Friday, August 29, 2008

A summary of the last two weeks

Flagler Beach--My timing was poor, but I was able to spend a couple of days with Kathryn and Andrew in Flagler Beach . . . during Tropical Storm Fay. I drove across Florida as the storm was moving north and hit the first rain just east of Orlando. We spent the next two days holed up at Kath's (except for Andrew who got called in to work at the firehall) while Fay took her sweet time moving north directly over Flagler Beach. We did have a small window of time to take a walk when the eye passed over, but otherwise we were fairly housebound. The storm itself wasn't that bad in Flagler Beach, fairly steady rain and wind but nothing too ferocious, but most other places were closed. Fortunately, there was plenty for us to do. We spent one evening in the attic going through all of Kath's school boxes looking for books and worksheets and seminar notes on literacy development in elementary school. I spent the next two days going through stacks of materials, taking notes and learning about phonemic awareness, vocabulary building, sight words, and how to turn silly songs into learning tools. What have I gotten myself into?

Chattanooga--I spent four days in Chattanooga visiting with friends, subbing for a day, and refereeing a volleyball scrimmage. It was a little strange to be back at CCS without a classroom and a to-do list but it was nice to sit in Susan's office and chat with whoever came in. Subbing for Jeannette in the art room was a reminder that it will be good to take some time off from teaching--the power had gone out that morning and the kids were . . . stimulated by the excitement and there is nothing in the art room to absorb sound. :) It was great, though, because Jeannette's classes are primarily 8th grade so I could visit with my former students and not worry too much about whether the work was getting done. And the volleyball teams look great though it was hard to leave at the end of practice. Those senior girls have been part of my life for 6 years now. (I'll miss you!)

I didn't get a lot of emotional support from the faculty about going to Vanuatu. Apparently, the nobility of joining the Peace Corps has been undermined by the scenic beauty of my future site and my perceived level of sacrifice has dropped. That's ok. Just wait until I get there. I'll post a picture of the biggest cockroach ever seen crawling across the wall of my tropical hut and see if that doesn't change perceptions of my blissful life in paradise. Actually, the Peace Corps sent a booklet on adjusting to the new life and culture and work and it was a very good reminder of what kinds of challenges do await. They started with the weather, which I hope to enjoy (except for all of that rain) but there were some great tips in there about how I will appear to my future co-workers and how tiring it is to learn a new place when you can't escape from it. Everything will be new and that is exhuasting. I plan to bring the handy little book along and will probably be consulting it frequently just as a reminder that [whatever phase of frustration I am passing through at the moment] too shall pass.

Vanuatu--My departure is set for September 16. I will fly to LA for a day and a half of introductions and some basic training. We leave in the evening on the 19th from LA and we arrive in Vanuatu on the 22nd, bright and EARLY. It doesn't actually take 2 full days; we're crossing the international dateline from the 21st into the 22nd.

Lonely Planet published a guidebook about Vanuatu and the Bradenton downtown library happened to have it so we've been reading up. It sounds like the rainiest months are the first ones we spend at our actual sites--January through March--so that will be interesting. LP also said that the primary schools are conducted in English or French and Bislama is reserved for the playground. I hadn't realized that from the basic info the Peace Corps sent. I thought the primary schools were conducted either in the local language or in Bislama and the kids also had to learn the European language. That makes the information I got from Kath that much more helpful since it probably won't have to be translated or modified for Bislama. And that means that the people I work with in the ministry of eduation will probably have at least a working knowledge of English or with people who speak French. The Bislama will help me in my village and in the capital city at the markets and such.

I have collected most of the things I hope to bring. (The flashlight arrived, Susan S.! It works wonderfully.) Whether it will fit into my bags and weigh less than 80 pounds in total is another issue, but at least it's all gathered in one spot. I figure I can mail a box of extras and books if I want to. Speaking of which, I have a mailing address for the 10 weeks I will be in training. If you would like to get in touch with me (PLEASE DO!), you can either email me through my gmail account or send things to the mailing address.

or send regular mail to:
Rachel Meiste
Peace Corps/Vanuatu
PMB 9097
Port Vila
Republic of Vanuatu

And once I am at my site, I will arrange for a local mailing address but I won't know what that is until sometime in December.

I have been working on a wish-list if anyone should be inclined to send a package. I feel a little presumptuous, but nobody has to use it, right? I'll try to figure out how to post it along the right side of the page and I'll put the mailing/emailing info there too so it's easy to find. Just in case. :)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I tried to find a picture that would announce my news in a dramatic fashion, but I either had to join a website or violate copyright laws to include a picture so you'll have do an internet search. The placement office finally called but with some pretty unexpected news. They had already filled the West Africa assignment and they wanted to know if I'd be willing to consider a Pacific island instead, specifically Vanuatu (pronounced van-wah-too). The job is in education, helping elementary teachers increase literacy rates.

