If we’re being honest

Hello Friends and Strangers alike!

Welcome back! I suppose blogging will go in the same “could use improvement” box as eating better, running more, and reading. For this, I am sorry for the delay. It has been about 3 months since I last checked in and I’m still attempting to wrap my head around that number. A Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Cameroon said it best; Peace Corps service is painfully long, and painfully short all at the same time. It felt like just yesterday I was at Smith Mountain Lake with my friends at my going away party, and now 6 months has come and gone. So what have the past three months looked like?

My first month at post was amazing. I was on a new post high that Peace Corps. I love my NGO and the staff I work with. I have the best post mate to answer all of my dumb questions, and I have so many amazing PCVs surrounding me in the Littoral and the West Region. I am very lucky to be so close to so many other PCVs and I am able to see them more than I ever thought possible. I started my community needs assessment, found so much data about Nkongsamba, and started the process of collecting survey data. Month two was much different. I hit a point of extreme frustration, crisis at home, and overall doubt of my decision to join Peace Corps. I say this because I want to be honest. I want other PCVs in my stage and in the stage above mine to know it’s okay to not be okay.  I also want to emphasize that it is also okay to not be okay, publicly. While I am thrilled for the volunteers who haven’t been faced with challenges, I also want to address the martyr culture within Peace Corps. I feel like there’s a silent pact made among us that we cannot publicly say Peace Corps service is unbelievably difficult from time to time. We all have really low points, but we’re so afraid to admit to others that Peace Corps service isn’t always a bouquet of roses. I am guilty of this as well. For my own vain and personal reasons, I wanted my Peace Corps service to look like this wonderful, wild adventure, where I enjoyed every second of every day.

Here’s the truth:

  • December 24th: I hiked up to Tarzan falls with PCVs around Nkongsamba and two of my best friends in village. This was arguably my favourite day in Cameroon. Celebrated Christmas in Nkongsamba, which totally has a great ring to it if you know how to pronounce it! (pronounced Kong(like king kong)-Samba(sorta like Simba but with an A), the N is silent; still unsure why.)
  • January 1st: Tested positive for Malaria. Wanna know what simultaneously getting in a car wreck and have mono at the same time feels like? Get malaria. I didn’t leave my bed for a week. Lost 7 pounds because I physically couldn’t make myself walk from my bed to kitchen to make food.
  • January 8th: Finally recovered from malaria and traveled to Yaoundé to pick up medicine with my region-mate Julia. While in Yaoundé I met a friend of a friend from Lynchburg, ate amazing food, and finally got to see the artesian market in the city.
  • January 14th: Had my whole NGO over to my house for a housewarming/American food dinner. While they weren’t huge taco fans, it was nice to finally have everyone together like the family they’ve become to me.
  • January 20th: I locked myself in my house because I cracked under the constant pressure of sexual harassment I get in public. I cried for hours and refused to leave my house the entire weekend.
  • January 25th: I found out it was my coworkers birthday and had the honour of buying his first birthday cake. He was so happy and I loved being a part of that moment.
  • January 29th: I woke up to several missed calls from my mom. My grandpa was in the hospital, the prognosis wasn’t good. That day was a blur. I spent to day crying, filled with guilt for choosing to be so far away from my family, and on the phone with every Peace Corps administrator organising an emergency trip home to the states.
  • February 1st: I was back on American soil. My best friend Morgan drove all the way to DC to pick me up from the airport bearing gifts of new clean clothes and air freshener. While I was home I was able to see my family, friends, take hot showers, and gain 10 pounds I had lost by eating every delightful American meal I could. Bittersweet was the best way to describe this trip. Being in Cameroon so long had somewhat blurred the memory of the life and identity I had in the US. I won’t lie; I loved having “my” life back. I loved it so much, I debated whether or not I should get back on the plane to Cameroon.
  • February 18th: My first full day back at my post and I had every volunteer from my region over for our regional volunteer action committee meeting; which included a feast of tacos, many laughs, buying squad pagne (fabric), a haircut, and a deep appreciation of the people I call the Litty Littorals. I didn’t tell them (but I guess this is now), but I was dreading returning to post. They made a situation I felt panic attack level anxiety about, into such a joyful day, and I am so thankful.
  • February 21st: I tested positive for malaria. Again. I was instructed by the Peace Corps Medical office to go to the capital for more tests and to have a talk. While in Yaoundé I dealt with obvious challenges associated with malaria in addition to accusations of not taking my prophylaxis and threatened to be administratively separated on Dr. Blessing’s belief that I don’t take my prophylaxis. Once again my mind jumped to the thought “I should just ET”. I was incredibly sick, urged by both my parents and friends to come home, and suddenly felt like the Peace Corps organization did not support me or want me in country. Truthfully the only thing that kept me in country was the fact I knew I had a care package in my PO Box in Nkongsamba. *Continues shameless plug for my love of care packages*
  • March 6th: I traveled to Bafoussam for my stage’s Reconnect Training. Each stage comes back together after 3 months at post to receive new training and to present what we have learned and observed during our time at post. It was so good to see my fellow stagemates after 3 months apart. Since being at post and on my own, they feel like a very small amount of the population that truly understands the daily struggle of being an American living in Cameroon. We ate fish from a mama on the street, paid $60 USD for a bottle of Absolut, laughed at every embarrassing moment we’ve had in village, and took some really adorable polaroid photos.

