RPCV Nepal (2012-2014) currently interning in Lusaka, Zambia with the State Department for the summer

Monday, August 29, 2016

Farewell to Zambia

So once again I have failed to regularly update my blog. And once again it is time to say farewell to a place that I’ve grown very fond of, and time to say goodbye to all the wonderful people I have met this summer. Seriously, I would say the best part of this experience this summer has been the people I have met. My work colleagues have been so supportive and helpful in helping me navigate the ins and outs of the State Department, editing my writing, helping me with housing logistics, driving me all over Luxsaka, feeding me, giving me job advice, etc. I’ve also met some wonderful people through the hash running group I’ve joined, as well as through my canoe trip I did early in July. I’m sad to leave and can only hope I cross paths with some of these people in the future.

Team Sinazongwe post-meal
So much has happened since I last wrote so for brevity’s sake I’ll keep it short. Zambia had general elections on August 11 and I was lucky enough to be part of an Embassy observation team sent out to Sinazongwe district, which is on the edge of Lake Kariba, the world’s largest manmade lake! The pre-election atmosphere in Lusaka was fairly tense, with the opposition and ruling party constantly butting heads, and we knew it was going to be a tight race. Election observation was a busy couple of days, with very little sleep, but I’m so glad I got to witness the elections from the grassroots level. My team and I visited 19 polling stations throughout the day and spoke with officials about how the process was going. It was pretty inspiring to see people waiting in line in the hot sun for hours to vote, many of whom had probably walked for a couple or miles or so just to get there. Puts American voters to shame… We pulled a very long day on election day itself, observing from  5am- 3am! And since everyone is out voting, there is nowhere to get food. So I subsisted on lots of goldfish crackers, apples, and Coke along with my teammates. I handed one of the drivers a stick of gum around  noon and he said “this is my lunch….” So as you can see team morale got a little down in-between snack times but Team Sinazongwe persevered (along with the help of a bag of Jolly Ranchers). It was great to see another part of the country (we were close to the Zimbabwe border) and honestly witness some history in the making. The election results have been hotly contested since the final vote tally (the incumbent got re-elected), so I’m quite sad to be leaving at such an interesting time and will follow along closely when I get back to the states.

Post-election was a busy time at the Embassy, doing lots of write-ups for Washington and attending follow-up meetings. I was able to write up a couple of cables about the election as well as an environmentally focused one that was a bit more up my alley.  The wildlife/environmental work dropped off significantly in light of elections (to be expected) so it was actually a good challenge to do some write ups on issues that I’m not familiar with, and I found the political scene here to be very interesting.

Marvin and I at our hostel in Livingstone
Last weekend I was able to see one of my Peace Corps friends, Marvin, down in Livingstone, Zambia to go visit Victoria Falls. Marvin and I hadn’t seen each other since we COSed in Nepal, so it was a great reunion and we spent most of our time reminiscing over our nepali adventures, some of which in retrospect, we are unsure how we survived for  over 2 years. Marvin had been working for USAID all summer in Pretoria, SA so I was pumped when he said he would fly up for the weekend! Marvin and I had a pretty quick visit because he was flying back to the states and I had to head back to Lusaka that Sunday, but we spent Saturday day hiking around the falls and taking pictures. The falls are quite dry this time of year so pictures actually turned out nicely, but during the wet season the spray is so intense you can barely see anything from all the water. Sunday morning we got up early to go swim in Devils pool! Quite possibly one of the coolest (and scariest) things I’ve done…You are literally sitting right on the edge of the waterfall. It was fairly pricey but I’m so glad I was able to experience that sort of adrenaline rush. The Falls straddle the border between Zim and Zambia so Marvin and I only viewed them from the Zambia side, but they’re supposedly equally as impressive as from the other side as well. Definitely a sight to see if you’re ever in either of those 2 countries. Then I took the poor-grad student route and took an 8 hour bus back to Lusaka instead of flying which, while about 20x better than Nepali buses, still amounted to a very uncomfortable and very hot day. However, since my incident in Nepal where a lady threw up on my face, any bus ride where no one vomits is a great success, especially if it’s not on me!

I’ve mentioned before, but I’ve been going to the hash run every Saturday here which is a running group. After eight or so runs you get baptized with your “hash name.” Everyone has a hash name they go by and honestly, I didn’t even know the real names of some people I ran with over the past couple of months! Well two weeks ago was time for my naming and after getting a beer poured over my head I was dubbed “President Trump.” Being the only American at most of these events has its downsides I guess…everyone else finds it quite entertaining! J I finished up my last hash this past weekend with a nice post-run meal at some friends house (thanks again Steven and Liz!), a couple friendly rounds of beer pong and a celebratory vodka/tonic with the one and only lime that came out of their tree they had been carefully cultivating over the past couple years, so it was a special night.

