Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How I truly want to Pack for Peace Corps

Packing for Peace Corps El Salvador

Yes, I have started packing. Please do not judge me too harshly for packing so early. First, I am just so excited. Second, I am a terrible packer so the more time I devote to it the less likely I will screw it up. Third, I am an over-preparer. Plus there is nothing I hate more than procrastination. So here it goes:

Electronics/Battery Operated Devices/Equipment:
Flip Cam
Short Wave Radio
External Hard Drive (1 large, 1 small)
Flash Drive
Energizer Rechargeable AA's and AAA's (4 of each and charger)
Portable Speakers
Headphones (2)
*including chargers and cases for necessary electronics

Around the House:
Hand Crank LED Lantern
Nalgene (2)
Swiss Army Knife
Duct Tape
Masking Tape
Ziploc bags
Trash Bags
Wall Calendar
Map of the World
Lint Roller
Photo Albums
Small Memories from Home
Sewing Kit
Travel Pillow
Car air fresheners
Combination lock & Key Master Lock (2)
Ear Plugs
Eye Cover
Travel Detergents (3)

Shampoo (1)
Conditioner (1)
Body wash (1)
Bars of soap (3)
Lotion (1)
Deodorant (4; excessive I know, but this is a simple splurge.)
Toothbrushes (3, another important item)
Toothpaste (2)
Mouthwash (1)
Perfume (1)
Razor and extras
Shaving Cream (2)
Hand Sanitizer
Chap Stick (3)
Sun Tan Lotion (2)
Nail kit
Towel (1 regular, 1 travel quick dry)
Wash Cloth
Hair clips, berets, scrunchies
Baby Wipes/hand wipes
*I know that I can buy a lot of this in country, but I find that these are nice comforts and smells from home, which I think are extremely valuable when living abroad. Plus, I want to save money for a bit while I am actually in country. People here (cough, mom, cough) are willing to buy some stuff before I leave, which is nice.

Eye glasses & sunglasses
Prescription for three months
Band Aids
Muscle Cream
Anti itch cream
Bug Spray
Favorite Cough Drops
Sports Tape

Running shoes (1)
Vibram Five Fingers (1)
Birkenstocks (1)
Hiking Sandals (1)
Flip Flops (1)
Formal Sandals/Flats (2)

Hoodie (1)
Rain Jacket (1)
Light weight running jacket (1)
Scarf (1)
Socks (20)
Underwear (20)
Bras (4 sport, 4 regular)
Swearing in outfit (1)
Casual & conservative dresses (2)
Long skirts (2)
Long Shorts (2)
Dress Pants (1)
Khaki Colored Cargo Pants (1)
Jeans (2)
Running Shorts & Capris (3)
PJ Pants (1)
Blouses & Dress Up Shirts (3)
Polo (2)
Light Cover Up Cardigan (1)
T-Shirts (5)
Tank Tops- conservative (5)
Running Dry Fit Shirt (1)
2 freebie shirts I can't part with :) - undecided
Swim Suit (1/2)
Wide brimmed hat (1)
Belt (1)
Bandana (2)
Work Gloves (1)
Money belt (1)

Nerd Supplies:
Small Pocket Notebooks (2)
501 Spanish Verbs
El Salvador Guide Book
Drawing Pencils
Pencil Sharpener
Colored Pencils
Sketch Pad
Peace Corps documents/file folder
*I have downloaded countless books/information/how to guides/teaching resources/etc onto my Kindle, which I feel is cheating, but in a good way.

Fun Things I just had to Bring:
Battery Powered Fan Sprinkler
Casablanca Movie Poster
Jump Rope
Glee Seasons 1 & 2
Gifts for Host Family/kids including games, bubbles, and other fun items!
Over the shoulder purse I take everywhere
Camel Bak

To carry it all in:
Hiking back pack (this is pretty freaking big)
Small Rolling Bag (small enough it could be a carry on, but I am checking it)
Day/Weekend/School Back pack (carry on)
*luggage locks

*This is round one. I will reevaluate as my time gets closer. So, I assure you this will change.

