Thursday, March 20, 2014

Only a few months until grad school!

I will be starting my grad school program in only 2 ½ months! For those of you who do not know, I’ll be starting the Physical Therapy program at UW-Madison. In just three years, I will earn a Doctorate in Physical Therapy! I’m so excited to actually begin my program.

I have so many emotions about starting my program. I’m excited, nervous, scared, and proud. I’m really excited to start delving into learning about PT. I’ve spent the last 2 years taking classes in Chemistry, Physics, Anatomy and Physiology, Psychology, and others (I’ve taken over 50 credits over the last 2 years) to give me the basic knowledge I’ll need to start my PT program. I’m excited to apply this knowledge to learning about PT.

I’m also nervous because I know my life is going to change pretty drastically. My current semester has been my easiest semester of school yet. I’m taking Physics 2, Zoology and Pilates, and they’ve all been relatively easy classes. I have a ton of time for my personal life, but I have a strong feeling that all that is about to change.

On a different note, I’ve noticed a change in myself in the last few years.  I’ve always been someone who is constantly searching for something “more”.  I’ve never quite been content with what I’m doing. I think that between my Peace Corps service, and working towards an exciting new career, I’ve felt very contented over the last few years. I have a calmness I never had before.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

How to wash a bowl.

At almost every point in my life I have had at least one thing that I’m good at. That is, until Peace Corps. In Peace Corps, I started feeling completely incompetent. It seemed that I was failing at even the most basic parts of my life. I no longer knew how to wash dishes, wash my clothes, kill bats (yes, that became a basic part of life), or sweep my house. When doing these basic skills, I was openly critiqued and laughed at. Frequently, while doing a task, I would be told I was doing it incorrectly and it would be taken away from me so that I could see how it was really supposed to be done. I was usually not given back whatever I was doing until it was completely finished. This sounds like a nice way to get my laundry done by someone else, but it's not a great way for a hands-on learner like myself to learn to do it myself.

Additionally, there was only one to do EVERYTHING. There was only one way to wash a bowl, clean my socks, hang up my clothes, and even wear my clothes. If I were not doing it in this specific way (down to the way I held my hands), I mine as well not be doing it at all. I even had someone strip off my pangi (wrap-around skirt, with very little on underneath!) to re-wrap it the right way. As an independent, strong, self-sufficient woman in her late 20s, this was difficult. I was reduced to the status of a child, and often treated as one. 

And these were just the parts of my basic existence that I seemed to be incompetent at. I also seemed to be incompetent when it came to why I was supposed to be in Suriname. I was supposed to be in this tiny village in the jungles of South America to DO something. The only problem was, what was that something supposed to be? Peace Corps Volunteers typically have a hard time when they realize that they will not be single-handedly building an orphanage, or solving village-wide issues of malnutrition. Most volunteers believe that in 27 months we can move to a new country, learn a completely new language, become assimilated into a new culture and community, and then start and finish a meaningful and sustainable large-scale project. Typically, that's just not going to happen. My expectations upon starting my service were a bit lower because my father was a volunteer and I knew a bit more about the realities of service than most. This didn't truly prepare me for the realities, however. Trying to match up my own skills and interests with my village's interests and motivations was extremely difficult. My village had a very different idea of what my role was in the village. I think the first 14 or so months in my village were just spent trying to convince them that I would never be showing up with a truck full of gifts. I'm getting a bit off-track with the difficulties with finding a project.The point is that between being unable to perform the most basic tasks, to being lost as to my role in the village, I was left feeling extremely inadequate and incompetent. This weighed very heavily on me.

I'm amazed at how differently I feel about myself now that I am home. I'm back in school, and if I can brag a little, I'm totally rocking at it. It's so rewarding to be really good at something again. I've also recently bought a road bike and started pushing myself with biking, and I'm finding that I'm kind of good at it! I think it's so important to have something in your life that makes you proud of yourself. To get completely off the subject, that's why I think the arts and sports in the schools are so important. Many students do not excel in the traditional subjects. But many are completely sustained by their art or music class. To feel that they have something in their life that they truly excel at is so important. Anyway, that's my rambling thoughts on my own abilities and lack-there-of.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bisy Backson

Lately I feel like I’m always busy. I really shouldn’t complain because my time is mostly filled with things and people I love (alright, I’m not quite ready to drop the L bomb on my new job, but it seems fine so far). I do find that our society seems to respect and understand “busy” far more than it respects free time. In the last 10-ish months since I got back to the U.S., people have frequently asked me what I’m up to with my time. I would always feel slightly defensive when explaining that I’m “only” in school full time. No, I didn’t have a job. I simply spent around 40 hours a week (actually probably a lot more than that) going to classes and studying. I also spent a lot of time with family and friends, working out, reading, and doing whatever else struck my fancy. For some reason, I was always defensive about this. So what’s so wrong about valuing time that is not spent doing something “productive”?