Time to head back to the mitten tomorrow on a red-eye to Dubai (which should be fun considering I’ve managed to catch a nasty head cold the last couple of days), and then I’ll have to switch over to academic-mode from here on out. It’s going to be a bit overwhelming coming back to Ann Arbor this Friday as this weekend is packed full with the first home football game, a department bar-crawl, and moving all my furniture into my second story house (if anyone knows how to fit a bed into a Ford Focus hit me up) plus jetlag. I do feel refreshed and excited for my classes this semester though, and that is largely due in part to the work I’ve been doing this summer. So, if you’re reading this from Zambia, THANK YOU, and if you’re in Ann Arbor, see you soon!
On the shore of Lake Kariba
Hash group a couple of weeks back
Picking Momo up from the airport!
Entrance to the falls
It was like Nepal all over again with the monkeys.....
Early morning on Livingstone Island overlooking the falls
Devils Pool
Exploring the gardens of Sugarbush Farms outside Lusaka
Last hash!
Wearing the "hash shit" shirt since it was my last hash. Also filthy from running through burnt fields.
My boss' adorable 8 week old Visla puppy Hemingway

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Zambia update

Well, I have epically failed to post a blog a week, as I had originally imagined. I blame lack of internet. I guess I last posted after my first full week of work, and lots has happened since then!

I've just finished my first full month with the State Department, and time is flying by. So far, I have been fortunate enough to assist in many high impact projects and meetings that have further developed my understanding of how diplomacy works abroad. I came to Lusaka right before the Assistant Secretary of African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, visited Lusaka, and spent my first week helping organize her visit and catching up on Zambia's political, economic, and environmental affairs. The Assistant Secretary of African Affairs is basically in charge of all the embassies on the entire continent, so she was a very high profile visit. I was lucky enough to attend an offsite meeting with her and other Embassy officials (including the Ambassador and USAID’s Chief of Mission) to an elephant orphanage on the outskirts of Lusaka. Weirdly enough , the Assistant Secretary used to teach at Bucknell, where I completed my undergrad. Sadly I did not have a chance to tell her I went there.
On a daily basis, I have had the opportunity to work in tandem with the Embassy's Wildlife Officer in attending government meetings regarding poaching and how to best conserve the natural capital that Zambia has to offer. These sorts of events have ranged from meetings with high-up government officials to local NGOs. Sometimes I get asked to help with other embassy events as well…last week I assisted the PEPFAR team (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) in helping take notes at a number of offsite meetings, and I also assisted in our National Day Event, which every embassy around the world has before 4th of July. It was at the Ambassador’s house and there were hundreds of people there from the Zambian government, other embassies, NGOs, etc. The food was, of course, American themed, and I helped make the numerous red/white/blue flower bouquets in the days leading up to the event as well. It was an “all hands on deck” event, so we had embassy staff bartending, serving food, blowing up balloons, etc. So much work for such a short event, but it was a great introduction to an Embassy-sponsored event during my first couple weeks.

 In light of the upcoming August 11 presidential elections, I have most recently been working on a number of political projects and work has gotten a lot busier as we near August. Most of my work has included writing reports (we call them cables here) to Washington on Zambia's upcoming constitutional referendum, as well as other environmental issues, such as the relationship between illegal charcoal production and electricity load-shedding. The charcoal cable is currently in the works, and I’ve gotten the chance to kind of “take point” on this project and organize all the meetings with government officials, etc, so that’s kept me quite busy. Election day, which I will try and write more on this weekend, will be quite busy, as our Embassy sends out election monitoring teams all over the country. Going to be a verryyy long day…we start at 4am and stay at the various voting stations until 2am or so. Pretty exciting!

Besides work (which actually I love and is fun), I’ve also been fortunate enough to travel to Kafue National Park and canoe the Zambezi River;  seeing these protected areas in person after reading about them at work has been helpful in placing the work I've been doing in context. I did a 4-day canoe camping trip on the Lower Zambezi River which I can honestly say has been one of the top 3 travel experiences I have had thus far in my life. It was amazing. Five of us, plus 2 guides, rafted down the Zambezi (which straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe) for four days, camping each night on one of the many river islands, where we often slept alongside elephants. In the canoes, we drifted alongside (and in many cases paddled very hard) pods of hippos and crocodiles. Crocodiles are my favorite animal but honestly, it was quite unsettling to spot a massive one from the canoe about 30 feet away on a bank and then have it slide into the water.  Everyday we would get up at 6, have  breakfast around the campfire (seriously the food on this trip was amazing, considering everything was packed into our canoes…we had full breakfasts of bacon, eggs, toast, beans, etc. and dinners were pasta and veggies, chicken stew, potatoes, etc.), and spend the rest of our day canoeing and wildlife spotting. We could get extremely close to elephants, which was my favorite part of the trip…seriously sometimes we were 15 feet away! The elephants just let us glide up closely from the river, as opposed to a viewing them in a noisy car. At night we would camp on the islands and build a big bonfire, roasting marshmallows and drinking copious amounts of local beer we brought along. I spent 4th of July on the Zambezi and it was definitely a holiday to remember….someone had a speaker so we played some American country songs and built a big fire. There was one other American on the trip with me, alongside a Canadian, a Swiss-German, and a Brit, so it was nice to be able to celebrate the 4th with other people!

