Category: From Me

Next Steps

Next Steps

I wish I could say the excitement and good vibes I was feeling at the end of my last post kept going throughout my first month in Korea, but the reality was a bit different. It all changed rather abruptly when I moved from the apartment I was in during training to the apartment I would be living in for the next year. The apartment during training was bright, furnished, and open. When I arrived at the apartment my school had given me, I was greeted by empty darkness. The apartment was a half-basement, with windows that looked at concrete walls. Only after my eyes adjusted did I realize I was not alone. I was sharing this space with many, many spiders. The person who lived in the apartment left months ago, without cleaning, and the spiders had moved in. The place was a mess. I stood in the middle of the room not quite sure what to do. I decided I needed to do something about the spiders before I could really think about next steps. I made my way to the store, bought the biggest can of Raid I could find, went back and sprayed – doused – the corners and walls. Then went outside and contemplated my life.

How much would it cost for a ticket back to Ecuador? Maybe Salt Lake City would be less? I guess a hotel room would be less than both of those…but surely that’s not sustainable long term. But how could I live here now?

I had done Peace Corps; I know how to survive in places with bugs and housing that’s less than ideal, and by the end of my service I was even able to call my Peace Corps housing comfortable. But I could not see this apartment ever being comfortable. It was just too dark. Too depressing. I figured I at least needed to ask to move. The philosophy I go by is the worst someone can say is “No,” and then you are no worse off than before you asked. It wasn’t an immediate yes, but eventually I was given the green light to look for a new apartment; I just had to tough it out for one month in the spider dungeon. I looked at many places, some even worse than the apartment I was already in. I was beginning to wonder if this was meant to be, but then I found it –  the one. The place I knew I was supposed to be. It felt right from the moment I walked in the door, and there was even a sign – a literal sign – that this was where I should be. I couldn’t believe it! I moved in on June 24th and the experience has changed 100%. I don’t dread coming to my apartment now. I have a place to call home, to settle in, and even have a room for visitors! Accepting reservations now 🙂

2nd/Guest Bed 🙂

“The Sign” This sticker was on the AC in the bedroom…the girl living here before worked for the Ecuadorian Embassy. What are the chances?!? It just felt right! 

Aside from the living situation challenges, I was not anticipating the loneliness I felt during the first month. This experience has helped me further realize how lucky I was to have the Peace Corps group I did, and to be in South America. Because the training was so short here, there was not time to build the relationships and support network that were built during training in Peace Corps. We also worked in small groups, so I only really got to know a few people during the week, who are all great, but now working in schools far from Seoul. Additionally, the three other teachers at the school where I am teaching were at the end of their contract. So without time to make friends in training, and teachers at my school leaving, all I had to look forward to after work was going back to my apartment – and well, you can imagine how that was.

My training group – great bunch of people, wish they were closer.

Adding to this is the language barrier. Interestingly enough, not knowing Korean makes it difficult to make Korean friends. 😛 Korean culture also seems to be more conservative in regards to foreigners than South America. My experience in South America was filled with friendly conversations from neighbors, with daily “good mornings” and “good nights” from strangers walking down the road. This doesn’t happen here. I am not sure if it’s because of the language barrier, or just how living in a city of ten million people is? Either way, I miss the warm hospitality of South America.

Thankfully the interactions and time I have had teaching the kids has been fun, and some days it is the only interactions with other people I would have in the day. Other times, friends from Peace Corps that are living here have come to visit me. It’s a long train ride for them to do so, but their visits helped me more than they know. I also have met an English speaking friend or two in the area I live, and the few times we have grabbed a beer or had dinner together also got me through some of the hardest times. Little by little, things are falling into place.

Noami & Eben from PC Guy26! Lifesavers.

So that’s it. As I am writing this, I am happy in my new place; with a table I can actually type on, a couch to sit on and light coming in through the window. I think – I hope – I made it through the hardest part. As the three teachers at my school left last week, three new ones have arrived. It’s new beginnings for all of us. A fresh start to my start. Next steps. I had to remind myself of two things several times during the last month, which I believe to be true:

I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and that no experience will last forever.

This helped me not only get through the tough times, but also remember to cherish each part of my journey. I will not be in Korea forever; the experience so far has been good, and it has been bad, but it’s been just that – an experience. Sometimes I still can’t believe I am here. My name on the door with “Teacher” is something I never expected, but these days the unexpected seems to happen more regularly. No matter what may happen next, I want to cherish the opportunity to be here now.

Teacher Chase…has a nice ring to it, eh? 😉

Until next time,

Peace. Love. Happiness…and a great Independence Day back home!

Also, on the home page I’ve updated my mailing address and can by reached by post now. Old fashioned letters/pictures and your updates are always loved and appreciated. Snail-mail me!

Traditional Korean Market
Myeongdong – like a mini Vegas/5th avenue in Korea
Lockets of Love at N. Seoul Tower – originally meant for couples to signify their unbreakable bond to each other, tourists and locals alike lock inscribed and special padlocks to the walls and posts. I haven’t locked one with anyone yet, but that’s an update for another day. 😉
Time Flies

Time Flies

“El tiempo vuela cuando te estás divirtiendo”

Hola amigos y familia!  I can’t believe it has almost been four months since I last updated this blog, and over six months since I finished Peace Corps and left Guyana.  As I reflect on everything since then, I am surprised at how much has happened, because really some days it just feels like nothing new is happening at all.  Time is tricky that way.  Let’s start from where we left off…

October

If we are friends on Facebook, you may have noticed that one of my best friends, Christian, came for visit to Ecuador. I guess he had this trip planned for a while, and wanted it to be a surprise to me, but as time got closer for his visit there were too many variables of the trip to keep me out of the loop.  Regardless, it still was a great surprise!  I had not seen him in almost a year, and from biking down volcanos in Quito to relaxing at mud spas in Cuenca, his Ecuador visit was a lot of fun.

Biking down Cotopaxi volcano
Biking down Cotopaxi volcano
Steam box after mudpools in Cuenca
Steam box after mud pools in Cuenca
Top of Cotopaxi Volcano
Top of Cotopaxi Volcano

November

This was a very exciting month for another one of my best friends.  Heather was a constant in my life when I lived in Salt Lake, and for a minute I thought she and I may end up together in old age – single, with a few cats, and a cozy place in Palm Beach.  Luckily for her, she managed to escape that dreadful fantasy by finding the perfect guy, who seems made just for her.  I was lucky enough, thanks to very generous friends, to make it back to Utah for her wedding.  I am so happy I did.  Not only was the wedding beautiful, but it gave me an opportunity to catch up with Utah family and friends.  From a food filled Friendsgiving, to helping with Christmas decorations, to Costco (several times), to (slightly awkward post-election) breakfast dates with family – I was reminded no matter how far, or how long we are apart, I will always have a connection to Utah and the people there.

As with most good things, however, the visit came to an end and I was back to Ecuador in a flash. Luckily, I had something to look forward to there as well.  One of my most favorite people I met through Peace Corps was coming to Ecuador, and would be living here for a few months, which meant I was going to get to spend some fun-filled time with her.  You never really know what you’re going to get with Michelle, but I knew one thing – It wouldn’t be a bad time.  Sure enough, the next thing I knew we were each getting our first tattoos!

