Well, greetings. I haven’t posted in awhile. Life has seemed busy, but then, life always seems busy. Mostly I have just been enjoying my free time between graduation and Peace Corps. I’ve been trying to learn how to just live in the present and not get too caught up in the future. This is somewhat difficult when your plans are to move to a little-known African country for two years, because people have questions and of course the question that any graduate fields daily is “so what’s next?” But at any rate, I’ve realized that the answer to most questions that people ask me about Benin/Peace Corps is “I don’t know yet,” and I think I’m OK with that. Pretty sure that part of living in Africa will be learning to go with the flow and let go of some of the control that I’m used to wielding over every small part of my life, so this is good practice. So honestly, I haven’t been thinking about Peace Corps a ton.
But now I have just over 48 hours until I leave for staging in Philadelphia, so I’m being forced to think about it. (And no, I’m not packed yet. Not to worry, it will be done before I leave.)
The whole thing still doesn’t quite feel real. Though it is sinking in more and more as that flight gets closer and closer. I’ve said goodbye to a lot of important people in my life already, and though two years really isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things, it feels like a long time when you’re thinking about it in the context of saying goodbye. In a way, I’ve been feeling kind of in denial about the impending departure. This baffles most people, since obviously I have had my heart set on doing this for quite some time. (I mentioned it to my roommate in a text message and she replied with “Denial?? You’ve wanted this for 4 years. You know what I would give to be in your position? My left kidney.”) I feel like that is a pretty standard response (excluding the organ donation part), because I think sometimes we have trouble accepting that conflicting thoughts or emotions can and do exist within the same person. I am extremely excited about embarking on this adventure/service, but I’m also apprehensive about leaving the life that I’ve built entirely behind me. That’s one thing about preparing to leave…you realize how good you have it. Of course I realized previously that I have amazing friends and a fantastic, supportive family, but it has become even more obvious in the past few months. At some times I wonder if I am totally insane to willingly leave that life. It seems to me that the human relationship part of moving is going to be much harder than the physical standard of living part, though certainly a fair amount of people have told me in no uncertain terms that they don’t understand why I would want to leave “the good life” in America to go live in the developing world. I guess sometimes I choose the hard path for myself. But this is my calling at the moment. I know I have to do it. It sounds super cheesy, but I really feel as if something inside me is pulling me to this work, and I realize that I’m lucky to be so sure of what I want to do/my purpose in life. And I am confident that I can handle this, even if it will be hard. I suspect that once I actually leave it will be much easier, for me and for everyone involved (especially my parents). Transition periods are just rough.
At any rate, I have been making some preparations, despite my best efforts to not think about the future. I went shopping and bought some appropriate clothes (because PC guidelines say that women’s shoulders and knees need to be covered at all times, and that we are expected to wear business casual clothing during training). I had some things left over from Uganda, and I figure I will probably buy about half of my wardrobe in Benin, once I figure out what people typically wear/what makes the most sense for my new life there, so I tried not to go overboard with the clothing. I got some basics like toothpaste and sunscreen. My friend gave me a ton of digital movies and TV shows to store on my hard drive so I can watch them later. Currently, I’m in the process of buying some e-books to read while I’m there and getting some new music to expand my ipod. **If you have any book suggestions, I’d love to hear them, because I’m having a lot of trouble choosing.**
I also started doing some research on Benin, since I knew almost nothing about the country when I accepted the invitation. Here are some quick facts that I gleaned from reading the CIA World Factbook (that thing is so nifty):
+Benin is one of the least developed countries in the world
+It has one of the highest population growth rates in the world (2.91%) and one of the lowest life expectancies (59.84 years) –though by comparison, Uganda is more extreme on both counts: 3.58% population growth and 53.24 life expectancy
+The literacy rate is only 34.7% for the entire population, though over twice as high for men as for women (47.9% and 23.3% respectively)
+The capital is Porto Novo, but the seat of the government is in Cotonou, a nearby city that is much larger and is where our PC training will take place
+It is one of the most stable and democratic countries in Africa. The incumbent president (Thomas Yayi Boni) was just re-elected in March of this year by popular vote
+The main religion is Christianity (42.8%, mostly Catholic), but there is a sizable Muslim population (24.4%), and many people also practice Vodoun [Voodoo], of which Benin is apparently the birthplace
You probably won’t hear from me again until I’m there (though you never know), which should be around July 2nd or so. [Flight path for those of you who are interested: Denver –> Philly (spending 2 nights there with other PC volunteers for “staging” aka crash course on PC policies/what you need to know before you arrive in Benin/getting all our immunizations) –> Brussels –> Burkina Faso –> Cotonou, Benin] I’m still not totally sure what the internet situation will be, so please don’t worry if you don’t hear from me immediately. I’ll post when I can, but in this case, no news is good news. If you haven’t e-mailed me your address yet, now is the time so I can put it in my address book before I leave and you will get a postcard at some point down the road. Happy Monday everyone! 🙂