Posts Tagged ‘ Colonel Michael J Whitehead ’

Obligatory Peace Corps Blog Post OR The Shout Out Post

So I am 15 months into my Peace Corps service (meaning I have 11 months remaining), and I am finally fulfilling an obligation by writing an informational “What to Bring Before Shipping Off” blog post. This blog has a decent amount of loyal followers, but I also have a lot of randoms wandering in from the cyber streets to check out what this blog is all about. A lot of these cyber streetwalkers (not to be mistaken with cyber hookers [shout out to White!]) may or may not be doing Peace Corps in the near future. If they are, then this is the post for them.

Of course, every Peace Corps experience is different. I am currently serving in Sub-Saharan West Africa (shout out to Sca-rah and her people!), but PC is all over the world. Volunteers in Mongolia will most likely need a parka because it’s FREEZING there. I wear flip-flops and shorts most days, which I pair with a sweat rag and an overall hatred of the sun.

Yes, every Peace Corps service is different, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few items that I feel are necessary regardless of where you go. Usually my blog updates are random stories about nothing, so hopefully, with this post, you take away some things. As a whole, I’m a better storyteller than knowledge-dropper, so bare with me.

1. Water bottle: I have a love/hate relationship with my Nalgene bottle. I go weeks without touching it, and then all of a sudden I find it in my room and drink from it every single day. Because of this, I am adding it to the list. I brought two initially but lost one during training. Whoops. These bad boys are indestructible though. It also holds a lot of liquid.

2. Sunglasses: Be sure they have UV protection. Even if you’re going to Eastern Europe, sunglasses are still good to have. I sport reflective aviators because I like to feel cool.

3. iPod: More specifically, an iPod Touch. I initially brought a Nano to Senegal, which I cherished the first eight months of my service, but in April, my mama decided to graciously send me an iPod Touch. I have never looked back. The thing has Wi-Fi! I use it every single day. I downloaded a flashcard app that helps me with my Wolof. It has Skype so, when I have Internet access, I can chat with people back home. I can watch movies and TV shows on it. It also has an awesome camera that can shoot videos. This little device has completely changed my Peace Corps service. Of course, I am very careful with it. I have a case to protect it from the desert sands.

4. Speakers: I brought speakers on a whim, thinking I wasn’t going to use them. I was SO wrong. I use them every single day, and I love them. Of course, I have an unhealthy obsession with music, but speakers are still good to have. I actually have a shower radio (shout out to Lee Anne!), so it’s waterproof, which is brilliant. I listen to it while I take my bucket bath, while I make breakfast in the morning, and while I write blog posts.

5. Ziploc bags: You can find a surprising number of things in Senegal, but Ziploc bags don’t exist here. I love having them.

6. Batteries: For a number of things really. I use them for my flashlight, my speakers, and my Game Boy (shout out to 12-year-old Jamie!). Before you leave for staging, buy them in bulk at Costco. I still haven’t run out.

7. Drink mixes: I live in the Sine-Saloume Delta, so the water here is salty and nasty. I have mostly gotten used to it, but sometimes I just need to cover the taste. This is when drink mixes come in handy. My family throws some in every package they send me. I am currently obsessed with pink lemonade (shout out to Crystal Light!). Gatorade packets are actually the best because they have electrolytes in them, and dehydration is not fun here (imagine me lying on the floor of my bathroom vomiting every hour). Drink packets are also good at covering the taste of bleach. When I first got to Senegal, I added 2-3 drops of bleach to my water to kill parasites. I quickly gave that up because it was annoying, but that’s just me. I’m an idiot.

8. Laptop: I don’t care which country you’re going to, but a computer is a necessity. I recommend those little Netbooks because they are tiny (shout out to Lindsey!) and transportable. I have a clunky Sony laptop that’s almost four years old. I like it just fine, but when I travel I take my iPod Touch with me. Best of both worlds (shout out to Megoosh by way of Hannah Montana!).

9. Flashlight: Or even better, a headlamp. Most of the volunteers in Senegal live in small villages without electricity. Because my sector is Urban Agriculture, I live in a pretty big town. I have electricity, but the power frequently goes out (especially in the rainy season). I’m grateful for candles, but more specifically, my flashlight.

10. Army blanket: Another item I brought on a whim and am super grateful for. It gets shockingly cold in this country…at night….in the cold season….sometimes. No but really, from December to February, I wear sweatpants and a long sleeved shirt to bed. This is when the blanket comes in handy. My dad gave it to me a few years back. You can buy them at any army surplus store, and they are miracle blankets.

