Category Archives: Katie Thoughts

100 Things I’ve Learned in My First Quarter Century

The Blank Slate

The Blank Slate

In view of my 25th birthday, I would like to share this list. I have learned many things in these last 25 years, but here is a sampling. I have made the text green to highlight the things I have learned as a direct result of being in the Peace Corps.

(In no particular order)

  1. Trying might get you results. Doing always will. There’s a big difference between committing to try and just committing.
  2. Cats are not trustworthy, and you should never put too much faith in them.
  3. Dogs are actual higher beings, and you can always put your faith in them.
  4. People are only as great and only as bad as you let them be.
  5. The world is not a good place, and the world is not a bad place. It’s just a place.
  6. The biggest advantage your parents can give you in early life is by reading to you every night.
  7. Do not eat an entire pizza. No good has ever come of that.
  8. Being tough and showing weakness are not mutually exclusive.
  9. The more you worry about losing something, the more likely you are to lose it.
  10. I am not my hair. I am not my face. I am not my meat suit. I do not need to love any of these things because I love my mind, and that’s enough.
  11. Rats make really decent pets.
  12. Men are nice, but not necessary.
  13. You get more out of loving your friends than they do.
  14. FLOSS
  15. I forget almost everything that goes through my brain, unless I write it down.
  16. Drink at least 3 liters of water every day. Just do it.
  17. Self-interest is not a bad thing, unless you act like it doesn’t exist.
  18. Buying something for yourself always feels better than having it given to you. Unless the something is flowers.
  19. Bean and cheese burritos are the perfect food.
  20. You can’t force your values on someone else. Even if their values are stupid. You have to trick them.
  21. Pair all your clothing bottoms with a top and hang the outfits up in your closet. Wear them in order. After you wear each outfit, switch out the top with a spare that hasn’t been paired yet and put that outfit in the back of the line. Wash as needed, but try to keep them in order. Seriously, since I started doing this, I have never had to pick an outfit in the morning, and all my clothes get worn evenly. I pretty much wear a different outfit every day of the month.
  22. If you really want to get stuff done, especially over time, keep a bullet journal. Seriously.
  23. Not everything you learned in school is true.
  24. It’s your job to find the truth.
  25. To quote Carl Sagan, “If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.”
  26. Wear comfortable shoes to Disneyland.
  27. Never let anyone force you to sing. It will not go well.
  28. It’s ok to feel sorry for yourself, but you get 3 days max. Then, you have to go for a run, have a nice lunch, and realize that shit is still pretty good.
  29. If a cat is all you have available, I guess you can use it as a surrogate dog.
  30. I can’t do math without a calculator.
  31. Read books in different genres, don’t get stuck, or worse, not read at all.
  32. There is not a single redeeming quality to mosquitos.
  33. The universe is so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so much bigger than me.
  34. In the scheme of things, I don’t really know anything at all.
  35. A sincere apology is the hardest thing and the best thing for any relationship.
  36. Red wine is alcohol in its best form.
  37. A Stone IPA is alcohol in its second best form.
  38. Tequila is alcohol in its third best form.
  39. Reading the world news every day will make you sad, but you have to do it.
  40. It’s never too early to save for retirement.
  41. Living abroad is not as glamorous as you would hope, but you’ll learn way more about the world than you anticipate.
  42. There is no better fruit than a fresh mango.
  43. Poop before you run.
  44. A pedicure is a better investment than a manicure.
  45. Bats are not considerate roommates.
  46. Your friends will drive you crazy and do things that are not in their best interest. You do not need to tell them this if you’re not getting hurt by it.
  47. The flu shot is BS. It’s good to keep your immune system on its toes. (I am not a doctor)
  48. Split pea is the king of soups.
  49. Everyone should have to spend a year teaching little kids before they actually have a kid.
  50. People are not “equal”. It has nothing to do with race, gender, nationality, physical ability, sexuality, etc. Some people just suck. You can have everything and suck, or you can have nothing and suck. The sucky people are not equal to the unsucky people, so try not to suck.
  51. Donald Trump sucks.
  52. The Sierra Nevada Mountains are my favorite place.
  53. Bequia, SVG is my second favorite place.
  54. Glacier National Park is my third favorite.
  55. In the scientific method I trust.
  56. New York City is as good as I always imagined it would be.
  57. Don’t assume that people will act in a rational or predictable way. People are nuts.
  58. People who appreciate the Dune series un-ironically are my people. (Very hard to find)
  59. Good deeds aren’t that great unless you do them without the expectation of a reward.
  60. If you get a chance to use the bathroom, take it.
  61. It’s fine to say no to someone or something. You don’t need to justify why you said it.
  62. If I say that an animal did something with its hands, my dad will always correct me that it doesn’t have hands.
  63. Poison doesn’t kill a cockroach as quickly as a shoe.
  64. If someone trusts you, you better not violate that.
  65. Baths are not relaxing unless you take a shower first to wash off your filth.
  66. Front teeth are a prerequisite for being taken seriously. Protect yours at all costs.
  67. Dance clubs are nightmares. Little bars are dreams.
  68. Pouting is way worse than screaming.
  69. My heart tells me to be a vegan, but my stomach tells me, “nah.”
  70. Games involving balls are best left to others.
  71. Baby tortoises love bananas, but not so much apples.
  72. When debating about an issue I’m passionate about, I will probably tear up.
  73. I will cry if someone else’s dog dies. (I will question my entire existence and disappear into a hole of despair if mine dies)
  74. I will cry if someone triumphs in a Disney movie.
  75. I will cry throughout the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.
  76. Don’t give anyone anything if it seems like they want it too much.
  77. I am equally happy talking to my friends every day, or not talking to them for a year. I don’t love them any less. Except one who I must talk to at least 3 times a week.
  78. Planning stops 99% of problems from ever happening.
  79. If people don’t understand what you are saying, or why you know so much about a certain topic, they will act like you’re the dumb one. You’re not.
  80. When you get rid of expectations, you’ll be ready for anything.
  81. It’s better for your health if you accept apologies that have not been given.
  82. Always travel with a bathing suit.
  83. You have to choose to be motivated.
  84. If you’re always thinking about the thing, then just do the damn thing.
  85. Nothing is ever as bad as I expect it to be.
  86. French fries are overrated. Potatoes were meant to be mashed.
  87. Admit. When. You. Are. Wrong.
  88. Freaking out about something has never made it better.
  89. People are nowhere near as interesting as they think they are (including yourself) but they really love it when you act like they are.
  90. Cormac McCarthy is the best living American author.
  91. There are not enough waffles in the world.
  92. There is no exercise more spiritually fulfilling than backpacking.
  93. The fastest way for a man to make me hate him is to whistle at me.
  94. Life really is too damn short.
  95. Perseverance is my favorite trait in myself, because it’s the one I work hardest to have.
  96. America is never as bad as Americans think it is.
  97. Absolutely do not tell someone acting crazy that they are crazy.
  98. Drinking through a straw keeps your teeth whiter.
  99. It’s ok to like things that other people don’t like.
  100. Living away from your whole family is REALLY HARD.

