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Zombieland: a guide to surviving Peace Corps (Guest Post)

Donald, who is currently serving in the Peace Corps, asked to return to do another guest post! So, I am very excited to share his post with you! The jokes will make a lot more sense to you if you have seen the movie, “Zombieland”.  

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Prelude

Sitting on a log, staring off into the distance as night falls, a man is alone. He is most often alone these days. Rice begins to boil over and the water hisses as it hits the cook fire, his thoughts distracting him. The battered pot, like most of his things, was functional and in a state of disrepair. It hadn’t been long ago that he had been surrounded by luxuries; running water, electricity, and all the conveniences one could want. It was the food he missed most, steak and salad, or a cheeseburger and milkshake. His food now was far more utilitarian. Rice and beans kept for months and provided necessary nutrients and energy.

His life had changed so much, and sometimes wondered if anyone from his old life could’ve recognized him now. It probably didn’t help that he’d not seen the inside of a shower in months.

Occasionally he’d see others like him, taken out of comfortable lives and forced to survive. Those infrequent gatherings gave much needed laughter, relief from the constant stressors everyone dealt with. It was a chance to let their guard down, share stories and good food.

He’d seen one of his friends get bitten, in one of those relaxed moments. Although they had quickly dispatched the attacker with no more emotion than one might have when killing a bug, they could do nothing for their friend but try to ease his pain. Eventually the friend closed his eyes.

 

The rice had burned. Damn.

 

Zombieland told the story of an unlikely survivor and his list of rules. Although he formed the rules facing the collapse of civilization, surviving Peace Corps has a surprising number of parallels. So whether you’ve stepped off a plane a long way from home, or constantly receive unwelcome attention from the mouths of those around you, keep these rules in mind.

 

#1 Cardio: Staying fit and healthy is a challenge, but doing so will remind you to improve your diet, give you much-needed endorphins, and relieve stress.

 

#2 Double Tap: Follow through so you don’t get bit in the ass- especially when dealing with the Peace Corps office. Sent in a vacation request or reimbursement form? Fire off a text for confirmation. Now is not the time to get stingy with your phone units.

 

#3 Beware of Bathrooms: I can’t stress this one enough. Not only do you have worries of finding bats flying out of the hole you’re trying to use (which incidentally are surprisingly soft), but also keep an eye out for collapsing floors, flooding, and highly venomous snakes. Read Melissa’s post for more on snakes and chims ( http://melissainmalawi.blogspot.com/2012/10/ssssssssss.html?m=1)

There is the occasional cholera outbreak too, so wash your hands.

 

#4 Buckle Up: There aren’t always seat belts available, but use them whenever possible. Don’t listen to anyone telling you not to bother, cause nearly every vehicle on the road will have poor to non-existent brakes, worn tires, and drunk drivers. The roads aren’t in get best conditions, cows, goats, dogs, and people carelessly wander into your path, and as Columbus says, “it’s going to be a bumpy ride. “

 

#7 Travel Light: You can never be sure what a travel day will bring, so be prepared to carry all your stuff for 12 hours. The less stuff you have, the easier it is to keep your eye on it (reducing risk of theft). Mobility is also an important consideration. If fights break out, the door of your minibus gets chained shut, and your driver starts off erratically before jumping out to join the fight- you want to be ready to jump out the back as soon as the bus stops. One lightweight bag makes quick escapes possible.

 

#17 Don’t be a hero: Peace Corps isn’t about you, it’s about what your community can do after you leave. Don’t expect to show up and save the day, first you have to learn. Learn about the culture, learn about your community, and learn from the people.

 

#18 Limber Up: You’ll have to be flexible if you want to survive 27 months of service. You’ll be stretched far past your comfort zone every day. Be open to the new culture you’re immersed in, and know how to set boundaries for your own protection. You don’t want to pull a muscle! The best advice I received for staying limber – try not to have any expectations.

