Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Description of Service, or Every PCV's Validation

Well, I'm getting on a plane here in just about 18 hours and I wanted to post my DOS. After this post, I probably won't update again about Peace Corps, but may put up a general: oh hai, please come to my new blog over at HopeMD, type post.

Anyway, here's my last year and a half, condensed into two pages. The official copy is signed by my country director and kept on file on official letterhead. Ooh, official. Oh, and PS. I totally tested into ADVANCED LOW in my last language interview. I was pretty excited to have actually gone up a level since swear-in, especially because I was so worried I'd actually gotten worse! So there ya go, even someone with novice level in the beginning can finish up in advanced. Go me!

Ok, DOS time:

Elaina Hope ________
Description of Service
 July 2010-November 2011


Pre-Service Learning  (July 14 – September 17, 2010)
1 Language (87 hours) Classroom study of French; current level: Advanced Low.
2 Technical Training (118 hours) Overview of Beninese healthcare system, comprehensive training on integrated disease management, maternal health, and infant and child health; 10 hours practice trainings and activities in the community.
3 Cross-Culture (35.15 hours) Discussion on Beninese history, geography and, traditions; professional and social culturally appropriate behavior and communication.
4 Health (22.5 hours) First aid, preventive and symptom oriented medical procedure, diagnosis and treatment.
5 Safety and Security (8.5 hours) Instruction on safety practices in Benin and ways to stay secure at post as well as incident reporting procedures.

In-Service Training (December 2010): An intensive two week training that reviewed strategies for community assessment, funding streams, and provided and introduction to promoting behavior change. Instruction also focused on PD Hearth, a nutritional recuperation program and Life Skills, a Peace Corps resource designed to promote communication skills that will enable healthy decision making.

In-Service Training (May 2011): A five-day training on community mobilization for malaria prevention and organizing populations to become health resources and leaders in their community.

Population Services International (September 2010-November 2011): Worked primarily with the office of PSI-Djougou assisting the communications director with social marketing and health education programming in the regions of the Atacora and Donga. Assisted with the smooth operation of the office and compiled monthly reports and tracking of impacts on the community in the areas of reproductive health and HIV/AIDS peer education trainings. Accompanied PSI on regional formations, assisting with logistics and documentation of activities and progress as well as the synthesis of gathered information and reporting. Assisted the office staff with learning English and regularly participated in translations of documents and paperwork.
HIV/AIDS and Reproductive Health (October 2010-November 2011):  Assisted nurses midwives with the placing of contraceptive devices such as upper arm contraception implants, sexual health consultations, and HIV/AIDS testing and counseling. Participated in discussions of healthy relationships and sexual behavior with community women including condom demonstrations and other family planning options.
Vaccination and Baby Weighing (January 2011): Participated in the facilitation of discussions with community women about healthy nutrition for their newborns and children during baby weighing sessions and weekly vaccinations. Helped nurses and health workers track infants’ progress on growth charts and described healthy meals and options to mothers as well as information about exclusive breastfeeding and malaria prevention.
Pre-Natal Consultation Assistance (September-November 2010): Assisted with Pre-Natal consultation at the maternity center with procedures in conjunction with health workers.

Peace Corps Volunteer Discussion Day (October 2011): Spent the day talking to high school students in the United States while on vacation, discussing cultural life and development work in Benin and answering questions about the application process, life abroad, and social media while in the Peace Corps.
Running Club (October 2010-September 2011): Had semi-weekly informal running sessions with local kids and adolescents and talked about the importance of regular exercise and nutrition.
English Instruction (March-September 2011): Provided informal lessons of English language instruction with community members and colleagues.
Science, Engineering, and Entrepreneurial Camp (August 2011): Acted as the lead science instructor for a two week course of 60 middle school aged kids. Discussed theory and practice of basic science concepts and designed and implemented several science projects (water rocket, solar water distillation, terrarium, science of sound). Assisted kids with the presentation skills necessary to inform and recreate the projects on their own and oversaw the final community science fair.
Camp GLOW Bohicon (July 2011): Participated in five day empowerment camp for girls as a camp counselor. Facilitated sexual and reproductive health sessions and assisted with the smooth operation of the camp.
Camp Success Djougou (June 2011): Invited girls to participate in the week long girls’ empowerment camp and was a logistics coordinator during the week. Developed and facilitated several sessions, including life skills and women’s rights. Designed sexual and reproductive health sessions and assisted a local midwife with answering questions. Maintained copies and information of projects and progress for sustainability and posterity of future girls’ camps in the region.