A week after I got back, I re-connected with 3 people from my canoe trip and we headed off on a 3 hour drive to Kafue National Park, which is the second largest NP in all of Africa. We spent Friday night doing a game drive and camped along the Kafue River before heading back to Lusaka on Saturday. I was extremely lucky in this trip in the sense that going to the national parks are often very expensive. You have to pay for lodging, food, game drives, park fees, etc. However, the people I travelled with had their own car! And we camped for $9 a night and brought all our own food, so we were able to keep costs low. Friday night we were fortunate enough to see a cheetah, which is fairly rare given that we were on a self-drive (normally the guides know where the animals tend to hang out). We got extremely lost following our cheetah sighting (we off-roaded to see it), which involved completely losing the road we were on and sticking one person up onto the roof with a flashlight to act as a spotlight while driving around looking for tracks. There was probably a solid 5 minutes where I thought we’d actually have to spend the night in the car. Luckily we found the road after a solid half hour of searching, and got back to camp in time to cook up dinner and have some s’mores before heading to sleep. The next morning we decided to do a quick drive on our way out of the park and not five minutes into our drive we saw a leopard!! I have seen leopards in Tanzania, but only at dusk and way high up in a tree. This leopard however, was on the ground in broad daylight, stalking some impala across the road. We had sadly interrupted the hunt, but it was quite amazing to see the leopard so close, they’re normally the most elusive of the big cats. No lion sightings, or zebra and giraffe. I have yet to see a zebra….

I guess otherwise I’ve just been exploring Lusaka more and hanging out! The weekends I normally try and run and get to the hash on Saturday, but otherwise it’s pretty low key. Last weekend I took my book to a nearby restaurant and read for a while and then got a massage, which was amazing (can’t afford this stuff in the states, gotta take advantage of the opportunities when I can!), and went to dinner at a great Indian restaurant with some people from the hash. Lusaka has a lot of great Indian restaurants. Weekdays I work 7:30-5:30pm so I’m usually pretty beat after work and because it gets dark here at 6pm, I normally just hang at home during the week, so I try and do my exploring on the weekends.

I’ve put a ton of photos up on my Facebook, but here are some below from the canoe trip and the Hash run this past Saturday:

With work colleagues at our National Day Event

Zambezi canoe crew!

Mid-hash run!


Eating nshima - Zambian food - at the Peace Corps office with some colleagues.

Post-hash festivities

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hello from the other side

Decided to activate the good ol Peace Corps blog to blog about my time in Zambia this summer. Apologizes for sucking at everyupdating my blog upon my return stateside way back in December 2014. I had plans for a "post-Nepal" blog about my feelings upon returning etc but life caught up with me and before I knew it, I realized I've been an RPCV for 1.5 years now! If you want to hear about what I've been up to since arriving in Zambia, keep on reading! Its been quite an interesting experience and vastly different from my time in Nepal, so i figured blogging would be a good way to process this experience.
Jk, this is not in Zambia, its at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle the day before I flew out to Lusaka. 

So, to start off with, I'm living/working in Lusaka, Zambia (the capital) through the end of August, as a State Department Intern in the Political/Economic Affairs office in the US Embassy. Its been quite a journey just applying for an internship position, interviewing, doing security clearance etc, just to get where I am now. for brevitys sake, lets just say that the security clearance was the worst part of it all and resulted in me finally getting cleared and buying my international plane ticket 4 days before I was to depart (which I do not recommend). im fortunate enough to have a fellowship to cover all my costs this summer, otherwise that plane ticket alone would have cost me over 2k. 

Anyways, I knew that this summer would be drastically different from my last time out of the country, which happened to be when I served in nepal. I knew I'd be living life more or less as a diplomat, even though I'm just an intern. Honestly, I was pretty spot on. I'm put up in embassy housing here, which includes an entire 3 bed/2bath house with massive yard ringed with concertina wire, complete with a swimming pool (sadly empty). I have a 24/7 guard, and embassy motorpool picks me up each morning to go to work and returns me at the end of the day. Its pretty swank, not going to lie. However, most of these "luxuries" are honestly for safety. I'd feel pretty unsettled being alone in a big house in a neighborhood I didnt know without a guard at the front gate. Lusaka (from what I've seen of it thus far) is very spread out, and has more of a "neighborhood" feel than what I'm used to. Compared to Kathmandu, which is a clusterfuck to say the least (in every way possible) Lusaka is this idyllic lush green and quiet city. Roadways are paved and lined with manicured lawns and shrubs, there are streetlights, and pollution is negligible. Its a complete change from the chaos of kathmandu that I had gotten used to in my 2 years in Nepal.

Work-wise, I've only just finished my first week of work, so I am not quite on a project yet, but I'll be working on environmental/wildlife affairs out of the pol/econ section. Theres actually a wildlife officer in the embassy who ive been working closely with. Mostly my first week has consisted of massive amounts of reading, whether that be reports, news articles, or government written cables, trying to educate myself on the political situation in Nepal and how that subsequently affects their wildlife and environmental policies. My first day at work, I was privileged enough to attend an off site meeting with some of my coworkers and USAID environmental officers(united states agency for international development); the meeting was about 30 minutes away, so I was able to get a better glimpse of Lusaka than my usual route from home-embassy-home. At one point, we got stuck in a bit of traffic in a very crowded urban section of lusaka, where it was strictly zambians. We were driving through a market, past hundreds of little shops selling chitenges (zambian fabric you can make clothes with), produce, charcoal, oil, soap, etc. I saw all these little dilapidated shops selling air-time (mobile recharge cards) and fresh cooked bread etc, thinking to myself "rewind 2 years ago and you would have been in the thick of that, not thinking twice about buying food off the street and consuming it right then and there." instead, I was in an air conditioned vehicle with diplomatic plates dressed up in a pant suit. Part of me mourned the loss of my life that used to be right smack dab in the middle of that chaotic mess. Quite literally, and figuratively, I was very much on the other side of a previous life I had once known, but now seemed pretty foreign. Not that one life is better/worse than the other, but the differences are very noticeable. 