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#firstworldproblems

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So I should start out by saying that the first, second, third world model is suuuuper outdated. In a nutshell, the model was conceived after WWII, during the Cold War era. The “First World” was the US and it’s allies, “Second World” was the Soviet Union, China, and their allies, and the “Third World” was the unaligned states. This is obviously a silly way to classify the world now because allegiances have changed, as well as the relative wealth of countries. For instance, technically Saudi Arabia would be classified as “Third World” under this model. The colloquial use of “Third World” as a descriptor now tends to describe what we in the business call the “Developing World”. This refers more to the need for massive improvements in economy, healthcare, infant mortality rate, poverty level, usage of natural resources etc. Nothing really to do with Cold War alliances. Unfortunately the “Third World” States of that era have largely remained mired in the same issues that they faced 71 years ago, so they are still stuck with the misnomer. It’s especially hard to classify countries this way because even so-called “First World” states, like the U.S. have pockets of poverty and issues resembling those found in developing countries.

Moving right along… So these “Developing Countries” are the countries that Peace Corps gets sent to. These are the countries that have usually been ravaged by colonialism, slavery, extreme tribalism, and other issues that have set them decades, if not centuries behind. Even that is a simplistic explanation for what is going on. Each of those major issues may have been the genesis of their problems, but along the way, more sprout up. Subtler things like attitude, work ethic, treatment of different races, treatment of women, etc. hinder many of these countries in such a way that they find it difficult to interact with the “First World” and its tempos.

So, as a person who has been living and working in a “Developing Country” for the past 10ish months, I feel like I can start making some observations. I believe most people are familiar with the firstworldproblems hashtag. If not, its basically a tongue in cheek recognition of the fact that many of the problems faced by those living in the “First World” are a little ludicrous when compared to those in the developing world. I freely admit, I was the queen of #firstworldproblems. I was the first to get perturbed if the gas pump wasn’t working and I had to move my car to another one, or if my Panera points card hadn’t rewarded me a free cookie in a while, or my favorite treadmill at the gym was occupied. Now I weep at how much I wish I had those problems. I think, “Oh God, I used to have a car, be able to go to Panera, go to the gym!” That was the effing LIFE. Now my problems are things like having my power go out for 2 days, so most of my stuff in the fridge had to be thrown out, so now I have to take a 2 hour trip to town and carry groceries back on my lap on the public van. I have to worry about the fact that a man in my village is a complete sexual predator to little girls and I can’t do much about it except beg the girls not to talk to him. That last one may sound a bit shocking, and trust me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, but there isn’t the kind of CPS here as is in the States. I almost can’t believe that these and other social issues are the problems myself and other volunteers see and deal with now, violence, underage drinking, underage drug use, child abuse, and more. I’m perfectly aware that things like this happen everywhere, but not ever in my bubble before. It’s one thing to view them as conceptual problems, but when you actually have to listen to your student tell you about the man they saw shot (as the volunteer a village over had to), what do you do? We thought the main development problem we would focus on would be low literacy rates, but the longer we’re here, the more we see that as simply a symptom of some much bigger problems.