 

#22 When in doubt, know your way out: Trust yourself and trust your instincts. If you get in a situation that doesn’t feel right, get out of it. Be willing to change your plans and don’t be afraid of being rude.

 

#31 Check the Backseat: Don’t wait to find out if that rotting smell is a combination of fish and poor hygiene, or a mostly dead fellow who is feeling particularly bitey…

 

#32 Enjoy the Little Things: It’s the little things that get you through that next hour, day, and week. Getting a surprisingly cold coke after a long miserable day of travel makes all the difference. A friend surprising you with a beer before a long bus ride, escaping into a good book on a homesick day, or listening to some of your favorite songs will make you extraordinarily happy.

 

(Crossed through “don’t”) Be a Hero: Stand up for your fellow volunteer. Whether it is one ant too many or some asshole on the street, don’t let your friend face it alone.

 

While Peace Corps volunteers have spent hours contemplating plans in case of zombie attacks, no one has been bitten yet. In the story above, my friend was stung by a scorpion while a group of us were watching a movie, and after taking pain killers tried to get some sleep. He was fine within a couple days.

 

That’ll do, pig.

Turkey Soup and Religion

Hi everyone!

Sorry I have not posted since the prehistoric era. I had a wonderful trip with my wife to Budapest and Germany. I will post pictures very soon, I promise. It was magical and so is she.

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My wife actually took this one. Cause she is a photography beast. 

I also got into Grad school for Molecular Biology and started a few weeks ago. So, I was hectically moving to Washington D.C. (I now go to Georgetown) and getting into classes and had no time to write. I will tell you the engaging story of how all this came about very soon. I pinky promise.

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However, until then, I still did not want you to think I had totally forgotten you. I signed up for an Intro to Judaism class at a nearby temple, and I have to write a weekly journal. It was the first time in weeks that someone has forced me to write, so I thought I would share it with you. Mostly I just ramble about food, and then try to pull out some meaningful life analogy from it (in similar form to a disturbing number of my posts). Anyway, I hope you enjoy. I just made myself really hungry and now I am going to go eat some of the turkey soup I made last weekend.

Journal topic: What is your experience with religion? In
what religious tradition were you raised? Why are you taking this class? What do you hope to learn in this class? What are some of the questions for which you hope to find answers in this class?

My father is a closet religious scholar. The shelves of my childhood home are bloated and bursting with books, covering every obscurely academic religious topic imaginable: from the neuroscience of prayer to the philosophical development of the tribes of the Indus valley in pre-biblical times. Talk of religion as a concept so thoroughly saturated dinnertime conversations that it flavored the very food we ate. Yet, I have never witnessed my family pray. Though religious figures took up residence in every corner of our house, religious practice was checked at the door.

I served in the Army from the time I turned 19 to my 22nd birthday. In those three years, I was subjected to some experiences that were very difficult to digest. Many of my closest friends were deeply religious (offering a smorgasbord of practices—Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Mormon, Jewish, Hindi, Buddhist, and even one Sikh). Regardless of the differences in their practice, holding on to their individual faith and their traditions gave them a source of strength I could not tap. It gave them handholds on the cliff-face of life and I deeply wished to share.

So, I began to slowly inch toward religion. I held long conversations with friends about their beliefs, and even got up the nerve to go to a respectable number of Christian-variety services. I found them unfulfilling. I found most Christian churches very welcoming and accessible; they had belief, but they were totally devoid of faith and only held a tertiary relationship with God. They were missing deep practice. I am of the belief that religious practice is for the practitioners, not the deity being honored. People imbue things with meaning through dedication and sacrifice. That which is free means nothing, while that which costs us in blood, sweat, and time are cherished in the human heart. If I adopt a religion, I want to cherish it. I want my belief to cost me, so that I come to treasure the relationship with God that grows from a practice.

