Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cola-flavored gummy snakes and other news

I just had my first Christmas in Suriname. It was pretty awesome. It was definitely hard being away from my family, but I think we all managed to make it very fun and special. Jessica's family was in country, and so they were kind enough to invite us to join them for Christmas. So, it ended up being 10 of us spending 2 nights at a fellow volunteer's house in the district. It was really great. Her family was so gracious and despite them not being my family, it was nice to be with a family for the holidays. We shot off a lot of would-be-illegal-in-the-U.S. fireworks, smoked cigars, played the guitar, watched movies, took naps in hammocks and ate. Oh, and Jessica's family gave us all stockings! And we had a white-elephant gift exchange. I got a terrifying-looking mug and batteries. Just what I wanted. It was wonderful to spend the Christmas with the other volunteers. They're my Suriname family.

I just got very excited at the Wenkii (store) to buy gummy worms, but they ended up to be gummy snakes, and they were cola-flavored. Still had the proper texture, and that's all that really mattered, so who am I to complain.

So I made a bit of a blunder when meeting the Captain's wife of my village. She had been in the city for the first three weeks I was at site, so I hadn't met her yet. She came to my house to meet me. I was doing dishes at the time, and so my hands were dripping wet and soapy. I told her that I couldn't shake her hand, because my hands were wet. Or at least, that's what I wanted to tell her. Instead, I messed up a bit and told her I couldn't shake her hands because my hands were WHITE. Ooops. Not good when you're the only white girl in a village. I didn't realize my mistake until she was already gone. I'm hoping she understood that the dumb foreign girl just doesn't speak very well, because I did dry my hands and shake her hand then. I felt like banging my head against the wall when I realized. Oh well, the next year and a half will be full of many more embarrassing mistakes.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

November 29, 2010

Wow. Back in the interior. I'm now laying in bed in my new home. It's very strange to be here after so long of not knowing where I was going to be going or what I was going to be doing, but here I am. A little over a week ago I was told that they had a site for me. So I went to go see it and in a matter of days I was moved in. It was all very sudden.

It's all really good though. I was really nervous to come here. Anticipation can be awful. The villagers have been amazing. They all showed up when we came on Saturday in the big white land cruiser and helped unload all of my things into my house. They've helped me set up my house and have tried to make me feel as comfortable and at home as possible.

I already have some promising projects. A few women here have started an after school club to give lessons to the kids. So, each day a different age group has an afternoon of lessons. Today I sat in on the one with the youngest ones (5, 6 and 7 year olds) as they practiced writing. They were all very cute. I forgot the amount of concentration it takes to draw an f when it's an entirely new experience. The women told me that I can sit in on the lessons until my language is better and then I can help out. So, that's super exciting. I was just very impressed that they were so dedicated to education. After a long day of working at grounds in the sun, they come back and give lessons to the children, all on their own initiative.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The things I like/dislike about Suriname

The photos are of a bird chirping competition I went to right next to the Presidential Palace. This shows a bit of what I talk about later, large men with tiny birds. Also, a caiman. I've seen probably 5 in country.

Here are some of my favorite things about Suriname:

Passion fruit juice.

Pompelmous (delicious huge grapefruity fruit, but less bitter).

Men who bike/moped around while carrying tiny birds in bird cages. It's an extremely masculine thing to do here.

The public buses in the city. I know this wouldn't be on the top of most volunteers' list, but I rather like them. They are smelly, packed full of people, and somehow, I love them.

After the fact, cab drivers. Much of the time, they are terrifying while I'm in the car, but they're a good story later. About a week ago a cab driver followed a woman who cut him off about 5 blocks, stopped outside her house, got out of the car, and screamed at her for about 5 minutes. All the neighbors started coming out of their houses. When he got back in the car, he very calmly and politely apologized to me for the inconvenience. Interesting.

My fellow volunteers. They're pretty awesome.

Cherry fruit juice.

Boat rides, as long as they are 2 hours long or less. I've been on a 12 hour one, which was less than fun. But the shorter ones are quite beautiful.

The view from the little plane, flying over the jungle.


The stars in the interior. One of the advantages of not having electricity, completely clear sky.

Time to enjoy the little things. My favorite thing to do right now is sit on the porch where the breeze is amazing, listen to my ipod and do sudoku or sew. Sometimes I just sit and listen to music.

The guy across the street who sits on his porch in his boxers. I've never seen him with a shirt on and he cracks me up.

My neighbor at my old site, Frans. He was great. One of the nicest guys I've ever met.

Kosbanti (long beans - I'm noticing a trend with my favorites, many are food related).

The free shelf.

Here are some of my LEAST favorite things about Suriname:

Kissy noises from men.


Sweating. Constantly.

Dogs barking.

The way people treat their animals. This is mostly in the interior, but people do not treat their cats and dogs very well. Dogs are for protection, cats are to eat rats, and that's it.

