September 16 2018

From Trainee to Volunteer 4: Lowering Expectations

This is the 4th post in the series From Trainee to Volunteer [See the others here:  Swearing in, Site, and Goals].  This one is all about expectations. During PST and even before, Peace Corps tell its trainee not to have expectations because whatever expectations you may have  [good or bad] will not be met.  Come into service with a blank slate so to speak, and you’ll have a chance to mitigate disappointments.

BUT…

Back home, most of my jobs had clear expectations, and there were generally accepted ways of doing things.  Be at work on time [call if you are going to be late], take care of assigned patients/customers, don’t be a smart ass, and don’t kill anyone were the basics of just about every job I’ve ever had.  How exactly said job was accomplished was generally left to me, and as long as I didn’t break any rules [or laws for that matter], I was generally left alone to do said job, and ask for help when needed.

Peace Corps jobs are a little different.  One month in and I still haven’t met the boss. I wouldn’t know who he was if it weren’t for the supervisor conference we had in training. I still don’t have a schedule or any semblance of a schedule.  I don’t know when ‘work’ starts.  I’ve shown up at 7am and have been late and shown up at 8a and been early.  I still don’t know what I am supposed to be doing or how to do it.  Oh yes, I have my site goals, but without support and honestly without a plan those are just ideas.  My assigned counterpart doesn’t show up to work a lot of the time which leaves me to either sit in the office, go home, or just find something to do.  I’ve been ‘finding something to do’ but when I mentioned this to PC, I was told to ‘not be so flexible’.  It’s damn near impossible to co-create, co-teach, co-plan, co-present, co-anything when the person you are supposed to be co-ing is unreliable [PC’s new mantra is Co-co-co… We should never be doing any projects on our own; every project needs to have a counterpartsomething about fostering sustainability and having local-level buy-in so when I leave, the project continues on…]

During the first three months, the focus is on ‘integration’—meeting neighbors, establishing a house, getting comfortable in said home, learning even more Kinyarwanda, basically allowing the community to ‘see me.’  My job as described by Peace Corps is to be seen.  And for an introvert like me, being seen is hard.  Talking to strangers in a language I don’t have full mastery of is hard.  Meeting and greeting people is hard.

In order to accomplish ‘being seen’, I set little goals for myself each day.  Some days it’s ‘go to the AM meeting at the health center [even though there’s a 99% chance that I won’t understand most of what is said and isn’t applicable to me].  Walk across the street and talk to my neighbor for 3-5 minutes [this is about all my vocabulary will allow].  Go to the market and buy some things [I proud to say that I now have an egg guy and a tomato lady that seem nice and don’t try to rip me off]. Talk to the HC staff. Sit outside [weather permitting] and cook, or wash dishes or do laundry…

It doesn’t seem like much, but some days it’s exhausting.  Usually on Saturdays I don’t leave my house [I love Saturdays]. I may do laundry, cook, and fetch water, but I don’t often leave the front gates.  I have been assured by past and current volunteers that going slowly in the first few months are the best approach.  Show up, be available, and be friendly.  If I can do that, I will have a successful service.

September 9 2018

From Trainee to Volunteer 3: Peace Corps Goals

PC |Rwanda is trying something new with our cohort of Health volunteers [He10] called site goals. In theory site goals are created by the PC staff and the health center boss prior to a volunteer’s arrival.  Once again, in theory, this gives the volunteer a little more direction on where the PCV should be focusing his/her time.  Site goals are developed to be completed over a period of 6+ years using 3 volunteers total.  Volunteer 1[He10] is the plan/lay ground work person. Volunteer 2 [He12] is the carry out the plan person and volunteer 3 [He14] is the wrap up person.  In theory, after 6 years the site will ‘graduate’ and no longer need a PCV.

Like I said, all this is great in theory, but putting it in practice is another beast entirely.  For example, I am the third volunteer at my site.  People here are somewhat used to having a volunteer around doing various projects.  They are used to telling a PCV what they’d like to have, and the PCV working on it either by education, tangible building projects, or receiving a grant.  Site goals create some issues with that.

For example, my site goals are reducing childhood malnutrition to 0 and to increase women delivering babies at the health center from 15% to 50%.  However, when interviewed both the staff and some of the inhabitants of the villages, said that bad hygiene practices/lack access to clean water is a more pressing issue than women having babies at home. Some of the nurses at the health center say malaria is more of an issue than women having babies at home.  It’s hard enough to convince people that have limited access to water that washing hands is important let alone to convince a women in labor to walk up to 2 hours to the health center to give birth, stay for about 24 hours, and then walk back 2 hours post-partum while carrying a newborn.  If I were in their place, I wouldn’t do it.  So nutrition, hygiene, and malaria are what I’ll be working on.  He12 and He14 can tackle the women giving birth at the HC issue.