I think of religion like turkey soup. There are few activities that nourish the soul like making turkey soup. When we make turkey soup, my sister and I somewhat fanatically go to the market and talk to the farmers who raise the turkeys. From there we select our bird, lug it home, and immediately dump it in salt to brine overnight. The next day, we slow roast the turkey and share it over a big family meal. This meal is simply a checkpoint however. The end game is more than a day away.

We strip the turkey and set the meat aside. Then we roast the bones and the skin for a few hours. After roasting, we crack the bones to let out the marrow and boil the bones and scraps for roughly 12 hours. We strain out the solids, and are left with this dark, rich broth that holds the essence of this turkey’s entire existence a condensed gelatinous mold. We take this broth and mix it with the “leftover” turkey meat, herbs, and fresh vegetables (which we have normally grown in our garden). At the end of three of four days we get this bowl of soup. Semantically it contains the same ingredients as a bowl of turkey soup I could get from a can in the grocery store, and yet the two experiences are completely different. My soup is a distillation of love and a whole season of effort. It presents everything that the turkey and the cook together have to offer. More than that though, it is made essentially the same way that prehistoric tribes made turkey soup over the fire outside their tents. Techniques and flavors that have endured for centuries, unchanged, manifest and the whole package is presented to you in one small bowl. With homemade soup, you are eating a shared human experience of nurturing and love that resonates through all of human history. While with canned soup, you are eating a sodium-enriched necessity. I am looking for the religious equivalent of homemade turkey soup. I am cautiously suspicious that Judaism might be able to offer that.

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I am also incredibly intimidated. Judaism is appreciably less accessible than canned soup. It is filled with foreign words and alien practices, and its practitioners hold such a cohesive community that it feels in many ways like an impossible door to open. Yet, despite all of these factors creating inertia, there is this implacable push in the back of my consciousness patiently, and unrelentingly, moving me in this direction. So, by pure chance I ran across this class online (two days before it began), and with the courage that is only born from making significant life commitments at 3a.m., I find myself as a member of the Intro to Judaism class. My list of reservations is longer than my list of questions, yet that force in the back of my mind—whose origins I cannot begin to understand—is finally stronger than my inertia. I feel like a rover on Mars. I want to unobtrusively take samples of the soil and maybe snap some pictures, in order to figure out if this is a path that I truly want to pursue.

I Am Infected.

I tried poetry. I was always awful at poetry in school, and I haven’t written it in years. However, I was trying to figure out how to talk about about what it is like to re-enter civilian society after my time in the Army, and I was totally failing at a blog post, so I thought “why not post some poetry and spread the suffering around a bit.” I feel a bit like the Grinch, subjecting you to beginner poetry when you are already under enough stress this holiday season…I guess my heart grows two sizes too small after midnight and four ditched drafts of this blog.   

 

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Community is a box of Mac and Cheese.

The box my best friend’s mother bought on my behalf,

even though none of her family eats Mac and Cheese.

A box that is still sitting on the shelf,

four years after I left home to “serve”.

 

My small town community wasn’t good enough.

With its safe green lawns and its old oak trees,

and its mother’s who took care of all the neighborhood kids–

because that was their inheritance from the mother’s before them.

I couldn’t see and so I left my home to see the world. 

 

I have seen the world!

I have visited more countries than I have fingers and toes.

Countries that my home-town mothers couldn’t find on a map.

I ate in tiny kitchens with foreign mothers,

so poor they converted the dining room into bedrooms at night.

 

I have tasted sour beer,

from underground bars in the shadow of the Berlin wall,

and dined with princes who drive white mini-vans,

because they like their cars to match their horses,

and toasted to the salvation of their country.

 

I have shared Cliff Bars,

with homeless children covered in their own grime.

As they nibble suspiciously at the corner of food,

that tastes unnervingly like nutritional value,

their fathers try to inconspicuously separate me from my backpack.

 

I have glimpsed perfect freedom!

Holding enough money in my name and one the wiser if I steal off at night,

I have almost dared to run away.