So there you have it. Everything on that list should be in your suitcase before you ship off for Peace Corps service. Feel free to tweak certain items, or you can just completely ignore the list and bring whatever the hell you want. These items have been lifesavers for me, and a lot of the things on the list I got later in my service. Having them since Day 1 would have been nice.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t include any medical supplies (i.e. vitamins), don’t fret. Peace Corps provides you with a med kit when you arrive. It has LITERALLY everything you need.

My dear readers, I hope you found this post helpful. I’m done. Moving on. Knowledge dropped.

Me and My Murse

When I lived in America, I looked a lot different. I dressed better, and my clothes were washed by machine rather than hand. My feet were clean, and my face was less greasy and blemished. I was rarely sweaty. In a nutshell, I was more attractive.

In America, I did what every other guy did: I carried my wallet in my back pocket. Here, that is not an option. Theft is not something that happens every day in Senegal, but it does happen, and of course foreigners are targets because they have money. I learned during training to carry my wallet in my front pocket because it’s less accessible. I did this for a little bit, but I started getting frustrated when I would forget this and that. In addition, coins are really important in CFA (the Senegalese currency). You end up carrying a lot of change around, which jangle and leave bulges in your pockets.

So after a few months, I did what all grandmothers do and bought a change purse. Mine was purchased at an artisan fair in Dakar. It’s green and small, and I love it. It’s very convenient.

I thought the change purse would solve my problems. I thought it would organize and streamline my pockets. I still wasn’t satisfied though. I had my wallet in one pocket, my change purse in another, and my cell phone in a third. My pants were getting out of hand.

So finally, I caved. I decided to man up and buy a MURSE. For those old folks who don’t know what a murse is (aka my Dad), it is a portmanteau for MAN PURSE. For those slow people who don’t know what a portmanteau is (aka a lot of people), look it up.

I was hesitant at first because I didn’t know what people would think of my murse (both volunteers and Senegalese nationals alike), but it has been almost a year since I rocked my first one, and I have never looked back.

My murse has changed my life. I carry all sorts of wonderful things in it. There is a list of things that are always in my murse, and today I would like to share that list with you. Let’s stop chatting and dive right in, shall we?

1. My wallet: of course my wallet is in there. I carry my wallet with me everywhere. It holds my money and my Peace Corps ID, which are both very important. There is a law in Senegal where you can’t walk around without proper identification. Basically, they can arrest you if you’re found without an ID. Foreigners should carry their passports, but Peace Corps volunteers can get by with carrying their ID card.

2. My change purse: as previously mentioned, I own a change purse. It holds all my coins, which are crucial in this country.

3. A book: the pace of this country is SLOW. I always have a book with my in case I have to wait around, which happens often. I have read my book in all sorts of places: the post office, Senelac (where I pay my electricity bill), every mode of transportation I’ve ever taken, every restaurant in Sokone, etc.

4. Sunscreen: the sun is brutal. The bottle currently in my murse is the one I brought to this country from America. I ran out of the stuff Peace Corps gave me. Thanks Publix for protecting my toubab skin.

5. Chapstick: the chapstick I carry in my murse is always SPF during the day. At night, I used medicated from the States.

6. Cell phone: my link to the outside world. Text messages are 20 CFA, which is around three cents. International texts are 100 CFA, which is around 20 cents. I can call volunteers for free, but it costs money to call Senegalese people.

7. Keys: to my room in Sokone.

8. Hand sanitizer: I was always paranoid about germs, but since I got pink eye, I am overly cautious. Annoyingly, Peace Corps does not provide hand sanitizer, so it’s always good to include a few bottles in packages (hint hint).

So there you have it. Above is the list of things I carry with me on my person at pretty much all times. When I’m done with Peace Corps and this mess is all over, I probably won’t attempt to rock the murse stateside. I don’t think the American people are ready.

The DISCO HUT and the Longest 15 Minutes of My Life

Last night, after posting, I took a shower. There are girls bathrooms and boys bathrooms. The boys bathrooms have about 5 stalls with holes in the ground and 2 stalls with regular toilets. While I can, I am only using the flush toilets. The shower was amazing. No hot water, but I don’t need it. The water was freezing but felt AMAZING. Of course, after I got out and put on my UCF t-shirt/basketball shorts pajama combo, I was sweating, and my feet were covered in dirt. They said we couldn’t wear flip-flops, but they’re allowed in the compound, so I am constantly wearing them until I can’t.

