It’s Saturday night. I’ve just work my last shift, and for now, I am alone. Blissfully alone. I love my friends, I do, but as an introvert, being around people is exhausting, and tonight, tonight, I am blissfully alone. Tomorrow night, I will say good-bye to even more friends. And to my kitty cats. But tonight, tonight I am alone. Just me, Lucy, and Molly in the hideaway. On my last night at the hideaway, I watched the series finale of The Americans, my favorite TV show over the last six years. How fitting that the series ended just prior to my departure. Lucy, Molly and I curled up on the couch watching my favorite Russian spies. So many things are going to change in the next week, the next month, the next year. In the words of my favorite characters, “I’ll adjust.’“I worry if I’ll ever learn Kinyarwandan. If I’ll ever learn to cook without the use of a microwave. If I’ll learn to ‘live’ without the luxuries I’ve become accustomed to having. If I’ll make friends. If the people in the village I get assigned to will accept me. If I will do any good. People say to write down your expectations of what your Peace Corps’ Service will be like, then crumple up that sheet of paper and throw it away.
I have never regretted my decision to serve in the Peace Corps. I first heard of it in high school. I met a middle aged man who’s name I’ve forgotten. He was unemployed, staying in a homeless shelter, and lived with disabilities. He confessed that if he could play his cards all over again, he’d absolutely do this one thing: Peace Corps. The idea stuck with me, as well as the concept that I had more privileges than others, and the idea that I had a moral obligation to use my privilege to lessen the suffering of others. And at this stage of life, I have the skills to do so.
Two years is a long time, but yet, it’s not. Life will go on in America; just as it will in Rwanda whether I am there or not. I applied to the Peace Corps in September 2016. I was invited to serve in July 2017, and I depart for Rwanda in 2018. Nearly two years have already passed. The relationships we make in life is all that we have.
For more months than I care to remember, I’ve been preparing for departure. Preparing to say my good-byes to a life I’ve spent the last few years carefully crafting. All the government required paperwork, the new purchases that are a *must-have* [like a nifty head lamp], and setting up Lucy and Molly for their own little adventure. I have had a suitcase partially packed for 6 months. Who does that? A neurotic person who has prepared for not one but two different Peace Corps service stations, that’s who. Add to that the time I’ve spent researching Peace Corps | Rwanda and attempting to teach myself some vocab in the local language, and I have basically been making myself *slightly crazy*.
But I have not forgotten some important advice given to me from my Madagascar stage-mates: spend as much time with friends and family as possible before leaving. I’m looking at these extra three months as a gift. I got spend Spring Break with my favorite little people. I’m continuing to work to save up money for adventures [maybe I’ll get to Madagascar after all]. I get to spend one last Spring/early Summer in South Carolina which is much preferable to the constant heat and humidity of July and August. I’m going hiking and doing short trips with friends. Taking ALL THE PHOTOS for the memories and also for the house decorations.
Basically, these last three months have been a gift wrapped up in a neat little package. The little people and I have spent more time together. I found out there’s going to be another little person come November. I got a few more house projects done.
This is the week of good-byes. Good-byes to co-workers. Good-byes to friends. Good-byes to Best Friends. Good-bye to kitty cats. Over all, I feel a lot more prepared to leave than I did when I was scheduled to depart for Madagascar… Let’s all hope I can still say that next Monday.
Tonight I had dinner with one of my best friends and as if often the case, we got around to talking about my upcoming plans. The immediate [I leave in two and a half weeks], the intermediate [I want to go to NP school when I get back], and the distant [I’d like to get married someday]. There aren’t many people in the world I can talk to about anything, but he is one of them, and probably the human I’ll miss most while I’m gone.
The only thing that I know for sure is that if something happens, and I can’t get on that plane, there’s no way I can put myself through the preparation again.
Let’s Get Real
I’ve gave notice at my job in March, but I’m still picking up shifts and will be until the last minute; I’ve met the continuing education requirements needed to renew my nursing license in 2019.
