Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stupid Hippie Shoes

I have a problem.

I don't mean a problem like the kind that pops up urgently and can only be solved by immediate application of skill, planning, and martial arts. I mean like a "problem" problem. The kind that cuts into your daily life, preys on your savings account, and instigates the slow alienation of all of your friends. It raises concern among your loved ones; "Ashley, why are you buying that fabulous pair of heels when you are moving to Africa for two years?" They mean well, I know, but I already realize the depths of my troubles. Admitting that you have a problem is the first step to recovery, I hear, so I'll say it again: I am obsessed with shoes.

My problem has actually led me to have a problem, this time the urgent issue kind. This particular problem stems from the fact that I can't possibly, in good conscience, spend money on a pair of drab, unimaginative mules. But let me back up for just a minute and explain so you can get the full scope of my problem(s). I love heels. The really cute, really high, really impractical, totally full-of-sass heels. I believe in good sue me. This is my Problem. The problem that my Problem has left me with is this: I need a pair of dress shoes for Zambia. All of my dress shoes are no shorter than 3" high, and totally inappropriate for bicycling around the African bush. But I still need a pair of professional dressy shoes. My heart says heels. My mind says mules. I cringe deep down.

This conundrum is what prompted the two-day long Footwear Research and Acquisition Binge that my poor laptop has recently been subjected to. I have good, sturdy work-the-land shoes which will last me, for all practical purposes, until Armageddon. After all, I live on a farm. However, I realized that in order to be sufficiently shod for all of my African adventures, I would need nice shoes, but not heels, and hard-core sandals (I suspect that my standard $7.99 flip-flops are sooooo not up to the task of my future safari-style living). Staring at my computer screen filled with shoes until my eyes bleed, I realize that my Problem is worse than I realized when I found myself Ebay-watching two pairs of Kate Spades, a gorgeous pair of retro Pradas and the most perfect ruby red Louboutin Rolandos...FAIL.

I decided in order to satisfy my Problem and solve my problem, I would compromise. Unflashy, boring, 1.5" heeled, black, all-purpose dress shoes...but they're used Salvatore Ferragamos. $300 shoes that I found for $37.00. I could feel a hint of a smile returning to my feet. Italian- made would definitely last long against the rigors of Zambian hut-life, but I could still slip them on my feet and feel smashing. Well, maybe not smashing, per se, but at least a darn sight better than how I would feel in generic Payless ballet flats. AND, they're definitely worn, so I won't feel so bad when I scuff the toe on my bicycle. Item one, check.

I figured while I was at this, I might as well focus on my second shoe situation: the need for a sturdy pair of work-the-land-last-til-Armageddon sandals. Ripping myself away from the Givenchy Fall '09 collection, I began my research on what might best suit my purposes. Upon delving into the depths of Birkenstock foot wear, I ran into another roadblock. My Problem, you know, that Problem, was writhing in demonic agony as if the specimens in front of it were a collection of crucifixes, like Balthazaar confronted with Holy Water. The words thundered in my skull like a malediction: Hippie shoes, hippie shoes, hippie shoooooooooes.

Not that there's anything wrong with hippies. In fact, I consider myself a neo-hippie (although I do bathe and plan on shaving my legs in my open-air, thatch-roofed bath hut, even if I have to use my new leatherman Crocodile Dundee-style). I even had a pair of Baby Birks when I was a wee tot, and they were quite comfy (incidently, my concern with good footwear comes from my mother). No, the issue was, as much as I have respect for hippies and the traditional foot garb of the hippie, my Problem abhorrs the hippie vibe. Boho? Totally cool. Funky retro? Also awesome. Straight-up, socially awkward, fashion-ignorant, BO-scented, Save-The-Spotted-Porpoises hippie? Not so swell. I was in middle school once, and I have no desire to return there in my twenties, Peace Corps stereo-type or not. Another compromise was in order.

My second dillemma was proving to be more difficult than the first. I read coustomer reviews, examined colors and tech specs, did price comparisons. Deep down, I knew that I needed a sandal that could stand up to the rough-life, not just "feel comfortable all day as I walked around Europe on our two week vacation." Two years in rural Zambia will take a toll on these buggers, and I need to be on my feet hauling water, gathering wood, building cooking fires and walking to the market. Despite my Problem, I'm a realist. And yet, I just couldn't bring myself to go the whole hog and buy the hardest of the hard-core sandals. I'm still at a stand-off with my Problem. I ordered a pair of Tevas, not the amphibious, trek-across-the-Sahara style, but the grade below it, which is still above the Oh-I-could-totally-get-used-to-these cute style. I read the return policy, and am prepared to continue my search should they arrive and my Problem doesn't feel like we could live and work in harmony...or if they don't fit. At this point, I know which option worries me more.

