Medevac….Going Home

As I write this, I’m sitting in my bed back home in America at 4:30 in the morning. I’ve officially been medevac’d back to the USA for continuing treatment for my arm and to explore the options for another condition I was diagnosed with last week. Clearly, considering the time in America and the fact that I’m wide awake, I’m struggling with jet lag a bit. ūüėČ

Medevac means I have 45 days in the USA to show enough improvement to go back to South Africa. If I am cleared medically sometime within that 45 days, Peace Corps will send me back to South Africa to finish out my third year. If I am not medically cleared by the end of 45 days, I will be medically separated, which means my service will officially end.

The decision was passed down from Washington DC last Wednesday, and after the Thanksgiving holiday (which PCSA staff gets off), I went up to site to say goodbye and pack anything I’d want to take home. I had to pack as if I’m not coming back, which is pretty stressful and emotional. I came back to Pretoria on Saturday afternoon, and flew out on Monday evening. After nearly 24 hours of solid travel and two delayed flights, I found myself hugging my Mom in the Des Moines airport, heading home for Christmas for the first time in two years. I flew with Delta, and considering my broken arm, they were wonderful the whole way, helping me preboard and stow luggage, get a seat where someone wouldn’t be bumping my arm, and helping navigate the Atlanta airport with two large checked bags. I was very thankful for all the help both Delta and random people gave me throughout the journey!

I’m home now, well, back in Iowa. It’s hard because I have a home in South Africa as well, and I’m not sure if I will be going back. It’s been an emotional week, after the decision was passed down, and I’m still trying to process everything. Once again, the readjustment is hard, made more difficult by the uncertainty of medevac and the cold Iowa winter. The first thing I did here in Iowa was buy a winter coat. It’s been nearly 3 years since I’ve dealt with an Iowa winter.

I will say that if I had to choose a time of year to be medevac’d, I nailed it. ūüôā I think only people who have lived abroad for an extended amount of time can understand what being home with family for the holidays means. Though I’ve celebrated holidays with friends and near-family back in SA, it also feels like I haven’t had a real holiday for two and a half years. I feel so blessed to be home for the holiday season, though the reason for me being back isn’t wonderful.

It’s still hard to believe I’m home though!
-Jen

And It’s Back to the Grind!

I can safely say I am not good at posting when I’m on holiday in the USA (and that people laugh at me in the States when I say I’m “on holiday”).

I’m sitting in the Des Moines airport now, about an hour away from flying back from my holiday in the States. ¬†It has been a crazy, busy, wonderful month home. ¬†I saw so many good friends and family, though of course not as many as I’d like. ¬†I had amazing Mexican food, delicious cupcakes, tasty ice cream, and all sorts of other great foods. ¬†Including a deep fried Snickers bar on a stick at the Iowa State Fair.

Dad and I spent a weekend in Chicago. Oddly enough, I have flown, driven, and even taken a train through Chicago, but I have never actually “been” to Chicago. ¬†So we “tourist’d” up and set out to hit all the sites: Shedd Aquarium, the Soldier’s Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, the John Hancock Observatory (with an open air balcony….94 floors high), Navy Pier, and the Skydeck at the Willis Tower…aka Sears Tower. ¬†The Skydeck is 1,353 feet (412 meters) in the air, or 103 floors. ¬†It was a fun stop….you can see 4 flights from that high! ¬†We only got a little bit lost driving around Chicago (did you know there’s like an underground highway under downtown Chicago….not sure if we were supposed to be there, but….)

My parents thought it would be fun to move houses while I was back. ¬†So my last week went like this: Friday-get a new dog,Saturday-have Dad’s 50th birthday party at the new house with about 40 people, Sunday-PACK, Monday-move the old house to the new house, Tuesday-pack my bags and have Graham’s ice cream one last time, Wednesday-Leavin’ on a jet place. ¬†Crazy, right? ¬†Notice how we had a party at the new house BEFORE we actually moved. ¬†We like to live life on the edge.