These are just a few of the highs and lows that I have faced in Cameroon, and I am sure that there are many, many more to come. I want to be as transparent as possible. Peace Corps is hard. Peace Corps is frustrating. But Peace Corps is beautiful in it’s own way. Its the only job I’ve ever had that leaves me smiling ear to ear one day and laying in bed crying the next. But this is an opportunity for growth and change. On the last day of staging we were told by our staging staff that it’s okay if the only life changed during your Peace Corps service is your own. Another volunteer in my stage stumbled across the blog of a volunteer that served at her site back in 2010. 8 years later, her sentiment still feels incredibly accurate:

“If I came to Cameroon to save the world, I am certainly not doing it. I am witness to a different way of life. I am witness to my choices and actions and strengths, but more often my weaknesses. I am not saving the world, I am not even sure if I am saving myself.”
If you’d also like to check out this RPCV’s amazing blog, you can find it here.

So far, it might just be my own life that’s been changed. I also don’t feel like I’ve saved anyone or significantly improved the life of the people at my post. But I will say that I am hopeful and it is that hope that keeps me here. I try to constantly remind myself that everything in this country comes petit à petit; I certainly will not be an exception.

It is my hope that other volunteers will be more transparent. Share your victories and your defeats. This is my attempt to do the same. I hope that my candor sheds a light on what PC service is really like, and I hope it encourages others to do the same.

 

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Fellow PCVs that made the trek to Nkongsamba for New Years
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A few community health workers kind enough to help me with my survey, all while I butchered the French language
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The view from my balcony will always be my favourite part of Nkongsamba
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A very pale me, and some really great stagemates

 

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Nous Sommes Ensemble

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I’ll be the first to admit this one, I have seriously dropped the blogging ball. Every time I sat down during Pre-Service training to write something, I immediately felt that I either did not have an interesting enough story or enough information to actually write about. But now, after a long two-month hiatus, I’m ready to rumble.

Reflection upon PST:
Have you ever simultaneously felt like a toddler and master’s degree recipient in the same day? No? Well, let me tell you that this is the exact feeling I have every day of training in the Peace Corps. During our technical training I feel like a Public Health savant and my brilliance is quickly dimmed two hours later in French class. Before joining the Peace Corps and committing my career to be solely in French, I never gave the language a second thought. Growing up in the United States, French is an elective you can take in school, but practically you’ll never use it unless you travel to Quebec or do a semester abroad in France. Personally, I found Spanish to be far more useful in the US. With an emerging Hispanic population, I was able to practice and improve my skills in the US and later while working in Costa Rica. I walked into language class the first day thinking, “Spanish and French are basically the same. This is going to be a breeze.” In retrospect every time I think things will be so easy it is so not. For all that do not know the French language, I want to take you down a road to explain the frustration I have with the entire language. I want you to now read that entire last sentence and not pronounce the last letter in each word. The French language is full of SO MANY SILENT LETTERS. Oh, and, one more thing; out of all of those words you just read, you will actually pronounce one of the last letters in the words for whatever the reason. Welcome to the French language. It has been one of the greatest challenges I have ever faced. I would rather spend 10 hours rewriting my final MPH report about selective serotonin receptors than sit through French. But as much as I failed and flopped (and still do) through learning this new language, I know it must be done. Learning that one language stood between me and joining an elite group of 200,000 US citizens that have served in 171 countries worldwide.

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Mama Aline! She is the only reason I passed my French Proficiency Exam.