It's been fun! I'll miss you all, but be sure to check out my new, med school adventures blog, HopeMD, on wordpress. Thanks everyone!

What I'll Miss About Benin (and what I definitely will not miss!)

I have just under 24 hours left in Benin and I've been thinking a lot about my time here over the last year and a half and what I've really come to love and those things that really drive me crazy. I don't know if I'll miss all these things right away or if it'll take months or even years for me to have a craving for something on the list, but who knows? Here it is, my two lists. Warning, it's pretty long.

Things I’ll miss about Benin:

-the sound of women pounding yams at dusk
-the five times per day call to prayer at the mosques around Djougou
-the sound of the rain on my tin roof while I’m laying in bed
-riding on the back of a zem at night with the cool air rushing by
-seeing and wearing colorful fabric and fun outfits everywhere
-women carrying baskets of whatever on their heads
-cute, free roaming, bratty Beninese kids (even though they annoy me, too!)
-adorable baby goats and chickens running around
-yam pilee…sooooo delicious
-wagasi…there are no words for how awesome and unique this food is
-a cold, refreshing beer after a crazy hot day, especially with other PCVs
-hanging out and venting with other volunteers
-the excitement of making American food and drinks with other volunteers
-watching movies at the Nati workstation
-ordering fries at the Nati workstation
-hanging out with my Beninese friends, just sitting or making small talk
-teaching sexual health and seeing the look of understanding in people’s eyes
-greeting strangers on the street
-French, especially Franglais, the combination of French and English
-random sayings like ‘bon assise, bon travail, bon douche.’ It’s just so friendly!
-constant sunshine and feeling like summer (although Chaleur sucks)
-Zaari and cuddling with her…omg, I can’t even think about her, too sad!
-sitting out in my back porch at night smoking a cigarette and looking up at the stars in total silence, feeling small and awed by the world and my place in it
-long runs in the African bush, the red dirt dusting my shoes
-mango season
-joking around with my work partners
-the camaraderie between volunteers and shared experience of living in Africa
-being the center of attention, someone always interesting and worth talking to
-inexpensive and simple living
-lizards running around like squirrels
-the colorful craziness of the market place
-the awesome tan lines on my feet from my Chacos
-the simple joy of eating a good meal and watching an episode of How I Met Your Mother
-the excitement of others when I speak Dendi, the local language
-not having to shave and just being a dirty hippie
-Harmattan, the windy season, and the fires late into the night, burning on the horizon
-the poignancy of the first, cooling rain of the season
-feeling like I’m making a difference in people’s lives, sometimes in unintended ways
-crazy, unexpected setbacks and the lessons learned (although it is very frustrating, too!)
-feeling like I’m part of something bigger than myself

Things I won’t miss about Benin:

-13 hour bus rides in the heat surrounded by BO and noisy chickens and babies
-constant sexual harassment
-extreme pollution and trash everywhere
-Chaleur, the hot season
-frequent power outages and water being cut
-screaming babies and children
-seeing kids get beat and generally abused
-seeing malnutrition and poverty related illness
-feeling ultimately useless in the big picture of development
-waking up hot and sweaty and gross
-always feeling dirty, never perfectly clean all over
-not being able to cool off or stop sweating after a run even hours after a cold shower
-having my privacy constantly invaded by neighbors and kids
-never being able to be anonymous or walk around without getting called out
-getting called "yovo", "batoure", "anasara", "blanche", "blondie", or "mademoiselle"
-pretty much everything in Cotonou except for the good food and workstation internet
-the subtle pressure from some other volunteers to drink and party heavily
-feeling inadequate as a volunteer and aid worker
-boring and carb heavy food options
-constant sickness and diarrhea and constipation
-having to filter water and always be conscious of how safe the water is
-bleaching vegetables to have a fresh salad
-doing laundry by hand
-bugs and spiders and having to spray and kill them
-mosquitoes and weekly malaria prophylaxis
-constant boredom
-missing friends and family and feeling guilty for being so far away
-LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP and all the crappiness that goes with it
-getting physically grabbed at the market place
-the bureaucracy of the Peace Corps
-feeling stranded at post or frustrated with outside communication or internet
-casual cruelty to animals
-the informal attitude toward time and keeping appointments
-hearing creepy rustling sounds at night and freaking out about what it could be
-sunburns and worrying about getting skin cancer
-gross, always dirty and cracked feet
-fearing for my safety on crazy taxi rides
-being frustrated at the slow pace of life (although I’ve learned a lot, too!)
-having to discuter for prices
-feeling lonely and homesick
-being constantly asked for gifts and money and to be taken to America
-Nescafe. That stuff is nasty. I don’t care how desperate you are. Just say no.

Oh, Benin. It's been life changing and amazing and I wouldn't trade it for anything. But I am ready for a change! I'm not sure if I'll be back on this blog except to post my DOS, but if you'd like, you can keep following my life journey, here at my medical school blog on wordpress.

Keep on rocking!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

ET update, or Acronym City

I said in my last post that the PC administration doesn't make it difficult to early terminate. Well, after finishing up a couple days of processing down in the capital, I'm realizing that they don't exactly make it easy either.

The ET manual closely resembles the Close of Service (COS) one and because I have spent so much time here, most of my process resembles a COS more than it does an ET for someone who has only been in country a few months or never made it to their post or something. I must meet with almost every PC administration person, get many forms filled out and there is a master checklist that I must get signed before I meet with the administrative officer (AO). I have written a Description of Service (DOS, which I'll post here in a follow-up post), and filled out my official resignation form, and had my close of service medical exam (although I still have to talk with the PCMO about my smoking and get my TB test stuff haha). I have officially turned in all my Peace Corps stuff (mattress, gas cans, etc) and assigned books (Where There Is No Doctor, Helping Health Workers Learn and many many others), and I need to also go to the bank headquarters and close out my account (which involves a letter and basically taking out all the money left in the account). Essentially most of the things remaining that I have to do are administrative things and talking to the Country Director (CD) and the AO and having my final language interview (scheduled for the morning). I have a couple other errands I need to run in Cotonou and a few loose ends to tie up, but for the most part, I've gotten the majority of the necessary procedures finished.

Right now I'm also waiting on confirmation of my Air France flight information, but if all goes according to plan (and really, how likely is THAT going to be haha), I could theoretically be leaving Benin in the evening on Thursday, the 24th. Which, of course, is THANKSGIVING. I'll be able to have a last meal here with a few other volunteers and say some goodbyes and get a couple photos. I'm planning on wearing my nice bazin tissue, the red marbled pants and top that I wore for the new stage swear-in in September. I'm gonna be cute! Peace Corps will provide a ride to the airport with all my things and if all goes well (meaning no horrible two day delay in Paris grrrr), I could be back in Kansas City by the evening on Friday, the 25th. I won't make it for Thanksgiving, but I'll be home in time for leftovers! Woo hoo!