In other news, this has been, thus far the biggest challenge in my preparations. Christmas was a success, full of used and sustainable goodness, and I am one retro messenger bag, Solio charger, Zambia guide book and several journals more prepared for my departure. Can't wait to ring in the new year. I have a feeling 2010 is going to be more awesome than I can possibly imagine!


Thursday, December 17, 2009

T-minus two months!

Holy moley! I'm not sure how it happened but a whole month+ has flown by since I last posted. Sorry to all my faithful readers, I'm sure there are legions of you out there who are sooooo dissapointed by my lack of communication.

It's hard to believe almost. I feel as though nothing truely noteworthy has happened in the past weeks enough to warrant a post, and yet reading through my last one I realize that my state of being has changed dramatically. The funniest thing has happened to my sense of time; I feel like my existance has entered a state of stasis. Every day is pretty much the same routine. I'm savoring the little moments as they come. There is no longer this looming question mark as to my future and I feel like I can just enjoy my time home with my parents. Relief might be the proper word for it, but there are definite undernotes of peace, happiness, bordem, and restlessness in there too. Typical two-faced Gemini, if one part of me is happy, the other part(s) are just whining and looking forward to something else. As such, I feel as though each day is a continuium of distraction and focus, with the minutes, for some strange reason, passing more slowly than the hours.

As if to illustrate this fact, my mother reminded me this morning that it is exactly two months until I leave. The funny thing is that I spent the whole previous day shopping and crafting a x-mas present (which, due to it's super awesomeness and confidential nature, I can only say it concerns my not being here next year at this time), and all the time I was thinking about living overseas (and how great this present is going to be!). However, the biggest, most exciting significance of today in my head is that my sister comes home for Christmas break, not my countdown. It struck me as evidence of my state of mind right now. Zambia is totally in my head, and yet I'm not obsessing about it right now. This realization is HUGE for me! I, much to my chagrin, tend to daydream and romanticize the future, and it is a big step of personal growth that I am not allowing myself to go there. I think I know that my success in this venture is dependant on me not having any preconcieved notions or expectations. I already know that this is going to be unlike anything I have ever attemped before, and so I have forced myself to give up trying to imagine it. Instead, I am focusing on capturing moments that I can keep for the future and pull out when necessary (the good ones and the bad ones). I remind myself that I am not there to travel and vacation; I am going over there to work and live. Moreover, I keep trying to put things in persective, recognize moments as they come and acknowledge how I might be feeling six months in, 10 months, 20 months, ect. This is a long haul. I think my mind and body know this and they are forcing me to get as much emotional rest as possible.

Therefore, I pass the time now with things like making gingerbread houses and playing Candy Land. Am I regressing? Probably, but after my four years of undergrad, I feel like I deserve a little bit of a break from thinking and being responsible. AND, I know that I won't have this same opportunity once I start my big-girl job in a foreign country. So you see, I am in stasis. Recouping, recovering, regressing, and resting. I feel almost like a warrior meditating before battle, doing things like sharpening my sword and snatching up all of the fabulous holiday deals on extra bras and socks (I do feel bad for all those poor people leaving in August-ish. I've gotten some killer deals...)

As it is only a little over a week until Christmas, I have now finally allowed myself to get in the spirit. I'm not normally a big Christmas person. I find the holidays dark, stressful, gluttonus, and hypocritical. And cold. In many ways, I will be glad to not be here for the next two. I can only imagine how nice it will be to be in a place where x-mas is simple, loving, and more of what it's supposed to be, and not be assaulted with obnoxious music for the 45 days of Christmas. However, the time has come to celebrate. Mostly because I realized I only have about a week to finish all of my gifts that I have been making! Eeeek! (On a side note, you all should check out this movement called Advent Conspiracy. Totally sums up what my family has been trying to do by scaling back and buy used/sustainable gifts, and I love, love, love that other people are having the same idea. Plus the guy who got it started is in Portland! Way to rep counter-culture, west coast!) With that, I hope you all relish this holiday with your loved ones, remember those who have left, don't buy too much crap, and....umm, do something you've never done before to send off 2009 in a stylin' way. It's what I'll be doing any way. :D


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Let the countdown begin

So, it's been a busy couple of weeks since I recieved my invitation. I read, re-read, and re-re-read everything that came with my kit, wanting to make sure that I was absolutely as stoked as possible when I called to accept. As of monday 10/26, I am now slated to go. I got all of my passport/visa stuff mailed off and sent of my updated resume/aspiration statement to the Zambia country desk, and am now wading through the piles of financial paperwork for my student loans. They are small and relatively insignificant in comparison to the rest of my college peers, however the challenge for me lies in the fact that they are two seperate loans and can be (and were) sold to seperate servicers. Servicers that have different deferrment paperwork. And payment addresses. Considering I will soon be living in a different country, and in a decidedly remote region, I decided that it would be best to consolidate to keep them hooked together. I have no desire to fight with SallieMae via telegram. Incidently, the 'credit crisis' has made that whole consolidation thing a whole lot more challenging. And the beat goes on.