And of course, in November, there was also the election…

Heather and Brian - Beautiful wedding, perfect couple!
Heather and Brian – Beautiful wedding, perfect couple!
She escaped our cat future! :P
She escaped our cat future! 😛
Welcome to Ecuador Michelle! Let the good times roll
Welcome to Ecuador Michelle! Let the good times roll
First Tattoo! Much meaning from Guyana and my Peace Groups in it
First Tattoo! Much meaning from Guyana and my Peace Groups in it

December

Christmas time in Ecuador is pretty cool.  No shortage of decorations, lights, or parades.  Guyana also knew how to do Christmas, with special traditions of pepper pot and black cake.  I have really enjoyed experiencing Christmas in other cultures and the unique aspects they bring to the holiday.  As an early present for me, another friend from Peace Corps came to Ecuador for a visit in December!  This was perfect, as it meant Kelly, Michelle and I would get to spend the holidays together.

But not just us!  We headed to the Ecuador coast with my family, near where my parents and brother were living before the earthquake hit last April.  Spending Christmas and New Years by the beach was awesome.  Waking up to the sound of the waves and morning walks along the sand and surf was the best setting to end 2016.  Another great part of spending the Holidays on the coast was finally getting to meet the friends my family have been telling me so much about.  Needless to say, they have great taste in friends! It was a lot of fun getting to know the people who welcomed my family to Ecuador when they first arrived, and being able to include them in my Ecuador experience.

Cuenca Lit Up for the holidays
Cuenca Lit Up for the holidays

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Kelly has landed in Cuenca!
Kelly has landed in Cuenca!

 

January

Following a perfect Holiday on the beach with family, the kids (Me, my bro, Kelly, and yes, Michelle) took off on an adventure of our own.  We had heard about a great beach town up north named Mompiche and thought we should check it out.  So here’s the deal – come to Ecuador, and go to Mompiche.  It is a truly hidden gem that is off the beaten path just enough to keep it special, and enough back packers and surfers coming through to warrant a few good restaurants and hostels.  The town has a pleasant mixed vibe of hippies and surfers, and we found the locals and other tourists to be equally friendly. I imagine unhappiness would be hard to maintain surrounded by the beauty Mompiche offers.  As a side note, you won’t find an ATM there, and the closest bank is nearly two hours away, but lodging and food are very reasonably priced.  So bring a little cash, and experience one of the best places Ecuador has to offer.

Something I will never forget from Mompiche is swimming in the perfectly warm ocean, surrounded by bioluminescence, in the middle of the night.  I had heard about bioluminescence, but until this point thought it was over exaggerated or even unreal.  Google it and you will see what I mean. Let me assure you, it is a once in a lifetime experience and something you have to see to believe.  Swimming in the crystal clear water at night, with bright lights flashing and following my every move, felt like I was swimming in a galaxy filled with stars.  Such magic in nature takes your breath away.

The magic of the universe really is all around us.  I was blessed to spend the end of 2016 surrounded by people I love, and to start off 2017 in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

Mompiche - Hidden Beach
Mompiche – Hidden Beach
Mompiche - "Down town"
Mompiche – “Down town”
The Kids
The Kids
Some Chileans led a fire side jam session
Some Chileans led a fire side jam session
Mompiche - Me and the Broski at Black Sand beach
Mompiche – Me and the Broski at Black Sand beach

Then, just when you think you’ve figured out the balance of life, there’s a Presidential inauguration.

Shortly after this, during the last week of January, I was informed by USAID that the new President’s executive order on Federal employees has impacted my position – the training class I was to be in is now on hold, for a minimum of 90 days, but with no certainty it will proceed after that time either.

February

So here we are, caught up to the now.  In the 2nd month of 2017, and I think it’s safe to say the world is changing, perhaps faster than it was 6 months before.  I do not believe that change in itself is bad. It’s natural.  Part of the universe.  And often a catalyst to something better. Can you think of one living thing that doesn’t change?  I believe we are in a collective time of change, and our responsibility to one another in how we respond to it is important now more than ever.

Admittedly, the election and subsequent potential change in my employment and future shook me.  It has been all too easy to be pissed off, angry, confused and afraid of what the future will bring. It was easy to lose my balance, to get lost in my head, to chase negative thoughts, blame, and fear in a loop that gets me nowhere.  There are a lot of things going on that I can’t control, but what I can control is how I respond to them.  Do I choose to be a victim of the world I see? Or do I choose to see opportunity behind the events, outcomes, or people who seem to obstruct?  The world I will see and experience is a reflection of that choice I make.

And that’s where I am at.  Constantly, daily, hourly reminding myself to choose again.  This life will be over in a flash, and in that sense, there’s really no reason in taking negative thoughts too seriously.  Will anything I’m concerned about now matter to me in 100 years? Obviously not.  And even so, what is 100 years in the whole scheme of time and eternity?  A drop in an endless ocean.  My fears and judgements about any situation or person alive now mean nothing in this context – why hold on to them?  So I’m working to let them go.

Instead of holding onto anger relating to current situations or events, I will look for occasions to be the change I hope the future holds.  Action – not anger.

Instead of holding onto fear about a job or the future, I will remain open to the path I am directed towards. Faith – not fear.

It’s easier said than done, and old habits die-hard, but I am trying. And this is where my innate responsibility to you comes in.  A responsibility to live by example, without being a victim of the world, and to empower a genuine peace in others.

So I am going into 2017 with optimism that things will continue to work out, and have a renewed commitment to do my part in creating a kinder, more understanding, and conscious world for all.

I will update again with future plans as they materialize, hopefully sooner than 4 months, unless of course I am having too much fun. 🙂 Until then…

Amor, Paz y Felicidad para Todos!

Llama butt...because some days are just like that...
Llama butt…because some days are just like that…
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…but remember, better days are ahead 🙂
Power & Truth

Power & Truth

“Power tempts even the best of men to take liberties with the truth”

– Joseph Sobran

Living in Ecuador has been a great experience thus far.  I have daily opportunities to work on learning Spanish, exercise, explore, eat new foods, read, and spend time with my family.  This is a unique time in my life, and I am trying to appreciate the opportunity I have over any stress that comes with being unemployed.  Being optimistically unemployed also allows for idle time, of course, and Netflix.

If you ever want to question everything, give yourself an opportunity to watch a few Netflix documentaries consecutively that will rattle your vision of justice.  Over the last few weeks, these shows provided me with an education perhaps I wish I could unlearn – although in this case, I don’t believe our ignorance has served any of us well.  After watching “Making a Murderer,” “13th” and “Amanda Knox” I was left questioning the power of truth, or perhaps more so, the truth about power.

making-a-murderer-1200x713

13th-640x250

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NueLjUNB-GM&feature=youtu.be Screengrab of Amanda Knox's documentary "Believe Her" on Netflix 9/8/16 Netflix

The documentaries are extremely well made, and provided me with insight into a wanton system of criminal justice.  The takeaway for me is that truth is often secondary to power, and in fact, people with power are led to define the “truth” to fit a narrative they desire.  Often, truth is lost to power. I will not go into more details on the specifics of these shows, and I hope you will make an effort to see them for yourselves, as this ambiguity between power and truth is taking a center stage in the world today. I think it is important that we are conscious enough to look at the “truths” we are being fed, and consider that they are no more than narratives being expressed to us by those in power. 