 

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This lil face should have no problems

 

Of course, problems are always relative. #firstworldproblems seemed big in my sphere at home, because that’s all I really dealt with. That’s not a bad thing. I want St. Vincent to get there too. I want the biggest problem my students have to be choosing what college to go to, or whether their parents bought their favorite cereal, or whether they got a free cookie fast enough from their Panera points card. #firstworldproblems are the best. I want them for everyone. As for me, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to care about my #firstworldproblems again.

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Peace Corps Coping Mechanisms

WORST BLOGGER EVER. I swear I’m alive and doing things, I just don’t really have the calling to blog about much in the current moment. In light of this, I want to write about what I do do (haha) to cope with all the changes that come with being in the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps medical staff might refer to these things as coping mechanisms. They ask that you steer away from drugs and alcohol, but Imnotgonnalie, I do have some wine once in a while. Luckily this is more of a “I like wine” thing than a “I need wine” thing, so I think I’m good for now.

Why do you need coping mechanisms (one may ask)? The answer is multifaceted, but in a nutshell: Being in the Peace Corps requires you to give up almost everything you did in your former life (or tweak it drastically). Many of the things that I loved are kind of out of reach. A lot of these things are pieces of my life that I thought really made me who I am. For example, things that I loved from the States that are out of reach here:

-family time

-hanging with my dog

-hanging with my friends

-going out for a meal

-hot showers/most personal grooming (nails, hair, etc.)

-backpacking

-camping

-driving

-shopping

-going to the gym

-seeing a movie

-running

-snowboarding

-going out for drinks

-dating

-going out alone

All of these things, I either can’t do, or won’t do here for various reasons. Usually these reasons are related to either safety or accessibility. For a hot minute here, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself because I couldn’t do these things. I really felt like they made up the person that I was, and without them, I felt kind of empty. Mostly, I felt like much of my independence was taken away. Not being able to drive made me feel so trapped. I don’t mind being alone, but, at home, I would go for a walk or go see a movie alone. Here I can’t really do those things. I do go walking, but the time and places I can do that are very limited. Unfortunately, that’s not just me being paranoid, locals have told me that it’s less than safe. Anyway, I digress. I needed to find a way to fill the holes left in my personality by the absence of these things.

So without further ado, here are some of the coping strategies I have come up with to try and stay sane.

IMG_9240

  1. Journal. I journal, keep a diary, whatever you want to call it. I’ve done it since high school and it really helps me by acting as a filter between my brain and my mouth. If I need to get something off my chest, it goes right into the journal, which often stops it from spewing onto some unsuspecting soul at a later date. I can reason out my feelings and move on. Because of this, my journal probably reads like that of a homicidal little psycho. It also helps me remember things that have happened. I listen to a lot of crime podcasts and always think, “If that fool had kept a journal, we would know exactly what happened!” Which brings me to #2
  2. Podcasts. I didn’t listen to podcasts that frequently in the States, but here they are my gospel, and Terry Gross and Ira Glass are my patron saints. So yeah, I listen to copious amounts of NPR. It really relaxes me.Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset
  3. Reading. I’m back to reading tons of books. One of my best friends got me a kindle before I left. I had resisted it for so long, but now I’m glad I have it. I also have access to a huge Google drive full of books from another friend that I’m sure were all obtained legally *cough cough*. I spend a lot of time reading between the classes I teach, which feels far more productive than my next mechanism…
  4. Netflix. We all do it. It’s like the worst drug. There is something really nice about being able to slug out and binge watch something after a long day though.
    IMG_8908 (1)
  5. Hiking. Hiking the Volcano, Soufriere is a really nice way to spend a Saturday. Another thing that I, unfortunately, can’t do alone, but I can usually rustle up somebody to go with me.
    IMG_9003
  6. Beach Days and hanging with other PCV’s. I am so lucky to have found people who I am sure will be lifelong friends. Getting to see them most weekends really revives me when I’m feeling frustrated. I seriously love those people. We usually spent the night at each other’s houses at least once a month.
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  7. Beans. Having a cat has been great. He’s no dog, but my time at home is way more entertaining thanks to him.
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  8. Cooking. I’m slowly but surely learning to make new things. I have lots of fails, but the successes are awesome.
    IMG_8691
  9. Host Mom/ Local Friends. I really like going to visit with my host mom. She lives down the street from me and is seriously the funniest lady. I actually don’t visit her enough, maybe I’ll do that tomorrow… I also work with some people at the school who always manage to brighten my day and put me in a good mood. I’ve gotten to the point where I actually love going to school, rather than being afraid of the hoards of small children.
  10. Skyping Family and Friends. It makes me cry just thinking about it, but I could talk to them for hours. This is another thing that makes me feel SO MUCH BETTER.
  11. Finding New Things. Anytime I find a new thing I like, it feels like a little win. For example, the other day it occurred to me that instead of taking an ice cold shower in the morning, I could fill up a bucket with hot water and take a bucket bath. I have no idea why I didn’t do this before, but now that I am, I don’t dread bathing anymore! When instant gratification is no longer an option, the little things become much more valuable.

