small, land-locked country in Eastern Africa
  • The genocide that people immediately think about when they hear ‘Rwanda’ happened 24 years ago [1994].
  • It’s a safe as if not safer than other African countries.
  • It shares a border with DRC; Lake Kivu [a large lake that serves as Rwanda’s answer to oceans.  It has beaches!] separates the two countries
  • It’s capital is Kigali
  • It’s official languages are Kinyarwanda and English [Although French was an official language up until a few years ago]
  • It’s a more temperate climate due to its altitude so I may need long sleeves and sweatshirts.
  • The sun essentially rises and sets at 6a/6p every day.
  • There are four seasons:  Rainy Season 1 and 2 and Dry Season 1 and 2
  • Rwanda probably has the best road in all of Africa [overall]
  • The mountain gorilla lives in Rwanda and Uganda and no where else on Earth
  • Rwanda has set a country goal to become Africa’s 1st middle-income country.  I’m not exactly sure what all that entails, but it sure says a lot about the hope and progressive nature of this country.

So I don’t know a whole lot about what is to be my future home for the next two years, but it is still close enough to the Indian Ocean that I have a chance to swim in it.  I hope I get to visit a few other nearby counties while I’m in the area [Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, maybe Mozambique… I’m looking at you especially]

Thoughts before I go

One month to go

It’s about four weeks until I go, you see, and in theory, I should have something heartfelt and sincere to say. Perhaps a few final thoughts I care to leave behind? A legacy? A farewell?

But I don’t. Nothing.

I’m still working… being a nurse and all, saving every $ I can so that I can fit some adventures in during my Peace Corps service.  I’ve packed, but only because I moved out of my apartment in October.  When I moved, I got rid of all the things I don’t want to keep. I haven’t done a lot to the house other than make it stronger to weather any particular storm. I’m doing a lot of  overnight camping and hiking/backpacking. I’m crashing with friends.  Molly and Lucy are in charge, so to speak.  I essentially bought a house for the cats.  They even have their own expense account so their new caretakers can provide for them like I have.

I have always been more on the private side; careful of what I say out loud, or in this case, put in print.  Truth be told, I have very little that I care to say out loud. I, alone, am privy to my thoughts, as they are rapidly changing and I can’t seem to keep up. I’m nervous. Of course I’m nervous.  No matter how much I try to prepare, it’s still the unknown. I’m scared. Of course I’m scared. Even though I’ve done some version of this before, this is a unique period in my life.  I’m excited, thrilled even.  I know of no one in my family, friends, or even acquaintances who has been a Peace Corps volunteer.  In many ways, this is everything I’ve always wanted. And in many others, it’s nothing I ever expected.

Of course, I’m saying this now, before I’ve even begun. What will I say when I am two weeks into training? How will I feel? Will I be as self-assured as I imagine I will be? Or will I be as the other PCV’s (Peace Corps Volunteer) say; wondering what on earth possessed me to do such a thing?

How can I, now, at this very moment, possibly make a statement? There is so much I don’t know. How am I to predict how I’ll feel in the coming weeks and months, when I can’t even get a firm grasp on how I feel right now? My mind is a chaotic whirl. I’m busy preparing for my departure, anticipating my arrival, and trying to juggle work and spending time with friends in between. Everything has been moving so fast, and in these next final weeks, they’ll only continue to speed up.

I’m working through February 20.  My birthday is February 24, and I leave for staging on the 26. I have a to-do list at least a mile long. I’ve essentially got to set up my life for two years so that someone else can manage it. I’ve got to get what’s need to apply to graduate school for when I return. I need all those addresses and phone numbers now. I’ve got to get friends to download WHATSAPP, and before I know it, it will be February 26.

2/26.

D-Day.

My world will likely be flipped upside down in ways that I never saw coming. I’ll say goodbye to my home, my friends, my kitties, and my family. I’ll give up the creature comforts that I knowingly take for granted. I’ll bid farewell to a community for whom my appreciation came unexpectedly.