“Stronger Together” and “Make America Great Again” – both sound encouraging enough, but what else is being said? Are these pitch phrases cloaking narratives and subtext that each side wants to become our truths?  If you are not choosing “Stronger Together,” then are you divisive and making us weak?  If America is no longer great, and you are complacent in that, are you not “Making America Great Again?” We’ve been divided by the agendas of the politicians, media, and elite interests. Fear mongering at its finest. These agenda’s aren’t serving the greater majority of us. They aren’t serving us in politics, they aren’t serving us in justice, and they aren’t the truth.

stonger-together make-america-great-again

We have a responsibility to EACH OTHER, not to a political party or candidate. It’s too often that people in power exploit our differences rather than celebrate them. Regardless of who wins this election we need to recognize our common Truth, being scrupulous of the narratives being fed and cautious of the agendas behind the messages. I don’t trust the current way our power systems work. Power is not balanced, and this is at the expense of the American people. This power protects the interests of a small minority, veiled in political and social ideologies to create fear. Truth is lost. Recognize that everything we believe, everything we hold dear, and everything we are sure of in relation to our affiliations, race, religions, orientations, or class – all of this has been taught to us in one way or another. I believe, stripped of our learned fears, we would all want the best for our fellow-men and women. We would want each other to be treated fairly. We would want equitable opportunities and outcomes for each other. History has shown us a politician or political party isn’t going to bring this reality, in fact much is done to ensure the opposite.  This fearless and bold way of relating to each other starts with every one of us, regardless of our varied affiliations, race, religions, orientations, or class. Our common Truth is above all of it – and that common Truth is OUR Power.

Check out the documentaries.  Look at the current political rhetoric from an elevated state.  Be a more compassionate human.  I honestly can’t wait until this election cycle is over, and I hope we can let our humanity win, regardless of any political “winner.”

In more optimistic government related news, I hope to not be unemployed for too much longer!  Since May, I have been pursuing a job with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as a Foreign Service Officer.  In June I was flown to Washington DC for an interview, and as of last week I was told the interview was successful.  Pending successful reference, medical and background checks, I will eventually have the opportunity to assist in America’s international development and aid efforts! I believe USAID is fantastic representation of the good that American “power” can do, and I am anxious to help show our international community that America is not as crazy as the 2016 election cycle has made us out to be! 🙂

usaid

I will keep the blog updated with the job progress, and anything else that may come up.  Until next time – peace, love and happiness!

Scary Decisions

Scary Decisions

So here I am, sitting in my new room.  My new room, which happens to be under my parent’s roof. As you can imagine, this is a bit uncomfortable – being a 33 year old – yet at the same time, very comfortable, and feels like home. Such is my case of being a recently returned Peace Corps volunteer (RPCV). I enjoyed sharing my experiences as a PCV, so I figure why stop now? And now that I’ve graduated from PCV to RPCV, updates could be related to anything – exciting eh?!? But I think I should start this new chapter by sharing a summary of what it feels like, for me, being a RPCV.

Peace Corps is an emotionally, psychologically, and often physically intense experience. As such, the relationships that you build during the relatively short time period tend to be intense as well. This was the hardest part of leaving Guyana and my Peace Corps cohort. In 27 months, friendships were made that will last a lifetime, and connections with host country nationals built that will withstand the challenges of distance and time. There are a lot of reasons to do Peace Corps, and most are personal to each person – but if you are thinking of serving, know that the opportunity for these rich connections is something I believe unique to Peace Corps, and a significant reason to serve in itself. Of course, the fun you can have once Peace Corps is over is pretty great too…

sailboat
Taking a “jangada” out in Porto de Galinhas, Brazil
Rio Sunset
Beautiful Rio Sunset
Rio landscape
View from the top of “Dois Irmãos” (two brothers) mountain, Rio, Brazil

 

olypmpics
Representing US in Rio!
im in rio
I’m in Rio.
horseback riding
Horseback riding in Chapada Diamantina, Brazil
Group pic 2
Some great friends, old and new. Rio, Brazil
christ hike
Hiking up to Christ the Redeemer statue.
christ
Oh my Christo!
chapada
Top of the world at Chapada Diamantina, Brazi.
brazil boat
Our beds during 4 day Amazon river boat trip
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Simply the best!

Group pic      

When it comes time for Peace Corps service to end, often volunteers find reasons to stay together, extending the inevitable separation from each other and immersion back into the “real world.” This was my case, and I have spent the last two months traveling through Brazil with friends I never wanted to say goodbye to.  I could write an entire book on all the amazing things we experienced traveling through Brazil – we met some awesome people, saw some truly remarkable places, and experienced a fantastic Rio Olympics.  I felt like I could stay in Brazil forever.  Of course, that was not possible, so the goodbyes did come, and now here I am – alone, in my room – in my parent’s house – in Ecuador – jobless and reflecting. 

To be honest, it can feel scary. It is scary being jobless, living in my parent’s house, in a country where I don’t speak the language, where work would be challenging to find even if I could. But you know what? It’s also exciting. It’s also liberating. And I would be wrong to complain or expect sympathy from anyone. I realize I made a conscious decision to be in this situation in the first place. It’s amazing the impact one decision can have on the direction of your life.  My decision to do Peace Corps has altered the entire direction for me.

I believe these “direction altering” decisions are often the hardest ones, however, and correspondingly seldom made. It is not an easy decision to leave your comfort zone.  Of course, this is not new information. Although not frequently made, we have always been drawn to stories of hard decisions.  We like to observe other people making them.  These are the themes in some of the best movies.  Our favorite stories.  The songs that touch us the most.  We like to watch hard decisions being made, and hopefully observe the intended outcome – a happy ending.  But there is a risk, and it doesn’t always work out the way we hope.  Like any investment into a future outcome, direction altering decisions carry a risk – often higher the risk, higher the potential reward.

In the case of doing Peace Corps, it was gut wrenching knowing I would not see my family for months, or years. It was heart breaking leaving my best friends. It was nerve wrecking leaving a fantastic job with people I enjoyed working with.  But in my experience, the more fear associated with decisions like this – the more important it is for me to look into making them.  Arguably, you could say fear keeps us safe.  I would argue fear keeps me trapped.  I knew that in my core – at the depths of my soul – I needed to experience more of this world in a meaningful way.  This was my truth.  But there was immense fear in making the decision to live this truth.  Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and looking back as an RPCV now, I can clearly see all I would have missed out on if I listened to this fear 27 months ago.  My reward was priceless in this case.  A happy ending…but it is not the end. 

I believe at any given time each of us have a truth or two – a desire to do something, desire to go somewhere, desire to be someone that reflects our truth – truth’s where we know a decision is required, but fear is stopping us from doing so.  For me, this type of fear is not safe.  This type of fear is toxic.

And so it was.  Another “direction altering” decision was up after my Peace Corps service.  Do I go back to the United States, to Utah, to Salt Lake City and get back into the life I left and loved?  Or do I continue my journey into the unknown?  There was little “fear” associated with the idea of me going back to SLC, but the truth in my core is still present – there is still more I want to experience in this world.  More places to see.  More relationships to build.  More ways to contribute for me to find.  This may eventually take me back to Utah, or the United States, but not right now. For me, the decision was easy.  At least easier than the first decision was to leave for Peace Corps.  I think this is an important point to make.  Leaving my comfort zone, or making “hard” decisions, seems to be getting easier. Or perhaps, these hard decisions have an added benefit.  Perhaps my comfort zone is just getting bigger.  