Not being sure what could be lying underneath anything. Pretty much everything can kill you here and it makes me a bit jumpy.

Staring. It is constant and intense. I have been stared at by adults for 45 minutes straight without interruption. It's mostly by children, but a few of the more unusual adults will also stare to this degree. Very unnerving.

My hair never dries.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

6 months

Back in training, when things were a bit rough, I set a date for myself. I told myself that there was nothing within my power that could make me go home before 6 months in country. It was a sanity thing. Looking ahead 27 months was far too overwhelming at that point, so I just set it mentally for 6 months. I remember sitting on my bed in my tiny little room at my host family's house, under my mosquito net, and almost being completely blown away by the thought of 27 months here. I told myself at that point I was allowed to reflect after 6 months and if I was completely miserable, I could go home. I'm extremely pleased to find that the 6 month mark came and went without my notice! Woo! I was afraid that I'd be counting down the days. Not so. I can safely say that I'm pretty happy here right now. I put a "right now" on that because I still don't know where I'm going to end up and how that will be. However, I'm pretty determined to make it the full two years.

I'm trying to stay busy in the city right now, doing small projects. I'm working on a write-up about a force feeding practice in the interior. It's a pretty dangerous practice that can cause aspiration of the lungs. So, that's been going pretty well and I'll see where that'll go in the future.

By the way, I was a pterodactyl for Halloween. It was awesome.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Home is where I sleep for 3 or more consecutive nights

So I've been a bit behind on updating my blog. I have no excuse other than not really knowing what to say. Some weeks ago I had some issues at my site and ended up getting pulled because of safety and security concerns. Let's just say that it was a pretty rough time. It was definitely hard to leave my village, even though I had only been there for 5 weeks. I really loved my village and the people were amazing, not to mention it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. I've kind of been in limbo since then, not really knowing where I'll be going or what I'll be doing. But, we do have a plan. I'll be moving to another village with a fellow volunteer. She just moved there and I will be moving there as soon as there is a house available for me. I'm not really sure how long that will take. In the meantime, I am staying at a fellow volunteer's house in the city and working on projects in the city. Basically, everything is completely different now but things are good. The dust has finally settled and I'm starting to see a bit more clearly.

I've moved around so much since being in country, that I start to call a place "home" as soon as I've stayed there a few nights. Home has been my training site when I lived with the family, the hostel in the city, my house at site, Matt's house when I visited for 5 days, my house again, the hostel in the city again and now it's the apartment I'm staying at. I've also gotten way better at living in the present, which is good. My life has kind of been in limbo for so long that if I started to stress about it I'd get REALLY stressed, so I'm just taking it a little at a time.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

2 weeks in the city

I got into the city a week ago for restocking and a general sanity-check. Actually, I thought that after 5 weeks in the jungle I'd be going crazy and desperately need this week in the city. Luckily though, I love my village and I wasn't as desperate to have a break from the village. Surprisingly, the city is the stressful experience, not the village. I think I'm going to be screwed when I get back to the States after 2 years here. Already, this city of 250,000 seems overwhelming and chaotic. After 2 years of not seeing cars, I think American cities are going to seem crazy to me.

I'm staying in the city for an extra week because all the flights back to my site were booked until next Saturday. I don't think this is a normal thing (hopefully). The country has vacation from school right now, so a lot more people are going back and forth from the city to the interior. I'm partly happy to be in the city for another week, because I didn't feel I had enough time to really buy everything I needed for site, so I'll be able to do that. But, I'm also kind of disappointed because 2 weeks is a long time to be out of site. I miss my home and my villagers! I'm so relieved that I do. I was afraid (before having actually been to my village) that I would dread going back, and I don't at all. This week I'm going to visit another volunteer for a few days. Her village also speaks Ndjuka, so it'll be a good chance to practice during these 2 weeks. Anyway, not much to say. Site is great and I've killed a tarantula in my house with a machete and got to pet a baby sloth in the same day. I've also found out that there are a lot of jaguars near my village. Great. I would love to see one, but that's a very theoretical feeling. I think if I actually saw one I'd be so terrified. I haven't seen a snake yet, or at least not an alive one. Knock on wood for that one.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

July 30,2010

I've been at site now for 9 days. It feels amazing because I've been completely happy for 9 whole days! I'll be honest, training was pretty hard. Living in someone else's home is a tough situation. It was a good experience, and it definitely was necessary to teach me what I needed to learn, but I'm glad it's over. Training was just extremely overwhelming. I felt an extreme amount of stress and pressure, which made me feel like I might snap at any moment. I haven't felt like that at all here.