Though I don’t dare go alone,

because they tanks on fire on the side of the road scare me.

 

I have also been enslaved.

Shackled by law to obey the word of one man,

who hated me for being born the wrong sexuality,

and enjoyed particularly toying with me.

Showing me what power really means.

 

I have met the world!

My circle of “Facebook friends” grows ever wider,

and yet the circle of people who are physically present–

whose eyes reflect my own as I “just dropped by” for some conversation–

that circle grows ever smaller.

 

I can drop a line to Israel

And have my questions answered overnight.

I know goat farmers and politicians, soldiers and doctors.

I literally know a basket weaver.

He lives at the foot of a volcano selling to tourists.

 

Yet, I cannot drop by my neighbor’s house,

to borrow a cup of sugar,

because I left my home to see the world,

and now I am tainted by that self-same human race,

who built my beautiful home.

 

I am infected with the grief,

that I saw on the brows of so many people like me,

who have tasted senseless suffering at the hands of men,

and who have stood by silently,

as they watched others subjected to injustice.

 

I AM INFECTED….

 

So I avoid my home,

and I have settled far away out of convenience,

but I avoid making this new place my home too.

Because it is so much easier to hide in this little world,

behind the bright and hopeful screen of my laptop. 

Growing Up As Santa’s Daughter—Elf Training 101.

I know that Santa exists, because he is my dad.

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When I was a little girl, I believed in Santa in a more literal sense than any of my classmates. In my excellent child-like logic, Santa was not mysterious at all. My dad was Santa, my dad was real, and therefore Santa was real. My father certainly fit all of the basic prerequisites for the job: He had a big white beard, a slight pot-belly, rosy cheeks, and he spent every weekend out in his shop making toys and furniture for me and my older sister. I had handcrafted bookcases, rubber band guns, and one excessively well-made dollhouse as evidence for my claim. I don’t remember how I worked out the lack-of-elves running around my house issue, but I don’t remember being overly concerned by that detail.

As I gradually transitioned from the wide-eyed child that accepted magic as a matter of fact into a world-weary and sophisticated nine-year-old, I caved to the arguments of my friends and accepted that my Dad was not Santa, and if he wasn’t Santa then the odds were low that Santa was more than an elaborate hoax. I think the nail in Santa’s coffin came when I realized that Santa followed my mother’s political ideology in his toy selection, and not my father’s more kid-friendly political beliefs.

Then I became friends with a couple of goat farmers in Michigan, and got to know their seven-year old son, Ronin. Ronin is an unusually small and cherub-faced 7-year-old who used his small stature, and his unusually adult-like wit, on unsuspecting adults to coerce them into devoting hours and hours playing his favorite games. I was just one of those unsuspecting adults. I was living the life of a quasi-homeless young Soldier and so I found myself sleeping on their couch a few days before Christmas last year. I was headed to spend my Christmas weekend with my own family, but I fell into the cute kid trap and delayed my departure to spend the morning playing video games with Ronin. In passing, as he was gleefully demolishing me at Mario Kart, he mentioned that his favorite remote control car was broken and couldn’t be fixed.

I genuinely enjoy messing with children’s minds, so I decided to convince Ronin that my Dad was Santa Clause. “I bet your toy can be fixed Ronin,” I said slyly, “Santa can fix any toy right?”

“Obviously,” he said rolling his eyes, and clearly wondering why adults ask such painfully silly questions, “but Santa doesn’t fix toys, he only delivers new ones.”

“Really?” I countered mischievously, “I know Santa and I am pretty sure he fixes toys.”

“All adults say they know Santa,” countered the clever little snot, “they almost never do.”

“I do,” I countered with a miraculously strait face, “My Dad works for Santa. He can ask him.”

His little face froze as I could see him trying to find the flaw in this latest bit of information. “Can I see a picture?”