So let’s recap the last two months:
PST was full of uncertainty. Due to civil unrest in the country, Peace Corps has removed volunteers from the two Anglophone regions of Cameroon (The Northwest and the Southwest). It is worth stressing that the other regions are very safe to work in and, Cameroon, as a whole, is a very peaceful nation. Many of the volunteers that were working in the Northwest and the Southwest have widely expressed the feeling that they felt safe in their respective villages. Unfortunately, many of my incoming health stage’s posts were supposed to be in the Northwest and Southwest; 16 of the 27 to be exact. When Peace Corps Cameroon announced on October 23, that volunteers would be removed and our stage would not go the two regions, PC Cam staff was given the arduous task of hunting out 16 new posts for my health stage. For this reason, we did not find out our specific regions until week seven and our actual posts until week eight.
I spent much of PST unsure of what to tell others. I couldn’t tell my friends and family where I would be going or begin researching the specific culture that I would inevitably live in. I would also be lying if I didn’t question if I would even go to a post. Usually our posts are picked and vetted up to a year before we ever arrive in country. I was afraid that we would end up being sent home and redistributed to other Peace Corps countries. But, thankfully, that did not happen.
We did site visits on the fifth week of PST. During site visit, I was sent to the Adamawa region. Usually your site visit indicates where you be posted, so I was thrilled with the prospect of spending the next two years there. While it would not involve a ton of HIV and Aids work, I was excited because it is a truly beautiful region, with kind and wonderful people. We also had the added bonus of celebrating Halloween there with other PCVs! It was so fun to celebrate even though we are worlds away from the US. It is little things like that that help alleviate the FOMO I frequently feel. The only part of my visit to the Adamawa that I look back on with ill feelings is the fact that I tore my lateral ligament stepping in a pot hole.

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Halloween in the Adamawa!!
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Traditional Henna I had done in the Adamawa
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Did you even go to the Adamawa if you didn’t hang out with the cows?

After this occurred, I was sent to Yaoundé to get my ankle checked out. That week was the most nerve racking. Once the MRI indicated I had a torn ligament, my fate was in the hands of Headquarters in Washington if I could return back to training or if I would need to return to the states for surgery. While my ankle frequently hurts and walking is less than desirable, I refused to go home. With persistence that I could continue, and the promise (that I didn’t keep) of using crutches for a month, Peace Corps let me return to training.

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Peep the new fancy ankle brace that I get to wear every day!

Finally, we received our site posts. Much to my surprise, I was posted in the Littoral. Not only was I shocked to not be going to the Adamawa, I was shocked to find out that I would be going to a city of 250,000 people. To put things into perspective, many of my fellow stage-mates are in villages with less than 1,000 people. It feels painfully ironic that I planned on being posted in the bush in a village of 500 people with no electricity or running water, and here I am; in a large metropolitan city with running water, electricity, and solid cell phone service. As my fellow stage-mates joke, I am living the “posh-corps” life.
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Photo Cred: Thanks D’arcy for all of these AWESOME photos of the Littoral.

After 10 long weeks of intense language and community health education, 47 (27 health and 20 Agriculture) traded in the “T” in PCTs for a”V”. It is almost surreal to think that I am a Peace Corps Volunteer. It’s not an easy job, but it’s one that I love so much already. Our swearing in ceremony was held at a very glamorous resort in the West Region. The night before our stage got to take hot showers, swim in a pool, drink above average beer, and sing wagon wheel more times than I can count. Cameroonians use the phrase “nous sommes ensemble”; it means “we are together”. That was so characteristic of the last night of PST. It is no secret, when you put 27 20-something year olds, all with different backgrounds and beliefs, in a rigorous 10-week training away from everything we know, personalities can clash. But on our last night, we were together. All difference aside, we are one huge, dysfunctional family. The next day we took the same oath that thousands of PVCs, Senators, Governors, and Presidents have taken before us; an oath to defend the constitution of the United States. Even during a time when loving the government is hard, there was a solemn and daunting feeling taking the same oath as so many great leaders before me. While the United States is not perfect, I proudly boast it is a country that I love dearly and am so thankful to get the opportunity to represent.

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The Health Stage!
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The Fab 47!

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Honey, We Adopted a White Girl:
After the swear in ceremony concluded, we all returned to our host families to say our final goodbyes and pack up before leaving for our posts the next day. Living with my host family was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I lived with a Muslim, polygamist family that does not speak English, with the exception of the father and one son; both of which spoke more broken English than anything. Communication, at first, was nonexistent. Because I arrived in country with zero French, I could not communicate aside from typing what I wanted into the translator on my phone. Truthfully, I did not actually get to know my family until the end of PST once I had enough of a grasp on the French language so that I could hold extended conversations. I will admit that Cameroon does religion right. Different religions truly live in peace in Cameroon, and America could really take notes from them. My host family was so kind and accommodating to a random American Christian girl. They never pushed their own beliefs on me or belittled me for my own beliefs. I was especially close with one of my host mothers. Pardon my French, but Agee is a real badass woman. She’s a renegade in her domain without even knowing it. Ask any of my friends in PST and they’ll tell you I rave about my “boujee” mom. She wore dresses embellished with rhinestones and glitter. You could hear her no matter what part of the compound you were in because her laugh was always just that boisterous. Unlike the other wives of my host dad, she worked so that she could send her children to better schools; including sending her oldest daughter to medical school. She often told me how happy she was that I was chasing my dreams and doing the things I wanted in life. She was so remarkable for so many reasons and I am very thankful that I got to be a part of their family, even if it was just for three months. At the end of PST I got the family a few gifts and FINALLY got a family photo. While I’m still missing a few members of the family, getting over 15 people in the same place for a group photo is nearly impossible.