And now I'm actually here, and it's great! The day we came, Thursday the 22nd, was such a long, exhausting day. It took us 12 hours to get here. Instead of flying, which is what I'll normally do, we took a Peace Corps vehicle (way to go white land cruisers!), and then we loaded all of Matt, Brittany and my stuff on to one boat (yes, that's a motorized CANOE carrying all of our possessions to set up three houses), and headed upriver. The car ride was only supposed to take 2 to 3 hours, but there was a blockade on the road because a school teacher was demanding that the government fix the road and her car. Yes, her car. I didn't get a look at her car, but the road was really bad. So, we had to wait there for a while until the local equivalent of the SWAT team showed up and un-blockaded it all. It was pretty cool to see actually. The Peace Corps staff member, who is Surinamese was pretty excited about it all.

The first day here wasn't the best. It was just super overwhelming getting here, and having all of my stuff in the middle of my floor in boxes and buckets and trying to say initial hellos to my community. And since the week in the city for shopping was so jam-packed I had just thrown all my stuff into boxes, so I had no idea where anything was. But, since then it's been pretty amazing. My community is just awesome. They're super chill and really nice. They don't do much gawking (well, most of them don't) and they're very friendly and helpful. Also, it's just great to have my own schedule and my own space. The first 3 nights I was here we didn't have electricity, but since then we have had it every night from 7 - 11. Matt and Brittany came a few days ago to hang out with me here. Matt is still here, but Brittany left this morning. Matt is my savior. He spent all of Thursday evening and the entire day yesterday wiring my house. He put in two electrical outlets and three lights. Before, I just had one single lightbulb in my house. Now, I have light in my bedroom! And, I can charge things! It seriously seems like a luxury. He's also helped me with a bunch of other things around the house, like putting nice big locks on my doors and other things like that. We really played traditional boy/girl roles this week. He did the manly stuff around the house and I cooked and cleaned for him. It worked out.

My language is getting better. I feel like I'm sort of starting to make friends here. At least I seem to know everyone. Not necessarily their names, but I pretty much recognize 90% of the people when I walk around. So yeah, it's been really good and I think I'll be pretty happy here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

swearing in

So we swore in yesterday! I am officially a Peace Corps volunteer! I don't even know what to write, I'm super exhausted. This weekend has been super long and...exhausting. We had a week to buy everything we need to move in to our new houses. That's a lot of stuff. It's been a lot of logistics and shopping bags.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

July 8

Thursday, July 8, 2010
So it's about 9:30 p.m., which is my bed time. Yes, I go to bed incredibly early here. And when I go to site I imagine I'll be going to bed even earlier. Between waking up at sunrise, and the fact that washing laundry is as exhausting as running a few miles, I'm pretty exhausted at night. Also, when I get to site and have no electricity much of the time, there won't be a whole lot to do after 7:00, sunset.

Right now reggae music is blasting, which strangely enough is part of a week and a half long funeral in my community. I think this is the last of the events (at least for now). It's been really intense and crazy. It started a few days after she died when we had to clean around the funeral house, which I already wrote about. Then, last Saturday the body was brought to the town from the city. The city swelled to about twice its usual population. That day everyone gathered and cried and danced. The next day I think there was a break. Then, Monday was bookode. I had come back from our 4th of July celebrations (pool party at the Ambassador's house!) that day and it was super overwhelming to have so many people in the village. Two host-relatives were visiting and staying in my house, which put us at 11 people living in this 25' by 15' house. That night I finished washing up at about 6:00 and went in the house. The kids locked the door behind me and told me that I couldn't go outside anymore. They seemed kind of scared and anxious and it sounded super crazy outside, with lots of running and shouting. I just figured it was a cultural thing with the funeral and didn't worry too much. Finally, my language teacher came and got me. We stood on the porch and watched everything for awhile. All the men of the town were running around with machetes, bricks, stones and sticks. Basically, anything they could find. If they found a rooster out of the chicken pen, they would throw things at it to kill it. They were killing all the roosters they could find in the village. Also, if they found a child outside they would chase the kid, catch him and bring him to the casket to scare the crap out of the kid. I realized that's why they told me I couldn't go outside; the kids think I'm a kid. They don't really realize that I'm actually older than their mom. I walked around for awhile that night and it was pretty crazy. They were cooking a ton of food and the men were running all around. They stayed up dancing and playing music all night that night. By the way, during all of this I was really sick. Not a great time to be sick, when there's a week of all-night parties that can't be avoided.

The next day was the burial. The morning was full of traditional music and dancing, which was pretty cool. Then all the adults went to bury the body. They made a ton of food that day called toowe nyannyan = "throwaway food". They dig a big hole and throw a ton of food in it. The last two nights have seemed to just be all-night music. Thank god for sleeping pills.