I guess that perfectly sums up what it feels like for me now as an RPCV. Peace Corps has given me a larger comfort zone. I encourage anyone reading this to think about a decision they’ve been putting off seriously looking at. Sure, it might be scary. That’s how you know it’s worth your attention.  My advice: Don’t let fear stop you from new experiences.  Don’t let fear limit your comfort zone.

As of now, I will spend the next few months considering my own next decisions to be made. With any luck, I will also get comfortable speaking Spanish, learn about Ecuadorian culture, and make some new Ecuadorian friends and connections in the process. And as a bonus, I get to catch up on lost time with my family and share these experiences and memories with them too! I also recognize this is a unique opportunity for me, and I am thankful for the privilege I have at the moment.

I am looking at some job opportunities with other international work, but the reality is, at this point I have no idea what I will end up doing.  I have no idea where I will end up next.  Scary right?  Yep.  Guess that means it’s worth looking into.

Stay tuned!

Much love.

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Identity Crisis

Identity Crisis

Whoa. Two months from now my Peace Corps service will be over. Where have two years gone? As I reflect today on my time in Guyana, I find myself amazed, amused, and anxious. I am amazed at how much I have grown to enjoy this country, and grown as a person. The hectic minibus rides with pounding music, making your brain shake. The heat that covers you like a blanket, ensuring a certain dampness throughout the day.  The expected greetings of “good morning” and “good night,” strangers taking time to acknowledge each other. The neighbors that are always happy for your company, welcoming you into their home. Guyana is filled with its pleasantries and its challenges, and I am amazed I’ve learned to love them all. I am amazed I made it two years.

I am also amused, and delighted, at the work I have been able to be part of.  From counseling  mothers and supporting chronic disease patients, to empowering children through teaching and reading, to working on projects that advocate LGBT human rights and mental health – I have been fortunate to gain experience in doing things I never imagined I would do, and some I will probably never do again (I am not super comfortable counseling on breast-feeding! :P).  Then again, some of the experience has resonated with me, and will surely impact the direction my life goes from here.

This leads us to anxious.  I find that I am anxious about the future now.  I am anxious about who I will be after Peace Corps.  Before leaving Peace Corps, I had a strong identity built up in Salt Lake City.  I had a leadership position at a company I was with for years, and built some wonderful working relationships there.  My friends in Salt Lake had been through the rollercoaster of life with me for over 10+ years.  And although I could be happy in the identity I had then, I became aware of an innate desire to experience more.

As I committed to joining Peace Corps, I realized I would be leaving some parts of my identity behind, but this was tolerable in the sense I would be picking up a new identity.  I would be a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Over the last two years this identity has come with various associations, and as I consider what it is about being a Peace Corps volunteer that I truly value, I believe it’s pride.

As a volunteer I am proud of the time I spent here. It wasn’t perfect or what I expected it to be, but I am proud of the work I was able to complete – both the tangible and intangible impacts made. I am proud of the challenges I was able to overcome. I think this can be said for anyone who has ever identified as a Peace Corps volunteer.

So unlike my transition from Business Manager to Peace Corps Volunteer, I am leaving an identity I am proud to have – yet I do not have an obvious or clear identity to move into next. You could say I am on the verge of an identity crisis! And although I may be having a mild crisis, all is not lost.  Peace Corps has shown me the type of identity I hope to find. Whatever I end up doing, or identifying with next, I know that I want to be proud of the work I am doing. I want to help people. I need to be challenged – intellectually, culturally, and emotionally. I want my identity to grow with me.

identity crisis

In fact, I suppose some of our identities do grow with us – son, brother, friend – and it is these identities I will always be proud of, and need to rely on as I navigate my way through the post Peace Corps uncertainty and mixed bag of emotions I find myself with.

Speaking of uncertainty, my immediate family has survived another type of crisis of their own since my last update! They were shaken up, displaced, and have since moved to a new city in Ecuador. You can check out the experience through my Dad’s eyes here (http://www.toddtalkinecuador.com/blog/day-96-ecuador-earthquake-bahia-de-caraquez/).

I am really looking forward to meeting up with them in August, but shouldn’t get ahead of myself just yet. There are still two months left in Guyana, with lots on the agenda to look forward to. I have two final projects/workshops to complete, Guyana’s 50th Independence Day jubilee to take part in, and a trip to Brazil ahead. I will provide an update on these with the next posting! Until then, some pics with comments are below – much love!

Text I got from my Dad during earthquake  - SCARY 24 hours!
Text I got from my Dad during earthquake – SCARY 24 hours!
This is Lola! I've been watching her for 3 weeks, and she's been wonderful company
This is Lola! I’ve been watching her for 3 weeks, and she’s been a wonderful companion.
Jenni had a birthday!  Happy 34th to my PCV bestie
Jenni had a birthday! Happy 34th to my PCV bestie!

IMG_0950

We had Phagwa, also known as Holi, and my favorite Guyanese holiday!
We had Phagwa, also known as Holi, and my favorite Guyanese holiday!
Out Close of Service Conference...we did it!
Our Close of Service Conference…Guy26 – we did it!

IMG_0717

My good friend Monica (in the black) finished her time in Guyana - she's missed, and will always be a great friend and mentor!
My good friend Monica (in the black) finished her time in Guyana and has started her next adventure – she’s missed, and will always be a great friend and mentor! (She has a fantastic blog here: https://tryingtobeahappyhuman.wordpress.com/

https://tryingtobeahappyhuman.wordpress.com/

My friend George came for a visit - loved every minute he was here! Especially our trip to Kaieteur Falls ;-)
My friend George came for a visit – loved every minute he was here! Especially our trip to Kaieteur Falls 😉
Guy28 got through training, and are now sworn in official volunteers!  It's exciting for them, and another indication my time here is up.
Guy28 got through training, and are now sworn in official volunteers! It’s exciting for them, and another indication my time here is up.
Top 10

Top 10

With a year passing since my last update, I thought a “Top 10” type list would be the best way to summarize what’s been going on with me down in Guyana, and elsewhere.  So, here we go…

Chase’s Top 10 since 2015

1

I ended 2015 with a visit to Utah, and a cruise to Mexico, surrounded by family and friends.  Considering #4 on this list, it may also have been my last trip to Utah for some time, but then again – who knows!   I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the year, and as hard as it was to get back on the plane to Guyana – I am glad I did.  It’s the home stretch here and I’m looking forward to wrapping things up.

friends4 friends3 friends1 friends familycruise familychristmas

2

Last term, Jenni and I finished an 8 week HIV education series at our primary schools.  It was great to co-teach these lessons with her, and encouraging to see how much information the kids retained week after week.  The reported HIV rate in Guyana is relatively low – under 2% nationwide; however, based on observations and interactions with HIV service providers, this number could be significantly underestimated.  The majority of Guyanese still feel stigma around HIV tests, and many don’t get tested who should.  As many Guyanese don’t know their current HIV status, it’s important these kids know how to keep themselves protected before coming of age.  A fun bonus to these lessons were Jenni’s two friends, which were visiting during the last lesson, got to help us with the final day’s HIV Jeopardy game…it was good fun getting “Auntie Shannon” and “Uncle Justin” involved with the kids.