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My two Cameroonian Mamas
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Here it is! The closest I ever came to a complete family photo!

 

New Post, New Me?
Finally, I departed for Nkongsamba to start work at my post. I was assigned to work with an incredible NGO. The Association of Dynamic Women is a non-profit focused on allllllll things relating to women. They do everything from menstruation education to gender based violence counseling. Every person that works for the association is so dedicated to improving the lives of women in any way possible. They are passionate about their work and unbelievably accommodating. If you think I’m exaggerating, the President of the Organization, who happens to also be my work counterpart, opened up her own home to myself and the other two volunteers posted in the Littoral for our first few days because she knew we didn’t have any furniture in our homes. Claudine is the most amazing woman I have met in Cameroon. In our first weeks’ time in the Littoral, she assisted with all of our moving logistics (which, trust me, moving two suitcases, a trunk, a backpacker’s pack, a bed, and other miscellaneous items, is no small task), fed us unlike any feasts we’ve had in country for multiple days, negotiated pricing on home goods so that we wouldn’t pay the “white man” price, and is always so willing to help. Aside from her unbelievable accommodating skills, working with her and the organization is just as exciting.

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Can we just talk about the view from her home?
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I bet you wish your boss make you these kinds of breakfasts and host you like mine!
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The Famous Claudine!

I am also so excited that the same volunteer that was at the airport to greet all of the new trainees, is my site mate! To add to the coincidence, we also have the same last name. So when people joke that “the” white people in town are siblings, they aren’t too far off. D’arcy just entered into his second year of Peace Corps Service and is about a 15 minute moto ride away. Coincidentally, when we (Myself, Julia, and David) arrived to post while D’arcy was launching a 5 day HIV screening event to celebrate World Aids Day. As soon as the new Littys (the name affectionately given to volunteers in the Littoral, or Litty Littoral) to post, we jumped to help at the events D’arcy planned. It was so cool to be a part of such a cool event, even on my first day. I would also like to give D’arcy and his team a shoutout for testing over 2,000 people for HIV in 5 days. I have a feeling that working next to him will keep a fire underneath me to do more and aim higher than I would otherwise.

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D’arcy’s Testing team! They killed it!

I am less than a week into work, and were already discussing the plans for the Cacun Cultural Festival in March. During this festival, 30,000 people will ascend upon Nkongsamba for music, dancing, and women’s empowerment. This year we are aiming to test 5,000 people for HIV and provide linkage services. Already Claudine and the staff have confidence in my ability to help plan such a huge event; even when I don’t have the same unwavering faith in myself. On my first “official” day of work, the threw me a huge welcoming party. I’ve never felt so loved and welcomed at a job. This incredible capable and I know without a doubt that the next two years will be full of love, laughter, and empowering women.

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The best team a PCV could ever hope for!

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They like to feed me, but when it looks like this, I’m very okay with it.

 

In Closing:
I salute you for making it this far into the post! Thank you so much for following along with me on this incredible journey! If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email. If you’d like to send me physical letters or packages, you will be my new favorite human. My permanent mailing address is:

Megan Williams
Peace Corps Volunteer
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 15
Nkongsamba, Littoral Region, Cameroon

 

 

CHEERS TO THE NEXT TWO YEARS!!!!

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Silver Linings 

It’s been two weeks of this two year adventure and man have things really taken off. I’ve officially started my training, and I’m well on my way to becoming a sworn in Peace Corps Volunteer on December 1. These two weeks have not been without their difficulties, but it has also had some beautiful moments as well. In the interest of your time and my laziness, here’s a quick list things in my life you can laugh at: 
The Storms: 

The airline forcing you to check your carry on because it’s too heavy at the staggering price of $200. (I hate you Air Brussels) 

Sitting at an outdoor police station for 11 hours to get your immigration papers (3 of which were spent sitting in the down pouring rain). 

Frying your electric coffee pot ON THE FIRST NIGHT IN COUNTRY. 

Your French teacher constantly reminding you that your French sounds like Spanish (can you blame me? I miss you Costa Rica) and you keep saying Spanish words as French ones and that’s not allowed. 

Geese are the worst creatures to ever roam this earth. You think a rooster is bad? Get a goose and then talk to me. They bite and they crow all night. Every night. 

Falling and eating it in front of a large group of school children. Fun fact, kids are mean and suck in all countries. 

Caking mud on every single pair of shoes you own. 

Suddenly trying to figure out this whole “no electricity, running water, clean water, internet, and cell phone service” thing. 