But these are the thoughts running through my head. Every time I get in my car and drive around the country. When I am in a store looking for something I *need* for Madagascar. When I sit in my house and look around and think, ‘we’ve only just begun.’  I’ve had my house for a total of four months and yet it’s already filled with me.  At night, with Lucy curled at my feet, and Molly by my side, I stare at my ceiling and convince myself to stay calm…

…Because I wanted this. I wanted the uncertainty. I wanted the fear. I wanted the unknown. 18 months ago, I decided I was ready to give up what I know in exchange for the adventure of a lifetime. The world is mine and my future belongs to me. The Peace Corps will test me, push me to my limits, and force me to rise above. I will grow and I will change. I will not be the same person I was when I started, but I look forward to meeting her in the end.

Bring it on.

Out and About in… Palenque

Although only a few hours apart and constructed at around the same time, the  ruins of Palenque are very different from those at Tikal. Both sites are awesome in their own way. Both are huge. Both boast of  beautiful, mighty temples. Both are set in a lush jungle. But both served rather different functions. Whereas Tikal was one of the  most important urban Mayan centres, Palenque was a massive  cemetery, with most of the temples used as ceremonial burial  chambers.  Jose, the guide, escorted us through the main buildings including the:

Temple of the Skull: named after the stucco relief  of a skull, thought to be a rabbit skull, on the front of it.

Image result for temple of the skulls palenque

Temple  XIII: where in 1994 the remains of the Reina Roja (Red Queen) were found.  The bones are thought to have belonged to a 40-year-old woman, and had been  preserved in red cinnabar. Although the bones have now been removed [booo], we were  allowed to visit the sarcophagus in the inside the temple and could see the red  pigment still in it.

Temple of the Inscriptions: a 26 meter high  pyramid with 9 levels, so-named because of the inscriptions discovered inside  its walls. In the 1950s a Mexican archaeologist, Alberto Ruz Lhuiller, was exploring the deep bowels of the temple, removed a stone stab in the floor of a back  room and discovered a big old tomb.  It turned out to be that of King Pakal, one of the most important Mayan rulers. He ruled from 615AD- 683AD, and  lived to the ripe old age of 80, which was positively ancient in those times  when most people died by the age of 40.

Apparently he was really tall as  well, unlike most Maya who are super tiny [exhibit A–all of the pyramids they constructed…have you seen those steps?]. Some historians debated  whether he was actually Maya at all, or perhaps came from Europe or somewhere  like that, although most now agree that he was probably just big because he got  to eat all the best food. [It is good to be king]

He’s still in his  mausoleum in the temple, although unfortunately tourists aren’t allowed to go  inside the temple anymore as people have in the past taken it a bit too literally and graffiti-ed it. There is however a replica of the tomb in the site museum which we later visited, and were also shown a video with some  footage of the sarcophagus as Lhuiller discovered it – all covered in  centuries stalactites and stalagmites. Just seeing the pyramids from the  outside is awesome, it must have been absolutely mind-blowing to find all that  stuff inside.

Grand Palace: unlike the others, people weren’t  buried in this one. Instead it was an administrative and  residential block. It’s an intricate maze of courtyards and corridors leading  into rooms with some old beds and  some old Maya toilets. The tower on the top is thought to have been used  for astronomy, although the very top part of it was reconstructed in 1930  according to how a French archaeologist thought it would have looked, but now  they reckon it probably wouldn’t have looked like that after all, but just been  flat. Oops. [those French]

Aqueduct: the Maya controlled the  course of the Usumacinta river which flows through Palenque to prevent  floods and damage to the buildings. There are some pretty waterfalls around  there, too.