Call me crazy, but this did require some serious mental readjustment. Who can be disappointed about living on a tropical island but I was sorry to give up the job digging in the dirt. God knows best, though, and I'm content to be doing what He has chosen for me to do. And there are some very positive aspects to living in Vanuatu: it is a country where Christianity has had a chance to take root, the larger cities are used to Western tourists, there are a lot of volunteers working there in 5 different types of assignment so it is likely that I will be within a couple hours walk of other volunteers, and the Peace Corps programs are pretty well established and well received. The temperatures range from 68 in the winter to 90 in the summer, there are lots of fruits and vegetables available, and some of the villages even have solar or generator-produced electricity. How's that for comfortable!

I've read through several blog sites by volunteers who served or are serving in Vanuatu and there are certainly challenges as well. Most villages make do with kerosene lanters or candles, women have to work especially hard to be respected in the work place, there are lots of bugs, and I'll have to cook every day. But since all of those things would be true in pretty much any Peace Corps placement, I'm willing to suffer them on an island in the Pacific.

Mom and I have been shopping for appropriate clothes and it has not been easy. Skirts and casual dresses are the objective but everything is too short (knee-length) or too low cut (those V-necked summer dresses) or too fitted (judging from the pictures I've seen). Goodwill has actually been the most rewarding stop--one long, lightweight denim skirt. We also bought some fabric to make a skirt or two so it's a good thing the sewing machine isn't buried in the storage unit. In most of the pictures I've been able to discover on the internet and the information the Peace Corps sent, the native women wear mu-mu style dresses (or grass skirts and go topless! I told Mom and Dad that they'd know if I was living in a topless village if all of my pictures featured people from the neck up.) Women volunteers are in long skirts and shapeless t-shirts (think Mennonite). Amazingly enough, these ultra-modest items aren't easy to find at the mall.

My days here at home have become limited. I've gone from "What in the world will I do with all this time?" to "How many days do I have left?" The staging event for Vanuatu volunteers is September 17-19 and will probably take place somewhere in California. These are pre-departure days for early training and shots and paperwork and they are usually held in the jumping-off city for the flight to Vanuatu. From other web pages I've read, flights to Vanuatu usually go through either Hawaii or Australia. Yup, Hawaii or Australia. Incredible.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Peace Corps news--After several days of hurrying to the mailbox and returning to the house cast down because there was no letter, I finally emailed the lady in the placement office in hopes of receiving some kind of update, information, explanation, reassurance. In return, I received an out-of-office reply. . . . . Since then, she has emailed me with news of a sort: I should hear something by the end of the week or it will be 2 or 3 more weeks. If they decide to go with the original placement in West Africa doing the agricultural job, I should hear this week. If they think I should be placed somewhere else, it could be weeks before I hear anything.

I have been so grateful for the talks I had with so many of you about patience and waiting for God's timing and will. You reminded me that waiting is the best option if it means waiting for God's plan and his 'job placement' rather than my own, and those talks come back to me daily. Thank you.

On the way to Florida, my parents and I had the opportunity to stop at my sister Kathryn's new house in Flagler Beach. We visited the beach, which looks the way beaches are meant to. No buildings on the beach side, one story buildings on the inland side, free parking, and just a handful of visitors. Dad and I also got to go kayaking on the lake behind Kath and Andrew's house. Neither of us had done that before. We also had the opportunity, the day before, to stop at an exit just south of Atlanta that I had never visited before. My car decided to overheat so we pulled off at what looked like a very unpromising exit. Fortunately, there was a McDonald's parking lot, a Texaco station for coolant, and a hole-in-the-wall garage right in between with an excellent mechanic who replaced the thermostat and got us home. What adventures.

All of my belongings are now in storage and most of my to-do list is crossed off and I have begun casting about for something to do. One exciting possibility is volunteering at an experimental farm here in Bradenton called Hope Seeds. It's a Christian organization that develops seeds for specific environments and soils and then gives them away. I am hoping to volunteer there and maybe learn some things that will be useful if the Peace Corps gives me an agricultural job. I'll probably also put my name on the sub list at my dad's school.

It is hard to be without a firm deadline and goal for the fall. But I am trying to remember that this is not endless. Regardless of what happens with the Peace Corps or when, at some point I will be headed in a new direction and this is precious time for being with family and friends, for resting and reading, for opportunities like volunteering at Hope Seeds. After all, "To travel hopefully is better than to arrive." (Robert Louis Stevenson)