Ok, that's all I can think of for right now, I'll update with my DOS later on today when I think of it. I was pleasantly surprised after finishing it up. I've felt for a long time that I didn't really do that much work-wise, but then I finished writing the DOS and realized that I may have had more of an impact than I thought. Which is a lovely feeling to have as I'm leaving. Ok, talk to you later!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

I'll be home for Christmas

Well, it's official! I am leaving the Peace Corps a few months early to go home, help my family out, and make some money before medical school. The decision was definitely a tough one and one I analyzed for a long time before calling the Peace Corps to set it up, but ultimately it's the best thing for me and my family right now. Essentially it came down to the fact that I was going to have to ET anyway, probably in April, and why should I wait around for five months, get back into a routine, and be frustrated and miserable when I could make it home for the holidays? The Peace Corps does not make it difficult to early terminate and once it comes down to a need to ET for grad school, a few extra months seem superfluous in the long run. Sure, I feel a little guilty about leaving my projects and work partners behind (and I am close to traumatized about leaving Zaari), but everyone has been very understanding, especially of the fact that in reality, it's only a few months earlier than expected.

The next couple weeks will be spend filling out pages and pages of forms, figuring out packing and getting Zaari to her new home. She will be going to the home of a PC homologue who has many kids who love animals. I will be able to get updates on her through my Djougou post-mate and in the end, staying here is what is best for her (even if it makes me cry at night haha).

The last year and a half has been completely life altering and amazing and I wouldn't trade it for anything. It had its ups and downs, but doesn't life? Overall, I was happy and feel like I've both done some amazing work here and made many lasting friendships (cue cheesy music now). I'll miss a lot of people, but I would have been saying good-bye in a few months anyway, so I guess it's just ripping off the bandaid early.

All that sad stuff said, I am so incredibly excited to be going home! I'm looking for jobs in tutoring, being a nanny or long-term babysitter, or working as a receptionist at a medical office. I've already applied to over 20 jobs and hopefully I'll start to hear back soon. Apparently moving is sort of is getting married and starting a household...(who knew? haha) so I'll be trying to save up as much as possible in the next few months before the wedding and med school.

I also just want to say that there have many times when I've wanted to leave, usually for very emotional reasons not backed by real logical ones. I've missed America and my family and Colt, but I've held out because I'm strong and determined and have never been someone to quit something just because it was hard. While ETing now does indeed solve some of those feelings (completely normal feelings that almost every PCV deals with on occasion), me leaving now is not due to emotional reasons. Right now it's about logic and finances and being a part of my family. Once I reached this point of clarity in thinking about my options, it actually wasn't that stressful of a decision. Ultimately, I'm not upset or struggling with the choice because I've put in enough time for me, personally, to feel accomplished and satisfied with my work and life here. Before I was always worried about regretting the choice later in life, which was a major deterrent to leaving. But now, at this point, with only a few months left, I know that I will have no regrets, only good memories! It helps that everyone I've talked to is supportive and in no way do I feel like a quitter. I loved it here and feel like I'm ending things on a good note at a good time for me.

Benin, it's been real. Stay classy,


PS. I'll probably be back on to give a few ET updates for interested people and I may update again once I'm permanently back in the states. I can't believe this blog is ending! It's been such a big thing in my life for a long time now and it's going to be weird. I'll link my new, med school blog here and again in my final post. Yay, for turning the page!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hanging out in Paris

"I am working in Paris. I cannot for a single day get the thought out of my head that there probably exists something essential, some immutable reality, and now that I have lost everything else (thank God, it gets lost all on its own) I am trying to preserve this and, what is more, not to be content. In a word: I am working."

I wish I was working. I'm really just trying to not fall asleep or starve to death. flight back to Benin was cancelled and rescheduled for tomorrow. But I didn't KNOW that until I arrived here in Paris. And since they made the cancellation long enough ago (like anytime before today apparently), they won't give me a hotel room. And since I decided that because I was going back to Africa and didn't need my American money and thus gave it to Colt in the Kansas City airport...I officially have no money and I'm stranded in the Paris airport...until tomorrow. And I'm hungry. But wait. I have no money for food! AHHH. It's like survivor. I seriously don't even know where I'm going to sleep. Probably in a metal chair. 