Today my little 2-year-old brother was walking around in rain boots with a foot-long knife. They're really not concerned with kids having knives here. It was pretty cute, though. He had two of his little buddies with him, and they were all sharing one sucker. I'll try to post a picture of them. Despite their super snotty, disease-spreading noses, they're adorable.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

June 30

Only 2 weeks left of training. I know that a lot is going to change, and change can make me somewhat anxious, but I think it'll be really good. I think the hard things (at least the things that will be harder than where I am right now) about where I'm going will be: I won't have electricity, I don't get to meet up with the other volunteers every few days, I don't have someone to cook for me. The things I'm looking for are: I don't have someone cooking for me (ok, I don't get to be as lazy, but I get to make whatever I want!), I'll have my own place, my community is super awesome, no more training assignments, and I'll feel like I'm really starting this! I just think it's going to be super different from training, but once I adjust to it, I think it'll be really good.

On a not so good note, today was the day of my Grandma's funeral. She died about 2 weeks ago. She was nearly 99 years old, so it was definitely expected. When I left I said goodbye to her, but it was still really sad. She's just always been in my life, and it's strange knowing that she's just not there anymore. Last Friday I got a package from my family and there was a bunch of photos in it, one of Grandma and I, the last time I saw her. When I saw the photo I just started crying. I think dealing with things from home while here is really hard.

Anyway, here's a happy thought so I don't leave it on a sad note. I saw a wild boar chasing a rooster today. I laughed out loud. He's technically a wild boar, but he's my family's pet, named Kucha. So, it wasn't completely crazy to see him chasing a rooster. His bristly hair was standing on end, making a funny sort of pig mohawk. I love that pig. He's pretty cool. The other morning I found him in my wash house, and it made me laugh when I realized how normal that was for me right now: finding a pig in my wash house.

June 26

This morning was pretty exhausting, but it was very...cultural. Ok, I'll get to the point. A woman died in my village yesterday. She was only about 50 and she seems to have been the sister of my hostmom (family connections are super confusing and shaky to me). I know I'd met her, but I can't quite figure out who she was. Apparently, she had a fever for a few days and then died. I'm sure that's nothing near what actually happened, but the complexities of illness and death don't fall under the scope of my language abilities right now. Brittany (the other trainee in my village) and I went this morning to help the village clean the area around the death house. It's basically like a village's funeral home. But, it's just an open-air thatched roof hut. I don't know if they lay the body out there or what. But anyway, so we cleared the grounds for a little over an hour today. It was super exhausting because it was really hot and cloudless this morning (and then crashing down rain and thunder this afternoon, that's how it works in the rain forest I guess). It was also exhausting because, like everything else, we were being constantly corrected on our raking and hoe-ing techniques. It wasn't as bad as it could have been. I think we were both getting a little fed-up also because this one really enormous woman kept on just laughing at us for some unknown reason. That's what she always does. I really liked something that Brittany said about her: "obnoxious knows no culture or language." Also, I got bit by about 20 red ants. Those things hurt like hell. So, we were feeling a little under-appreciated, but then we finished up and a bunch of women came up and told us that we had worked so hard and thanked us a ton, so that made both of us feel much better. I know we were being a bit whiny, but when you're doing work for someone else and getting laughed at in the process, you get a bit upset. Oh, another thing was that all the men sat on a log and watched. There was one older man who was picking up vegetation in a wheelbarrow, but the big strapping young men were just watching. This country's gender roles really get me some times. The women raise the children, do all house work, clean, work in the fields, chop the wood and do just about everything else, frequently while pregnant. The men basically just go to work. And when there's no "9 to 5" jobs, that many times involves a lot of watching the World Cup. Wow, this entry was whiny. Sorry, I never want to have that super-whiny blog. Hmmm...let me think of something good from today. The thunderstorm today was really awesome. There was super loud thunder and just violent downpouring rain. Then, we were walking down the hill to the village after the rain and there was mist across from us in the trees on the hill. It looked like we should see a silver-back gorilla or something. It was pretty.

June 22

Yesterday I was sitting on my porch when I received a call from a fellow trainee, telling me a group of them were in my homestay village. Sure enough, about 3 seconds later my little brother, Sheka Boi (that's his nickname, his real name is Alferardo), runs up to tell me that Peace Corps is here. News travels fast in this town, especially when it regards a troupe of bakaa (foreigners = white people). So, I walk to the street (because there's only one) and the health group of the trainees has arrived to visit with the local traditional healer in my village, Winston. I've met him a few times. He's a man in his late 30s who owns one of the little local stores, the one that's never actually open and sells mostly notebooks, thread and beer.

We all go down to the river and sit in a circle. Surrounding us are what I've known to be the traditional entrance-points to a village, placed at any place someone can enter, usually at the river. They are made up of 2 vertical sticks with dried palm leaves draped between them. It looks like an old, not very festive end-point of some kind of race.