The doxycycline you’re taking to prevent yourself from getting malaria simultaneously causes you to turn into a tomato after being in the sun for more than 5 minutes. 
The Sun: 

Making amazing friends on the first day. (Maybe this is just me here, but when your spirit animal is a house cat, making friends is a big deal.) 

Being able to form sentences in French after just one week of language classes. 

Bringing Pumkin Spice Latte flavored coffee with you so you can pseudo-celebrate fall even though you’re sweating profusely everyday. Oh. And convincing said French teacher to like coffee because you showed her what good coffee should taste like. 

Sitting in training lectures and TOTALLY KNOWING HOW TO DO EVERYTHING THEY’RE SAYING. Winking at you Lynchburg College. Who knew my fancy piece of paper would actually be used? 

Finally figuring out how to flush your toilet without running water. Trust me, it’s tricky. 

Buying fabric and getting clothes tailored; All in French, might I add. 

Not getting sick despite eating street food. **maybe my greatest achievement thus far**
The Silver Linings 

Unfortunately Cameroon is a very, very patriarchal society. Women have little freedom to be their own person and men often don’t give them the credit they deserve. In my own host home, many of the girls don’t go to school. After talking to one of my host sisters she said, “wow. You have done so much on your own. I want that”. So here’s to all of us PC ladies being bad ass role models and showing every little girl we encounter that they can be more than a mother and housewife if they want. 

While the HIV rate in Cameroon is 4.3% of the population, you are now equipping yourself to reduce that number, even if it’s just one person. HEALTH EDUCATION IS REALLY COOL GUYS. 

While I may have little access to the internet, which sucks when I want to talk to people back home, I completely escape and skip political debates, celebrity gossip, unachievable body image spam, and general modern world garbage. Yes I am a melinnial. Yes this is possible. 

While I’m quite tired of walking all the time, sweating profusely, and eating the same meal everyday (Cameroon is a wee bit lacking in food choice variety), this is the best diet I’ve ever been on. I feel so much healthier and that’s pretty cool. 
I hope this update put a smile on your face, and also alerted you that I’m alive and well. Feel free to email me or leave a comment if you have any questions! And if you’re feeling extra supportive, drop a post card/letter to this address: 

Megan Williams 
Peace Corps Trainee
Corps de la Paix
B. P. 215 
Yaoundé, Cameroon 
Airmail

Three Weeks, Three bags. Help.

It’s official. I have three weeks left in country (Well, actually 19 days which is a little under 3 weeks, but I’m still slightly in denial that I’m actually leaving). Three empty bags sit in my bedroom floor as I type this post. I am struggling to find the words that describe the way I feel about this impending life change. I cannot adequately explain this now, and I struggle to convey this even more so to family, friends, and well wishers. Here is the best I can do to describe how I feel about this journey in response to my frequently received comments.

THE MOST FREQUENT QUESTION (DRUMROLL PLEASE): Why are you going?

This may be the most difficult question for me to answer because my reasons are so intricately tied together. When examining the age-old question: “what do I want to do with my life?”, I came up with a blank. During my senior year of college I struggled to decided what I wanted to do with my life while I saw my roommates and friends land their first adult jobs. I knew I loved healthcare and I knew I loved traveling, but I didn’t know how I could connect the two. I decided to do the most mature thing I knew how to do, and googled “jobs in healthcare that let you travel”. After scrolling through a million postings about travel nursing, I stumbled upon Peace Corps. I had always heard about Peace Corps, but never considered it for my own path. I almost find it funny that in my long winded Peace Corps journey, I have already met so many people where this was what they’ve wanted to do since they were a kid. For me, it was senior year anxiety and google. If you’ve read my previous posts you’ll know that I was actually accepted once before in 2016 to serve in Togo, but was unable to get medically cleared in time. After I received the news I would not be cleared in time, I spent the next year working my tail off to ensure I would go this time. I was so dedicated to the mission of the Peace Corps, that I knew this was not an opportunity I would let slip through my hands. I love knowing that I will spend the next 2 years working alongside some of the most brilliant and selfless Peace Corps volunteers to improve the lives of countless Cameroonians. I love that I can set aside my American life for two years to do something that is so much bigger than myself, because realistically, when will I ever be able to drop everything and move to another country during my lifetime? I also love the doors that Peace Corps can open. I want to commit my life to public service, more specifically within the World Health Organization, CDC, or National Institute of Health. Peace Corps will allow me to get the most practical field experience for these organizations.

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“Oh my. Aren’t you afraid to go there?”