Finally, I just have to add that I have booked my train (the same train out of the same station that my fellow Delawarean and Vice President Joe Biden made famous) to Washington, D.C. for my one day staging event. I feel it is only appropriate that I leave out of the capital. Not only is it the nation's capital, the home of my lovely President Mr. Barack Obama, my college town, but it also is near and dear to my heart as it was my home for the past four years. It holds countless memories and I am just so grateful to head back there on my final day in America.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Oh the people you meet at a Yard Sale

I would not typically find it inspiring to talk about such activities as mundane as a Yard Sale, but surprisingly they are not really mundane. In fact, they are quite entertaining. I noticed that there are two kinds of sale-goers. There are the people who are just passing by and decide that it might be worth it to check it out- you know the spontaneous type. But then there are the real yard sale scouts. These are the people who have the iphone app telling them where all the yard sales are today. Or the people who have a schedule written down (you know the old fashion way) of every sale in the area. Needless to say, these people mean business. In this group, there are also seems to be a divide. There are the people who are on a mission to find a certain type of item. For instance, there was a woman who likes to make jewelry out of random junk, so she goes to yard sales for the purpose of finding said random junk to turn into her version of gold. But then there are the people who buy everything in sight and you know they are buying it just because they have some sort of weird fetish and probably need to be feature on "My Strange Addiction" or some other reality television show glorifying their habit. Okay, these people probably are not that bad, but still why do you need this random junk that is probably going to add to the pile of stuff sitting in your own garage that you should probably start selling now. Just a word of advice. (Dear future self: please be a minimalist).

I think the reason I enjoyed the yard sale is because I enjoy "people watching." And I enjoy it more than the average person. I also enjoy eavesdropping on other people's conversations. I am not ashamed to admit it either. It is very worthwhile to do both. You learn a lot about the world and about people.

You remember the crazy jewelry lady that I mentioned? Well she started going on and on to my Grandmother about how she is so thankful that she won't be around when the next generations rule the world. Apparently she knows for a fact that we will certainly screw it up. That was a moment (I have had countless in my life) where I realized I am so blessed to have the Mommom that I do. She said to the woman, "Oh I know that they will figure everything out. They will do great." (Sorry lady you are talking to the wrong person- my Mommom was a teacher). But still, I was so proud in that moment that I came down out of the tree (yes, I was climbing trees like a child) ready to back up my Mommom because I figured she might mention her love for Barack Obama (YES!), which could lead to very intense discussion. But emerging from the tree forced the woman to turn her attention to me. I am sure she was thinking "ah another failed youth with no summer job wasting away climbing trees." She started asking questions about my future plans. And thankfully answering with the Peace Corps really shut her up. I am not sure her views on it but thankfully she seemed to be satisfied with that answer. And she left soon after that, thankfully.

But had she stuck around I would have definitely made my case for us (not just for me joining the Peace Corps as proof or if it needed defending but also for the other countless causes and wonderful things people in my generation are doing and will do) : My generation is not failing. We are doing things our way. And we will figure things out. Because we have to.

Besides I think it would have also been important to remind her that the other generations were (are) not perfect either. But this is not a competition, right?

I have to say that it is moments like these where I also realize that I have found my calling in Youth Development. More than anything I believe in raising earth's children to be the leaders that we need. How can you do that when you are so busy knowing that they (we) will fail?

Maybe the problem is not us. Maybe it is you. And the way you look at failure.

Until next time, treat the youth in your life with a little respect...

(Also, treat the awesome Mommoms in your life with respect too) : )

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Minister's Tree House

On our way to Manchester, Tennessee to attend Bonnaroo, Julia and I stopped in Crossville. It is about two hours outside of Manchester and the stop really adds no more driving time then getting off the highway and using the bathroom (which of course I had to do anyway). The reason for this stop was simple: visit "The Minister's Tree House." I found this gem online at the following address:

I have always loved the thought of stopping at a random road side attraction on an epic road trip. It always seemed fun, spontaneous, and hilarious. There is this episode of Boy Meets World where Eric and Cory are on a road trip and they stop at "The World's Largest Yogurt Cup" and since then I have had the deepest desire to not only see said yogurt cup (which I am not sure exists), but to also extend a road trip to see my own road side attraction. Now some road side attractions listed on this web site are just lame in my opinion. Take for instance my hometown which has this one: Also known as "Huge Doctor's Bag with Stethoscope." Okay, I am sorry, but this is so lame. I pass it everyday which may add to its lameness for me, but still. Why is it even there? I have no idea, but if you are passing through the great first state, please do not get off 95 to see this "attraction" because chances are you will be utterly disappointed and further complain about how pointless and boring Delaware is. I suggest you get off at the Christiana Mall instead. I am assuming that will make you more happy. Or just make sure you pick something that will give Delaware some credit (we need all the help we can get) and stop at "The Rest Stop of the Future." I have not been there, but it sure looks sweet. I may just have to go to check it out, so I could actually recommend it to you honestly.