So I went to bed last night at 11 PM, which means I crawled to the top-bunk of my room and got under my million degree mosquito net. I sleep on a thin mattress that is actually pretty comfortable. There is a ceiling fan in the room, but it basically moves the heat around. There are doors with screens on either end of the room for cross-ventilation, but it’s still hot as all get out. I know I said this in my FB picture, but if it’s 90 degrees outside, then it’s 100 degrees inside the rooms, and 110 degrees under the net. I sleep in a pool of sweat, but shockingly you get used to it (even me!).

The drugs/shots are interesting. I got yellow fever yesterday, and today I got meningitis (apparently Senegal is in the Meningitis Belt) and one other one. I forget. I am getting more on Monday, as well as in a couple weeks. I am taking 2 malaria pills. One is really strong but takes a while to build up. I take it once a week (on Wednesdays). I also have to take another malaria pill every day for the next two weeks because the other one takes so long. THE BEST PART: the pills give you crazy vivid/hallucinatory dreams. A current volunteer says you have all 5 senses in them. He said one time he was skiing in the dream and it was crazy. I am looking forward to it. I feel like, actually, I had one last night, but I can’t remember. The pills made me sleep well though. I woke up a few times hazily, like I was in a coma, then immediately fell back asleep. I will keep you folks updated with my dreams. WARNING: they may get epic. I also take a multivitamin every day. The nurse, Vonna, said the food is decent but doesn’t give you proper nutrition.

Last night we had spaghetti with “meat sauce” (or something) and a salad. The food is super flavorful. I am happy riding the good food wave while I can b/c apparently it’s only downhill from here. I carry water with me everywhere. I am always with my Nalgene. The water is usually warm (which I am fine with), but there IS a cold water cooler in the foyer, which is a room with a bunch of couches/chairs. It’s empty sometimes though. The foyer also has the book selection, which I haven’t looked at yet. I am stilling on HP7. I am here now, charging my laptop. There are only a couple of plugs, and two of them are here. The others are in the DISCO HUT, which is this huge pavilion where the groups have their meetings. It has cushions all around and straw mats to sit on. It’s called the DISCO HUT because apparently it used to have a disco ball hanging from the ceiling.

This morning I woke up at 7:30 AM and ate breakfast (more bread with jam), then we broke off into our individual programs. Apparently like 16 people thought they were be urban agriculture, but they were rural/sustainable, so they had to relocate to another seminar. There are only 10 urban aggies, which is SO small! We got an overview of the program from three current volunteers (one of them is actually asleep on the couch next to me).

We also had a health seminar. We learned about the water and how to treat it. We got our big water purifiers, which you can see pics of on FB. We got our medical kit, which has everything you need (sunscreen, Tylenol, chapstick, eye drops, etc.). The nurses said “no street food”, but later, all the current volunteers were like, “Street food is SO GOOD. You HAVE to eat it!” All meat must be well done and that’s it. No milk unless it’s powdered or canned. Only buy yogurt/milk/etc. if it’s made in a factory. Evidently men walk around with barrels filled with yogurt, so they told us not to buy some. PLEASE, I know sketchy, and that is SKETCHY. Yogurt that’s been baking in the sun for God knows how long? I’m good, thanks.

We had lunch today in another pavilion. We had rice with fish and vegetables. We ate from a huge bowl again (5 per bowl, don’t forget!). The food was yummy, and there were apples for dessert.

As busy as my morning was, this afternoon has been shockingly mellow. I had two appts: my language interview and my technical interview. The technical interview was with a senior volunteer (the one sleeping near me…he’s senior because he’s a 3rd year PCV). He asked me a bunch of questions and looked at my resume. The interview was to decide my placement! He asked me how far I was willing to travel (by bike) to see another volunteer, as well as my experience in agriculture. He said he had three sites in mind for me. He said one of them was near a river, and they were trying to restore it back to its’ natural habitat, which was filled with mangroves. I said I liked water and was willing to live in the mangroves. We will see where I end up.

AND THEN, THE LANGUAGE APPT. I got done about an hour ago, and it was SO STRESSFUL OMG. It was pretty much a language competency test. I sat in a pavilion with two local men, and they asked me to talk about myself…in French. They recorded it, too. I rambled on like a 4th grader, discussing how “I like books” and “I am American”. I “have to two sisters” and “my father is in the Army” (because I don’t know how to say “was”). We talked about basketball and American football. I asked him what his favorite basketball team was, and he said the Chicago Bulls, so I foolishly started telling him I met Marcus Jordan, who went to UCF. These words were WAY advanced for me, and every time I would say an English word, he would say “Je ne comprende pas”. I could NOT use English, which made discussing Marcus Jordan difficult. According to French Jamie, Marcus is “tall” and “has spectacles”. It was super embarrassing. I am sure I wasn’t the worst one, but it still sucked. He was probably laughing at me the whole time.