The short answer: Sometimes. The answer I tell my mother: No. Different faces and different spaces are always scary. I do not know the group of people I will spend the next two years with, nor do I know the location I will be placed in country. I am afraid I will not fit in (this sounds like an elementary school problem, I know). I am afraid that I will not pick up French and dialects as quickly as I would like. I am afraid that I will not be able to serve the people I set out improve the lives of. And at minimal level, I am scared that my appearance and foreign status may make me a target of theft. While I may have these fear, I know I must disregard them and focus on the reasons I joined the Peace Corps to begin with.

“Two years? Aren’t you going to miss home?”

More than you know, but this decision was not made because I do not love my life here. It is because I love improving health outcomes of the underserved and *attempting* to make a corner of the world a better place. I am extremely lucking to have such an amazing support system and a life in the states to miss, but I know that home will still be there once my Peace Corps journey is over, so I will try my best to not have FOMO.

“What exactly is Peace Corps?”/ “What will you be doing?”

Peace Corps as a whole focuses on improving economically disadvantaged countries. Peace Corps focuses on Education, Agriculture, Health, Microfinance/Business, and Environmental Improvement. One of the many reasons I love Peace Corps so much is because they truly aim to improve the cornerstones of civilization. In regards to my specific job, I am not absolutely certain what I will be doing. So while I am unclear on specifics, I will show you the exact same paragraph I was given of my job description.

The purpose of the Community Health Program is to empower health care workers, individuals, and communities to reduce maternal, neonatal, and child morbidity and mortality, and prevent and mitigate HIV/AIDS. Volunteers focus on four key areas of intervention:

  1. Educating individuals and groups on mother and child health and good nutrition
  2. Mobilizing community members to support mother and child health and nutrition
  3. Creating and strengthening care groups that address mother and child health, nutrition,malaria, and/or HIV prevention
  4. Linking people living with HIV to treatment and other HIV services

What/How do you pack for TWO YEARS?

This is the struggle I am currently facing. Clothing is the easy part. It is all of the miscellaneous Peace Corps things that baffle me. Some job posts have consistent electricity, while others do not. Some have running water, and some do not. My amazon cart is constantly full of outdoor gear and camping essentials. I think my mom may be getting a little tired of the constant amazon packages arriving at the house. I find my cart full of citronella laundry detergent and solar powered chargers, when it used to be full of school books and shoes. With only two weeks left I still need to buy quite a bit, but thank god for an upcoming pay day and two day prime shipping. If you’re curious about the actual list Peace Corps gave me, you can find it here. On the official Peace Corps site, they recommend 66 different things, so somehow this will all fit in 3 bags.

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Do you get to come home?

The short answer, yes. The more complicated answer, it’s a hike. You do receive 30 days off a year with Peace Corps, but air fare is expensive and the US is a hike. I am hoping to visit once every six months, but more practically I may be able to only swing one trip a year. On a side note, I’d be more than happy to have any and all visitors. I’ll be an excellent translator and 9/10 people say I’m a great person to be around!

Did you have to get a bunch of shots to go there?

Fun Fact: I’m still fully vaccinated from when I worked in Ghana a few years ago. (Check the tbt below) A Second fun fact: Needles and doctors don’t bother me, so this portion of preparation did not scare or alarm me. Thankfully I will not get yellow fever or polio, but unfortunately I’m still at risk for cholera and dengue. We can’t win them all I suppose.

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Thank you all for bearing with me on this long post filled with FAQs and more packing procrastination. In conclusion, you guys are awesome for following me on this adventure. Feel free to comment, share, and stalk my life while I work abroad.

 

 

Peace Corps Round Two?

Cameroon, a small nation founded in 1960. It is, like many African nations, the culmination and remnants of English and French colonialism and African culture. The nation, representing a land mass slightly larger than the size of California and hosting a population of 24 million people, may soon have one more American inhabitant. Thinking about the Peace Corps journey for a second time is intimidating. A small piece of me feels like the little girl who  cried Peace Corps. This time last year I joyously boasted that I would be moving to Togo. This time around, I am reminded that life has a funny way of swatting your plans down. Shortly after arriving home from my internship in Costa Rica, I learned the sad fact that I would not be medically cleared to leave for Togo on my June 4th departure date. I will not sugar coat things, that moment was hard. For months I had told anyone with an open ear of my great plans to join Peace Corps, move to Togo, and save my corner of the world. Never did I think I would have to explain to everyone that I would not go. I didn’t think that I’d end up panicking for job security and take a position at a sales company in Charlotte. I didn’t think I’d end up so miserable at my job in Charlotte, that I would go back to get the Masters Degree I said I would never go back to get. I find myself doing and saying a lot of the things I said I would never do. But now, as it seems, I may very well live out my Peace Corps dreams. The very allergies that hindered my clearance last time have finally been proved false, whether I outgrew them or never had a true allergy, I will never know. This time I have no foreseeable obstacles, but I must, once again, get my mind into Peace Corps mode. I think of the months I have left at home with my friends and family, and I will admit, it is bittersweet. I love my life in the United States; I truly do. I have the most amazing friends and family that any person could ask for, a warm bed to sleep in, the privilege of higher education, and all the tools to forge an idealistic “American Dream” life. But I am trading all of this to move to a country I have never visited, with people I have never met, to do work that, quite frankly, I have no idea how to do, all in a language I do not understand. And to be completely honest, when I just typed that sentence, I questioned if I really am a rational human. But I cannot ignore one thing. I have this passion inside of me, or maybe call it the little voice in the back of my head, but it persistently and undeniably says, “go”. So that’s the plan, ya know, unless life decides that curve balls are cool again. I’m excited for these 27 months. I know by watching my PC Togo group that the journey is hard but worth it. I’m terrified but I cannot wait to take off on this new journey. I welcome all of the language barriers to work through, the growing pains of moving to the third world, and the certain personal growth to come. Here’s to Peace Corps Round 2!