I've definitely noticed my lack of cultural awareness here as well, mostly because i feel so removed from well, culture, here. That might sound weird to say, but its true. All my travel skills I utilized in Nepal, most of all my feelings of competency in fending for myself, are pretty rusty. Theyre there, but I have to constantly remind myself that. The embassy is straight up mini America inside, and as such, I havent really had to utilize my street smarts or bargaining skills, or even tested my ability to eat street food (lets hope the iron stomach I had after peace corps still exists). I've just realized that this experience is going to take a lot more effort on my part in terms of learning more about Zambia and making connections with Zambians. I found myself jealous of the PC Zambia volunteers, when, at the market, they greeted shopkeepers they were friends with, and it made me reminisce about all of the wonderful Nepalis myself and other PCVs interacted with on a regular basis in Pokhara and Kathmandu, people we had forged relationships with after 2 years in country. 

Because I came here alone and basically have no friends, I've tried integrating myself into activities as much as possible. I got connected with Peace Corps Zambia (and i am writing this blog from their office, which has free wifi! Unlike Kathmandu, there are hardly any restaurants/cafes here that have internet. RIP free wifi) volunteers, so its been nice to get some insider information about the city from them. I also joined Lusaka Hash House Harriers, which dubs themselves "a drinking club with a running problem". I believe it was started by the British, but they have them all over the world. I THINK I blogged about the one I did in Kathmandu, but I could be mistaken. There are runners and walkers and a "hare" sets the trail with chalk. The trail has checkpoints and false trails, so you have to find the right one. its a bit of a maze sometimes. And then at the end of the run (between 6-10k), everyone congregates and has beer and socializes. Its been a good way to meet a lot of people, stay in shape (Lusaka's at 4600 feet, so running was very hard the first day), so I'm going to try and go every week. Additionally, an added bonus is that the runs are on the outskirts of Lusaka, in the "bush here, so I've been able to run through some pretty amazing scenery on some farms and whatnot. I've additionally gotten the privilege of attending my first "diplomat" party (as I call it) at the Finnish Ambassadors house. It was lots of fun but involved a little too much pickled herring followed by a large quantity of vodka, in my opinion. 

Alright, time to wrap this post up. Hopefully the title of this blog makes sense now, and because of my love affair with Adele, I thought it quite fitting.

My yard


Street I live on in Lusaka 
Market souvenirs

The Dutch market- once a month here - great food and gifts!

Lusaka Hash House Harriers post run  
The hash run took place here yesterday, it was great to get out of the city.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wrapping Up

Today has been the first chilly day here in a long time, and it finally feels like fall. The hurricane off the east coast of India seems to have hit Nepal, and its been raining for 8 hours straight, so I’ve been cuddled in a blanket drinking multiple cups of tea and coffee today. Last week Bishnu and I held a VDC-wide mushroom training for 27 women. 
With Kamala, one of my favorites from a nearby ward at mushroom training
We chose 3 women from 9 villages and over the course of 2 days, they were trained in mushroom cultivation. It was a crazy 2 days, but went extremely well. Also my VDC (Village Development Committee) office is on the top of a mountain, so there was lots of uphill climbing involved. With the generous support of the Chopera family (thank you fellow PCV Nick Sung for helping with that!) and assistance from the district agriculture office, we brought in a mushroom trainer from our district headquarters. At the end of the training, each women was given plastic and a bag of seeds to then teach others. Two days after the training I was on a bus with 3 of the women who attended the training, and they had already had their own agriculture meeting and taught their fellow group members! It was great to hear that and since mushrooms sell for such a high price around here, it might allow some of the women to increase their incomes. I’ll have to let the incoming volunteer monitor that and hopefully we see some results!
Thank you Chopera family for your generous donation!
Counterpart Megaraj and I at first day of mushroom training!

With school staff in Udiyachaur, Pelakot at the library Taylor, Vivian, and Prakash built
The day after the training I hung out at home and did much-needed laundry, but the next morning I got up at 5:30am to travel to Pelakot, the neighboring VDC. This is where my sister Taylor and her friends from Geneva came to implement a multi-media center back in June. I arrived around 8:30am and had daal bhat with Prakash’s family (Taylor’s friend from graduate school and whose village this library was in) and then walked up to the school with his dad and sister. The library looked awesome…the school had done a great job of keeping it clean and neat and everything seemed to be working ok. Taylor and her friends had sent me some videos to show the kids, but we had some major issues getting the projector to work and ended up having over an hour Skype conversation from Nepal to Switzerland! I think I unfortunately woke up poor Prakash, but we were able to fix the problem and then all the kids crammed in the room to hear messages from Taylor, Vivian, and Prakash.  Although the video was pre-recorded, I think the kids thought it was live because they were waving goodbye at the end of the video…it was super cute. I spent the majority of the day at the school fixing catalogue problems and just making sure everything was ok and that the teachers understood how to check out books etc. The school is so dedicated..it made me want to be a PCV teacher there!  I actually found out a Peace Corps volunteer had been placed there about 10 years ago, which was pretty cool, as they knew a little about the work I was doing here. I got weirdly emotional leaving the school and all the kids….its not even my school, and I had only met the kids a handful of times, but I think it was also more a sadness of leaving Nepal that came out. The kids all waved bye and said they would see me soon, not knowing that I was leaving in a short week. Saying goodbye to Prakash’s family was also hard and knowing you are saying goodbye to people for good is really, really hard. After I left his house I had about a 40 minute walk back to the main road and met up with my friend Rita to have tea before catching my bus. I think I had written about her in one of my first posts from 2 years ago, but she used to live in my village, then had a baby, then moved in with her sister in Bhaytari, where I would catch my bus. I hadn’t seen her in a while so it was good to catch up and see her now 14-month old! We had tea and biscuits and had a mini photo shoot and then it was time to leave. I hugged her goodbye and then proceeded to cry the entire half hour bus ride back to my village. 