So anyway, the list could go on, but the point is that I am able to find things to brighten my day. I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t need my day brightened so much if I got more respect from some men walking down the street… but I don’t want to harp on that too much. I may not be able to feel safe walking down a lonely road, but I hope one day to get to the point where their rude/ misogynistic comments won’t dampen my spirit. I know the things in the list above will help.

I guess if it weren’t a challenge, everyone would do it. I think that the thought that really gets me through is that the challenge is making me better in a way I couldn’t have experienced at home. When people do things like this, when you get out of your comfort zone, you do it because you want to be a better human when you come out the other side. If I can achieve that, every challenge will be worth it. The added benefit of the Peace Corps is that I can do my best to brighten other people’s days along the way. I can work every day to make myself a better person and give opportunities to the students I work with.

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Peace Corps Resolutions 2016

Ok, so I have been really lazy on the blogging front for like the past month. I’m working on a big “Peace Corps Packing List” blog post that I will post here soon. I just need to take some pictures to go with it. In the meantime, I wanted to post a little something.

I love the New Year. I’m pretty sure that I’ve made resolutions every year since I found out what a resolution was. I actually call them “Year Goals” in my little brain space, but really, same diff. I find that I have a lot of success with them because the goals I set for myself tend to be really important to me. For example, here are my goals from 2015:

  1. Get into the Peace Corps (Bam. Done)
  2. Make myself a better candidate for the Foreign Service based on the 12 dimensions. (Walking that road. So win for this one)
  3. Journal more (done)
  4. Read more (done)
  5. Rely less on technology (had a broken smartphone for 5 months so I accidently achieved this one. I’ll call it a win anyway)
  6. Finish a half marathon (done)
  7. Spend less, save more (I’m poor now, so I’m definitely spending less. Still working on the save more)
  8. Be more kind to my family (I literally couldn’t love those people any more after being apart from them, so I’m pretty sure a side effect of that is kindness)
  9. Acceptance of friends without judgment (still working on this one. At least I try to pretend I’m not judging people occasionally)
  10. Drink more tea (I drink more tea than can be comprehended by the human mind. Which reminds me, I have to go pee, brb)
  11. Allow myself to be more enthusiastic about things (stoicism doesn’t make friends. There’s a time and a place. I’ve spent more time being unabashedly stoked about things, so I call this one a yes)

As you can see, my goals were a hodgepodge of both personal and professional last year. I looked at what I wanted and I looked at my weaknesses and made a list. I have some more personal goals this year but for this post I want to focus on my Peace Corps related goals. So, without much further ado, here they are:

Peace Corps Goals 2016

  1. Have lessons planned a week in advance instead of constantly flying by the seat of my pants
  2. Help YECA grow and prosper (The youth program that I am Programme Manager for. I’ll write a future post about it)
  3. Learn all the kids names in the school
  4. Be more comfortable in the village
  5. Stay more organized
  6. See more of the country
  7. Try cooking more Vincy food
  8. Be more open with people
  9. Kick ass.

Some of those are pretty vague and definitely wouldn’t qualify as “S.M.A.R.T.” goals, but rest assured, they are specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic, and time bound in my head. I’ve got plans.

As far as personal goals, they are as varied as “Do 1 pull up” to “read 30 books”.

Professionally, I’m still making Foreign Service moves. I hope to take the FSOT at the embassy in Barbados sometime this summer.

Again, I’m sorry for not updating this blog in December, it was a super busy month. I won’t bore you with a long account of our adventures, but suffice it to say it was great. I’ll try to write a post about Christmas if I remember. We went to Bequia, waterfalls, beaches, resorts, and more.

Here are some pictures:

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Looking back at SVG from the Bequia ferry

Bequia

Bequia

Lower Bay, Bequia

Lower Bay, Bequia

Dark View Fall Hamming

Dark View Fall Hamming

 

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Dead Men Can’t Catcall

Every day, I walk down the road. I am either walking to school, or walking down to catch a van to town so that I can buy my groceries. When I go to school, I usually look for a child to walk with. I hold their hand and use them as a human shield so that I have an excuse to not answer when it inevitably happens. I get hit on or “complimented” by someone who thinks they have the right to reduce me to what I look like. It’s not flattering. It’s harassment. It makes me feel small. I know it shouldn’t, but it does.

