Tag Archives: PST

Wait, you’re still not a volunteer?

Wait, you’re still not a volunteer?

Ahhhhh, PST…Pre-Service Training.  I refer to it as Boot Camp, and our instructors take every opportunity to re-enforce that yes, as of now, we are just trainees.  Yes, the Peace Corps is about as far from the Army [or other military branch] as imaginable, but this 10 week period of training is very much the same. The preparation was even a little bit similar.  I cut off 10 inches of hair, paired down my wardrobe, started doing a lot more walking, and evaluated and re-evaluated each item that made it in to the suitcase[s] .  OK, not exactly the same as the Army….

6 days a week, we are in training nearly every daylight hour. We spend between 2 and 6 hours, depending on the day, learning [and practicing] Kinyarwanda; the remaining class time is learning about the Peace Corps’ mission, health and safety sessions, practical things [like mopping with a squeegee, cleaning shoes, sweeping the grass, and chopping the grass with something reminiscent of a metal hockey stick], the Rwandan Health System, and the government’s initiative to improve children’s health, focusing on the first 1000 days [essentially from conception until age 2—also the reason we are here].  It’s exhausting and I’m in bed nearly every night by 9p [unless there is a soccer match on—then I sacrifice for the greater good].

I’ve recently started doing Yoga again, every morning at 6:30am.  My last few months in America, I got sedentary, first sidelined by illness, then a lack of motivation.  A few of the other trainees go running; the last time I ran, I broke two bones so I’m starting with Yoga. I don’t want to have to be med-evac’ed before evening becoming an official volunteer.  The Kigali marathon is in May each year, and some of the trainees are training for that.  I’m focusing on the 10k that is also being held at the same time, and maybe next year, the half marathon [Small goals].

Previous and even current volunteers will tell you that PST is the worst.  The 6:30pm curfew. The 6 days a week of classes.  The language learning.  All of it, combined with the unfamiliar diet, the decrease in calories [especially protein], unfamiliarity of the culture, the inability to do simple things that we’ve all previously done before, having to rely on others for nearly everything, will produce some of the highest highs and lowest lows imaginable.  [I spent part of one afternoon crying in a latrine mostly due to lack of food but also being frustrated by the language, and despite several attempts, I. COULD. NOT STOP. Hopefully, this was a one-time meltdown.] And even now, with only four weeks complete, most of our group will say, ‘I cannot wait to be at site [wherever that may be]’.  However, we still have six weeks of training remaining until we can take the oath of service, hang out with the ambassador, pretend to be fancy, and be on our own.

I am one of those who anxiously await trading in the (T) for a (V) and finally becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer.


Helpful Peace Corps Acronyms

Like many government organizations, the Peace Corps loves it’s acronyms, so in an attempt to clear things up here is a list of a few of them and their meanings  (also I try not to use them exclusively). I’ll update as I learn more:

 

COS: Close of Service / Completion of Service

ET: Early Termination (Leaving service early,  I.E. deciding to terminate service anytime sooner than the COS conference)

HNC: Host Country National

ICT: In-Country Training

IST: In-Service Training

Medevac: Medical Evacuation

NGO: Non-Governmental Organization

OMS: Office of Medical Services

PCMO: Peace Corps Medical Officer/Office

PDO: Pre-Departure Orientation

PCT: Peace Corps Trainee (PCV’s prior to Swearing In)–> what I am currently

PCV: Peace Corps Volunteer

PST: Pre-Service Training

RPCV: Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

VATs: Volunteer Assistant Trainers (Volunteers who help train new volunteers/PCT’s during PST)

Other helpful non-acronyms terms

The HUB:  Where most of the PCT classes are held.  Additionally, we have language class in small groups at our instructors house.

Staging: When all the new PCT’s meet and receive their pre-departure orientation before flying out to their country of service. Typically lasts 24 to 48 hours.

Swearing in: This is when PCT’s become PCV’s! Happens at the very end of Pre-Service Training, this is when PCT’s agree to uphold the goals and standards of the Peace Corps.

Site: A PCV’s official community where they live and work for their 2 years of service.

 

World Cup and Making Friends

I described the process of being matched up with host families as being puppies at the pound.

Imagine this:  You are placed in a room with about 50 people who you do not know, where everyone is speaking a language you do not know.  All you can do is listen for your name.  And when it is called, you meet up with the representative of the family who will raise you for the next 10 weeks.