Anyways that was a longest tangent ever basically to highlight the point that some road side attractions are better than others. And in Crossville, Tennessee I believe lies one of the best. It is in fact so cool that I proceeded to convince multiple Bonnaroo goers that they must stop there on their way out of the state no matter which direction they had to go.

Landscaper Horace Burgess bought some land, found some inspiration in a large tree, and decided that he was going to build the world's largest tree house. He soon ran out of materials and the project began to take a toll on him. But then "he turned his life to God." And God spoke to him in something like a vision saying, "If you build Me a tree house, I'll never let you run out of material." With that, Horace was rejuvenated and eleven years later, he had built a tree house that met his goal. According to the web site this is "the largest tree house in the world. It spreads across not one, but seven big trees that grow through its floors and out of its windows. It soars 100 feet into the sky. Built without blueprints, its dimensions are a mystery even to Horace, who guesses that it covers around 10,000 square feet."

I won't describe this amazing piece of work because luckily for you I made some videos. Of course, these videos are downright terrible in terms of quality and do not do the tree house justice in terms of size and shear epicness, but I think the videos are better than my words. I also would like to apologize for the commentary in the videos. At times it is sarcastic, vulgar, and downright offensive, but I was excited, if you cannot tell. Again, I am sorry. My sense of humor is a particular brand. And I just want to say as a disclaimer that there is nothing wrong with being religious and I do not mean to poke fun at anyone's. In fact, if you know me well, you know that no matter where I go in a new city or new town or even in my own town, I always visit some kind of place of worship. In London, I went to St. Paul's and listened to the morning prayer. In Rome, I went to St. Peter's and actually touched the Pope (no that is not a joke, it happened). In Jordan, Morocco, and Egypt I went to countless mosques as part of my studies on Islam. I have visited and participated in Buddhist chanting session here in Delaware. Religion intrigues me. And even as a "non believer" as Julia calls me in the video and a self proclaimed atheist, I think religion is often beautiful, always powerful in a variety of ways, and at times I wish I had one. Although I do not have a religion, I like to think that I am extremely faithful and with that I know that I am okay without a religion. I have faith in me, I have faith in people, and I have faith in nature. And that is all I need. I do realize that many of you are probably posing the ever present "what is nature?" question, but that is a post for another time. I will say that my version of nature is my own. I am hoping you have your own too. And I hope that it IS different from mine.

So let's look at Mr. Horace's version of faith via my recordings:

Part 1

Part 2



Oh the power of faith. Love.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Few Bonnaroo Performances

Freelance Whales performing "Hannah."

Ben Sollee performing in our shady space.

Chiddy Bang.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bonnaroo Recap

I am still trying to figure out how one can "recap" an event like Bonnaroo. Actually, in many ways, I am still trying to figure out exactly what happened to me. Bonnaroo is an experience like none other. It feels like a four day marathon and each day you run a new 26.2 in the dreadful Tennessee heat in the middle of June. But instead of running with your ipod in you get to experience live, wonderful, new, different, music. It is exhilarating. It is tiring. At many times, especially at 4 in the morning dancing at the Girl Talk concert, I felt very close to death by exhaustion coupled by the fact that my feet felt like they were on fire. But, it was still downright awesome.

Just in case you are looking for some clues as if you would enjoy a festival such as Bonnaroo, let me give you the following tips. 1. VOLUNTEER! This is probably the best decision you could ever make. First, you get to come early, set up your camp site early, and you get a spot that is much closer, bigger, and away from the massive crowds of the general admission folks. You get three free meals. FREE SHOWERS. Yes, I will say it again. FREE SHOWERS. (of course, I only took one because the lines were so long, but if you care more than me about cleanliness you could wait in the lines more often). You get an awesome T-shirt (I like T-shirts as it is one of the reasons I run so many races). There is a volunteer bbq the first night which is yummy and fun. You also get to enter Centerroo without waiting in the large general admission line which I think is a reason all in itself to volunteer. The drawbacks are that you might miss some of your shows, but I was able to tell my volunteer coordinator where I wanted to be stationed so I actually got to see and hear every one I wanted.

Here are my other final tips:
2. Drink water constantly & bring your own water for the camp site as the water there tastes like eggs and if you are like me, you probably will not be able to stomach it. But the water in the main area is fine.
3. Apply endless amounts of sun screen if you are Casper like me
4. Wear comfortable shoes
5. Bring toilet paper everywhere if you can't "drip dry"
6. Be patient (long lines)
7. Take advantage of any time that you can sleep
8. Baby wipes - this was how I managed to stay somewhat clean
9. Hand sanitizer- I used two full travel bottles
10. Have fun and wish everyone a Happy Bonnaroo. Help your neighbors and friends!