3

Alright, into 2016…let’s just say the readjustment back to life in Guyana after being away for a month was not as smooth as I hoped it would be.  Starting with leaving my laptop charger in the states, to my phone getting stolen, to hurting my foot and being sick, the beginning of January was definitely a challenge.  No laptop + no phone = no communication, which I really could have used the first few days being back.   As with most things though, it all ended up working out…and thanks to wonderful family and friends (Casey Jr!), I had the lap top charger and phone replaced in no time, all of which helped me get on with the work that needs to be done here.

4

Something REALLY exciting happened in the beginning of January…something I don’t think I really ever believed would happen, but did.  My parents and my brother, despite their fears and reservations, took a leap of faith into the adventure of life.  After selling almost everything they owned, and packing up the rest, they said goodbye to Utah and moved to Ecuador, South America!  My brother made an awesome video of their move here: https://youtu.be/JBdlLDi6fAU.  So now my family is in South America with me, although due to required connections, travel time from Guyana to Ecuador is roughly the same as Guyana to Utah.  This is a move my parents have been considering since well before I left for Peace Corps, but I would like to believe that their observation of my experiences here perhaps helped them move the decision along.  🙂  My Dad has been keeping an excellent account of their beginning days as Ecuadorians here: http://www.toddtalkinecuador.com/. It’s great writing, so check it out!  I am definitely looking forward to catching up with them in Ecuador after my service is done.  More on life after Peace Corps in #9 & #10…

5

Towards the end of January, the Peace Corps HIV Taskforce put on our 2nd Nursing Student in-service training.  This 3 day training is designed to educate, inform and equip health service providers with the understanding and strategies needed to provide equitable, appropriate, and adequate care to Guyanese marginalized populations (HIV+ persons, sex workers, LGBT Guyanese).  We did a similar workshop last year, and one of the exciting factors in this training was the utilization of peer facilitators.  Select students from last year’s workshop were invited to come help co-facilitate this workshop, which was GREAT!  Observing the workshop’s impact on the participant’s attitudes is rewarding, but to see this same information being taught by Guyanese to other Guyanese is truly fulfilling.  We aim to have a 3rd workshop before I leave, again engaging student facilitators in the process.  The end goal is to eventually work this information into the general curriculum so that all health service providers will have these sessions delivered to them through the standard Guyanese nursing program.  Sustainability baby.

IMG_2527 IMG_2655 IMG_2691 IMG_2694

 

6

Suicide awareness and mental health remains to be a major health priority in Guyana, and an area I hope to meaningfully contribute in before I go.  In December I made contact with a U.S. based crisis intervention service that I thought would be a great fit in Guyana.  As luck would have it, not only was the organization looking to expand internationally in 2016, but I was also able to arrange a meeting between the organization and a Guyanese counterpart who expressed interest in helping bring the service to Guyana.  The meeting went well and there was a mutual agreement on the program’s suitability in Guyana!  The service is Crisis Text Line, and a quick summary of how it works is available here: https://www.ted.com/talks/nancy_lublin_the_heartbreaking_text_that_inspired_a_crisis_help_line. I will be working over the next few months to keep things moving forward with this and will keep you posted!  There are many local organizations also working to help, and I participate in their efforts whenever possible.   I have been working to get a new Peace Corps volunteer placed with such an organization, which is focused on mental health and suicide prevention.  In my opinion, we can’t have enough resources dedicated to this cause here.  A Guy27 volunteer who lives near me, Tony, has also been doing excellent work with kids in our community on self-esteem, expressing emotions, and self-awareness – addressing the problem of suicide at its roots.  It has been great watching his impact on the kids.  We will be working together to expand with similar lessons in schools and other community opportunities.

Michelle, Jenni and I participating in a suicide walk and program launch
Michelle, Jenni and I participating in a suicide walk and program launch

7

Another important issue in Guyana is environmental health.  Considering the relation to both the Caribbean and Amazon, Guyana has much cultural and natural beauty to offer.  Unfortunately, this beauty is often hidden under layers and layers of garbage.  It must be said that under the new government administration, noticeable efforts and improvements have been made in the capital city, Georgetown.  However, these efforts have yet to reach the vast areas outside of Georgetown, where we all live, and the impact of waste and environmental hazards are still evident.  So, over the next three months we will be having Environment Education and Fun-day workshops at various schools in our region.  The workshops will help kids understand what environmental health is and what they can to do help improve the areas they live in.  The first camp was last Saturday, which went great!  A session about stray animals and taking care of pets was very popular with the kids, and I think even more can be done to educate kids and help them take charge in reducing the amount of stray animals roaming Guyana’s roads.

P1050037 P1050084 IMG_0201 IMG_0200

8

Number 8 = Guy28!  Believe it or not, the next next group of Peace Corps Volunteers have arrived in Guyana.  This is not only hard for me to believe, but also a new reminder that my own time here is winding down.  I had the opportunity to meet this group during their first week in country, and had excellent first impressions of them all.  It is crazy remembering what things were like for me back during my first week in Guyana, and although it seems like a lifetime ago, I could still relate to most of what they were feeling.  It’s exciting to have more volunteers here because there is still much that can be done.  It’s not always easy to find ways to make your time here feel valuable, but based on my initial impressions of the group, they will have no problems leaving an impact in the areas they serve.

Guy28!
Guy28!

9

Although I still have over 4 months left in Guyana, my thoughts are increasingly directed towards life after Peace Corps.  I am a firm believer in being present in the moment, so I try to not let the thoughts of the future consume me – but a little planning on what to do after July 3rd is probably in order.  🙂 Luckily, what I am doing first is pretty much planned – this includes an overland trip through Brazil to Rio, and then taking part in the 2016 Summer Olympics!  A group of volunteers and myself have been accepted as volunteers for the games, working in areas like the Olympic village and Olympic stadium.  It will be awesome to again be part of such an iconic international event (I also volunteered for the 2002 Winter Games).    We have found a place in Copacabana to rent for the month, walking distance to the beach.  After the Olympics I will make my way to Ecuador to catch up with the family and work on my Español. I don’t think I could have asked for a better transition from Peace Corps back to “real life!”

10

Speaking of real life, what does that even mean?!?  Thinking about what to do 3 months after Peace Corps has not been as difficult as considering what I should be doing for the next 30 years after Peace Corps…and I’ve found it to be a bit overwhelming.  I had begun looking into work with the State Department as a Public Diplomacy officer, and took the required test to begin that process at the end of January.  Unfortunately, I did not pass the timed writing part of the exam.  I ran out of time and couldn’t finish the essay I wanted to write in the 30 minutes provided.  This was more than just a ding to my confidence, which it was, but also really disappointing.  It was disappointing because I consider myself a capable writer and should not have struggled to put down a passable essay.  In any event, if I still want to pursue this line of work, I cannot retake the test until next year…which I may do.  But the truth is, it’s hard to predict where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing next year.  In one of my dad’s blog posts he challenged himself to reflect on a few powerful ideas: “What is your dream? How are you moving toward it? How are you living it?”  So aside from closing the loop on my activities here, I think these next few months are the perfect time for me to start really reflecting on some of those same ideas.  With any luck, I’ll leave Guyana with a better idea of what dream I am moving towards.