I’m on an emotional roller coaster and I couldn’t get off even if I tried. I’m up, I’m down; I’m sure of myself, and I’m wondering what the hell I was thinking.
Basically, I’m freaking out.
10 days to departure. T- 2.5 weeks and counting. Holy sh…..
I’m scared out of my mind. Of what, I couldn’t tell you, but that’s probably contributing to my fear. I don’t know what’s in store for me when I get to wherever it is I am going. I don’t know who I’m going to meet, or what my living conditions will be like. An idea, sure, but every situation is circumstantial.
I’m nervous about not doing well. I spent a lot of time thinking, how hard could it possibly be, despite how many times I’ve read or heard about the “hardships” a PCV faces. Now, in the wake of my sudden apprehension, I worry I was being too cocky.
What the actual fuck am I doing!?
I go from feeling on top of the world to having a feeling in the pit of my stomach. I walk around with confidence, proud of myself and this accomplishment, and then I hug a friend goodbye and I feel the ground crumbling beneath my feet. In the span of a moment, I could easily begin with “I got this sh**.” to “Oh my god, what the hell is wrong with me?” My perception and my feelings are constantly changing. I keep finding new things to be excited about, and new things I’m terrified to be leaving behind.
Let me say this now, so you don’t misunderstand: I’M NOT GIVING UP.
The Peace Corps was not a decision I made lightly. In truth, the idea began brewing my mind during my mind many, many years ago. It started as a way to see the world. It began to transform into a desire to meet new people and experience new cultures. Then it ignited into a passion for helping others.
In September 2016, I bit the bullet and submitted an application. I didn’t think I’d get in. I was convinced I wasn’t good enough to be accepted into such a prestigious group. And now it’s 17 days to departure.
I can do this. I know I can. I’ve taught myself that I can do anything I put my mind to. I wanted this, and so I went out and got it. Later tonight, ask me how I feel, and I bet you’ll get a different answer.
OMG… the cats. What am I going to do with my little black kitty cats? After much searching, I’ve finally found a solution for what to do with Lucy and Molly. It’s not ideal, but it was a much better situation than sending them to their deaths at the pound. I won’t see them again for over two years. What is that in cat years? I wasn’t there for their kittenhood, but I’ve had Lucy for three and a half years, and Molly just under a year. She’s had three owners/homes in her three years and is still the sweetest cat I know; I couldn’t very well send her on her way to her 4th owner/house. They love me, and I them. So they have 2 years worth of cat litter supplies, an Amazon subscribe and save account for food and a savings account for yearly vet visits + emergencies.
See? Up and down. I’ve got this sh**, but really, what the fuck am I doing?
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.
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.
I have never been one to make lists, or more accurately, I have never been one to follow what’s on the list, but for an undertaking of this magnitude, I started preparing and list-making as soon as I submitted the application. Just last week I left my job. I transferred to another location for the next three months. I haven’t told the new people that I’ll be leaving, and probably won’t–at least not until February.
I started preparing myself for departure soon after receiving the acceptance letter.
Here is a look at the massive to-do list that I created and have been checking it off since March and in earnest since I received the acceptance letter in July, approximately in chronological order.
Change bank accounts. I moved my primary checking and savings to Charles Schwab. From everything I’ve read, they are the best deal around for travelers. I’ve banked with a credit union for years, and while I love them, the lock-down on my card overseas [even going to England is a hassle] and the massive fees I incur while traveling are enough to make me switch. I’ve kept my account active so that it’s still there, and also in case I run into trouble, I’ll have someone local to help out. Yes, I know the Peace Corps will set me up a bank account in my local area once I’m there, but it will be nice to have the safety net of my American bank account too.
Give myself a pay cut. I set up direct deposit to my savings account so that $350 every week goes directly to savings. This savings will allow me to keep my house, take a PC vacation or two, and maybe even travel some post-service.
Get another job. [to explore a new area of nursing and have some additional savings]
Determine a savings goal. I looked into accommodations and transportation costs for possible destinations and read about other traveler’s expenses for long-term travel to come up with a savings goal of $10,000. I don’t know if I’ll meet it or not, but it’s a goal.
