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Archive for May, 2006

I’d forgotten to post during the packing fury. Our last day in Melbourne is behind us. We’re currently in New Zeland waiting for our flight to Los Angeles. In Melbourne we were very overweight with luggage and had to chuck over 20 kilos of stuff at the airport!

Well, that was ONE way to get rid of stuff that we didn’t really need. One to the next journey, New Zealand to LA to Miami/Boston.

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With our departure date just about ready to pop around the corner, we’ve been trying to figure out our financial situation as far as student loans are concerned. We owe heaps, education is expensive. One of our loans happens to be a private student loan, which offers no mercy to Peace Corps volunteers – meaning the maximum amount of time one can request of deferment is one year. We will have to dig into our readjustment allowance to pay the monthly interest for the first year and then derfer them or, continue to pay interest throughout our Peace Corps service. I’m not even as excited about this so-called readjustment allowance as I used to be for two reasons:

1. Taxes are taken out, just as if you were working at any other job. Normally I wouldn’t mind having to pay taxes, as they pay for good things such as schools, new roads, hospitals and very much-needed wars in Iraq (note the sarcasm in the last point). But we earn so much less per year than the average person in America working full-time job at minimum wage.

2. We will probably be deducting about $90-$100 per month to pay interest on that bugger of a loan that doesn’t favour Peace Corps Volunteers.

This quote comes directly from the Peace Corps Yahoo Group:

Acutally, it ends up being LESS than $6000 because they take out
taxes. I think when all was said and done it was a little over
$4500...FYI

A little over $4,500!!!!!! Subtract 24 interest-only payments of $100 dollars each and your total is $2,400, therefore leaving each of us with about $2,100, or $4,100 between the two of us. Talk about a shocker!

Well, on the positive side, $4,000 is better than nothing or getting malaria. It will be put to good use such as travel and finding a place to live in which ever part of the world we may be headed to after Peace Corps.

I remember being 14 and getting $40 a month for allowance was a lot. These days, a couple thousand gets a shoulder shrug or “I’ll take that over nothing!”.

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We haven’t had much in the refridgerator since last week so I picked up some last provisions that should last us through the week. Geez, it felt like I was preparing for the last supper, I spent a good 15 minutes in the bread goods isle – and it was mostly empty because it was 11pm:

1 box of 12 individually-wrapped Tim Tams (for me)
2 plums
2 pears
250 grams of pistachios
1 pkg of Maria biscuits (for Will)
1 pkg of wholemeal crackers
hummus
soy milk
mini loaf of multi-grain bread
1 Tetrabrik of Mango-Apple juice
vegetarian mozzerella cheese
Mango tea

I want to say this will be my last trip to the supermarket, but we have a dinner party tomorrow and I need to get stuff for my/our Peace Corps Survival Kit – a kit of sorts which will take up an entire suitcase. Stay tuned for the exciting list of those contents. No, Oreos nor Peanut Butter will not be on the list.

Tim Tams really are the most irresistable biscuit.

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Current Checklist:

  • The Da Vinci Code came out today. Saw it. Check.
  • Our passports have finally arrived at SATO Travel and have been forwarded for processing. We will get to leave for El Salvador after all. Check.
  • Our flights to staging in DC have been booked and confirmed. Leaving Providence on June 5 at 9:30am. Check.
  • Found new home for Citrus and Sophia. Check.

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This Sunday Will and I went over to Elizabeth Street to buy our super-sleek, ultra-light sleeping bags. I lounged in it all day while reading a book that made me long for Cuba. I also found out how difficult it is to look attractive in a sleeping bag–I felt like a human worm. pretended I was visiting another Peace Corps volunteer and sleeping on their concrete floor. Our carpeted floor was a bit uncomfortable…I wonder was concrete will be like. Hmm.

The last time I had my own sleeping bag it was large, warm, pink and decorated with white fluffy sheep and I slept in it every night. This is definately a step up the fashion ladder!

We’re having Australia’s biggest sleepover this weekend. The end-of-course MIDA (Monash Internationonal Development Association) semi-formal ball is this weekend and about 90% of the 40+ attendants live in the suburbs. Most people will want to stay in the city for the after party and Will and I live in 1 of the 3 flats located in the city. So, our sleeping bags will be put to good use. I’ll ask the sleepers how comfortable they are on bare floors and take purchasing action of a mat of sorts depending on the results.

I’m quite excited about this weekend as I have visions of having a proper prom-like event (I hated my prom and left early because it was lame), with fancy dress and good friends and minus the way-to-drunk minors. However, it is our last weekend in Melbourne. And what a great last weekend it will be!

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Not so Lucky 13


We have 13 days left in Melbourne. We’re at the point where we bring up at least once a day how many days we’ve got left in this sunburnt country. This is the first time in my life where I’ve said, “But…I don’t want to leave”. When I ride the trams I look out the window and observe every person and every shop that passes by to create the perfect mental picture. When I wake up in the morning, I take a moment to listen to the rest of the building waking up and the city coming to life outside the window. I think about evenings with out Tim Tams, breakfasts without perfectly toasted and buttered crumpets and nights without the scurrying sounds of Citrus and Sofia as they dash about in their bed of woodchips.

Yesterday I woke up and though to myself as I lay in bed staring out the window, “Quite soon I’m going to wake up under a mosquito net…far, far away from this eggcrate lined king-sized bed in a room designed for a double bed. Far, far away from friends, the familiar streets of Melbourne and this wonderful city we’ve come to call home”.

I’m beyond excited about the new adventures that El Salvador holds, but at the same time I feel like I’m going through the motions of some sort of potentially messy break-up. We’re breaking up with Melbourne and it’s starting to hurt.

What is the best cure for a broken heart? Time, I suppose.