One thing that I really learned to love about Ndjuka culture in Suriname was their view of the word ‘lazy’. When I first arrived in Suriname, villagers would frequently ask me if I was being lazy. I always got defensive about this and would explain that whatever I was doing was somehow productive. Our language and culture have a very negative connotation with the word ‘lazy’. Finally, I realized that my villagers were not using this word in a negative way at all, and it became my best friend. When a villager would stop by and ask me why she hadn’t seen me yet today, my response would be, “I’m so lazy today”. No questions asked, very respectable answer. Being lazy was a thing to be respected and valued.

It was very common in the heat of the afternoon to simply sit under a tree and just take in the breeze for an hour or so. Visiting with neighbors didn’t always mean talking or doing something, sometimes it just meant sitting in each others’ presence. I had an older couple who lived not too far from me who I always loved visiting. They always seemed to take turns with who would chat with me, and who would nap away our visit. When it was Baa Lene’s (the man) turn to chat with me, he would fill me in on the village and the world’s news. He had a radio and he listened to the news in Dutch. This is how I learned about many of the world’s big events, like the death of Bin Laden. When it was Saa Poli’s (the woman) turn to chat with me, she would pick my brain about life in the U.S. and generally just joke around with me. They were great people. Sometimes all three of us would just kind of nod off during my visit. Wow, this has gone on a tangent.

To get back to the point, I don’t know if it’s the way that our society is set up or if it’s simply our cultural values that dictates our use and views of time. On the one hand, I will admit that it is very difficult for people to get by financially without working their buts off. On the other hand, even when we are busy with keeping our families or just ourselves afloat, we always seem to pack in more obligations. Are we uncomfortable with just being?

In the Tao of Pooh, there is a part of the book that talks about the Bisy Backson. Christopher Robin leaves a note on his door that says, “Gon out Backson Bisy Backson, CR”. A bisy backson is somehow who is always busy busy busy, even when they are at rest they are busy. Sometimes I think this can be me. All this criticism includes myself, who can easily fall into this trap. I would like to channel the opposite of the Bisy Backson, Pooh. He just is. Even when he is at work, he is far from busy.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My fellow PCVs

 I find that it’s been really difficult to keep in good contact with my fellow volunteers since being home. I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on why this is. These people were everything to me for two years. They were my best friends, they were my family, they were my vital support system. There is no way I would have made it through those two years without them. I became so close with some of these people and it was amazing.

I feel that especially with volunteers from my own group, SUR16, I got to see these people at their best and their worst. And they got to see the same of me. I think it’s very rare to see and know so much about someone in such a short amount of time. As an adult, I think it’s harder to make those kinds of connections with people. Everyone has there own thing going on and their own lives to live. They have jobs, school, relationships, etc, and it’s just difficult to really set aside the time and effort to form extremely close friendships. In Peace Corps, you are thrown into this crazy adventure with (in my case) 23 other people. You go through things together that no one else will ever understand. There are parts of me that no one else but a SUR16 will ever truly understand. I miss these people. I miss that connection.

The Peace Corps Volunteers I met were some of the most amazing people I have ever known. I think it is common to view PCVs as these humanitarian saints, and this is far from the truth. PCVs as flawed as anyone else, but we all have some basic things in common. We all saw a challenging situation, and we ran towards it instead of hiding from it. Every PCV has a different reason for joining the Peace Corps, but whether it’s the “selfish” reason of pushing yourself to the limit and growing as a human (that’s selfish?), helping those who are less fortunate, going on an adventure, etc., it’s always a good reason. There is a certain way that most PCVs look at life, and I found it extremely refreshing and wonderful.

So, to wrap this up, I miss my fellow SUR15s, the few SUR14s I got to know, SUR16s and SUR17s. I miss them a lot. I think I’m still waiting for the day where I have absolutely nothing to do but talk on the phone with one of my volunteers. The U.S. is rather busy. In the 10 months I’ve been back in the States, this day has not yet come. It may take awhile to figure out how we communicate in this new environment of ours, but we will. And in the meantime, I hope they all know that they are always in my thoughts and that I miss them.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