So now I am going to provide a list mostly for my own personal record of the acts that I saw:
1. Freelance Whales
2. Kopecky Family Band
3. Hayes Carll
4. Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
5. Ray Lamontagne
6. Ben Sollee (2x)
7. Florence and the Machine
8. Arcade Fire
9. Chancellor Warhol
10. Bobby Long
11. Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons
12. Chiddy Bang
13. Man Man
14. Portugal. The Man (briefly)
15. Wiz Khalifa
16. Mumford & Sons
17. The Black Keys
18. Buffalo Springfield (briefly)
19. Eminem
20. The String Cheese Incident (briefly)
21. Girl Talk
22. Neon Trees

All in all an awesome experience with my bestest friend in the entire world. I definitely would do it again! I am going to post some videos from the trip in another entry later. Of course, I will also cover the epic road trip portion, which includes our stop at The Minister's Treehouse in Crossville, TN.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bonnaroo Preparation

I probably should not be writing a post on preparing for Bonnaroo given that I have never been before. But even in our first time doing something, we prepare in some way. So here is my preparation. It is Sunday morning and my best friend Julia and I are scheduled to leave tomorrow. The preparation thus far includes having a tent, a lantern, some chairs, and a vague idea of who we want to see. We also have planned a half way stop in Blacksburg/Roanoke on request of our family members who are not confident in our driving abilities for 13 hours straight. I have also planned a trip (probably on the way back) to this:

This afternoon we are hitting the grocery store to stock up on some necessary items including the following: caffeine source, gatorade/propel, water, bread, peanut butter, trail mix, granola bars, dry cereal, crackers, bananas, apples, oranges, etc. We are trying to avoid paying any money inside at all costs. We are also keeping our camp site as low maintenance as possible, so we are not bringing many cold items or any items one must cook. We will probably get a lot of ice right before entering (cheaper) and then focus on consuming those items more quickly as the ice thaws. As volunteers we are given a few meal coupons, so there will be a few times of gorging on fair-like food to get us through.

As I mentioned, our camp site is going to just suffice as a resting spot. We are not really planning on making it too complicated. Julia's family is giving us the van, so if things turn bad in terms of weather, we can always vacate to the van for shelter. So we are sticking to the following items: tent, chairs, lantern, flashlights, air mattress, sheets, blankets, pillows, tarp. I think that should cover the basics.

As for the "vague" schedule. Well we are going to plan more of that today. We are going to cross reference our MUST SEE people and then plan accordingly. Then after that scope out some new people to just show up and check out. This will leave plenty of time to volunteer, but also time to visit the new water slide, check some comedy shows, and of course visit the silent disco. I am so so so so amped for this.

I know this post may come up in a search engine and most people are going to be looking for drug and alcohol related preparation. You aren't getting that here. Sorry. Keeping this thang PG, my friends. Well most of the time.

Here is to a safe and kick ass Bonnaroo time. And one of the last and final trips with my best friend before Peace Corps. Yay.

Post script Bonnaroo preparation: Freelance Whales. :)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Girl (Literary) Crush on Lisbeth Salander.

David Fincher, this movie looks downright brilliant. Praise.

I remember when I first got "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Right before it I had been reading Bill McKibben's "The End of Nature" and prior to that I was reading "The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman. At this time I was taking the train everyday from Perryville to D.C. on the MARC, so I was seriously plowing through books. Please don't ask about my commute. That is water under the bridge now. A co-worker heard about my social-life-destroying commute and my "the world is ending" reading choices and she decided to save my soul. And by save my soul I mean give me a copy of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." To be honest with you, I had never even heard of it. I was not aware of its popularity or its "best seller status." She began describing it to me and immediately to myself I am thinking "I am going to hate this book so badly." Mysteries aren't really my thing. Mysteries always strike me as being "sexy, dark, confusing, and bizarre." Me, I usually go for geeky kind of books. You know those ones about the world ending? Right. Or I go for non-fiction, biographies, travel tales, or of course Harry Potter (classic exception). But I took the book anyway. Why? Well, because when you are a college student working at the Department of Justice and a superior gives you a book to read you take it and you read it. Call me a brown noser or whatever, but I was trying to impress. Come on it is a recession people. I was thinking about my future by taking this book from her.