Rita and I 
View of Bhayatari from Rita's house
Totally unexpected but it was really the first time I had to start saying goodbye to people and it just really hit me all at once that this experience was ending. Leaving Nepal is nothing like leaving home. Leaving home was god awful, but I knew I was coming back in 2 years. Leaving Nepal kind of feels like someone is ripping out a part of me…I just don’t know when Im going to get back, that’s the worst part about it.

So….yeah. Basically leaving sucks. But now, for more exciting news regarding my alien rash. Rewind 2 weeks ago and I was in Pokhara closing out my grant and celebrating a fellow volunteer’s birthday. Previous to coming to Pokhara I had some sort of cold/virus thing for 3 days but felt mostly fine. Sore throat, sneezing, runny nose...your basic cold. However, the day I left Pokhara I noticed I had a rash on my stomach but thought it was due to sleeping on a bed with questionable sheets. By the time I got home that night it was full blown body rash, literally covering me everywhere but my face. I wasn’t really that worried honestly because 1. I live in Nepal 2. I have insanely sensitive skin and 3. Nothing a Benadryl couldn’t fix. WRONG. I took Benadryl for a week straight and nothing happened. I finally admitted defeat and called the Peace Corps doctor who, after sending her pictures, proceeded to tell me I had an entire body staph infection and then put me immediately on antibiotics. 3 days later…no result. So I got put on a stronger antibiotic, Cipro, which essentially kills everything in your body. 2 days later..no result. At this point I literally thought I had antibiotic resistant staph all over me and Peace Corps told me I had to come to Kathmandu, which was the last thing I wanted to do with 2 weeks left in village. Also, Dashain (Nepal’s biggest festival) had started and traveling would be hell. I was right about that. I took a 6:30am bus out of village and didn’t reach Kathmandu until 8:30pm. It was terrible…I killed my Ipod, iphone, and read my entire book on that damn bus. The traffic coming into Kathmandu was unreal and in a city where stop lights and zero traffic laws exist it was unbearable. I went to see the Peace Corps doctor immediately the next morning where THANK THE LORD ABOVE I learned I did NOT have staph, but rather had some sort of freak reaction to the sore throat virus I had had the previous week. So they took me to the hospital to see a dermatologist and now I’m on Prednisone steroids for an entire month to try and get rid of this thing. Good news is the rash is self-limiting and will go away by itself within 6 weeks, but I kindly told the doctor I was going to be on a beach in Thailand in under a month and really did not want to look like a leper so she upped my steroid dose to try and speed this process up. It really does look like an alien rash though. At least it did not reach my face but shittttttt I looked real diseased for a while. Still kind of think I might be at leper status in Thailand but what can you do. #peacecorpsproblems

So I hung out in Kathmandu for 2 more days to make sure I didn’t get worse or react to the Prednisone and then PC sent me back to village. Except that since it was Dashain all the tourist buses were full so I actually ended up flying back to Pokhara and getting a bus from there. 8 hour bus ride in 25 minutes…it was great. I got back to village late that night, right in time for the biggest day of Dashain the following day, where everyone gives you tikka as a blessing. Spent the next day having a great last Dashain…I visited most of my village and got boatloads of tikka all over the place and got to eat my favorite kind of roti (which tastes like funnel cake..delicious) and basically just hang out with my favorite people.
Bishnu giving me tikka on Dashain
Aastha and I before tikka

Oh, heres a picture of the finished collection center! I think it looks awesome and I’m super proud of it!

Now back to the present…7 days left and then its off to Pokhara for a couple days (submitting grad school apps!), a quick trip up to Sindhulpalchowk for a night with my old homestay family, then closing out Peace Corps related things in the office in Kathmandu, and then a November 1st flight out to Bangkok with my friends Chad and Voranan (we went to India together). Im really just trying to pack and get my stuffall together right now in village, preparing myself for the inevitable goodbyes coming up this week. My community is throwing me a huge celebration/goodbye ceremony on Thursday so I will likely be crying throughout that. Oh man. This is just so surreal. Also thanks guys, I’ve now reached over 20,000 hits on my blog!