Unexpected Surprises

Rapture Surf3

If you’ve ever attempted to live abroad, you know that life will always throw you curve balls. In the life of Megan, my curveball for the week was the threat of deportation. Fun Fact of the day: You are only allowed to be in Costa Rica for 90 days before your tourism visa expires. With that being said, on day 88 I made my way to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Little did I know that my “visa run” would end up being a few of the coolest days I’ve ever had abroad. My lovely friend Sam (Chasinggold.org (Seriously, go check her out, she’s amazing) agreed to embark on this adventure with me. The day started in San Jose where we left the bus station in an air conditioned bus. Can you say high class living? Anyways, we make it to the border where a guy boards the bus with a large plastic bag and demands that every person on the bus drop their passport and $15 into the bag. I immediately felt like I would never see my passport again or that it may be the end in general. Well, we made it across the border, but not without more drama. We get into a “taxi” (if I can even say that much) that was a flying, screaming, death trap. I kid you not, at one point the car stopped running in the forward direction so we then turned the car around and proceeded to go the correct way down the road but in reverse. Sam screamed Oh my God more times than I could count and I was screaming for God to help. Our prayers were answered and we ended up in San Juan del Sur where we met our host from airbnb.com Luis. As it turns out, our Airbnb was actually a surf camp that was in the beginning stages of opening. Unknown to me, Sam and I ended up staying in a Surfers Din. While we joked that it would be fun to try surfing, we never thought that we’d end up staying with a group of German Brothers and Cousins that are running a surf camp. On the second day there we attempted to learn how to surf. Sam didn’t quite make it to the lesson because she burned (and I mean Burned) her feet on the sand on the walk down to the water. With Sam being down for the count, it left me with Alvaro and a private lesson. Somewhere around my third attempt to get up I ended up wiping out and taking the fin of the board to my thigh. I can proudly boast a softball size bruise on my thigh as a souvenir of the adventure. Did I also mention that the soon to be surf camp is one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen? Seriously, if you’re considering taking a week off to go to a Surf camp and travel, this is the place to go. While Nicaragua is not up and functional (but it will be very soon) they also have other locations abroad in hot surf locations around the globe. You can research them at www.surfcamp.travel The guys are absolutely awesome and took the time to show Sam and I around. If you want to stay with them while they’re still an Airbnb, you can find their listing here. So to wrap things up, border control is scary, taxis are dangerous, surfing is cool, Nicaragua is beautiful, and I love this crazy life I get to live.

 

xoxo

Megan

Rapture SurfRapture Surf1Rapture Surf2Rapture Surf4Rapture Surf5

Living Abroad


Living abroad is really cool, but sometimes I think that it seems effortless. Living abroad is the hardest, but best thing you’ll ever do. It starts off being super cool. There’s so many sights to see and everything is so new. But then you realize that you’re not in Kansas anymore. You end up getting on the wrong bus. Twice. You spend an hour and a half on said bus, too scared to get off in the middle of nowhere. You end up getting food poisoning and spending three days in bed with your roommate contemplating if you have a tumor, a tapeworm, or if you’re generally dying. You step into pot holes and almost break your ankle (so maybe that isn’t Costa Rica’s fault. Mom always said she should have named me Grace). You stay in a hostel that’s $11 a night at the beach and get eaten alive by mosquitos when the Zika virus is going around in Central America. You see your friends that are still in college living it up during the last semester of their senior year and the FOMO is SO BAD. It means choosing a 3 mile walk home to save on bus fare because you’ve blown your budget to pieces. Butttttt with all of the rough and difficult moments, there are beautiful moments. You wake up at the beach and see both sunrise and sunset that day. You make two amazing friends that will group-hug-it-out in the street with you because you need emotional support. You dance the night away with your friends. One day you realize that you finally understand what everyone is saying in Spanish. One day you embrace the change, soak in the sun, and experience the Pura Vida.