Winston arrives in traditional healing garb. He has a pangi around his waist and another larger one tied like a toga around one shoulder. A third small one is tied around like a bandanna/scarf. All three are a matching rich blue color with white pieces of cloth sewn into them. The white cloth are shaped like the things he uses for healing, like a pot on a fire or instruments he uses when singing.

He told us a fair amount about traditional healing, although I'm sure we just scratched the surface. He heals things like broken bones, snake bites and other physical ailments. But then he also deals with issues concerning the soul, which is called yeye. Another word for some kind of soul thing is winti. The winti can present itself (possess?) to himself and others, which usually makes them speak in tongues and do unusual things. He is possessed by the winti so he can understand the language his patients speak when they are possesssed.

The spirit first possessed him and he knew he was a traditional healer when he was 13. The healing abilitiy passes through the maternal line, so it'll pass to his sister's children. It passes to someone when the current healer either dies or is too old to properly heal.

He has 4 buildings he works in. One is where the winti resides. There are 2 buildings for patients to stay, because they stay there until they are healed, which may take some time. There is one for men and one for women. The 4th is for larger gatherings, like dances. No one is allowed to enter any of the buildings if they are menstruating or if they've had sex in the last 3 days. He said people respect this because bad things happen if they don't, like a woman who enters on her period will have a continuous period for months and months on end. This culture definitely does not like menstruation.

The winti will not allow payment to the healer and his ancestors weren't allowed to accept any. However, he explained to the winti that times have changed and that everything required in life now requires money. The winti deliberated on this and finally decided that he could accept money, but he couldn't accept it personally and no one could accept it in his healing buildings. So, someone else usually is paid elsewhere for him.

There were 2 women with him during this talk. One was this very old woman who is always super raunchy. She has asked me every dirty horrible secret about my sex life. She wants to hook me up with a local so bad I think it makes her hurt. She's just going to have to hurt. Yesterday earlier in the day I went to visit her and she had a shirt on (kind of unusual), but there was a very large hole at one of her boobs and an entire breast was hanging out of it. Pretty great. When we first got to the healing session and sat down she went around and hugged each person and gave them each a name in Okanisi. Her job is basically to translate when Winston is possessed by the winti and speaks in tongues, because he is not aware of what he is doing.

The other woman, probably in her 40s, is basically his secretary. She handles the money, arranges things, and makes sure the house and surroundings are physically appealing to the spirits.

Later he sang a song that's supposed to summon the winti to present itself. It was pretty cool. He was a good singer. I don't think I would want to see it at night though, I think it would totally scare the crap out of me. The instructor, who is a Surinamese woman, kept on getting freaked out talking to him. She said she's terrified of this stuff.

While we were listening to the talk a group of tucans were playing in a nearby tree. And then, a bit later, we saw a caiman in the water. It seemed like some kind of fake tourist attraction, it was so perfect. Traditional healer. Check. Tucans. Check. Caiman. Check.

One last thing. The other day I ate a piranha head for dinner. It just looked like a fish head (apparently the favored part of the fish, the cheeks are excellent), and then I flipped it over and the huge razor sharp teeth were there. It was pretty big too.

This was long, but I thought the traditional healer stuff was pretty awesome.

June 19

I just got back from a week of visits with current Peace Corps Volunteers and to our future sites. To say the least it was a pretty exciting and illuminating week. I'll be honest, I'm very proud of myself for just making it through it. That makes it sound like it was awful, when in reality it was really great. I was just very very nervous about it beforehand. I wasn't really nervous about the PCV visit, but there isn't a current volunteer at my future site, so I was very nervous about that. I knew that I had to spend 4 days alone at my site, introducing myself to my community and just hanging out.

So we flew out on Saturday and spent a night with a volunteer, Michael. We weren't supposed to stay with him but we had trouble finding a boat to the place we were supposed to be going. So, the next day we managed to get a boat and made our way to visit another volunteer, Shelly. Her site was super awesome. It was beautiful and fun and the people were awesome. We got to turn a compost pile, which we were told might be full of snakes because snakes love to hang out in them. Luckily, there weren't any. Most of the time we just walked around talking to people and hanging out with people.

Then on Tuesday they dropped me off my site. It was very intimidating. Three current volunteers and two trainees and I all came to my site. They brought me up to my house and we opened it up to find 2 bats flying around and a dead rat in the middle of the floor in a pool of blood. Someone tried to move the rat with a dustpan, but the rat was apparently not quite dead, so it started sluggishly moving. Pretty gross. My place was pretty dirty, since no one had been in there in about 5 months. I was pretty proud of myself for just dealing with it and hanging up my hammock and going to sleep with huge spiders, bats and gigantic toads jumping around (not to mention whatever other animals I didn't happen to see). My community is super awesome. They're super chill. Everyone was really welcoming and friendly, but not in my face. Sometimes in training it seems like everyone is constantly in my face, trying to correct something I'm doing or just staring. At my site people were just nice and treated me like just another person. I was super amazed that no one corrected a single thing I did in 4 whole days!

