Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Best Answer

Well, this is it! One week from today I'll be getting on the first of many flights to Madagascar to start a 27 month gig with the Peace Corps. This Saturday I'm headed to DC to visit all of my college friends for one last hoorah. Monday I check in at a hotel in Georgetown and officially begin as a Peace Corps Trainee. We have a whirlwind 24 hours of what Peace Corps calls "Staging": paperwork, shots, and covering basic info like safety/logistics/etc. On Tuesday evening just before 5:00 myself and all of the other volunteers beginning with my stage (I think 20-30 of us?) fly out. We will land for a stop in Dakar, Senegal on Wednesday, continuing onto Johannesburg, South Africa. We have an overnight in Joburg and another flight for a few hours on Thursday to arrive at the Ivato airport, just outside Antananarivo (aka Tana, the capital). We'll spend a night at a Peace Corps site in Tana, have a quick Malagasy language class, and move in with our host families on Friday. Chaotic doesn't even begin to describe how I imagine my first few days going, but I'm thrilled nonetheless.

I'll then spend the next 10-11 weeks living with my host family and training at a site about an hour outside Tana. I've seen some things leading me to believe we're not supposed to say publicly where we are, so for now I'll leave out the name of the city until I get further directions or approval from Peace Corps. Training will consist of intense language courses, health and security measures, and technical things I'll need to know for when I move out to my permanent site at the end of September. While I'm not entirely sure what I'll be doing yet, I have been assigned to the community health sector. Some of the biggest concerns in Madagascar are infectious disease (including HIV/AIDS) and sanitation, so I imagine many of my projects may involve these issues. I will probably be placed near a clinic and do some work there, as well as other community outreach/education projects. Beyond that, I just need to wait and see!

Since I decided last September to begin my application, people have asked me repeatedly why I
chose the Peace Corps, why Africa, why such a long time? While I don't know what I plan to do with the rest of my life, I know that I am interested in international relations, specifically in Africa, and possibly relating to public health. Tentatively I'm planning on pursuing a masters degree in public health, and I thought living abroad and working for an extended period of time in the field would give me a ton of knowledge and experience. My career advisor at American encouraged me to look at Peace Corps because it's a great foot in the door for future careers that may interest me with the State Department, the UN, USAID, etc. Additionally, if I complete the full 27 months, I'll get some benefits for grad school and/or hiring in federal positions.

Beyond that, though, I'm kind of in it for the whole experience. I don't entirely know what to expect, and there's something about that that's just really exciting. I think the truly best way to describe my feelings right now is to use an excerpt from a book I read during my semester in Ghana. The book Somebody's Heart is Burning by Tanya Shaffer is an absolutely phenomenal read. It's Shaffer's travel memoir about her experience volunteering for several months in Ghana and then traveling around much of West Africa and a few other parts of the continent. She articulates so beautifully many of the frustrations, joys, emotions, and interactions I had during my semester, most of which I didn't understand at the time and feel like I still continue to process even now, over a year later. I imagine my Peace Corps experience will be much the same way: never fully comprehending what is going on around me, and figuring its meaning out at some later date. So, it is from the following passage that I draw the inspiration for the title of this blog:

"Sitting on buses and tro-tros, I find myself repeatedly telling strangers the story of my life. Sometimes, hearing myself talk, I feel as if I'm doing it more for my own benefit than for the hapless individual sitting beside me, listening with such polite attention. Some need seems to drive my narration, as if through the telling I'm constructing a self-image that I can anchor myself to and believe in. I want the events to be linear and the lessons cumulative, building on each other like Legos: this led me here, and I learned this, and then I was here, and I was lost, and I found this.

Life, of course, was never so orderly. It was more like my long hair used to be after a ride in the open back of a truck: an ungovernable tangle. Growth wasn't like that either. Growth happened when I wasn't looking. It happened later, after I'd given up hope. And love wasn't like that: so transparent and unequivocal, a balance sheet of pros and cons. Life was life and love was love. All the explanations came later."

So, there you have it! I'll update this site a couple more times this week when I dig out the info that has my mailing address, etc. After this week, though, I probably won't get a chance to update more than once a month or so....so I highly recommend subscribing to the blog so it will automatically send you an email when I update. Save yourself the trouble of stalking my site all the time!


  1. That's my book you're quoting!! :) And by my book, I mean the one I introduced to you, haha. I am so excited to hear all about your adventures!

  2. Kristen,

    Hello from Kansas! Know we are keeping up through your postings! What a great experience!

    Love, Dale & Linda


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