We were told early on that we would have to develop our own strategy for dealing with this. We could ignore it. We could acknowledge it. I do a combination. I usually greet them before they get a word out. By the time my good morning is out, and they’ve returned theirs, I’m too far down the road to continue the interaction. Sometimes I pretend I don’t hear it. But I do. And it makes me feel like an idiot.

So many here make me feel strong. They make me feel appreciated. They thank me. They do things that make me proud. They make my time here feel significant. Then it happens again, and I’m just the sexy whitey with the big ass (funny when a friend says it, less funny when someone you don’t know says it). Every bit of the day that made me feel good comes tumbling down and exhaustion takes over.

I don’t cry about it. I don’t cry at all. I won’t let myself, not here. Tears represent a line that I refuse to cross.

I am lucky to be here. I worked hard to be here. I work with people who want me here, with kids who hug me. When they tell me I’m beautiful, my heart swells. They say it because they know me. The kids say it because I tell them that they are beautiful and they like my weird yellow hair. Those I work with also tell me that they’re proud of me, that I do a god job, that I’m smart. They build me up. They make this worth it. Every day I walk home from school with a smile on my face, no matter how frustrating my day was, because I have the hand of a first grader in each of mine. We walk together and tell each other what we’ll eat for a snack when we get home or what we did that day. We’ll skip across the stones in the river to get to the other side.

Then it happens. The noise that I hear every day that brings hot anger to my chest. The kissing noise. Like when you are trying to call a dog. But they’re trying to call me. It’s especially insulting because if all they wanted to get was my attention, they could say, “excuse me miss”, or “good day”, or I would even accept “hey white girl!” I’ve had many good introductions that started with one of these. But no, they have to call me like an animal. Sometimes I shoot them a look that I hope will actually cause them to wither into a little mushroom, but I think that’s what they want.

Once the boiling anger leaves, I simmer, then the water goes cold and I’m left exhausted. I don’t want to leave the house again until I have to, or until I have my little friends with me to tell me what they had for breakfast that morning.

I didn’t write this to make anyone feel bad for me. This is for people, all over the world that are treated or made to feel like they are less than human. Especially, those in the Peace Corps who, like me, are experiencing this for the first time. We can’t just flip them the bird like we might have done in the States, before we were supposed to be role models. We’ll figure it out. We know better than to let this ruin our day, even though it sometimes does. Maybe one day I’ll wear them down with kindness and I’ll be a human to them with feelings and everything. In the meantime, I’ll hope they turn into mushrooms so they can feel how I do.

The Only Dude I want Catcalling Me

The Only Dude I want Catcalling Me

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Me Nah Know

Sweaty/ Chaotic, Child Taken Photo. AKA How I Look 99% of the Time

Sweaty/ Chaotic, Child Taken Photo. AKA How I Look 99% of the Time

I’ve noticed something about myself that is changing. It’s weird, and definitely not something that I expected. I am letting go of my need to communicate/ be understood. Now, you should know that in most situations, I was already pretty laid back. I do, however, like to maintain a certain amount of control (aka I’m pretty bossy). Despite this, I would definitely be what you would describe as a type B personality. Being here is making me even “B”er, if you will. So much of my life is out of my control. Whereas back pre-Peace Corps, I would have been pretty annoyed about being late somewhere, here I have to accept that my timing is often completely out of my hands. I can leave with plenty of time to wait and catch a bus, but still get screwed. Usually, it takes about 15-20 minutes to catch a bus/van, I generally give myself a 45-minute window, but wouldn’t you know it, occasionally I’ll have to wait an hour and a half (or more). So what should I do? Give myself 2 hours to catch a van and risk being waaaaaay early most of the time. Nah. I just have to accept that sometimes I’ll be late. If you knew me back home, you know I used to eviscerate my friends for being late. It still irks me when I’m late, but I’m accepting that it’s just out of my control.

What about my previous need to over explain myself? Gone. I used to feel like when I was asked a question, it was my righteous duty to the human race to answer it in full and to the best of my ability. I mean, most of the world’s problems could be solved if we were just better able to communicate with each other right? Someone might ask, “Where are you going?” I would give them the full, “I’m going to go get gas, then I’m going to Panera for lunch, then I’m going to Target, then I’m going to Michael’s house, then I may or may not go to the movies, I’ll let you know when I figure that out.” Now when someone from the village asks me where I’m going, I give one of two responses, “down the road” or “me nah know.” “Me nah know” is my favorite piece of Vincentian slang. It says so little, but immediately ends the conversation. Vincentians are generally not going to pry into your life, and don’t expect you to pry into theirs. Those responses are perfectly acceptable in polite conversation. I love it. I know I will probably drive my friends in the States crazy, because it’s making me even more vague than they already accused me of being (though I didn’t consider myself vague).