 

Where is the Love?

Where is the Love?

Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

-A.A. Milne

Many of you may know this quote from Christopher Robin to Winnie-the-Pooh.  I know these words from my Mom, who repeated them to my brother and me as we were growing up, and continues to remind us now.  Although the quote is not new, its message remains important to me now.

Unfortunately, living in Guyana has come with a price.  It is accurate to say that if you live here for any reasonable amount of time, you will be witness to the effects of suicide.  It’s in the papers daily.  You hear about it on social media.  You know someone who knows someone that has committed suicide.  It’s happening in the village down the road, the next road over, or the house across the street.  Until recently, I was aware of the crisis here from a bystanders perspective – appalled by the statistical crisis presented but somewhat removed from the true impact of the problem.  Then, on October 26, 2015, Zenita Nicholson died at the hospital after ingesting poison.

I had met Zenita through my work at SASOD, and was immediately drawn to her fearless display of Human Rights activism and welcoming smile.  She assisted me in some grant writing and took part in a diversity panel during a Peace Corps staff training.  Outside of work, I was also able to see Zenita’s fun side – she was energetic and free.  My impressions of her were clear.  This woman was brave.  This woman was strong.  This woman was smart.  And for the 2nd time since coming to Guyana, a person who I would have never suspected to take their life, did just that.

When someone you admire, whose mere presence alone impacts you, inspires you to be better, or brings a smile to your face – when someone like that can’t see their way out of the darkness, you feel something….the only word I can find to describe that feeling is fear.  It’s scary.  It’s scary when brave people appear to cower.  It’s scary when strong people appear to collapse.  It’s scary when smart people appear to fail.  But we can’t be scared, and we can’t live in fear.

Life in Guyana isn’t easy…but the problem isn’t unique or contained to here.  Five minutes of any news broadcast will show you that this world is in trouble, with fear driving nearly every message being thrown at us.  But there is an answer.  Fear can’t persist in the presence of love.  Too often we look for solutions to our problems outside of ourselves – pray for this, and pray for that – when in fact we ARE the solution.  It’s my belief we were created by a perfect source, and our source is correspondingly perfect.  Perfect love.  I think prayer can have its place, but don’t just pray – love.  There will be times when we don’t feel brave – don’t feel strong – don’t feel smart, and that’s ok.  Pray if it helps, but above all else, forgive yourself and love yourself.  Through our love we are braver than we believe, and stronger than we seem, and smarter than we think.

As we love ourselves, we will be better able to give that love to others, and only then can we shine the light out of the darkness, for ourselves and everyone around us.  This is our only obligation.  Our only real function.  This world is a mirror, and it will give us what we give it.  Let’s stop giving fear.

In loving memory of Kristen Higginbotham and Zenita Nicholson  

The Heat is Real

The Heat is Real

I guess we could say it’s been a hot minute since my last blog update, and it’s been LOTS of hot minutes here lately.  The rainy season has officially wound down, and the past few weeks have been dominated by the relentless pounding of the sun.  Among the many things I’ve learned through this Peace Corps experience, the value of a breeze is one I will not forget.  I’ve always preferred to live in places with natural light, and now I know equally important is a place’s “breeze” factor.  My apartment, although open to the outside world in many places, only seems to be allowing bugs in…not breeze.  The apartment is facing the wrong direction, in addition to being behind a fortress of mangroves, diligently blocking any lifesaving breeze from the river.

I would if I could...but the power bill would kill me!
I would if I could…but the power bill would kill me!

Without a breeze, a fan is necessary to survive the days and nights. However, with compounding days of heat adding up, the fan begins to just blow warm, hot, breathy air around my body….so I find myself in a breezeless convection oven, cooking to a perfect temperature just below the boiling point.  Still, I appreciate the fan – as my sanity would not be possible without it.  There is only one real relief to the heat though, and that is stepping out to a natural cool breeze hitting your sweat glistened skin at the exact moment you knew you could not take it one second longer.  I’ve never been so grateful for something so natural and free.

Fortunately, I have not been in my apartment often, so am only really losing sleep over the issue…no biggy, eh. 😉  If you’ve been following my facebook page you may have a pretty good idea of what I have been up to the past few months.

Some art projects from kids at summer camp
Some art projects from kids at summer camp
kids getting active at camp!
kids getting active at camp!
at a workshop, saying something important I'm sure :)
at a workshop, saying something important I’m sure 🙂

July marked the end of school term here, so some other volunteers and I helped support the regional summer camps put on by the Ministry of Education throughout the month…it was a good experience, and truthfully, it is a good thing we were there.  An opportunity common among many areas of life in Guyana is organization…the summer camps being no exception.  I was also able to take part in workshops over the course of August and September, which provided valuable information on project proposal writing and public policy advocacy to support the work I’m doing with the non-governmental civil society organizations serving Guyana.

Blessed Hands Foundation Boo Bag Outreach
Blessed Hands Foundation Boo Bag Outreach
Vet spaying one of the four dogs spayed during Spay Day!
Vet spaying one of the four dogs spayed during Spay Day!

Some other highlights of what I have been up to are the book bag drive and donations through my host family’s charitable organization The Blessed Hands Foundation (Thanks to those who supported their facebook page, there is new info on our December project coming soon!), helping with a “Spay Day” event that my friend and fellow PCV Jenni put on to help address the homeless pet population here, and assisting in the Diabetes focus group being done by friends and PCVs Mark and Sallay.

Team Peace Corps!
Team Peace Corps!
Winning at Tug-o-War
Winning at Tug-o-War

Volunteers also came out to support the Novelty Sports Fun and Health day in recognition of International Day of Peace (IDP), on September 21, 2015.  The event, hosted by the Guyana Equality Forum, brought society together in promotion of peace, human rights, general health and well-being for all Guyanese.  As youths of all ages, genders, and backgrounds were engaged to participate in various sports and activities, several health services were also offered to achieve the three objectives tied to the 2015 IDP theme “Partnerships for Peace – Dignity for All”: 1) Promotion of Positive Health & Well-Being 2) Youth Participation and Civic Engagement 3) Promotion of Human Rights and Equality.  Our Peace Corps team was there to support Guyanese civil society in meeting all of these objectives, in addition to giving them some healthy competition in the day’s events.  After the scores were tallied, team Peace Corps walked away as 2nd place winners, leaving 1st place to the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association, a worthy competitor!

Taking 2nd Place overall!
Taking 2nd Place overall!

It has been just as rewarding, if not more so, to help support other volunteers in their efforts as it is to focus on my own.  As far as my own efforts go, we recently received funding for a project proposed through SASOD, so we will be starting the “Youth Matters” project to meet three main objectives:

  1. Combat stigma experienced by LGBT youth through community engagement, advocacy and empowerment
  2. Provide improved access to HIV prevention, testing and treatment through local collaborations
  3. Strengthen LGBT and civil society groups in their efforts to reduce anti-LGBT stigma and discrimination

As you can imagine, being an LGBT youth can bring challenges anywhere in the world, but more so in a culture and country where being so is widely unaccepted and discriminated against; and although not the only cause, the lack of support for these youths are directly linked to the alarming suicide rates in the country.

In addition to the Youth Matters project, I am helping coordinate a health project through APC providing focused HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care interventions to the key populations of Guyana.  It can be rewarding and frustrating work, which I suppose is the norm for most things in life really.