Luckily, my father has developed the habit of dressing in red flannel shirts and growing his beard out around Christmas time, because he loves watching kids stop and inform their parent’s that Santa just passed them on the sidewalk. I pulled up one of the red shirted, rosy-cheeked pictures I had taken of him from the year before. “That’s my dad,” I told him, fighting the insistent smirk that threatened to take over my face.

Ronin let out a long-suffering sigh, “Your dad doesn’t work for Santa. Only elves work for Santa. Your dad is Santa.”

“Maybe,” I shrugged. “If my Dad is Santa, then I bet he can fix your toy.”

“Fine!” He replied, “If your dad can fix my toy, then your dad is Santa.” (I should mention that I had already examined the toy and determined that it was a fairly easy fix).

We shook on it…

Aside from the intrinsic amusement that comes with tricking small and gullible children, I did have a reason for my little prank—Ronin is about the age when Santa (and subsequently a genuine belief in magic) will die, and I wanted to give him a more grown-up version of Santa to hopefully buy Santa a few more years before he met his demise. My dad fixed the toy (see picture above) and even gave him a signed note from Santa to seal the deal.

But here is the funny thing, the more that I think about it, the more that I think that kids actually are smarter than us, and that Santa really does exist. After all, why does magic have to be something that we cannot see? My dad used to spend all of his free time in his workshop, building toys for his kids, and once we grew up, he has started making toys and furniture for the community kids. It is impossible to see the joy on his face when he hands over his toys and gets to witness the unadulterated excitement on these kids faces, and not believe in magic. Isn’t that magic if ever it existed? What besides magic could take an old(er) man, who spends most of his time suffering from a body that just wont cooperate, and give him even a few minutes of pure happiness and pride? What besides magic could bind an entire culture together in an unspoken agreement to create a myth for our children—just to bring them some wonder and excitement in their lives?

I have even started elf training. I am too short and, well, female to become Santa (it makes it hard to grow the long white beard), but my Dad and I have taken to spending hours in the shop building Christmas presents for our loved ones, or turning hand-made ornaments for the tree. I have come to understand the magic I see on his face when he hands his gifts over. There really is no better feeling than giving a toy to a child that you made with your own hands, and watching their face light up.

So, I think that Santa’s magic is real (and by extension Santa), and that it is meant for adults, and not kids. As kids, we figure out that Santa’s toys come from a store, and that their probably is no jolly old elf living at the North Pole, and the magic of Santa seems fake, but we fail to see that the magic is not meant for the kids, but for the adults who get the chance, once a year, to take a break from our relentlessly rational cynicism, and instead make a little space in our lives for imagination and irrational belief. So, as you head into the Christmas season, please don’t forget to take some time to let Santa’s magic work on you, and against all reason, let yourself believe.

 

 

Rebel Blogger

I have gotten into a bad habit of writing a quick and shallowly thought-out post at the end of the week, just to put something up. I have been buried under Law School Applications and frankly after trying to “sell myself” to law schools all week, I just don’t feel like putting deep thought into my blog posts. I was reading this post railing against all of the “fluff” on the internet, and I realized that I am beginning to become an infinitely-dispisable fluff-generator myself. I feel like there is pressure to put out a post at a minimum once a week, so when I have no time to post, I just put a “weekly update” post. Sorry for my share of internet clutter. I have decided to atone for my sloppy blogger habits, and only post something if I think there is actual merit to the post. So, sometimes that will mean that I don’t post every week, and sometimes that means that I will post two or three times a week. I promise I will do my best not to waste your time, if you promise to be understanding if I don’t feel like deeply analyzing my life on a regular schedule. Iknow this breaks all of the “how to run a blog” rules, but what can I say? I am a rebel at heart ;)

 