Lots of love from this beautiful place,


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

1 month left

Partial group photo from one of my first weeks in Nepal (Sindulpalchowk)
Too much time has elapsed since I last wrote and now I’m faced with the insane reality of barely 1 month left in Nepal. 4 weeks! How is it fathomable that I came here with 27 months of service to fulfill and now I have mere weeks left. It truly is a time warp over here, and quite possibly the fastest 2 years of my life. Thirty-six new trainees arrived in Nepal at the beginning of September and when I think back to my Pre-Service Training, it feels like years ago. Which it was. And then I realize that I haven’t left Nepal in that time, except for a quick trip to India. I’ve been struggling to wrap my mind around how fast this experience has gone by and what I’ve experienced the last 2 years. I’m reading a great book that my lovely mother got for me for my birthday calledBeyond the Sky and the Earth. Its about a Canadian woman’s 2 years in Bhutan teaching English at schools…..essentially my life. Its scary reading it and seeing the parallels between her experience and mine, and I feel like im almost reliving parts of my Peace Corps experience…those times of pure joy at realizing where you live, the unparalleled scenery, the physical illnesses, the homesickness, breaking up with a loved one from home, the hikes, crazy buses, smells, and sounds. Theres a particular paragraph I read today that went:

You can love the landscape because your life does not depend on it. It is merely a scenic backdrop for the other life you will always be able to return to, a life in which you will not be a farmer scraping a living out of a difficult terrain.
I love the view, but I would not want the life.”

How true that resonated. While there have been many times I have struggled with Nepal, questioned on days whether I hated this country or loved it, I think that the feelings we have towards our host countries in Peace Corps stem from the fact that this experience DOES have an end. We sign up for 27 months, make the best of it, and then its over. Yes you can extend for a year and there are some RPCVs who literally never left Kathmandu after their service, but they are the minorities. I love the view, but I would not want the life. I couldn’t live my entire life in a village, which makes me appreciate more the work that men and women carry out each day just to eat and drink water.  And how privileged I am to have that American passport that I can flash whenever problems arise, that I can simply go back to my life in the US, while I know that my homestay family here will continue to live their lives just the same after I am gone. It makes me feel like an asshole many times, especially seeing how men here would literally kill for visas to western countries, but it also makes me realize how I was extremely lucky to be born in America. I think I might struggle with that when I am back home, about how much of a privilege it was to be born into a society where I had the opportunity to CHOOSE to go live my life for 2 years in a developing country. I’ll let you all know how that struggle goes upon my return. In other news, I really cant even begin to fathom saying goodbye to my homestay family. Any time it is brought up, Bishnu said she cant handle it and will have to leave for her parents house so she doesnt have to watch me leave. As much as my family and I have had our ups and downs, I really love them, and they truly have become my family. I had this terrible moment on the bus the other day with Bishnu where I was listening to Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ and got ridiculously sappy and almost started crying because I was thinking about leaving and how much that would suck. I had to pull it together though, otherwise she probably would have been mad confused.

Each day I am constantly reminded of how little time I have left. My group already said goodbye to our friend Nate as he left early for a job with Doctors without Borders, and some people have even already received graduate school acceptances. I’m still in the edit and edit and re-edit and edit some more stage of my personal statements, but am hoping to have them finalized by the time I leave Nepal, so I can submit them once I am back home. I actually am flying out to Detroit 3 days after I get back to the states to visit University of Michigan, but im really trying not to think of that right now, because I will probably want to chop off a body part when I have to get a plane that soon after getting home. Not to mention the amount of jetlagged-ness I will be experiencing. Speaking of, I should be home around December 1st! or 2nd. Not sure yet, im flying standby….but I’m hoping for a December 1st departure back to the states. I fly out of Nepal November 1st to Bangkok and will then spend 2 weeks in the islands down south with 2 PCV friends. Then its solo travel to Fiji, where I plan on eating coconut and fish for 2 weeks straight on the beach. Then America (pending a standby flight out from Sydney, who knows maybe Ill get trapped in Australia for a week). I don’t even know what to think about this whole process. I feel like its my first couple months in country, except reverse, when I have a million things running around my brain about going home. Im so excited to travel after, but I think a part of me will just think I will return to Nepal afterwards, just like I did after India. As my friend Nate put it, it feels like I’m leaving home for a foreign country. Unfortunately, my tiny village at home (as I like to call it now) has this great and terrible tendency to never change. Yes, a new restaurant might have popped up or someone got a flashing neon sign, but Winthrop, Washington usually looks the exact freakin same every time I go home. Its great to have some consistency in life, but I’m scared that I will slip back into life at home and just wake up in my tiny twin bed with my dog on the floor and just think “was that all a dream?”  I DON’T WANT THAT TO HAPPEN. I don’t want to wake up and think I never left.  I’m excited for grad school and seeing people and eating everything in sight, but it’s a strange mix of excited/terrified, usually in the same minute. I actually love reading other PCV’s blogs about this, about their last post in country when the leave and how they are feeling, to how they actually feel when they are home. I’m hoping to do the same. I read one particular blog where it basically said get me the hell out of this country I need out of this madness. Then the next post was about how the PCV couldn’t function and was literally in depression at being back home. Lets hope I find a middle ground J

Ok so I guess an update on more of my daily life is in order….I FINALLY closed out my grant for the collection center. Still waiting on Peace Corps to hear back if everything matched up ok, but I think I filled out everything correctly. It was quite the experience going through about 20 flimsy paper bills all in Nepali, trying to figure out what was what and for how much. Many thanks to the waiters in Pokhara restaurants for my million questions about what each receipt said. The center looks great, and Peace Corps staff came out to see it last month and were happy with it…so im happy! Although it will be a while before the center is up and running with regular vegetable collection times, its already being used for weddings and other community meetings. Also I forgot to mention that a volunteer will be placed in my site after I leave! I have mixed thoughts about this…im happy about it in regards to the collection center, but its also weird…I kind of want to be the only volunteer in my village! Right before I leave country I should find out the name of the person coming, so im hoping to talk to them on the phone at least once before I depart.  