And now I’m looking forward to sleeping for the next 16 hours. ¬†On a plane. ¬†Yeah, right. ¬†But at least I can watch some good movies!

 

And I have a province-wide Permagarden workshop I’m cofacilitating in 3 days. ¬†That’ll be an interesting experience, with jet lag and all!

-Jen

Wait, Weren’t You JUST in America?!

Hello again!

I am indeed alive, in case you were wondering. I’ve just been busy, traversing the globe and whatnot.

Now, when I left the USA last year to join PC, I fully expected to not touch American soil for two years. Through a set of circumstances, I’ve visited twice in the last 4 months. Some PCVs gave me flack about this, but I presume they were jealous and gave them a Reese’s PB cup and they shut up. (I am somewhat serious about that, btw)

left my village on September 22nd, stayed two nights in Pretoria, then boarded a flight to Qatar. Yes, Qatar. If you don’t know, Qatar is a tiny country in the Middle East, and its capital, Doha, is becoming a major hub in airline travel. I flew 8 hours to Doha, enjoying some movies, good food, and incredible customer service on my Qatar Airways flight (HIGHLY recommend). Then we disembarked into the work-in-progress, slightly-ghetto Doha airport. The first thing I remembered thinking was: That sign is NOT in English!! Everything in the airport is in Arabic script or English, and I just happened to catch a sign which made as much sense to me as chicken scratches.

From Doha, I flew a looong 16 hours to Houston, my final destination. After fending off bomb dogs and curious customs officers, I made it through customs and saw my sister waiting for me at the arrivals gate. What a happy sight!

Now, I’ll post more about my sister’s wedding and MST later. I just wanted to focus on my travel adventures in this post.

For this trip, I travelled utterly and completely alone. Flying through Qatar meant there were precious few Americans on any of my flights. I didn‚Äôt know what language to address people in, and had fun playing ‚ÄúGuess the American‚ÄĚ and deciding who was American based on their clothes, luggage, actions, and appearance. Maybe it was because I‚Äôve lived over a year in Africa, but I tended to fail spectacularly at my own game. I also struggled to determine if the accents were American or not. I‚Äôm a hopeless case.

It was interesting to be in a place where I absolutely did not speak the language. I have never experienced that before. In Mexico, I knew Spanish well and felt confident in my ability to communicate. Here in SA, I can often rely on English, and people are really happy when I speak in Setswana or another language. But Arabic? I think Merhaba means hello or welcome. I was at a loss!

Overall, my flights to Houston and back were uneventful and not horribly delayed. I slept a lot, read, watched movies, ate, and even made a bowl out of a magazine (not Skymall either). I’ll have to write more about my unique experience in the Houston airport, and how I managed to carry around 4 currencies in my wallet at one point.
-Jen

My gate at OR Tambo, aka a hallway with random benches scattered about.

My gate at OR Tambo, aka a hallway with random benches scattered about.

One board flight Number 1! JNB to DOH

One board flight Number 1! JNB to DOH

Doha airport

Doha airport

The sign on the ceiling says “USA Flights”. Separate security for those!

There is a Robot in the Kitchen

I’m in America!

I left PTA around 2pm on Saturday, even though my flight didn’t leave until 8:30pm because I’ve heard more than one horror story from PCVs who have left too late and missed their flights, to their complete loss. ¬†I took the Gautrain to JNB airport, which was nice, easy, and relatively cheap considering my other options. ¬†When we flew in for PC last year, all 56 of us were herded through customs, luggage claim, and onto a bus in a foggy haze of exhaustion, so I was a little overwhelmed on entering the airport, and frustrated with its general African-like lack of useful signs. ¬†But I found my way through check-in, rather lax security, and to my gate, and spent the next 4 hours or so talking with a few Americans and people watching (moving sidewalks….that’s all I need to say). ¬†About an hour before the flight left, the told us to get into lines because they were doing another security check (just sayin’-good idea) and manually searched through every single carry-on of all of us. ¬†I had fun stunning people when I spoke Setswana, and found my wondering aisle seat on the plane and started watching a movie before we even took off.