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Back From the Dead

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Wow! Shoulder surgery sucks! I had no clue that it would hurt that much! They ended up having to do quite extensive repairs, so it took me a lot longer to get back in the game than I had originally predicted. I just recovered the ability to type with two hands this week (hence why I have been terribly neglecting my blog). I seriously enjoy writing, but I do not enjoy writing when every.word.has.to.be.typed.painfully.slowly.with.one.hand. The funny thing is, the thing that sucked the most about surgery was not thepain, or being constantly sick from the pain pills, or the fact that I could not cook (which was pretty damn terrible), but it was the fact that my limitations seemed to hold others back. Thank God for my parents, who have been amazing nurses! But it sucked when I was not well enough to travel to San Francisco to meet my sister, who was in town for a conference, so my mom had to bring my sister the three hour drive to their house in Auburn for her to stay, then turn around a day later and drive her back…and everyone missed out on a fun weekend exploring San Fran. The next week was even worse. My parents were supposed to go to the east coast to go Pumpkin Chunkin. Pumpkin Chunkin is an event where a bunch of engineers get together, every halloween season, and build catapults in order to launch innocent pumpkins as far as possible before the meet an untimely and gruesome death when they make contact with the ground. It sounds kind of awesome actually…  My dad is a retired engineer, so my mom got him tickets as a surprise for Christmas last year. Even though I had arranged to be babysat by my old Army friends back in Monterey, my health was justnot up to being that far away from home for six days, so they had to cancel the trip. They went down the coast for a three days, and I saw my friends and didn’t die, but I did have to sleep for two days solid afterwards, and a six day trip would have been totally unmanageable. I felt awful that I had to ruin their romantic trip! I am told that old people love is important too, and the last thing that I wanted to do was get in the way of their romance. They have two full grown kids after all, they should be well past the stage of life where their children get in the middle of their love….I owe them a HUGE thank you. Maybe I will get them a “Thank You” elephant. That might be big enough… I actually might do that. I am banking on the fact that my mother is always too busy to read my blog, and my father doesn’t ever read it (so far as I know), so it will still be a surprise.

Bottom line, being crippled sucks. I am slowly getting better, though I still cannot do full days, or lift things, or chop things, or do anything useful really. Sigh. Someday I will get better. Actually, I have a deadline. I have to be able to re-take the LSAT by December 9th. My wife and I just found out that I cannot get command sponsorship to live with her in Germany. Apparently, when DOMA was killed and they said that same-sex marriage would be recognized equally on a federal level, they lied. We were told point blank that we were ineligible for Command Sponsorship to Germany because we were in a same sex marriage. Unless they redefined the meaning of “equal” that seems unequal to me…. we tried fighting it, but it went way over our heads and even over all of the heads of the higher-ups who stepped in on our behalf. So we are stuck separated. What this means for the LSAT is that December is my last chance to re-take the LSAT before I have to put inlaw school applications (I decided since I am stuck stateside, I may as well make something of my life). I got a 163 the first time I took it, but It totally bombed the Logic Games section…I signed up for a class in Logic Games and I am hoping that this will translate into a significant increase in my score in December.

Anyway, thats all for now. I have to go shopping for elephants.   Elephant-Walking-Journey-Road

Surgery.com

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Luckily, I am pretty sure my surgeon is better than the one pictures above (at least I hope so). Yup, I am having shoulder surgery tomorrow to fix a bicep tendon that I tore in the Army. It has been a long two year process to get to the point where I can actually be treated, so despite my slight (ok, fairly hefty) nerves about going into my first major surgery, I am excited to finally get better! I miss kickboxing. Shoot, I miss being able to simply lift heavy things! I cannot wait! As my surgeon put it, “this is a painful one.” So the first few weeks should be unpleasant, but I have lots and lots of homemade soup and goodies stocked up, so hopefully it wont be too bad. I figure I will take the time to catch up on all of those t.v. series that came out in the last few years and I have never had the time to watch. Anyway, I may not be able to post much for a little while until I can use both hands again and no longer have to be knocked out on pain pills. Wish me luck world! I can only that I will be back to my old ass-kicking self very soon. 

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