We also have our mushroom training still coming up! My last 2 weeks here are going to be madness. Dashain (Nepal’s biggest festival) starts tomorrow, which is 2 weeks long and where basically all government offices, buildings, schools etc are closed. Aka no one can do anything productive. The mushroom training is set for 3 days after Dashain, which means those 3 days are going to be crazy, especially since I’ll be leaving 10 days later. So much packing, cleaning, saying goodbyes to do. I really need to make myself a list of all the people/places I want to see before I leave so I don’t forget anyone/anything. Oh also Biraalo decided to show up after a 4-month hiatus yesterday. I walked outside to find him sunning himself on the balcony like he hadn’t just deserted his mommy for months on end. He also has a lady friend and I’m sure has fathered probably 50 children in his time away. I thought he had died so I didn’t buy any more cat food so tough luck little buddy, you’ll be eating rice until I leave.

I heard choking noises from outside my window earlier today and stuck my head outside and saw a monkey eating my unburned trash.  I was not trying to kill wildlife, it was just raining and I couldn’t light a match.

I cant remember what else I wanted to write about now. I feel like this whole post was just me word vomiting from my scatterbrained head. I finally finished all 5 Game of Thrones books, which have taken me the better part of the summer. I’ll really try and post one more blog before I leave. Also my internet is sucking so I can't upload photos now. Will try again later!

Love from Nepal!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

COS Conference and Camp GLOW

I have been a bad blogger lately, and I apologize for that! I think my last blog left off when my sister was still here. Having her here was so great and she even got to experience village life for herself, since she was staying with her Nepali friend’s family in a rural village while building her library. I went to help out with the library a couple of days and it was amazing. Through their grant, they were able to purchase 10 brand new computers and hundreds of books both in Nepali and English. It looked so nice after it was done. I helped do some translations for them when they were giving their computer training, but I hope to do some more follow-up work for them next month by visiting and seeing the library’s progress. For a little more on their story and pictures, you can read their blog at peacethrougheducation.wordpress.com.

Tia and I at COS Conference
I was fortunate enough to travel with Taylor to Kathmandu to see her off, as I had my Close-of-Service (COS) Conference! In true Peace Corps fashion, myself and other volunteers took her and her friends out all night and ensured that they got approximately 2 hours of sleep before their plane took off. After Taylor left, I headed over to the most swanky resort for my COS conference! It was surreal. The place was a 5 star hotel with every imaginable thing you could want. I’m telling you, when the hotel room comes stocked with little shampoos and conditioners, you know its nice. Voranan and I were roommates yet again, coming full circle since we were also roomies at our pre-service orientation in Washington DC so long ago. The beds were luxurious, we had air conditioning, a flat screen TV, and even a mini bar! Weirdly, the entire hotel was actually full of Americans…there was another 250 person conference going on (all missionaries from northern India…that’s another story), and it was weird to be surrounded by so many American kids and their families. Our conference lasted 3 days and was packed full of information on how to wrap up our service here in Nepal. My favorite part of the conference was the RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) panel. All the panelists were young and had been PCVs a couple years back, but were now either working/studying in Kathmandu. They gave some fantastic advice about re-entry into the US and making plans for graduate school. We also had lots of time during the conference to work on our resumes, but I had been working on mine for the entire month leading up to the conference, so I spent most of my free time swimming in their INDOOR POOL, working out in their GYM, drinking wine, playing UNO, and riding horsies. So many things I hadn’t done in such a long time.

Following COS conference was Fourth of July! Peace Corps got us special permission to spend the day at the American Club, an expat hangout that is basically a country club. I got to drink cold beer and eat a hot dog, and I even played mini golf! Unfortunately I sunburned the shit out of myself but I would like to say it was worth it. After the 4th it was a whirlwind trip back to site for 24 hours to pick up my GLOW Camp girls! We headed to Pokhara the day after I returned from Kathmandu…it was exhausting.