The flights went well, though it was pretty rough the entire time. ¬†For almost the first 10 hours straight, we were told to remain in ours seats and keep out seatbelts on. ¬†We kind of ignored that because in 10 hours, nearly everyone has to use the toilet. ¬†It got a little better when we were over the Caribbean, but still, I felt like a bobble-head chihuahua dog the entire flight. ¬†The food was good, I watched a lot of movies/tv shows, and slept maybe an hour or two. ¬†The food was actually VERY good and made me very happy as I scarcely broke into my rather large stash of snacks for the plane. ūüôā ¬†Go Delta!

I had an hour and fifteen minute layover in ATL, so I rushed through customs, begged my way into the nice/first class/short security line, and was literally running through the terminal, to find my flight was delay 15 mins, then 15 mins, then some more.  We left over an hour later, so they issued  us all meal vouchers.  Again, go Delta!  The airport emergency security system alarms went off TWICE while i was in ATL airport, but we never ended up having to do anything.  I talked with more Americans for awhile then dozed on the 2 hour flight, which was again a little rough, but better than the international one.

I surprised my parents in the airport with my VERY African garb and jewelry, and we stopped at Ma and Pa’s Kettle in Cameron, MO on the way home from the aiport, where EVERYONE stared at me. ¬†So much for being anonymous. ¬†Maybe bringing only my very bright African skirts wasn’t the best idea. ¬†I highly recommend the restaurant though, we I had real Pepsi, chicken strips, and ranch for the first time in a year. ¬†We also stopped at Kum and Go where I got my first Cherry Pepsi in a year.

I’ve noticed a few problems….I keep wanting to yell at Mom or Dad to get on the “right” side of the road, so I will seriously not be driving while I’m here. ¬†I freaked out a bit at the restaurant, which was very crowded, noisy, and the tables were smooshed together. ¬†Not in a bad way, but a little hard for an American-turned-rural-PCV on my first restaurant encounter in America. ¬†I again freaked out a little at Kum and Go when I saw allllll the varieties and flashy packages, etc. ¬†I ended up staring at the ground, dashing to find my Cherry Pepsi, then finding Mom to get the heck out of there. ¬†We’ll see how Walmart and a mall goes over the next week. ¬†It is all very overwhelming right now though.

Mom and Dad have done a lot of major work on the house, including redecorating a few rooms, buying all new appliances and furniture, and reflooring/painting the stamping room, so the house was strange. ¬†The bought a new fridge, which has an icemaker, and as I was sitting in the dining room eating Happy Joe’s Taco Pizza, I hearing a whizzing mecharical noise from the kitchen. ¬†I look up at home with bugged eyes and said “There’s as Robot in the Kitchen”.

Needless to say, my parents are finding me to be an odd new thing and I think I’m entertaining them. ¬†I know I was entertained when we turned off at the wrong place in Cameron and the GPS got mad. ¬†Dad was very worried and chattering up a storm about how we would never find this place. ¬†I just said “Chill. ¬†There was a big sign on the highway, it’ll be on the main drag, just chill and we’ll find it or eat something else.” ¬†Africa has definitely changed me.

-Jen

Staging, Part 2: AKA I’m a legit PC Trainee!!

So this afternoon we had our first taste of PC info sessions in the form of staging.  Staging is the stateside orientation, and we got a few crash courses in safety, security, and what to expect when we arrive in SA.  We talked a loooot about our anxieties (spiders, food, distance, sketchyness in general) and our aspirations (teaching, inspiring children, integrating into the community, good food) just to get us in the mental state to head to SA.