Lucky for me, the McDonald's has free wifi. Unlucky for me, my computer battery is slowly dying and my wall charger doesn't fit the freaky french plug ins. Also unlucky for me, I'm about to pass out from jetlagged induced exhaustion and seriously have no idea where I'll go. It's not like it matters if I go back through security or not any time soon since most people getting on this flight won't even arrive to the airport for another like 22 hours. 

I did walk outside into the Parisian air expecting a moment of awe or something. Mostly it was just cold and the ground was littered with cigarette butts. So I came back in to McDonald's...where I don't have any money for food, but at least the ole golden arches remind me of home.

Here goes another round of this whole across the ocean, Peace Corps thing. My heart is already aching but at least I'm too tired to cry anymore.


PS. I got accepted to the University of Kansas School of Medicine! I got the letter last week and jumped around like a crazy person for a while. I'm gonna be a doctor!!!!!

PPS. This fact makes finishing up these last few Peace Corps months very difficult. It's like senioritis with a long distance relationship. Not a good combo. 

PPPS. I totally forgot to bring back Thanksgiving food stuff. I was really excited about being about to make pumpkin pie. Fail.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

gone to look for America

So I'm leaving in five days for my trip to America. I'll be visiting 5 different med schools, giving Peace Corps talks, eating American foods, and going on dates. I am unbelievably excited about this trip! Before I go I have to get my house keys copied for my new post mates, find 6 weeks worth of food for Zaari, pack, and clean my house.

The last few weeks here have gone by incredibly fast. I lead the science classroom at an art and science camp, helped talk about and put in contraception devices, talked about HIV/AIDS and helped with testing, did end of the month reports, went to the swear-in of the new volunteers, made untold numbers of cakes and pies and cookies, discovered that I'm not as gluten sensitive as I thought, got my wedding venues booked, changed my wedding colors, changed my wedding colors again, planned my new tattoo, red like four thousand books, watched Avatar a hundred times, fretted over med school application stuff, found out my stepmom is pregnant with a baby girl, said good-bye to sooo many volunteer friends ETing and COSing, lost 20 pounds, became vegan and gave it up, tried again, gave up smoking, wrote four chapters, learned more Dendi, and planned my first date night out in Kansas for the 30th. It's been a whirlwind.

Anyway, I'm so ready to go home for a while and just take a break from Benin. I also have a lot of work to do while I'm home but I have no doubt that I'll thoroughly enjoy myself as well. I'm really worried this time about reverse culture shock, but I think I'll be happy enough after a couple days. Pizza? Movies? Air-conditioned gyms? Yeah, I think I'll do just fine.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Hundred Fans