Beautiful Sunset at the Botanical Gardens...to nice not to share
Beautiful Sunset at the Botanical Gardens…to nice not to share

When considering the work I was doing prior to Peace Corps, I sometimes find myself asking how I ended up here doing what I am doing…it’s hard to imagine myself ever doing what I was doing before again, and it’s hard for me to imagine doing what I am doing now forever…so where does that leave me?  It leaves me at 32 years old, still trying to figure life out…but I’m learning a few things for certain along the way, which I will take with me wherever it is I end up next:

  • Just show up. Being there can make all the difference, whether you think it will or not.
  • Helping others IS the way to help yourself.
  • When the heat is real, appreciate a breeze whenever you can.

That’s it for now folks.  I hope those back home are enjoying your pumpkin spice lattes and cool fall weather…just a few of my favorite things!  🙂

P.S.  The border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana seems to be heating up…will keep you posted as the situation unfolds.

http://guyanachronicle.com/venezuela-in-extraordinary-military-deployments-in-border-region/

Patience is a Virtue

Patience is a Virtue

I want to thank everyone for patiently waiting on this next blog post! 🙂 However, the title is not in reference to that (although such patience is much appreciated), but rather to summarize a lesson I’m continuing to learn throughout my time in Guyana.  Few things here happen quickly or efficiently, and then one day…everything can happen all at once.   Such has been the story of the last month or two for me.

I will try to summarize the following experience as best as possible, however I’m guessing as hard as I try, the true insanity of the process will be lost in translation…of course, I imagine insanity is often difficult to translate. 😉

Towards the end of May I received notification that a pallet of books, donated by Guy 26’s very own Ashley Harrel and family, was ready to be picked up at the dock which received them.  If you’ve been following along, you may recall Ashley left to Spain in April, so I was happy to be the point contact to help pick up the books and get them to where they needed to go…sounds easy enough, right?  So, here we go…

Delivery Slip...thought I could pick the books up with just this...silly me!
Delivery Slip…thought I could pick the books up with just this…silly me!

Try #1: Head to docks to pick up pallet of books.  Arrive at dock – give delivery slip, then handed more “processing paperwork” and advised I need to take to customs building to clear pallet of books.  Go to customs building & advised the dock customs office does not clear books (wtf??) and I will need to get a customs broker to do so.  Unable to get the books at this time.

Try #2: Head to Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) in search of customs broker. Determine customs broker will be too expensive – find alternate way to clear package. Need to make an “invoice” for the books to clear without a broker.  Unable to get the books at this time.

The total paperwork after picking up the books was all said and done...check out all those stamps!
The total paperwork after picking up the books was all said and done…check out all those stamps!

Try #3: Make invoice.  Take invoice to shipping company head office, just so they can put an ink stamp on the invoice.  Take stamped invoice back to shipping docks so they can put another stamp on invoice.  Take stamped up invoice and initial processing paperwork back to GRA so they can assess value (which is always $0.00 for used books) and put yet another stamp on the invoice so I can clear package from customs at the dock.  Told this would be a few days…unable to get the books at this time.

Week 2/Try #4: GRA still not done “assessing” the $0.00 value…unable to get the books at this time.

Week 3/Try #5: GRA still not done “assessing” the $0.00 value…unable to get the books at this time.

Week 4/Try #6:  Go to GRA to personally follow up on assessment – finally get the necessary additional stamp on invoice and processing paperwork – return to customs dock to get books.  Give all paperwork to customs office at dock – advised pallet has been at dock too long and I will need to pay storage now…which needs to be paid back at GRA office (the only way to describe what was happening in my head at this point is $#%@*&^#!).  Get measurements of pallet marked on invoice so GRA can access storage cost, and stamp again…unable to get the books at this time.

Try #7: Go to GRA to get storage cost assessed and paid – waiting….waiting….waiting….finally done.  Go back to dock and submit paperwork to customs to clear – done at 4:02, ready to give final fully stamped paperwork to pick-up window to get books…pick-up window closed at 4:00…advised to come back tomorrow.  Unable to get the books at this time.

finally...the books are released!
finally…the books are released!

Try #8: Go back to dock – give pick-up window all the paperwork…and drum roll…….I GET THE BOOKS!

It was definitely not an efficient process, (SO many papers and stamps?!?) but after 8 tries and 4 weeks we successfully have over 300lbs of books headed to the children of Guyana’s interior regions!  A special thanks to Ashely’s family for the donation, I know the books will be truly appreciated by the schools and communities, and to Glendon from Peace Corps, who I could not have got through this process without.  We did it!

Glendon...went out of his way to make sure I got these books out - he's amazing!
Glendon…went out of his way to make sure I got these books out – he’s amazing!

In stark contrast, the same day I got the books picked up, I also picked up 50 backpacks with exercise books donated by a local Guyanese business to support the Blessed Hands Foundation, which my host family started up for children in need.  I called the business from the Peace Corps office after getting the books and asked to meet with them to discuss a possible donation.  They said I should come over right then, which I did, and I left with the backpacks the same day….after the books ordeal, I was in shock how effortless this process was.  Who knows, maybe the delay in getting the book shipment had me at the Peace Corps office at just the right time and day to get the backpacks too…the universe works in mysterious ways!   So in one day I felt like I got more done than I did in four weeks…such is the Peace Corps volunteer life.

Beginning of bridge reconstruction
Beginning of bridge reconstruction

Later that week my neighbors were able to rally together – and we actually got the bridge to the play park we are redoing rebuilt!  This has been in the “works” for a year now, and I was almost to the point of giving up on it happening….but it happened, and now we can actually get to the play park to fix it up!

mid bridge reconstruction
mid bridge reconstruction
finished bridge construction...done in one day!
finished bridge construction…done in one day!

So that’s what I’m learning to accept more and more from my Peace Corps experience…sometimes things take time, needlessly or not, but if you have the will, they can and do happen.  Not in American time, or my time, but in their own time…and that’s OK.

 

20150524_150135_001Of course the true highlight of the past few months was the visit from my family – it’s difficult to articulate how much it meant to have them here, meet my friends and coworkers, and experience a little of my life in Guyana!  It was sad to see them go, and took some time to readjust.  I’m looking forward to the next few months now.  Health Centre and NGO work is good, and school is out, so I will be helping with summer camps through the Ministry of Culture, Youth & Sport.
We also have our Mid-Service training in August, so all Guy26 volunteers will be back together for a few days!  Guy25 volunteers finished their 2 year service this month, and Guy27 volunteers are already done with their 12 week training and moved to site…so while some things here require patience and seem to take forever – the days, weeks, and months as a volunteer seem to be virtually flying by.

Family...and Friends...in Guyana!
Family…and Friends…in Guyana!

Guess that’s it for now…thanks for keeping up and keeping in touch.  Much love always!