My village is also really pretty. It's on a big river and then there's a small creek near my house. Both have white water rapids. It's pretty hilly and rocky. I have an orange tree in front of my house and then a lime tree behind my house. There's also a belibon tree. It's a large green spiky fruit. If you know what durian is, it kind of looks like that. But inside are pods. They're nuts that you cook in water and salt and then peel and eat warm. They were pretty delicious. they reminded me of a less-Christmasy version of chestnuts roasted on an open fire. The lime tree is apparently my tree, so I'll be making lots of lime-ade. Yumm!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

June 9

I realized I really haven't described very well where I'm living right now. I'm about 2 to 3 hours south of the city (I say 'the city' because there is only one in Suriname, Paramaribo). I'm in a little community on a dead-end dirt road with about 300 people living in it. It has two creeks, one small grade school, three little "corner stores" (there aren't any corners) and a bakery that seems to only sell buns and opens when it feels like it. The corner stores sell next-to-nothing. One of them sells literally probably 15 items. Another of them is never open. We've stopped by every day for about 2 weeks because it's the only place within an hour that sells notebooks and it's never been opened. Finally, yesterday we succeeded.

I'm definitely in the jungle. About 10 feet from my house the deep jungle begins. Like, I wouldn't step into it without a guide and knee-high rubber boots on kind of jungle. I haven't eaten anything crazy (that I know of, I don't ask what I'm eating for fear of finding out) but a few of the other trainees have had some interesting things. One ate sloth, which he was lucky enough to see caught. He was walking down a road when the woman in front of him walked into the bush and just grabbed an adorably smiley sloth off the ground. That was his dinner that night. And the other trainee in my community ate armadillo yesterday. She said it was pretty good. I watched her family skin it on my break from class yesterday. It was like watching a car crash. I was horrified, but just couldn't look away.

My community is made up of little tiny (and when I say tiny, I mean TINY) wooden huts. They're very simple and rectangular. Most are probably about 20 feet by 15 feet, although some are even smaller than that. There is usually a duro-tank out front. My community, since it is relatively close to the city, has 24-hour electricity, generously supplied by the government. My family seems to be fairly well off (that is extremely relative). We have a TV and a refrigerator. They do about half the cooking inside. There is no running water. Most of the water I use for washing and laundry and stuff like that comes from huge plastic drums that collect the rainwater outside. There's something really nice about bathing from rain water. We have a porch that wraps around 2 sides of the house. I love the porch.

There's only one real "street" in my community. It's a dirt road, but it's the only thing that's actually straight and I would really consider a street. There's another one that's pretty close, but I'm not going to count that one. Women wear the wrap-around cloth (pangi) and usually a bra or shirt when they leave their home, although if you come to their house there is a pretty good chance they'll be totally topless. I'm amazed how little it phases me. My American aversion to nudity is getting quickly beaten down.

I actually feel fairly lucky to be here for my training. It's a decent little community.

June 7

I had my 27th birthday yesterday and it was pretty great. Most of the trainees got together at the beach nearby and we had a party. The other trainees were so sweet and made my birthday really special. They made me 3 (yes 3!) cakes and posters and gave me fun little presents and everything. It was pretty great. And we got to spend the day swimming in piranha-infested waters. Fun fun fun. It's funny how the things that I thought I would never ever do (like swim in a river that has piranhas), I'm now doing without much fear or worry. I guess you get used to just about anything.

Speaking of getting used to things, I'm starting to feel really comfortable and happy here. The language is coming along and I'm able to actually have little conversations with people, which is super rewarding. I talked to an old woman yesterday who was drying out the rice she had harvested. It just felt nice to have a human connection about something. Not speaking a word of a language is frustrating on so many levels and it's nice to start overcoming those frustrations.

Tonight was fun. The little teenage girls gathered around and braided my hair and some teenage boys came and played the guitar on my porch.

I know that I'll have a lot more really hard times where I'm lonely, or homesick, or just physically sick, but these happy days are really encouraging. It really makes me feel like I can be really happy here. I hope that my future site is as welcoming as my training site, because everyone is so great here. Every day I just wander around this community, ending up in people's yards, next to their wash house, where they are half-naked and washing (sometimes fully naked) and they are nothing but friendly and welcoming. I've been very impressed by the people here.

So I'm hearing more and more about my future site and it's apparently really deep in the bush. Another volunteer was telling me today that I'll probably see some pretty crazy animals. I may even see a jaguar. I'd rather not see things that want to kill me, but I guess I don't have a whole lot of choice.

June 2

I'm about 3 weeks into my homestay experience. It's definitely been a learning experience. I'm so glad that they have us do our first few months with a family and with a different community than the one we will be living in permanently, though. It gives us the chance to basically screw up and not have it affect the next 2 years. We can realize how we should do things, and change when we get to our permanent site. I don't think I've made any major blunders so far, but that's not to say I won't.