I’ve posted a fair amount on my Facebook, but Camp GLOW was fantastic; I’m not sure we could have asked for it to go better, especially since it was Nepal’s first Camp GLOW. The 5 days were packed full of informative sessions for the girls, and each day was led by 2 PC Volunteers. Myself and Ethan were in charge of the 4th day, which covered topics such as “how to make a savings plan” and other money making topics. The girls loved the activities we had planned for them: they got to decorate their own piggy banks and create their own headbands. We literally had to yell at them to stop decorating their headbands when it was time for the next session. Camp was thoroughly exhausting for the volunteers. It was basically 6am until 11pm every night. I survived mostly on coffee and pie from a shop next door that made delicious lemon and jam pies. All of the volunteer stayed in Pokhara after camp ended to finish up paperwork and do other work, so after dropping my girls and chaperone at the bus station at 7am, I proceeded  to take my first of 2 naps that day. It was a good exhausting though…I think the girls learned a lot (their faces when learning about sexual health were priceless) and had a lot of fun! They danced the Macarena, played lots of games, made friendship bracelets, watched movies, explored Pokhara, boated on the lake, and just enjoyed being young teenage girls without responsibility of cooking or cleaning for a week. So thank you THANK YOU to everyone who donated to this project and helped make it a success. We truly couldn’t have done it without you all. I had my Camp GLOW girls over to my house today and made them juice and popcorn and we watched a slideshow of camp pictures. I played their photos to some Nepali music and they loved it. We watched it 6 times. I was happy to hear that all my girls had been keeping in contact with friends they had made at camp as well, and they all had on their friendship bracelets they had exchanged with other girls. Camp GLOW was definitely an experience to remember and probably one of my most prized moments from service. I really hope it can become a tradition for Peace Corps Nepal.
my GLOW girls and chaperone

Collection center as of last month
I’ve been at site now for about 2 weeks and am basically just wrapping up projects here. I finished my Nepal map in the 5th grade classroom at the school yesterday and having water-based paint made such a huge difference. I’m really proud of how it turned out. While I was gone, the school also got computers!! The principal asked me to help teach some basic computer skills to the staff, so when school starts back up in a week Ill start that. Otherwise I’m closing out my grant for the collection center and making sure everything is progressing on time with that. Peace Corps and USAID representatives are coming out to do some monitoring and evaluation in 2 weeks so I have to make everything is in order when they come! I had mentioned this in earlier blogs, but Bishnu and I are trying to plan a mushroom training for 9 villages, which I am hoping is still going to happen, but once again,  funding is a problem. We have the budget planned out (its about $200) and I know where to buy supplies, but its obtaining the funding that is the problem. So this week Bishnu and I will travel to the Village Development Committee Office and ask if they can help out, and next month we will ask the District Office for help. Fingers crossed they pull through!

Other than that, I have been working like a mad person on graduate school applications and applying for jobs back in the States. I don’t think my family understands why I have been on my computer so much, even though I have tried explaining it to them. They keep telling me to get my masters in Nepal. I have 3 months left of service here and I’ll be back in the states in 4! Its all coming up so fast. Graduate school applications aren’t due until January, but because of my travel after PC and the craziness that will be my life upon return to the homeland, I figured I should submit them as early as possible. I have my list narrowed down to 5 schools and will hopefully start submitting applications next month! I’m applying for programs in Conservation Biology, something I’ve been highly interested in since I studied abroad in Tanzania. Its been very stressful with limited internet so I’m really looking forward to the end of the process. But then the waiting game begins, which I realize will probably be just as stressful. Theres about 8 volunteers all applying to school, so its nice to have others to edit my essays and get advice from.

Not much else new in my life here, between school apps and community projects I’ve been reading a lot. I’ve been reading the Game of Thrones series for the past 2 months now…I’m on Book 4, but they have been taking me forever since most of the books are over 1000 pages! Rice planting season was ending upon my return from Camp, but I did spend one afternoon knee deep in muddy water planting rice seedlings with my neighbors. I’m slowly starting to close out my life here…most of my village knows I am leaving soon, so it’s a constant barrage of questions everytime I leave my house: “Can you take me to America?” “Can you take my baby to America” “Are you going to forget about us?” Its all in jest, but its also hard because some people don’t joke, and then it gets awkward because they don’t believe me when I say I can’t just take a Nepali on the plane with me. I’m just trying to do all my favorite things in village and see my favorite people/places over the next couple months. I also have a mountain of Peace Corps paperwork to finish up before I leave as well.

I’ll have one more trip into Kathmandu next month, but it will be my last time there until I actually leave country. We got a new Country Director and the committee I am President of, VAC (Volunteer Advisory Committee), has a meeting with him to catch him up to speed on issues within Peace Corps Nepal. I’ll also start my close-out medical process during this time. Have to leave the 3 stool samples for my last week in Nepal however J

That’s about it. My heart has been aching for my tiny Methow community the past couple weeks with all the fires. For those that don’t know, my hometown was in the heart of the Washington wildfires that have been ravaging the state for the past month. A lot of friends lost their homes and land, and its been devastating to see the aftermath. My parents even made the news, though I’m not entirely sure it was for great reasons. Whats been amazing to witness though is how the community has pulled together in times of hardship. I’m not even there but I could tell just from peoples Facebook postings, whether it was offering land for displaced horses/cows, a hot shower, or even coffee and pastries for firefighters. When I was unable to reach my parents because cell towers were down, I had numerous people email me to tell me that my house and parents were ok and that they would continue to update me. The Methow really is a special place and the more time I spend away from it, the more I realize how great a place it was to grow up.

Love from Nepal,

Sleepy little Biraalo

On my 24th birthday...pretty sure I've taught the entire village about thumbs up

School kids at a program they held in my honor for the library we created and for the maps. I got a 5lb gold genie lamp with a rooster on top!

This monkey is the size of  a doberman. Right outside my room.

Eating jackfruit!