P.S. The elections here were peaceful – after 23 years a new political party is now in power, congrats APNU+AFC! It was a close election and a big deal for many Guyanese.  I encourage you to google and read up on it if you have some time…

7 curry with the family
7 curry with the family
Painting some squares with Mom at PCV Lindsey's killer mural project!
Painting some squares with Mom at PCV Lindsey’s killer mural project!
Linsdey's mural at her school....she is a superwoman PCV!
Linsdey’s mural at her school….she is a superwoman PCV!
Sky reflection in the black water
Sky reflection in the black water
New Stories

New Stories

You reach for the stars

                In pursuit of something of new

You leave what you know

                To experience something true

Soon enough

                The new becomes the old

Soon enough

                The stories are retold

No matter where you are

                No matter what you do

When you are expecting something more

                The answer lies in you

by

Chase G., 2015

I woke up yesterday and couldn’t get out of bed.  It could have been that my body was tired.  I had been to the gym the day before, the first time back in 2 months.  It could have been I knew I was working on stuff at home that day, with no rush to be anywhere early.  Truly, however, I knew it was a something else holding me back that morning – perhaps confusion.  I had given up the life I knew and took a brave step into the unknown.  But there is a problem.  The unknown is not so unknown anymore, and it doesn’t feel brave anymore – it feels a little like a story I’ve heard before.  How can this be?  If I can pick up my life, move to a different continent not knowing anyone, and still feel bored in a year’s time – what hope do I have in ever being satisfied?  Confusion.  I have everything I need here, and there is plenty for me to “do”.  So why has the excitement fizzled?  The truth is, whether I am sitting in meetings in Salt Lake City or on a minibus in Georgetown – I am in charge of my own satisfaction.  Peace Corps is a challenge – not only for the obvious physical and logistical ones – but for bigger introspective ones.  As I approach the one year mark in Guyana (I really can’t believe it’s been a year!), one challenge is clear.  I believe there are new stories to be part of and told all around us.  My challenge is to get out of bed and stay present enough to see them now.

…A recap of some such stories are below, thanks for reading!


Camp BRO (Boys Redefining Ourselves)

In April I was able to help with Camp BRO, which was held on the Essequibo coast.  Grade 6 boys were invited to a multi-day boys camp, filled with games, activities, and most importantly life skills sessions.

Camp Bro Campers
Camp Bro Campers
Surprise midnight bonfire where the boys burned a challenge or obstacle the wrote down
Surprise midnight bonfire
where the boys burned a challenge or obstacle the wrote down
Preparing for trust walk
Preparing for trust walk

Sessions on gender norms/expectations, self-esteem, trust, decision making and goal setting were facilitated in-between cricket, kickball, and obstacle course competitions.  It was great working with these boys, despite the sleeping conditions.  Unfortunately, the dorm room I had to sleep in could have easily been on loan from hell.  Yes, it was that hot.  Yes, it was that filthy.  Yes, I thought I had died as I woke in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat.  You think you’re tough when you’ve been in Peace Corps for year, but all it takes is a few nights on a rotting mattress, with no fan, in a room infested with cockroaches to put you back in place!  …and yes, helping these boys be better men was worth it all!

PEPFAR HIV & GSM Stigma/Discrimination Workshop 

As part of the HIV Taskforce, we completed a multi-day PEPFAR funded workshop to address stigma & discrimination in health care settings.  The workshop focused on providing a better understanding of gender and sexual minorities (GSM), whom are among the key populations living with HIV, with an emphasis on treating HIV & GSM patients with care.  Nursing school students from New Amsterdam and Linden attended the interactive workshop, where they participated in activities that brought to light how both conscious and unconscious discrimination can affect these patients access to care, treatment, and testing.

HIV Taskforce & Nursing School Students
HIV Taskforce & Nursing School Students
Certificates were given to all students for completing the workshop
Certificates were given to all students for completing the workshop
Taskforce in Action
Taskforce in Action

The workshop included guest speakers from the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS), and a discussion panel with participants from various NGO’s, providing greater context to the topics covered.  By the end of the workshop, all students expressed deeper empathy and understanding of these issues and began forming action plans to bring this awareness back to their communities and colleagues!  The workshop as at Spalshmins, which also provided us plenty of time to interact with the students after sessions…including everything from learning new games to a talent show!


 

 

 

Other Events and Happenings

Me, a ladder, and some jungle
Me, a ladder, and some jungle

 Wakapoa Visit:  A few of us went to visit some hinterland volunteers, living a few hours and boat rides away.  It was great to see this part of the country and way of life.  Life is pretty slow and easy going where I live, but my village seems like a metropolis compared to these villages.  It highlights how different a volunteer’s Peace Corps experience can be, even within the same country.

Wakapoa boat ride
Wakapoa boat ride
Village charging station
Village charging station

The volunteer we stayed with did not have regular electricity or water – but they did have cell service!  The cell company also provides a community charging station, where the village can go to charge their phones.  Smart phones in places without running water and regular current…anyone else see a disconnect here?

 

Candle in the Wind Support Group:  Beach Day!  We were able to take the Candle in the Wind support group to Parika Beach.  It was great to get out of the hospital setting and have some fun.  We did some exercising on the beach, followed by a good amount of beach cricket.

Run Forrest Run!
Run Forrest Run!
She made it just in time!
She made it just in time!

Our unfamiliarity with cricket became obvious, especially at the point Jenni hit the ball and started running to a first base that wasn’t there!  We eventually caught on, but decided to let them win anyway 😉

Candle in the Wind Support Group
Candle in the Wind Support Group

Easter:  It’s a BIG holiday here.  In Guyana it’s Easter Monday, so everyone has a four day weekend – from Good Friday to Easter Monday.  Instead of Easter egg decorating and hunts, Guyanese fly kites – lots and lots of kites!  There is also a Regatta speed boat race in Bartica, and a Rodeo down in Letham.

Judges table!
Judges table!
Some Hat Contestants
Some Hat Contestants

Lastly, but certainly not least, my neighboring village has an annual Easter Hat competition, which I got to take part in as a judge.  My qualifications for judge on America’s Next Top Model are set!

Departure:  Another one of my dearest friends in Peace Corps left in April to pursue her life in Spain.  I am looking forward to visiting her, and am already missing her here.  The longer we are here the harder it gets when a volunteer leaves, but friendships have been made that will last a lifetime.  Love ya Ashley!

Love this girl!
Love this girl!
Going away dinner party
Going away dinner party

Coming Up:

Guy27:  If you recall, our group is Guy26, which can only mean one thing – the NEXT group of volunteers is coming!  We are excited to have a new group join us here, and can’t believe we are now the “old group”.  It seems like a lifetime ago, yet I can remember my first day in-country like it was yesterday.

Elections:  The elections are May 11th here – and they are shaping up to be quite the event.  If you have a few minutes, I recommend doing a google search on the upcoming Guyana elections.  The current ruling party has been in power for 20+ years, and it appears there is momentum with the opposing party – so a change may be happening.  We are all hoping for peaceful results, but precautions are being made to keep volunteers safe during this time.  I should have a full update on the turnout by my next blog update!

Turning 32:  I got to Guyana when I was 30, so if I’m turning 32 next month, this means my two years here is up soon, right?? 😉 I am really looking forward to this birthday because I will have some special visitors…

Who couldn't love these people?!?
Who couldn’t love these people?!?

Family Visit: That’s right, my family is coming to Guyana!  My parents and brother are braving their way to me in Guyana, and I am looking forward to showing them my life here.  It has been way too long since I’ve seen them, and hope this visit will reenergize all of us.  After some time here, we get to take off to Trinidad & Tobago for a much needed vacation. (hopefully to include air conditioning and hot water)

So I guess that’s it for now…

Peace, Love, and Happiness until next time!