It was really awesome to meet all my fellow volunteers-and let me tell you, we seem to be a pretty great group! ¬†There are 57 of us, which is pretty big for PC groups. ¬†The group headed to Honduras is also here for staging, and there are only 15 of them! ¬†We were just talking about how we hadn’t noticed any Honduras volunteers when one walked up and told us that. ¬†So we feel like a nice big group, ready to take on the 18 hours of flying tomorrow. ¬†We have a 2 hour flight to Atlanta, then a 16 hour flight from there to Johannesburg-oy! ¬†I’ve never flown more than about 3 hours, so that will be a looooong flight. ¬†But by 7pm (SA time…so noonish Iowa time?) ¬†Friday I will finally be there.

The best part of the day-finding out we have NO shots tomorrow. ¬†The worst part-finding out we have a LOT to get in SA. ¬†Eh…at least we don’t have to head to the airplane with sore arms.

I’m feeling completely ready to go, and am very happy to have met so many amazing people today. ¬†SA24 is going to be a great group of friends for the next 2 years. ¬†ūüôā ¬†It’ll make life so much easier!

This may well be my last post, so remember-no news is good news.  Adios for awhile, and look for updates from my Mom after I get there.  Adios!

-Jen

Staging, Part 1

I arrived in DC for staging last night around 7pm, met up with my friend Jen for dinner, and found my way to the hotel in Georgetown.  So I am officially at staging, and I can finally say my PC journey has begun!

I had two flights yesterday, and they both went smoothly and rather fast-yay! ¬†I tried to change dollars into Rand at the Chicago airport, but the line was too long and I had to find my gate. ¬†So if I can’t change it tomorrow in Reagan or Atlanta, then I guess I’m just going to have to deal with not having any Rand in advance. ¬†It’s not a huge deal, but I’d rather have a bit to take with me. ¬†Oh well!

I’m headed off to breakfast with some fellow PC people soon-COFFEE!! ¬†Then actual staging begins at noon. ¬†We have staging aka orientation this afternoon, shots tomorrow morning, and fly out in the evening. ¬†It’ll be a quick stay in DC and I wish I had more time to see people.

-Jen

I Feel Like Harry Potter

…and I might be a nerd. ¬†That’s ok.

I was watching Harry Potter 1 today, and I realized that I feel about the same as Harry did when he headed off to Hogwarts.  Why?

1. Technically I still have no idea what I’m getting myself into, and neither did Harry. ¬†I know the basics, but there’s no way to know exactly what life as a Peace Corps Volunteer will be like. ¬†In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with embracing the unknown. ¬†But it’s a little scary too.

2. I still need to figure out platform 9 3/4. ¬†I have never flown on a flight longer than three hours, and my only flight abroad was to Mexico. ¬†Travel to Mexico is fairly easy, and I knew the language. ¬†I didn’t need a visa, and I was traveling across the Gulf with people I knew. ¬†My Peace Corps flight probably won’t go as smoothly, and is much longer. ¬†About 18 hours total. ¬†I will be traveling through various timezones-I, who has never experienced jet lag. ¬†I really do feel like Harry running blindly at a brick wall. ¬†I also know that somehow it will all work out and I will make it through to South Africa unscathed. ¬†And meet a few new friends along the way.

3. I will be leaving some comforts of home to embrace a new world. ¬†Harry Potter left behind a relatively modern (cerca 1990s) life to enter into a world stuck in the past. ¬†No computers, no internet, no television, etc. ¬†While South Africa is fairly modern, the village where I will live will not be the same as the USA. ¬†I may not have electricity, probably won’t have running water, but will likely have internet access. ¬†Some of the basic ways I live my life will change. ¬†Realizing this now will help me accept this in the future, I hope.

4. Much like Harry when he got on the Hogwarts Express, I will be leaving behind (not abandoning though!) relationships with friends and family. ¬†I must create a new social network in South Africa, as Harry did with his fellow classmates at Hogwarts. ¬†Luckily, I’ve got a good support system at home to help me through the hard times, unlike Harry Potter.

So, for those of you who don’t know Harry Potter, you might be confused. ¬†Read the books, please. ¬†And for my fellow Harry Potter nerds, please send me an owl in South Africa. ¬†My address is on the tab marked “Mailing info.” ¬†Thanks!!

-Jen