I’ve also had to give up control over my work. I can lesson plan and create games and be totally prepared to teach the kids, but if they are having a bad day, it’s not going to go well. This is also my first time teaching kids, so my classroom management skills leave something to be desired. I substitute taught in Kindergarten the other day, and completely lost control. Literally, I was standing in a room with children swirling around me in a maelstrom of sticky fingers and broken crayons. I had been trying unsuccessfully for the past couple hours to get them to focus on their coloring, stop beating each other, and stay in their seats. I tried being nice, being firm, pretending to be angry and laying down the law (I rarely actually get angry, so I have to pretend), and a few other techniques, to no avail. Finally, something broke and I lost them, thus initiating the swirling mass of 4 year olds. As I stood there, I looked at how completely I lost control, and I just started laughing (which was bad because it just egged them on). If I had lost control so completely in the past, I might have stared crying, but no. I just started laughing and joined the chaos. Was this the best move as a teacher? No way. Was it the best way to preserve my sanity? Absolutely. Sometimes you just have to embrace the chaos and swim with the flow.

Will I still try to be controlling in the States? Will I still be angry when people aren’t on time? Will I be vague? Will I get a good job when I get home? Will I feel intense reverse culture shock? Will I be a better or worse person?

Me nah know.

And that’s fine for now.

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Fear and Loathing in SVG

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During our Pre Service Training (PST) in St. Lucia, Peace Corps gave us this handy dandy “Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment”. At the time, we were going through a pretty intense bout of culture shock and homesickness, so it was not really appreciated. We didn’t want to hear that we would be getting more miserable in the months to come. Oh how true this stupid chart is though. Now that we’ve passed 4 months of being here, it is becoming more apparent that the honeymoon is over. The stress of being in a new country and having absolutely every detail of my life changed has hit me like a truck. Don’t get me wrong; the external factors are mostly manageable… My basic needs are taken care of, I have food, shelter, and safety (sort of), but we all know it takes more than that to be happy.

To be honest, I wouldn’t be able to answer the question, “Are you happy?” The answer would change on a minute-by-minute basis, and depending on the scope. I am happy that I am gaining life skills. I am not happy that I feel like a more pessimistic person. I am happy that the students are so loving and funny. I am not happy that they don’t respect me because I don’t beat them. I am happy to have my new kitten. I am not happy that I share my house with probably about 1000 bats. I am happy to have such great co-teachers. I am not happy that our resources are limited, to put it mildly. I am happy to be here. I am not happy to be away from home. It feels selfish and small to be unhappy at all. I worked so hard to be here and I know it’s a wonderful opportunity to help others, become a better person, and experience the world. The day to day though is so foreign to me, mostly because I used to be VERY laid back. It took a lot to rile me. Now all it takes is missing the bus. I know it will get better, just look at the Cycle! In 2 months I’ll enter the adjustment phase, then every thing will be great right? RIGHT?? In the meantime, “big picture, big picture, big picture” has become my mantra. The small things have also become so much sweeter. If you ask, “Are you happy?” after I see my friends, find a favorite food in town, go to the beach, discover that I can make a new food, get a big hug from a second grader, or get a care package, the answer would be a resounding “YES!” Time will make it better. I’m full of clichés.

I’ll share a story from last weekend to wrap up this weird little post.

We went into the capital for a Peace Corps training session on Friday, a couple weeks ago. It was an all day training, so Peace Corps provided us with a catered lunch. Peace Corps volunteers love catered lunch. After weeks of surviving on our own varying levels of cooking skill, it’s nice to have someone else cook. We had some lovely chicken, rice, fish, veggies, etc. Everything was beautiful and delicious. That night, I spent the night at a board member’s house of a non-profit I’m going to be working for. It was a retreat where we planned the non-profit’s events for the next few months. Not relevant to the story, but it was a really good time. We played a really funny cross-cultural game of charades and watched Frozen. Anyway, after that was over on Saturday, I decided I would go to the grocery store before heading home. I finished with my groceries and attempted to catch a bus back up North to the village. I waited over an hour, but all the busses coming from the South were full. So, I decided to catch a bus going South into town and go to the bus terminal there in the hopes of getting on a bus before they were full. I got to the terminal, and waited there a good long time with no bus. At this point, it was starting to get dark. It gets real sketchy after dark, so I started to get nervous. As it got darker and still no bus, I got more and more nervous. Just when I was about to call in the US government to helicopter me out of there (kidding) a bus finally came. I got on, but wasn’t out of the woods yet because, if the bus dropped me off at my gap, I would have to walk through the dark down a VERY sketchy street to my village. I had called my host mother, and she said she would send someone to walk me home, but that still would involve me waiting on the side of the dark highway until she got there. As I got on, my backpack was pulled out of my hands because it didn’t fit on my lap with the groceries. My backpack had my laptop in it, which is worth more than my life, so as I watched it disappear into the front of the bus, out of sight, I continued to lose my marbles a few at a time. However, by this point, I had lost enough marbles that I was paralyzed and unable to do anything but watch helplessly as the backpack was taken. At this point, the conductor of the bus noticed my distress and asked if I was ok. I told him what village I was stopping at and the lady next to me said she was going there as well, so he agreed to bring us into the village. This made my walk much safer after the bus dropped us off. It was a huge relief. I walked the rest of the way home and one of my kind neighbors helped me carry my bags. When I got back, I collapsed onto my floor and soon began experiencing what we will tactfully refer to as “intestinal distress”. I immediately convinced myself that it was fear that had liquefied my insides. WebMD confirmed my theory, as it always does. So I spent a rather sleepless night believing that the fear I had experienced was cleaning out my insides. Then low and behold, I got word from a few of the other volunteers that they were going through the same thing. After some confirmation from the PC doctor, we learned we had food poisoning from our catered lunch on Friday. There is some disagreement, but we believe it was the chicken. Shysted by WebMD again! Moral of the story and confirmation of my life’s motto: trust no one (especially not the chicken).