Saying Goodbye 


She passed away at 2:42 pm on January 25, 2016. On this day, I witnessed death for the first time. She was 84 years old. It almost seems unreal that you can see the life leave another’s eyes. In one moment they are in this world and in the next they are glassy stares into another place. It also hits me; I was the last person she spoke to. I was the last human face she looked into before taking her last breath. I carry the burden and the honor to have been with her in her last days of life. I was there for her in ever struggle until the end. I was there for the daily routine of feeding, changing, diapers, and medicine. And I was there at the end, working for thirty minutes to keep her heart beating. I was there as the other nurses rushed in and insisted they could let me rest. But I was stubborn and insisted that I would keep going. I would keep her heart beating. I was with her as her last three heart beats turned into a flat lined beep. This was my first goodbye. Shocking, I know. I’ve somehow managed to scathe through 21 years of life without personally feeling the sting of death (and for that I am incredibly lucky). I am honored to have been by her side. I am honored to have been her caretaker, even in the end. And I am thankful for the lessons that I have learned. This is proof that anytime can be your time. Cherish life. Do something nice for a random stranger, call your parents and tell them you love them, read a book, travel often, eat well, love yourself, love others, and live your life, because it could be your last day to live it.

Living in the Sweet Spot

  
We’re given roughly 70 years to walk this earth. Some are blessed with more and others are not so lucky. So with this information, I challenge you. I challenge you to live in the sweet spot of life. You may ask, what exactly does this mean? The sweet spot is the place where a combination of factors results in a maximum response for a given amount of effort. In baseball, it results in a pitch sent straight for the outfield fences. In life, it results in a life worth living. So I challenge you. Buy a plane ticket that has a one way stamp. Go out with your friends on a Tuesday and dance the night away even when you have work the next day. Call your parents and tell them how much you love them. Visit other cultures and immerse yourself in their beauty. Ask that person you’ve been crushing on to go on a date. Wake up one morning and drive to the beach on a whim. You have 70 years. But in those years you have the sweet spot of time. It is the time where you are old enough to make your own decisions and be responsible, but you are young enough to hike the mountain and laugh and scream as you stand through the sunroof of your best friends car going down the road. Life is full of beautiful, wonderful, spontaneous moments. Don’t forget to live in those moments. Put down your phone. Focus on the people and places in front of you. Stop worrying about your 9-5. Stop worrying about “meeting the one”. Stop worrying about having your perfect family and white picket fence. And for God’s sake, stop worrying about doing what everyone else thinks you should do. Be politically incorrect, have opinions, travel often, eat well, love yourself, love others, and live your life in the sweet spot. 

This photo is curtesy of a beach trip on a whim, staying in a hostel that was also a tree house, waking up and doing yoga with a new British friend I met at the hotel, and almost missing my bus with a new Australian friend because snacks were more important. 

Poco a poco

  
Phoning home to the land of sweet tea, English speakers, and deep-fried, cheese covered food. I’ve now spent my first official week in Costa Rica and man oh man has it been one packed week. I received my placement while here and I work in a nursing home in Cartago (a small village about 30 minutes outside of San Jose. My days at the nursing home are really long but so rewarding. Warning alert for squeamish individuals. The day typically starts by making our rounds in the incapacitated wing of the nursing home. It is there that we begin the long and arduous task of cleaning, packing, and wrapping bed sores for the patients. This typically takes about 2 hours to do since quite a few residence have them. I then typically make my rounds and feed the patients with feeding tubes. At that point it is time to assist with the feeding of semi-incapacitated residence. Little by little, I spoon feed the residence their lunch while I watch their eyes stare out to a time gone long ago. Following lunch is medicine time. We crush the patients pills and mix them with a little bit of coffee and once again spoon feed the patients. From there we change diapers, change cloths, bathe, and check patients for injuries. On Friday I was even given the opportunity to (successfully I might add) start an IV for one of our residence. You really begin to have a new perspective on life when you spend your day helping others live theirs. These people, who are well into their 80s and 90s, cannot function at even the most basic of levels. Watching this reminds me of how blessed I am to have my health and ability to be self-suffiient. My Spanish is also improving everyday. I’m moving closer to being fluent everyday which is great. My Tico Papa laughs at me every time I struggle to find the correct Spanish word or phrase and reminds me that it comes “poco a poco” or “little by little”. And I think that’s true of my new adventure here in Costa Rica. I’m learning everything little by little. I’ve also finally learned the bus system here, which is arguably my greatest feat. And once I completed a long, stressful, meaningful week at the nursing home, I was able to sneak away to Jacó beach where I was able to take in the sun and embrace the Pura Vida.