Track my expenses. I m not nerdy enough to set up a spreadsheet and keep track of every dime I spend, but I did create a spending log recording [most of] everything I spent. This allowed me to identify areas to cut back and I could see how close [or far!] I was from my savings goal. I could also see when I needed to lay off Amazon or cut out trips to Target.
Re-design my blog. I started blogging in 2005 mainly for myself. Over the last 12 years, blogging has still been mostly for me [and the occasional friend or family member who wanted an update to see if I was still alive]. Over the last year I’ve made a concentrated effort to do a little more on the technical side, learn a little bit more about photo post-processing, teach myself a little bit about making videos, get more comfortable exposing myself to a public audience, and maybe build a loyal, if not small readership before I leave.
Connect with other travelers. I still hate Twitter, don’t really know how to use my blog’s Facebook page, and can’t for the life of me figure out Instagram’s algorithms, but through my blog and through reading other travel blogs, I have connected with dozens of other PC volunteers, returned PC volunteers, and bloggers who have traveled long-term or made blogging into a full-time career. Their advice and inspiration have been invaluable.
Renew my passport. My passport was set to expire while in the Peace Corps, and while yes, I will get a Peace Corps’ diplomatic passport, I do want to travel some on my own either before, during, or after my service. I renewed it in April and opted for the one with the most pages available.
Find a home for my cats. I hated the idea of giving my cats to random strangers on Craigslist or to a shelter, so a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders when a friend volunteered to foster the kids while I’m gone.
Figure out what to do with my stuff. I don’t consider myself a minimalist by any means but I also didn’t want to pay $1700 for a storage unit. So I bought a house. What? you say? I found an incredible deal, made the purchase in October 2017. I moved most of my old furniture into the new house and plan on doing some heavy remodeling when I return from the Peace Corps. To date. I’ve painted all the walls, removed a ton of wallpaper, replace most light fixtures and ceiling fans, and tried my hand at
tile-work. The house now has appliances from this century, and I’ve gotten a lot of tree/scraggly bushes removed. This is about all I’m doing until I come back.
Doctor and dentist appointments. While I still have good insurance through work, I made a point to get an annual physical exam and a dental cleaning and check-up. Also see Pre-Service Medical Clearance.
Vaccinations. I went to South America in 2010, I got the yellow fever vaccine and the Typhoid vaccine. Through work, I’m up to date on my tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis, flu, and hepatitis B. I added a Hepatitis A vaccine and cholera + what the Peace Corps recommends. Lucky for me, my insurance covered everything except the $110 consultation fee, saving me about $500.
Get extra passport photos. Who knows what I might need them for [traveler visas perhaps], but I’m getting them while they are cheap.
Buy stuff. I have tried to keep the purchases to a minimum because after all, I am going to a third world country where the daily income is around $2, but some must-haves that I have picked up so far include a new [used] laptop [with DVD drive so I can copy all my DVDs and CDs, a new-ish backpack [it’s been on a few excursions already], extra camera equipment [lenses mostly + a few memory cards and extra camera batteries], a Steri-pen, and new hiking shoes.
Explore ways to connect. Skype account, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, all vaible options, but will they work well with rural African internet. .
Give notice at work. I haven’t done this just yet, but when I do, it will be when this whole thing starts to feel real!
And there is still more to come over the next few weeks:
Notify my banks and credit card companies.
Withdraw cash in the form of bills that are recent and in good condition [once again, you never know when crisp dollar bills might be useful].
Create a list of bank and credit card info.
Update my Couchsurfing profile [because you never know…]
Study and practice French some more.
Update my resume.
Assemble the documents I need to apply to graduate school so that when the time comes, I’ll have everything I need, and applying from the middle of Africa won’t be quite so challenging.
Not everything on the lists above will apply to everyone, but my hope is that this will be helpful for those of you who might be starting to think about taking some time off to travel or joining the Peace Corps.