So that’s my little scary story. It was a rough week. Here’s to hoping the “Cycle of Fear and Loathing”… oops I mean, “Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment” is correct and things will start looking rosier soon.

On the bright side, I turned 24 on the 15th. I had some of the other volunteers over on the Friday and we hung out, made a good dinner, had a case of Hairoun, and played cards. It was fun and made for a nice laid back birthday celebration. Another nice thing about the unpredictable mail here is that I have presents trickling in slowly, which extends the birthday fun. This weekend, almost all of the SVG volunteers are going to Union Island to celebrate all our October birthdays and Vincentian Independence day. We’re going on a old schooner to go snorkeling in the Tobago Cays, where they filmed the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean when Jack and Elizabeth get marooned on the rum runner’s island. It’s a beautiful marine park and I’m looking forward to seeing some sea turtles.

Lastly: Here is a link to an interview I did on one of the national radio stations last week.

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Swear In- A Love Letter to EC87

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Well folks, We are now the genuine articles. We are those people that left comfortable home to work in a developing country. We swore in as official Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV’s). “But wait”, you might say, “you’ve been gone for months already… were you just jacking around in the tropics?” To you I say, “Nah.” I’ve been with my fellow masochists in a special level called Pre Service Training ([PST]… sorry about throwing all these acronyms at you, but trust friend, I’ve got acronyms for days).

We had the joy of uprooting everything that we love and throwing some of it into a suitcase, leaving most of it behind, and moving to a brand new country. We did some very swift and intense bonding while we were hustled through easily a year’s worth of teacher training, health training, safety training, culture, language, etc. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Literally. Then, we were sent to our sites. Separated but still connected in so many ways. Do you know what happened though? We all made it, all 32 of us. Whether it be a stroke of fate, the hand of God, strength of will, or just blind luck, we all made it to our swear-in week. This is a rare thing for a group of Peace Corps trainees. You don’t make it through this unless you’re of a rare breed. I will forever have respect for those who call themselves RPCV’s (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers).

This is just the beginning though. Now we can do what we came here to do. We can integrate. We can teach. We can learn. We can grow. It feels so good to move on to the next leg of this insane journey.

We on St. Vincent and the Grenadines swore in today. We celebrated afterwards with the volunteers who came here last year. We have so much to look forward to. Let’s do this EC87. I am so proud of us for making it this far. Only 24 months to go.

 

I have a lot more to write about, but these are just some brief thoughts for the day. Easily one of the most important days of my life and those of my colleagues.

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Vincentian Introduction

You would think that the biggest transition would be going from the U.S. to the Caribbean, but that would be incorrect. The biggest transition for me was going from St. Lucia to St. Vincent. We have left the land of parties, Carnival, beach bars, and 32 friends to pick from every weekend. We are all moved into our permanent villages, which means the quiet life has begun. There are 8 of us that came to St. Vincent from EC87. We are joining 6 other volunteers who are already here.

I was lucky enough to get another great host family. Admittedly, it took a minute for us to warm up to each other, but now that I’ve been living with my host mother for a little over 2 weeks, we are starting to understand each other. It’s not a cultural norm for Vincentians to ask you a lot of questions about yourself, so the getting to know you process is taking a bit longer. It is just she and I who live in the house, which is kind of nice because having a lot of people in the house can make an already overwhelming process seem even harder. She does have a lot of family who live nearby, so I am able to take advantage of that. So far my assimilation strategy has been to sit on the porch and read while greeting people who go by (which I call passive integration). The other strategy is to basically follow people around. I’ve gone into town to run errands with the neighbor, rode with some host cousins to check out the construction site of their new house, and basically followed my host mother to about a million church functions. Lesson for all of these activities: ALWAYS BRING A BOOK. The amount of waiting around that I do here is astounding, so it’s good to have a backup form of entertainment.

Passive Integration

Another change that has been a bit difficult to get used to is being in such a tiny town. The place we stayed in St. Lucia wasn’t exactly a metropolis, but it was a couple short bus rides away from some touristy, affluent areas. We probably took too much advantage of this for our own good, but it was fun while it lasted. Now, I have to walk down to the main highway to catch a bus at the gap. I can’t walk down the highway after dark, because it gets pretty sketchy. That effectively traps me in my village every evening. I need to make a friend who has a car.