It's so easy to get frustrated with the language and feel like I'll never truly learn it, and then I take a step back and remember that I've only been learning it for about 3 weeks. I'm able to have very small conversations and express many of the basic things I want to get across. I'm pretty impressed with how much we've been able to learn in 3 short weeks. Living in the language truly is the fastest way to learn. When the two-year-old hits his head and says "mi naki mi ede" about 10 times, I quickly learn how to say "I hit my head". Quite helpful.

I'm really anxious to see my site. I've heard it's really pretty and great. People have said really good things about it. There's supposed to be a beautiful little creek by it. Also, I've heard my house is relatively large compared to some of the other PCV houses. Also, my place is supposed to have a bit more privacy, which will be nice. I think it will be pretty overwhelming going to my site the first time. It seems like we're kind of just dropped off for 3 days with a hammock and a box of mac and cheese. I think I'll come out of this with a fair amount of resiliency at the very least.

I miss my family a lot. I remember when I came home from my year in Spain, I thought that I could never go that long without seeing my family again. And here I move to the Amazon for 2 years. Hmmm... I talked to both my mom and my brother Maia tonight and it's amazing how talking to family can lift my spirits. They know me better than anyone in the world does and it feels great right now having someone who knows me that well. I'm surrounded by people who have only ever heard me say things like "I want food" or "I wash myself". I don't exactly feel like my personality shines with those phrases. That'll come with time though.

The last two days have been kind of....egh. Just hard. I think I was just down. I get down at home too, though. But, the entire week before that I was legitimately happy to be here and that felt so good. It made me really hopeful about being really happy here. I am simplifying my life though, which is one of the reasons I wanted to join the Peace Corps. My host mom gave me a battered and deep fried banana last night and it was like a little piece of heaven. It truly made my night. Simplify life: check.

I don't have time for titles

I'm at homestay for training and it's...I guess it's everything I imagined the Peace Corps to be. It's difficult, it's exciting, it's intense, it's exhausting, it's intensely beautiful, it makes my brain hurt and I want to jump up and down and just scream sometimes. And even though it's everything that I expected, every second of it has surprised me. Anticipating something and actually living something are very different, even if your expectations meet the actual experience.

For some strange reason I think the most comforting thing for me right now is the rain. It comes pouring down, sounding like hammers on my tin roof and making little ravines down every dirt path, and I just feel safe. It feels just like a rainstorm at home and I just want to curl up on the couch and smile. It also cools it down significantly, which is so necessary here. I just washed (for the third time today, just like every day) in my wash house an hour ago and I'm laying in bed, under my mosquito net, and sweat is just dripping down me. Very attractive.

I dropped my phone in a bucket of water tonight. So it's currently not working. My last phone mysteriously just stopped working, so that means I may be going on to phone #3 in about 2 1/2 weeks in country. I wonder if that's a record. I did have the record for most broken computers at my last job. 5. I was pretty proud of that. None were my fault (I think) though! Anyway, my phone is currently all taken apart and sitting in a 5 gallon container of rice. Makes sense, it'll suck out the moisture or something like that.

I'll give you a little example of my normal day here. My host mom wakes me up at 6:30. This morning she actually let me wake myself up. Maybe she realized that as an almost-27-year-old woman, I'm very capable of waking myself up. Probably not. She'll probably wake me up tomorrow. So, at 6:30 I immediately head to the scary latrine, because although I do have a shiny new green pee pot, I haven't really used it in my bedroom yet. I haven't quite assimilated that much...yet. So then I head to the wasosu (wash house) for my first bucket bath of the day. After that I go inside for a bun with either just peanut butter on it or peanut butter and cheese. Not as bad as it sounds, I actually quite like it. Then I head over to my language teacher's hut/small wooden shack for 4 hours of language lessons. About half of the days we go out for a koi (a little walk around the village, greeting people) for the 2nd half of our lesson. Then I head back to my place at noon. I wash up for a second time and eat lunch. Then I either have technical training in the afternoon, or I do laundry. That consists of 3 buckets of water and a washboard. I'm going to have some serious forearms by the end of this from all the clothes wringing. Then I try to fill up the rest of the afternoon without going insane with all the teenage girls staring at me. Then wash-up #3 and dinner and family time. I usually hang with my mom and 3 younger brothers and 1 younger sister for a few hours. Then it's "me time" (what I'm doing right now). Night is my favorite time here. Everything settles down a little. There aren't quite as many random kids screaming and running around my house and I get to spend more time with my host-siblings, who I really like.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