Though I am trying hard not to think about it, I was caught in a vivid fantasy of travel the other day as I dropped a friend's car off at PDX. I got unbelievably excited as I imagined myself in a few months' time lugging my two bags for two years to board a plane to new and different places of the world. I know PC will be the most difficult thing I have ever done at this point in my life, and yet I still can't wait to experience it. Slightly masochistic? possibly... To spare my family's feelings, I have resisted dwelling too much on my impending departure, limiting mention of it in conversation and trying really, really hard not to daydream. I've been busy doing tons of research on Zambia, the different areas, the politics, the people, etc. Should I get an international cell before I leave, or wait til I'm in country? Do I even bother since I won't have electricity? So then do I spring for a solar charger? I think much of my mother's apprehension could be assuaged if I had a solid plan for communication other than snail mail. That may be all I get though. I am comfortable with this; her...not so much. Anyway, so I'm starting to think about things that would be good for x-mas for me. The uber-challenge is that my immediate family does this "sustainable christmas" thing, where we agree that we will only give gifts if they are used, re-newable, sustainable, or eco-friendly, which is waaaaaay more fun than it sounds (You can find the most amazing useful treasures at Goodwill and on Craigslist. And used underwear are the exception to the rule). So, how do you buy used for a soon-to-be PCV in rural Zambia who is limited to 80 lbs. of luggage? Good question. I'm thinking of saying that since I'm in Peace Corps, anything you get me will automatically be sustainable, but that kinda defeats the purpose of why we do it. We'll just have to get a little creative. And make a list, with guidelines. Incidently, this whole X-mas dillemma has been forcing be to think about my packing list probably earlier that I had wanted to. I just don't want people to buy me stuff that I won't use or take with me, you know?

In other news, I did apply for some jobs. Retail work during the holiday season does not seem pleasant, but it is kinda appropriate considering it would be easy to get (I interview really well) and they wouldn't expect me to stay for long. We'll see. I haven't got any calls back yet, and I can't decide if I'm happy about that or not. Well, I'm pretty okay with it. My checkbook is not so okay with it. At the rate I'm going right now with bills, I might have to resort to used underwear for presents after all...

So, I'm not sure how this happened, but my PCJ link is no longer in the applicant section, and is instead listed under Zambia. I did nothing to my account. I'm thinking that there is a tiny little person inside my computer listening to this and moving my flag for me. Rock on, I say. We'll see for sure when this is posted. If so, keep it up Applicants! Hopefully, all will remain a very exciting status quo on my end, but we all know that on this ride, anything can happen.

Peace. xo

p.s. I did buy my second pair of glasses (ocularly challenged volunteers are required to bring two) when I ordered some more contacts. While I am not really looking forward to being a four-eyes again, my new frames are pretty sweet. I am going to miss eating hot food, dancing the the rain, and staring out of the perifs, all actions that I have come to love as an ardent contact lens-wearer. Oh well, I guess. I'm sure I'll find the upside after a while...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's Official!

I'm off to ZAMBIA! I'm reading through all of my information and paperwork, getting ready to hit high gear, and will call to accept as soon as I can think straight again.

I've been invited to be part of the LIFE (Linking Income Food and Environment) project as an agroforestry extension agent and will probably spend most of my time in the dirt farming. I really couldn't be happier.

Now, does anyone know how to change the little flag thingy on my PCJ banner?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fast Forward

In the past 24 hours, a flurry of activity has suddenly left my head whirling uncontrollably.

Number one: My letter finally came.

The e-mail that I had sent my recruiter was responded to with the most uncomforting announcement that "the system shows that the letter hasn't been mailed yet." Bonus points for my sanity and the USPS, minus points for PC. I was a little irritated. Called DC (again), and pestered the lovely lady who had the misfortune to be listed on my medical paperwork (again) and recieved an e-mail from her that my letter was in the mail (again?). It arrived yesterday in a wonderfully anti-climatic pile of post next to my auto insurance bill. My hard-earned letter was almost not opened I was feeling that much apathy toward it...

Number two: A mysterious message.