There are several local languages in Senegal, and it depends on where I’m placed what I will learn. I may learn French or Wolof, which are the two big languages, or may I learn some other local language. We will see.

So…this post has been super long. No more fluff for Jamie. I have plenty of information to fill this baby with. If you guys have any questions, ask in the comments, and I’ll answer in the next post. I should be able to answer, but of course, I still have a million questions myself. This whole thing is insane.

Au revoir!

PS: There are hammocks all around the training center for naps. Love it here.

Arlington, VA

I AM SO TIRED. I had to get up at 5 AM, and I couldn’t fall asleep until 2 AM because I was nervous/had to finish an ep of ‘The Next Food Network Star’, which I don’t even watch! I had to finish it though.

Getting up this morning and saying goodbye to my family was hard/sad. Luckily my dad took me to the airport, so I didn’t have a blubbering mess on my hands (aka my mother).

So I made it to Northern Virginia aka D.C. It was weird flying in…I saw the Pentagon AND the Washington Monument! I also found the group of PC kids I was carpooling with to the airport. We took a shuttle, and I got to meet my first 8 fellow trainees. They were all super nice. I checked into the hotel and dressed into my fancy outfit (which ironically looked like my bookstore attire: black collared shirt and khakis…I can never escape that place).

A lot of paperwork was filled out/turned in, which unfortunately for you guys is neither entertaining nor funny.

Orientation was interesting. Mostly informational/get to know you. There are 65 people in my training class, and all of them are either agriculture (urban or sustainable/rural), SED (small enterprise development) or agroforestry. We are all leaving tomorrow and will be together for the next couple weeks. I met a lot of people but only remember a few names. There are SO many people, and I look forward to getting to know some/all of them. I haven’t even met everyone! It’s super weird though…I keep thinking things like, “When I get home, I’m gonna have to tell _____ about this!” Then I realize I’m not going home. It’s super sad.

Tonight I had my last supper at this Mexican restaurant called Uncle Julio’s. Not in FL, but apparently they have them in D.C. and Texas, amongst other places. It was delicious.

Tomorrow, we are checking out of the hotel, then going to get our shots (yellow fever included…yikes). Then at noon we are leaving for the airport. The flight to Dakar is at 5:40 PM and arrives there at 5:50 AM (local time) Wednesday morning. I am excited.

My next post will be from Senegal! Which is intense. Sorry this one is so brief/unexciting. I am exhausted and need to go to bed.

Packing

So I am five days away from leaving the country for two years (well technically four because it’s 2 AM). I am moving to Senegal as an urban agriculture volunteer for the Peace Corps. For those of you who know me, you are surely laughing at the idea of me, OUTSIDE, planting things. Yes, it is HILARIOUS. We will see what happens. Hilarity will definitely ensue. Of this I can promise.

So I just moved out of my apartment in Orlando, so my house in Tallahassee has become a breeding ground for piles of my crap. No flat surface is bare. Books, clothes, and all sorts of knickknacks have actually made a b-line for the door and are lying around on the floor. Fortunately, it is organized chaos, and everything seems to be under control (although if you don’t hear from me in the next few days, come knocking).

In one corner of the living room is my new suitcase (grad gift from the ‘rents, unnamed for now), which is practically filled with the first round of my stuff. It is unfortunate that I filled the majority of a large suitcase with stuff I saw and threw into a pile at random. “Cool…I forgot I owned this shirt. Hey! I should bring it with me!” or “I am TOTALLY gonna want to read this 2,000-page, hardback Stephen King novel in Senegal!” When it comes time to ACTUALLY pack, I am gonna be majorly effed (King stays though).

My last week in the States has been spent finalizing my move from Orlando and saying goodbye, as well as doing things for the last time. Finalizing my move = the actual act of MOVING, organizing/hiding all my personal belongings so it’s not discarded by my father, etc. Saying goodbye = totally sucks and I wouldn’t recommend it (nor does it get easier…believe me). Doing things for the last time = this mostly involves gorging myself on American delicacies of unhealthiness…soon I may have to purchase an additional seat on my flight to Senegal just for the left half of my body.

I will try to update this as often as possible, although I am unsure how the internet will be in Senegal. I will soon find out!

PS: Don’t think I’m the kind of person who shamelessly and embarrassingly plugs his blog. I’m too cool for that (although my blog totally kicks ass and you should read it 24/7).

PPS: Next entry = The Adventures of Jamie Getting His H1N1 Shot.