so I'm finally here

So, first blog entry from Suriname. So far so good. I feel like we're just at summer camp in some developing country. I really don't feel like I'm in Suriname. I've walked to town a few times, but we really haven't had much time to explore. I'm super excited (ok, nervous too) to go to our Community Based Training in Brokopondo. Then I'll be staying with a family and I'll really get to see a bit more how things are.
Everyone is super awesome so far. We all seem to be getting along really well and bonding and all that stuff.
We learned about our possible sites yesterday. It was all a little overwhelming. It's really hard to try to choose what you think you'd work well in with a description of a place. Without actually being there, it's next to impossible to know. But we'll find out our sites on Monday, which should be super exciting.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

this is going to be a pointless entry

I'm at staging in Miami. I'm so tired I'm afraid that I won't sleep. Dang, it was so hard saying goodbye to everyone. I had a really amazing last few weeks though. My family had a big bonfire on Saturday night in my Dad's funny water mine fire ball. It was pretty perfect.
It's really a relief to meet everyone. It's especially good to learn that everyone else has the same anxieties and worries that I do. Anyway, that's about it. I'm just taking advantage of the last quick internet before going.

Friday, April 30, 2010

T Minus 4 days

Yeah, that gets the official holy shit. I feel like I have a million things to do, a million special family moments to cram in, and what am I doing? Sitting at a coffee shop, trying to fix my ipod (which very inconveniently lost all of my music last night) and writing on my blog. Who needs the DMV and REI anyway right?

I think one of the things that made this physical move the easiest is that my brother is taking over the rest of my lease. That means I get to leave my bed and bookcase for him and all sorts of things. That's made things soooo much easier. Oh yeah, and I don't have to dish out 3 1/2 months of rent.

My bedroom is kind of ridiculous right now. There's my big ole backpack in the middle, surrounded by everything I'm bringing, surrounded again by massive amounts of clutter. It's like a mine field. I almost slipped on a roll of packing tape yesterday. That would have been the end of me (not over-dramatizing or anything).

I went bike-camping Tuesday night. It slightly freaked me out that for one night I pretty much brought as much stuff as I'm going to be bringing for 27 months. I guess I don't have to bring a sleeping bag and sleeping pad to Suriname, but still. By the way, for any camping types in Wisconsin, the Kickapoo Valley Nature Reserve is pretty awesome.

I recently found out that we'll most likely find out our actual sites after the first week in country. That's pretty crazy (in a good way). Ok, I should really get started on my day. I have for too much to do right now. This may just be the last entry until I'm in country. So, hasta Suriname (my Dutch/Sranan Tongo aren't that good yet, so Spanish will have to do for now).

Monday, April 5, 2010

lots of paperwork

I feel a bit bogged-down by paperwork. I'm usually the type that procrastinates any kind of paperwork until the last possible minute. Unfortunately, with Visa and Passport forms, there's kind of a deadline. I'm pretty sure I was about 2 weeks late for everything I was supposed to send. Ooops, sorry Peace Corps!

My last day of work was on Thursday. It definitely feels pretty great to be done. 3 1/2 years at shopbop was just about enough for me. It was a cushy job, but I was getting pretty sick of it. And now I can get everything done that I need to before leaving and see family and friends.

I'm flip-flopping between being super freaked out about going and being super excited. I guess that's somewhat natural, or at least I hope it is. I was feeling pretty guilty about not just feeling 100% pure excitement. But then some people I love very much reminded me that it's very natural to be freaking out a bit. When I was moving to Spain my sophomore year of college, my Dad gave me a nice little nugget of wisdom. He said that if I wasn't sad about leaving people I love, it says bad things about the people I'm leaving. Or something like. Ha, he said it way better. I'm an expert at retelling things very badly.

Anyway, time to start my taxes. Back to the procrastination thing.

Friday, March 26, 2010

So this is what a blog is?

So I don't think I'm going to be very good at this blog thing. But I'll give a try. I'm starting this because I'm moving to Suriname in a bit over a month, May 4th to be exact. I'm using this blog to keep my loved ones back in good ole Wisconsin current about my situation. I just drank a whole bunch of coffee (that would be one cup, I'm a light-weight), so I'm not exactly concentrating well. Anyway, I have 4 days left at work, which definitely feels pretty good.

So yeah, I received my Peace Corps invitation to Suriname about 2 weeks ago. I think I had every emotion you can think of after finding out. It was a pretty intense week, but I'm getting pretty used to the idea and excited. I'm very excited about the new adventure, but definitely really sad to leave the people I love.

So I should write a bit about Suriname, since it's a tiny country that most people (including me a few weeks ago) know next-to-nothing about. It's a tiny country north of Brazil. It's official language is Dutch (so much for my years of Spanish) and has many other Creole and local languages. Its population is less than a half a million. Yep, about the population of Milwaukee. It has lots of sloths and pit vipers and capybaras.

Anyway, I'm not going to write a whole lot right now, just wanted to get this blog thing rolling.