Cross group: made up of the Temple of the Cross, Temple  of the Sun, and Temple of the Foliated Cross, a set of tall narrow temples with elaborate carvings. One has a cross on  the top, although it’s not actually a cross, but supposed to represent the tree  of creation.  We also walked along a jungle trail where Jose pointed out  various different types of tree (cedar, mahogany, sapodilla, avocado, mango and  almond), we got to swing on vines Tarzan-style, and also saw several examples  of un-excavated ruins.  The city was so huge that they reckon only about 5% of the structures have  actually been uncovered. Jose pointed out a huge mound behind the Cross group of  temples that is in fact another temple, which must have dwarfed all the others.  There are no plans to uncover it at the moment though as the jungle it is buried under is so rich in wildlife that a lot of poor spider monkeys, howler  monkeys, pumas, jaguars, toucans, parrots and other birds would be made homeless  if they cut it down.  So we’ll just have to make do with the 5%, which is  plenty impressive as it is.

Get lost!

I am not trying to scare you away. Honest. I am one of the rare people who enjoy getting lost.  It’s just my preferred way of traveling.  I am always lost.  I am used to it.  I even get lost on the Swamp Rabbit Trail [SRT is the local hiking/biking trail in my area]  Sometimes it is an uncomfortable feeling–like being lost in the bad part of town, but most often, it leads to interesting discoveries.  Even when I have a map, I still get lost.  Most often because I don’t want to pull it out while walking down the street.   But being lost can give you lots of opportunities.

  • The opportunity to talk to strangers [and see that people are good].
  • The opportunity to practice speaking in a foreign language [if you are outside where your native tongue is spoken].
  • The opportunity to practice map reading skills.
  • The opportunity to  figure things out on your own.
  • The opportunity to go with the flow.

I have gotten lost at some point on nearly every trip I have ever been on.  Some are funny even now.  A couple times were truly scary and involved scary men with big guns, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything.

 

All aboard for Aberystwyth

Do you ever feel like you need to get away from it all?  As an introvert, cities easily overwhelm me and while I am a fan of London, think Cardiff is cool, and loved Liverpool, Aberystwyth was like a breath of fresh air.  Just over an hour’s train ride from Swansea, Aber [as the  locals call it; Aberystwyth is just too hard to pronouce]  is a haven for Welsh speakers [of which I am not], mountain bikers [I did my fair share of mountain biking although no mountains were actually biked], and trail walkers [trails were most definitely walked]. Much of the beauty of Aberystwyth lies in its isolation.  Swansea is 70 miles away; Shrewsbury is 75 miles away.  Cardiff is over 100 miles away and London is more than 200 miles away.

So what is there to do in this historic outpost in middle Wales, you may ask?  Allow me to show you…

Aber has a pretty nifty castle.  I think I could see a hundred castles, and still be amazed by the architecture and craftsmanship that went into building said castle.

The stone work is simply amazing

A castle with an ocean view? Yes, please. I am going to pretend that this in my ancestral home as I am am about a quarter Welsh.

Also I love the blue-gray color of the stone used here

Aberystwyth is located on the Atlantic Ocean in the Ceredigion region of Wales, and has an approximate population of 15,000 people.

The same Atlantic Ocean I see back home

 There is something about a small city on the ocean with mountains in the background that will always make  me happy.

Perhaps you are a train nerd, or just want to imagine you are on your way to Hogwarts.  Aberystwyth has something for you as well. [Fun fact:  I actually, at one time, had a hardback, UK printed, first edition copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone because I went to a book store to pick up something to read between Stafford and Edinburgh.  Oh how I wish I had that book now].  It’s a steam engine train that runs from Aber to Devils Bridge, a distance of 12 miles on a narrow gauge track [see, train nerds?].

More into hiking or biking than trains?  That is quite OK, me too, Aber has you covered on that front too.  Just past the borders of the town lie the Cambrian  Mountains, and probably hundreds of different hiking trails, biking paths, sheep roads? that you could take to truly make the hike [bike?] trek your own.  Also, not coincidentally I think, cardigans got there start nearby.

Hiking through the Cambrian Mountains

The Cambrians in all their glory

Think of the sweaters that could come from these guys

Other than cats, this is problaby my favorite animal…. He just looks so sweet and cuddly [I know that he’s not, and those horns aren’t just decoration,  but look at him… I want to take him home with me]