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Two things happened today:

1. Since the Melbourne US Consulate took care of lodging our no-fee passport applications I though we were on the fast road to getting our passports. Today I recieved an email from the Inter-America/El Salvador Country Desk sharing this piece of information: SATO Travel has informed us that they have not recieved your no-fee passport applications. What is this? Does anything we touch disappear into some sort of black hole, never to be seen again? We followed instructions exactly the way the materials advised–except for the Consulate insisting that DC advised them to lodge the applications themselves.

2. Our staging materials came today so we immediately emailed SATO Travel to make our flight reservations to staging in DC. We’re staying at the Holiday Inn. Fantastic. However, we were advised that if our no-fee passport fails to materialise itself, we can forget about getting cleared to leave with our training group.

After coming this far, even after all of the hurdles we’ve jumped over, I’d hate for things to be ruined over a silly passport! Geez.

Think positive thoughts. Think positive thoughts.

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An email appeared in my inbox this morning from our placement officer and the first thing that went through my head was that Peace Corps was pulling us out of our program or that we were getting our departure date pushed back. Something really horrible. However, it was simply a question on behalf of the Peace Corps/El Salvador staff wondering as to whether I’d like to switch over the the Youth Development program from the Municipal Development program.

I of course said yes.

I must admit that I was actually disappointed and scared at first when I found out that I was going to do Municipal Development instead of Youth Development. I have come to terms now with it and after having done research I decided that I could actually do plenty of good work as a Municipal Developer and enjoy it as well.

Now that I accepted to be switched over, it’s like getting invited all over again! I have to read new informational material, switch around the blogs in my Firefox tabs so that I can read YD blogs instead of Muni-Dev, get excited again about being able to teach and how the plan is coming together again as it was meant to. Will is happy and I’m happy.

However, now there is a bit of uncertainty as it seems that because we are now in different programs we will have to live separately, as our programs seem to train in different towns. Well, if that’s the way it is. There’s only an up-side to it: Will’s Spanish will improve even more by leaps and jumps and we can compare our host-family experiences like we did when we lived in Sevilla.

Either way, everyone wins.

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After accepting our invitation, we were instructed to write an aspiration statement explaining our strategies for apapting to cross-cultural situations and our professional and personal goals for our Peace Corps service. Besides the fact that, even though I was completely honest and sincere, it was pure cheese–a cheese factor of 9.67 on the cheesiness scale.

I’ve been giving some thought to my main strategy for dealing with cross-cultural situations, which is keeping an open mind as much as possible and not having any expectations, and if I could think of any specific examples of when it’s worked and how it’s helped me before. I think the main thing that I find challenging about travelling somewhere is the language barrier. Keeping an open mind and not expecting anything, while expecting everything is more easily said than done. Keeping an open mind and not having too many expectations is key.

Some tips that have helped me overcome my frustrations:

1. Do read up a a bit about the place you’re going to, especially if it’ll be your new home. It’ll come as less of a shock to you if you read before hand that giving someone a thumbs up means telling them to go to hell, rather than finding yourself in a pub, giving a thumbs up and getting punched in the face.

2. Don’t expect to find things exactly as they are at home. If you live in a developed country and are travelling to a developing country, don’t expect that people will do things the same way. For example, if you’ve got to go to the bank to deposit money, don’t expect for it to be open when it says its meant to be. And try not to let it get to you too much!

3. The locals will have a different way of doing things and a different way of thinking, and it’s not inferior to yours or better. You might even think it’s rude or odd. Try not to judge the locals based on your own cultural standards. Your neighbour might not think twice about telling you that you’ve gained weight or that you’re fat, but it’s just not taboo for them to be upfront about some things and once you figure that out that they aren’t purposely trying to be mean, you’ll be able to shrug it off.

4. Get into the habit of observing and listening, rather than just going out there and doing things at first. This will make you stick out less and you give the impression that you’re at least attempting to be respectful. If you’re unsure as to how something is done, wait for others to begin and follow their lead.

5. Be able to laugh at yourself and learn how to accept failure. Being the native speaker that I am, I once said mear (to pee) instead menear (to stir). Yes, I was expremely embarrassed, but I laughed with the rest of the people present instead of getting upset that they were laughing in the first place.

6. Have some expectation about what you hope to accomplish, but be prepared to adjust your expectations or goals to lower levels. Sometimes much, much lower. If volunteering in rural Bolivia a health promoter for a year isn’t at all what you expected, take a moment to think about why specifically and see if you can adjust your goals to a lower level or in a different direction and see how that works for you. Some times we tend to get caught up in the euphoria of going that when the excitement wears off and reality sets in, we are really disappointed.

Your expectations play a big, big role in how your experience will play out, so try to keep them flexible!

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I happened across this article in the Boston.com News, which happend to be about El Salvador and U.S fast foods. The author made some really interesting points in the article that I felt would be good to summarize here considing that in about a month we’ll be observing and breathing the situation first-hand:

  • Some 20 percent of El Salvador’s population regularly purchases US food items. With more women joining the labor force and fewer of them at home to assist in food preparation, the demand for convenience and fast foods is increasing.
  • US foods such as hot dogs and hamburgers are preferred by the younger generation, as are American-style food courts in urban shopping centres
  • Generally, people living in urban areas consume more bread and meats than tortillas and beans.
  • 48 percent of the people remain in poverty
  • Salvadorans receive nearly $3 billion a year in remittances from relatives in the United States and the country would

This quote made me think…a lot:

”Globalization might help some people, but we also have Salvadorans in the US who never buy new clothes, go to the worst schools, and who send money home to people who purchase the most expensive shoes, and shop for the biggest televisions in the malls in El Salvador. It ends up being poor dollars sent by poor people, and for what?”

And that’s what I’m doing. Thinking about the different realities that exist in this world and how reality is fact a social construct.

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