There is hands-down, no question one person I miss above all others from my village, Ovia Ollo, in Suriname. Maiamba. She was my 7-year old neighbor girl, who turned into my best friend. My first day in my village I remember her very clearly. I was standing at the side of my bat shack, with a couple of huge buckets of water trying to wash the never-ending grime off of something-or-another. She bounces up to me and just starts an endless stream of chatter, all while standing either about 2 inches from me, or leaning against me. I was extremely exhausted, having just moved into my shack and having spent the last day from dawn to dusk scrubbing my place and meeting very curious villagers. I immediately thought that this little girl and her endless talking was going to eventually get on my nerves. I was right. She got on my nerves, and right past them. She turned into my basic reason for being in Suriname. I fell very in love with this little elf of a girl. I came to regard her as my best friend, my shadow, and in a way, my child. If I ever have a little girl of my own, I’d love her to be exactly like Maiamba. Maiamba is quirky and unusual, she has some serious spunk, she is smart, and she is very loving. She is wonderful. Unfortunately, her mother was gone most of everyday working in the fields, so she did not get much attention. This little girl was very needy for love and attention. Because of this, I made sure to give her lots of hugs, which I sorely needed also.

Maiamba said to me one day, “Megan, do you notice that wherever you are, there I am?” I responded, “Yes, I actually have noticed that.” She replied, “Yeah, I’m your shadow.” Very true.

Anyway, I think about this little girl a lot, and when I do, fairly often I start to cry a bit because I miss her and know that at 7, it was probably pretty hard for her to understand why I left. She’ll stay with me in my thoughts and heart for the rest of my life. She really made my service possible and for that I’m extremely grateful.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Integrating then and now

I think a common fear and anxiety among volunteers who are nearing the end of their service is the question of how they are going to readjust to life back in the United States. So, I’m going to share a few of the experiences I’ve personally had during my re-integration process.

I would say that one of the greater challenges I’ve dealt with in returning to the States has been integrating my Peace Corps life and experiences into my life in the U.S. There were a lot of “challenges” upon first coming home, but this one has stayed with me a bit longer than most. I think it’s important that I integrate my PC life into my “everyday” life and this can be very difficult. I think that this is one of the main reasons I’m re-starting this blog. My life in Wisconsin is about as different as could possibly be imagined from my life in Suriname, so I find it important to honor my experience by bringing it into my current life when and where I can.

One thing I have been surprised about is how rarely people ask me about Peace Corps. I don’t usually bring up that I’m an RPCV with people I just meet. When it naturally comes up, I talk about it, but I’ve learned to avoid that awkward moment where the person I’m talking to clearly has no idea what to say. Fairly often, upon telling someone that I returned this summer from 2 years in the jungles of South America, I get a 5 second blank stare. Then the person invariably says, “that sounds like a blast” and changes the subject. This has been difficult, because I want to talk about my experiences. I feel like I’m denying a part of who I am when I just avoid the subject. I really think that people don’t ask questions because they feel ignorant about not knowing anything about Suriname and hardly anything about Peace Corps. It seems so natural and obvious that most people would know next to nothing about these things. I think this has led me to push for a change in how I act towards others. When I don’t know about something that someone is talking about, I’m working on simply asking questions. I guess I’ve learned to be less afraid of looking foolish or ignorant. Sometimes you can look more foolish by not being curious.

I do feel fortunate because my family and close friends are amazing at asking questions about PC and hearing endless weird stories about my experience. Because my father was a Peace Corps Volunteer, my family has always existed with Peace Corps as a sort of backdrop to our world. We’re all travelers and we all have very curious minds. So, when I do feel like I need to talk about my experience, my family and close friends have been really wonderful at allowing me to open up to them.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Blog Version 1.2

I've recently decided to continue this blog. I think it will be a really great way for me to reflect upon my PC experiences and to share how things unfold as I move forward from Peace Corps. Peace Corps doesn't end when you get on that plane to come home. Honestly, I don't think Peace Corps can ever end for a volunteer. Before leaving for Suriname, I read a lot (I mean A LOT) of PC blogs from countries all over the world. It always seemed like the blog ended when service officially ended. I always found this disappointing because the story really doesn't end there. So, I'm going to try to continue my story.

While I was serving in the Peace Corps, I felt fairly limited in what I could openly share through my blog. There were a lot of factors to balance. I didn't want to use my blog as a venting source. I also wanted to respect other people's privacy since different people have different comfort levels with having an online presence. Thirdly, I had to make sure not to accidentally reveal one of the many ways that the volunteers (including myself) were breaking Peace Corps rules and accidentally get the boot. Lastly, I wanted to make sure to be respectful of Suriname. The country and its people were welcoming me in as one of their own, and I didn't want to repay that kindness with talking harshly about the country. This could be hard, because honestly, Suriname was a hard place to live. It is a beautiful, wonderful country, but it definitely took its toll on me.

I'm going to leave it here for now. I just wanted to officially re-start this whole blogging thing.