My standing fan is broken and I am sweating in my hot little house as I finish the movie. I’m frustrated and itching for a cigarette. I’m thinking about tomorrow and the early trip I am taking to the regional workstation where I know I have a package from America waiting for me. I am planning my vacation, thinking about dinner tomorrow night, thinking about anything other than where I am right now, bored and alone in my hot, airless house.
I step outside as the credits start and I shut off my computer. I rummage through my purse until I find the battered box of local cigarettes with the inked label “last pack ever” across the lid. I sit in my bamboo chair and strike a match, my cat following me out the screen door to catch bugs in the florescent glow of my back porch light. I smoke there and notice the silence that has fallen in my neighborhood. All I can hear are the cicadas and the whirring of my small refrigerator fan, and the occasional moto engine in the distance. I’ve missed the sounds of the women pounding yams, or the children playing soccer with an old deflated tennis ball. Even the mosque is quiet, the evening call to prayer not even a whisper on the wind.
And there is a breeze out here, I realize. Once I step outside my cement house the cool air hits me and I wrap my pagne around myself a little tighter, enjoying the cool feeling, knowing that I’ll be sleeping soon without the comforts of a fan, wishing a had a hundred of them. I decide I want to travel to exotic places when my service here is over. I want to be a world traveler. I think about that for a while, filling my passport with stamps, taking trips with my lover, leaving the hypothetical kids at home. Mommy and Daddy trips, we’ll call them. We’ll eat local foods and learn local language. I think about those days in the future while I finish my cigarette.
I’m not ready to go inside yet. For some reason I feel like I’m missing something out here and as the winds shift I understand what that is. I am here right now. I am living here. I live in Africa. I live in Africa. Instead of berating myself for not living in the moment, I just stop thinking and listen to that silence. I watch Zaari as she intently stalks a carpenter ant and I really see her in this moment. I don’t think about the future, or my trips, or how hot I’ll be sleeping under my mosquito net tonight. I even manage to not try to guess what’s waiting for me in my American package. I just let myself go as silent as the night, and empty everything else in my life. I close my eyes and take a deep breath and find that quite unexpectedly, I am happy. I drink it in, feeling the world as simply a part of my happiness, as part of the love that I have for myself, for Zaari, for that carpenter ant.
It doesn’t last very long and soon I am wondering if there are Oreos waiting for me tomorrow and debating whether or not I should order French fries for dinner. I set my watch for three minutes and decide to meditate. I know I should get back into the habit and I’ve always felt centered after doing so. I cross my legs over the bamboo armrests and close my eyes again, forgetting the time, forgetting dinner, clearing everything away but my smile and the love I feel for the whole world. I think of myself as a small island with all the stress and frustrations swirling around me and disappearing into the earth through the legs of my chair. I breath deeply and every time my mind wanders I gently bring myself back to the center of myself, my island of calm and peace. When my watch beeps I am genuinely surprised. It had felt like 30 seconds, like I had just begun to find that peace. I stand and stretch, the pagne falling to my feet. I am here, in this moment under the African sky. I will not be shaken; we are all as one. I take another deep breath for good measure and decide to take a quick bucket shower to rinse off before climbing into bed for the night.
As I step over to my shower I see a small spider is floating at waist level, diligently building a web in the evening glow. I watch her work with a small smile on my lips. Typically freaked out by spiders I am impressed with my own calm, a direct result of my awesome meditation and powers of living in the moment, I think. She is, however, blocking my entrance to my shower. I wiggle my finger in the space around her, thinking I guess of lifting her web and depositing her elsewhere so that I can cool off in the water and go to bed in peace. Instead of just allowing me to move her, however, the spider rapidly climbs up the web and onto my hand. Immediately my calm peaceful meditation mindset vanishes and I am totally freaking out, wiping my hands together, jumping up and down, heart beat racing, praying that the damn thing is dead and not crawling over my naked skin burrowing in to lay her freaky baby spider eggs.
As my heart slows and I am sure that I am not the future host for a hundred spider babies, I start to laugh. Quiet at first and then full out cracking up. I actually have to lay my hand against the wall to steady myself (after making sure there are no bugs of course). I laugh for longer than I meditated, until my eyes are tearing up and I’m sure that nothing makes any sense anymore at all and that’s okay. I don’t have to be a balanced work of art, I can be a messy finger painting. I don’t think I could live in the moment, every moment even if I really wanted to and devoted my entire life to it. I need to plan, I need to think about the future, tomorrow, my vacations, my trips, my package from America with the possible Oreos. That’s who I am and that’s really alright, too.
I pour a couple of bowls of cool water over my back and smile, loving the cold chill of the simplicity of it, loving my body, myself. I close my eyes and rinse off the day, the stresses and frustrations, the heat, and I am content. As I step out and pick up my fallen wrap I realize that I had just spent the last few minutes living in the moment without even trying, just actually being and experiencing life. I grin to myself as I shut my screen door and put Zaari to bed.
As I climb under my mosquito net I decide that I might spend the entire night feeling too hot, wishing I had a fan, wishing I was somewhere else, but that when it really counts I can find my own inner peace, too. And that knowledge is worth a hundred fans.