And thank goodness I did. This book and its sequels are some of the best books I have read in a long time. It was everything I thought I hated about mysteries: sexy, dark, confusing, and bizarre. But it was the twist of highlighting the very real global problem of sex trafficking that I think made me appreciate it even more. Plus, the heroin is a very bad ass woman warrior who I have a not so secret girl crush on slash I kind of want to be her in a twisted sort of way (if you read the book you know that she has some interesting characteristics that may make my desire to be her a little confusing but I still love her). I know I mentioned in my "vagina post" that I am not a feminist, but this chick is so freaking awesome that I cannot even stand it. She makes me want to be a feminist. But, when you read the book you will understand that this book actually forces you to appreciate unique and new gender roles. I am not going to discuss the book any more than that because I want you to read it. Now don't get all hipster on me and say "I don't want to read it because everyone else is (has)." Give me a break. You are going to miss out on some awesome shit if you keep trying to be cool (read: you are not cool). And just to clue you in: if you are not doing something because everyone else is doing it, you doing exactly what you are trying not to do.

Anyway, I am so pumped for the American version of the film. The Swedish version was good, but call me a patriot because I have a feeling the American version is going to kick some ass (sorry Sweden). Of course, I will be in El Salvador when the movie comes out, so I may have to wait a little longer to see it. But needless to say, I am pumped.

Post Script Bonnaroo preparation for the day: Today, in honor of Lisbeth I am going to highlight headliner Eminem, especially the song "Til I Collapse." It reminds me of her determination and will power.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

New Housing Policies: Mandatory Home Stay for Entire Service

I have not blogged much about strictly Peace Corps related information because ever since receiving my invitation there has not been much to report. After receiving an invitation there is not much communication between Peace Corps and the invitee until staging information is sent about a month or so before departure. Well it turns out yesterday I received my first correspondence (since sending in my Aspiration Statement and Resume a week after receiving my invitation) with my country desk and my country director.

The information included in the email contained the typical welcome to the Peace Corps El Salvador edition, introductions like "Hi, I am your country director," and information to send to our families about sustaining contact during our service. There was also information regarding our one day staging event in Washington, D.C. on July 19th with my 18 new friends (other volunteers). It seems more information will come 3 weeks prior to departure about booking flights, etc.

But the most important piece of information in this string of emails was that Peace Corps El Salvador has made a significant change to the housing policy for all future volunteers. It seems that it will be REQUIRED that all volunteers live with a host family for their ENTIRE service not just through training and the first three months of service in site. Here is the email reasoning verbatim:

"Although living with a family has certain challenges (lack of privacy, a different diet, noise, etc.)
it also has multiple rewards community integration, increase language skills, friendship,
sharing, and gaining a unique understanding of the Salvadoran culture. The experience of
sharing day-to-day life with a Salvadoran family will hasten your cultural adaption, better
facilitate the community connections needed for your work and help you to truly understand,
appreciate and *live* the lifestyle of Salvadoran families. Not least of all, your personal safety
will be enhanced when the community views you as a part of a local family."

I have a few guesses as to why the Peace Corps is instituting this new policy. Number one on the list is all the media attention on the Peace Corps recently about ignoring the safety and security of its volunteers (particularly those of the female gender). Does a certain prime time special on rape come to mind? Trust me I cannot go through an entire conversation with someone about my future plans without the token "Do you know what happens to the women over there?" or "Have you seen the news about the women being raped in the Peace Corps?" Yes. Thank you. I know. And frankly, I don't want to hear about it any more. NEWS FLASH: This stuff happens everywhere. It happens all the time. And I am not going to stop living my life because of it. And just because I am a woman does not mean that I should not do the Peace Corps. Rant over. Thanks.

I trust that the Peace Corps in El Salvador is doing this because they feel it will truly enhance our safety. As a future volunteer I have to respect that and trust that the Peace Corps is making the best decision for my safety, which will only work to enhance my experience and effectiveness. Although, I do have to admit that at first I was a little upset about this new requirement. Living with a host family, while rewarding and safe, is also really, really challenging in terms of personal space, which I now feel is going to be one of my bigger battles. But at least I will never be lonely. And my Spanish will only get better faster. Of course with anything there are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to both sides. But in reality there is nothing I can do about the situation. I will be living with a host family and that decision has been made. All I can do is accept that, embrace the advantages, work through the disadvantages, and be the best volunteer I can be through all of that.

I wonder if other countries are doing this too? I am sure all the media attention, budget issues, and government readjusting is making all the countries reevaluate policies. And hopefully this just makes Peace Corps bigger and better in the long run.

Post Script: In honor of my Bonnaroo trip coming up today I am loving Iron & Wine.