That’s not to say we haven’t had any fun. We had a lovely beach day at Villa beach, which is small, but pretty. Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed here, and the place Johnny Depp stayed is on a little island next to Villa. After I learned about that being filmed here, I basically find any opportunity to bring it up in conversation. We also got a nice little mini tour of the island on Saturday. We went to Fort Charlotte, an old English fort above Kingstown Harbour. We went to the oldest botanical gardens in the Western Hemisphere and saw a breadfruit tree that was a sucker from the one originally brought here by Captain Bligh (look him up kids). We also went to an old, bat filled tunnel that was carved by slaves to aid in the transport of sugar cane. On top of all that, we have found a couple of cool little bars in Kingstown where we can grab a local Hairoun beer after training.

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We move into our houses in about 2 weeks, the Saturday after we swear in as official Peace Corps Volunteers. I cannot wait to move in. So far I’ve only seen my place from the outside, but it looks cute. Now it’s just a waiting game while we finish up these last couple weeks of training.

Speaking of waiting around, I have been taking an hour bus ride to and from training each day during the time I have been here. They STUFF the busses here. They are basically 15 person vans that will usually have anywhere from 20-25 people in them. This means that we are like little sardines. It’s kind of funny because it makes you lose basically all ability to move your arms and legs. The result of this is that I tend to get really introspective on the bus. There have been quite a few moments where I’m sitting, squished between two fat men, and wonder why I have done this with my life. Then there are moments, like today, when a sweet girl asked me politely if she could lay her head on my backpack, in my lap, so she could rest on the ride. I figured, “why not?”, and said that was fine. Sitting with her snoozing on my lap made me realize how much human connection matters. Even though her lying there further restricted my movement, I couldn’t have cared less. In that moment, it honestly just felt good to help someone else feel good. And that dear friends, is why I am really here. So, moral of the story, squish yourself on a tiny bus to help you understand the meaning of life.

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Ignorance, Evil, and the Michael Brown Shooting

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I used to watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report a lot when I was in high school. They were my first glimpse into the political world. They were funny, and gave a not-too-deep glance into the crazy and often confusing world of American politics. The shows have a definite liberal slant, but I didn’t and still don’t mind it. You know why? I can watch them and not agree with them. It’s ok. Getting into a Poli Sci major in college pretty much put a halt on watching those shows for me. You can’t exactly cite The Daily Show in a paper, so I moved on to more grown up news sources: newspapers, magazines, books, and scholarly papers. Much more informative, much less entertaining.

I still love those guys though; Colbert because he’s funny, Stewart because he’s so damn insightful sometimes. Case in point: he was on The Colbert Report the other day, and I just happened to catch it. He recently directed (produced?) a movie that he was talking about. I wasn’t paying too much attention (watching while I worked), but I caught a quote that I haven’t stopped thinking about since I heard it. Jon Stewart said, “evil is relatively rare, ignorance is epidemic.”

The more I thought about this, the more it rang true. Being on social media has become almost excruciating lately. Facebook in particular with the hate spewing from both sides of the Michael Brown shooting. People paint Michael Brown as evil, people paint Darren Wilson as evil. “Evil is relatively rare, ignorance is epidemic.” Neither of these two men is evil. Withholding my own opinion about who I think was at fault, there is a real problem with how this incident has been received. The ignorance really is staggering. There are real racists in the world, they are not necessarily evil, but they are extremely ignorant. There are people that label every incident like this as being racist, they are not evil, but they are also extremely ignorant and perpetuate hatred. When you jump on a cop-hating band wagon, you are being ignorant. Period. You are being equally as ignorant as the true racists that are in this world.

Do you want to know who is truly evil in this world? People whose ignorance crosses the line into action. Ignorance morphing into genocide. Ignorance morphing into perpetual hatred. These are evil things. Some things just happen. Circumstances align, bad decisions are made, and someone loses their life. These things happen every day. To go with a knee jerk reaction and label them as racist is ignorant. The good news is that ignorance, unlike evil, is in its very nature curable. To do this, do not let your ignorance cross into action. Inaction is the best policy. Do not underestimate the power of thoughtful introspection. Posting videos of cops killing and cops being killed only galvanizes people against you. Blocking freeways and shopping malls does the same thing. Lumping these incidents together with others, no matter how similar they seem is ignorant. Each case is different on an infinite number of levels. You were not there, you will never know for sure. We’re all ignorant in one way or another, to deny that is to lie to yourself. Before you flirt with the line between ignorance and evil, consider what effect your action will have. Inaction can be an action in itself.

Jon Stewart may not agree with everything I’ve said, but I am grateful to him for that quote. I hope it makes you think as well. Think beyond my example and use the quote a lens to look at any situation where hatred is tossed around so casually.

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