I met my Mama, and her first words to me were ‘Parle vous francais’.  Sadly I answered ‘un peu’ and thus began the quiet weekend.

You see, this pairing up happened, for us, on Friday, after just two days in Rwanda, and a fledgling vocabulary consisting of ‘Hello, my name is… I am from America’  ‘Good Morning [evening]’ ‘Good Night’ ‘What is your name?’  I’ll admit to being terrified and saying, to myself, ‘what fresh hell have I engaged in now?’

As much as I want to be settled, I selected a few outfits, 5 days’ worth of underwear, two pairs of shoes, all my electronics, and my pillow. I left a lot of my things at the training center and was grateful that I did.  My Rwandan family’s house is small, and my room is much smaller than I am accustomed to, and even with my two small bags [think carry-on sized] of clothes and electronics, I have more material things than they do.  The Peace Corps’ gave us a 20L jerry-can, a 5L can of water, and rather large water filter.  Additionally, we received a bucket, a small cup, and a bottle of bleach. My goods were loaded in a Peace Corps’ truck, I climbed in after Mama, and then we left.  Approximately three minutes later, we arrived at my new house for the next 10 weeks.

Obviously not my house, but an actual view of the palm trees I can see from inside my house

The quiet weekend began as soon as I set foot in the house.  Having  exhausted my fledgling Kinyarwanadan vocabulary and not knowing any English, Mama and I didn’t talk.  I went about setting up my room, ripping the plastic off my brand new Peace Corps’ provided [twin] mattress, setting up my Peace Corps’ provided water filter, and trying to make my Spartan accommodations as homey as possible [it didn’t work].

After about an hour, I hear a knock on the door, and in accented English, I hear “Michelle, do you eat lice?”  Appreciating the English, but not the sentence, I remained silent. Another knock, “Michelle?”  I reluctantly opened the door.  Greeting me enthusiastically with ‘I am Deborah, your host sister.  Mama wants to know if you eat lice?’

It took a few seconds for me to reach back into the dark areas of my brain and remember that sometimes, English as a Second Language learners sometimes mix up Ls and Rs.  After remembering that, I replied, “Yes, I eat rice.”

With Deborah’s help, I learned that in Rwanda, I have a 25 year-old brother who live in Kigali [we’ve never met] and that she is Level 2 at the local school [I’m not sure what that means although there are six levels].  There is not Papa, and I know enough to ask, that when someone says someone is not here, don’t ask questions. [Although seeing as how Deborah is 14, it’s impossible that he died in the genocide that occurred in 1994].


The past two weeks of living with my host family has been challenging. Kinyarwanda is a difficult language with a lot of letter combination that my mouth isn’t used to making. While I can memorize words and may even know what someone is asking me, I lack the vocabulary to make a reply. I also lack the grammar skills to formulate my own questions so I rely on using the infinitive form of every verb along with helpers such as I like, I want, I need.  It makes me sound [and feel] like a somewhat illiterate 2 year old child.

The family eats foods much different than what I am used to eating, and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as many vegetables in a two week period in my life.  [Although my new strategy of heavily complimenting any food that is remotely ‘American’ seems to be working; I’ve had spaghetti with tomato sauce twice] As a result and with the additional task of walking everywhere, I’ve lost about 10 pounds.  This is not a bad thing, and I have more pounds [kilograms?] to go, but it has resulted in none of my pants fitting me anymore.

I expressed my love for tomatoes and sauce on top of spaghetti noodles, and my prayers were answered

Chores are done differently.  I wash my clothes by hand with a bar of soap, and hang them on a clothesline to dry.  Cooking is done on a charcoal stove. Grocery shopping is done daily or at minimum every other day, and with a lack of refrigeration, left-overs are just re-boiled the next day.

Integration has been slow for me partly because of my introverted nature, partly because of my acute awareness of my fledgling Kinyarwanda, and partly because of the compactness of my host family.  I was thinking I have absolutely nothing in common with these people, and nothing to talk about, but last Wednesday when I inquired about maybe, possibly [ pretty plesase] watching the opening match of the world cup, I was greeted with an enthusiastic  ‘YEGO’.  You see, Mama is an avid soccer [football] fan, and she was worried that I, being American, wouldn’t be interested.  Sitting there in the small living room on Thursday night, huddled around the 13” old-school style TV, watching Russia vs Saudi Arabia with my Rwandan mama, I finally felt at home.

Mama engrossed in the latest soccer match. She even makes an exception to the ‘eat at the table’ rule during World Cup play.