So, while PC has their goals, I have mine, and they have absolutely nothing to do with PC’s site goals.  I’ve identified 5 goals I’d like to work on in the next two years, and to be honest, they’d be the same goals I’d work on back in America.  Instead of NEW YEAR’S resolutions, think more along the lines of NEW LIFE resolutions.

  • PC Goal 1: Lose weight.  Lack of motivation to exercise combined with unhealthy eating practices [I really don’t enjoy cooking and eating meals on the go] and schedules all over the place [should I eat a full meal at midnight?  Or what about breakfast at 8am even though I’ve just worked 12+ hours] has led to an unhealthy weight gain.  Add that to the 50 pounds I gained while on high dose steroids for six months, and you have a chunky Michelle.  I’ve already lost about 10kg in the 3.5 months I’ve been here so I just need to keep it up and keep it going.
    • Goal 1.2: Commit to an exercise program that will be possible to maintain whether I’m in my village, my country house, or traveling back and forth to work/school every day.  Right now, that’s yoga, and while I’m still finding it difficult to make it a daily habit, I am finding it easier to start back when I miss a couple of days. #progressnotprefection.

I can no longer wear those pants, and that shirt has room enough in it for a small animal.

 

  • PC Goal 2: Learn to cook. Well.  While I can cook, and have no doubt that I can cook well enough not to starve, with [extremely] limited options for dining out, I need to learn to cook a variety of things with very limited ingredients.  Learning not to rely on quick cook foods, frozen dinners, and snacks is like rewiring my brain.  And since my primary goal here is nutrition, I should be [at least] a better example. To that end, one of my fellow PCVs is teaching me how to cook all sorts of interesting things… all from scratch… all from common ingredients that we find in the market.  We meet periodically to buy fresh ingredients from the market and whip up something delicious while watching a movie.  These recipes are featured in posts called Cooking in the Corps.

One of my first cooking lessons—recipe coming soon

 

  • PC Goal 3: Apply to and get accepted into NP school.  I’ve only found one school that advertises the degree I want [dual FNP/PMHNP], but it is possible to combine programs at other school to get the same program offered at the one school. To this end, I am taking the GRE at home in February.  Some schools require it; others don’t, but it will be easier to take it in the US versus trying to schedule it in Rwanda. At present I have a list of five [with two others in reserve that only offer the FNP portion so I’d have to apply to a different school to do a post-masters PMH] schools I plan to apply to [I can’t afford any more on a Peace Corps’ budget]  They are as follows [in no particular order]: UTHSC [the only school I’ve found that offers the dual program], UT-Knoxville [the only school on the list that offers a Coverdell scholarship], USC [they have both degree programs; they don’t have the dual degree as an option], Frontier Nursing University, Eastern Kentucky University [both have both options available; neither have a dual program], and the two schools in reserve are both South Carolina schools that only offer the FNP degree [meaning I’d have to go to a second school for the PMH degree] Clemson University and Francis Marion University.

My goal is to start no later than Spring Term 2021.

 

  • PC Goal 4: Learn photoshop.  I have a copy of Photoshop Elements downloaded on my computer, but I barely know how to do much more than crop. I’ve got nearly 50000 photos on my hard drive that need editing so I’ve got a lot of material on which to practice.
    • Goal 4.2: Edit and organize said photos
    • Goal 4.3: Re-design the blog and ensure every post has at least one photo in it.

 

  • PC Goal 5: Strengthen relationships.  This one is kind of esoteric but with the exception of 2 [very important] outliers, the people important in my life today are people I’ve met in the last five years. These are the people I call when I’m down; the people I WhatsApp with regularly; the people who send me mail and care packages; the people I draw strength from when I think about quitting; and the people I don’t want to disappoint.  This also applies to PC friendships too.  I’ve identified a couple of others who have a similar outlook on Peace Corps service and life, and I am in contact with them weekly about how life is going at site, what’s coming up, just life in general.  Facebook and other social media apps make keeping in contact with others a whole lot easier than it was say 1998… I don’t think I would have survived PC circa late 90’s/early 00’s when technology was available, but oh so hard to access… especially in the developing world.
The best co workers on the planet
My favorite children at their favorite place
New friends are awesome too