The major downside to moving back home is that my cell phone gets virtually NO reception at all. Consequently, it will buzz at random times of the day, like 10:25 pm, with missed calls and messages, etc. Such was the case last night..."Who on earth has a 202 area code?" On a not-so-mysterious note, for all who are wondering as I was, 202 is the area code for DC. An equally hard-fought-and-won message retrival informed me that my PLACEMENT OFFICER called and wanted to talk to me. Incidently, this was much more satisfying, and I had a very difficult time getting to sleep. Suddenly, my love and excitement for PC was rekindled almost instantly.

Number three: The e-mail.

And, yes, when I bold and italicize that dimuntive little article, I mean exactly that. The one. I was on the phone with my mother, preparing to call my PO back, checking my e-mail (that had gone un-checked much longer than normal, a side-effect of not sleeping well and waking up late), finishing my coffee, and making toast. I saw that I had a new e-mail saying that my Application had been updated. How exciting. Oh don't worry, Mom, I'm sure it just says that they want some more information like Julie said in herOHMYFREAKINGGAWSHICANTBELIEVE IT!!!! I've been INVITED!!!!

That was totally not what I was expecting.

So long story short, I have an invitation in the mail. And this time I know for sure because it actually says that it was mailed yesterday. I have yet to actually touch bases with Julie after leaving her a dizzy message that I don't really even recall making. It all happened so fast, I still haven't had time to completely process it yet. The only thing that would make my head explode with disbelief at this point would be if the FedEx man knocked on my door right now (*waits with head cocked hopefully for a few seconds*.... nope). Peace Corps, you continue to delight and surprise me in unxpected ways.

Cheers to all fellow waitees. Now that I have proof and evidence that people are reading this (!!!) I don't feel rediculous speaking to an anonomyous crowd. I am sending out hugs to all who want their invite as much as I do. Er, did. Right. :D

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Donkeys indeed!

One of my fellow applicants, Karin, suggested that perhaps the government has started using beasts of burden again for communication purposes. At this point, I'd have to agree.

It has been over three weeks since I got word that I was medically cleared, and still no letter has arrived. I called PC last week, and my lovely medical screening assistant did tell me that yes, I had been cleared and my file went "upstairs" (secretspeak for Placement, I'm assuming). Whew! What a relief. And yet.... I just really want my letter!!!! I know it's not a big deal seeing as how I already know what it says, and yet there is a small part of me that needs solid evidence that I am now being placed. No communication since that cryptic little message on my Toolkit. Another part of me is worried that somewhere, my file got lost in the cracks on the way 'upstairs' and that I won't hear anything for months. I mean, people usually get contacted by their PO a few weeks after medical clearance, right? Even if it's only a 'Hi, how are ya? I'm so and so and will be deciding your fate for the next three years of your life, please stand-by for another few months.' I imagine they'll be wanting updated transcripts ("Did you actually graduate since we last talked to you?") and want to know what I've been doing with my life since I moved back home ("Another post-collegiate bum, I see.") All of this I feel has not happened because I have yet to recieve my letter. Stupid, I know, and yet it's this nagging thing in the back of my mind.

The simplest answer would be that it got lost in the mail. NBD, except I've never, NEVER, had anything get lost in the vast machine of USPS before. Ever. I suppose it could happen, but all the same, I know I'd feel a lot better with that letter in my hands. I mean, when they say 'look for a letter in the mail,' I look. And wait. And look some more. And when it doesn't arrive for THREE WEEKS, I begin to feel a little let down, like PC doesn't really love me after all.

But, on the postive action front, I went ahead and sent an e-mail to my recruiter to ask him for advice. I know he as access to a powerful and all-knowing computer network system that holds the answers I seek. Nevermind that he's out of office until next week. A few more days won't kill me. I am patient.

(although my sanity was vaugely in question this morning when I awoke from a dream involving my unknown PO, lavender linen spray, and the Jonas Brothers... wtf, right?)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What's that, skipper? News!?

OHMIGOODNEZ! Finally, finally, after what seems like an eternity (but in actuality was only 10 weeks or so), I have received communication from that bureaucratic black hole that is Peace Corps!!

I have been running all over the state for the past couple weeks working and whatnot, and imagine my surprise and ecstasy upon finding an email from Peace Corps that says my account had been updated. I was so focused on making it to October at the very least and it was not even my hope that they would get to my medical stuff until then. And then, glorious words saying that a decision had been made on my medical application. Complete. A wonderful blue checkmark. :D *sigh* I have come to the determination that the secret to happiness in the Peace Corps is to have zero expectations. Then, when they surprise you two weeks earlier with medical clearance then you had calculated, it becomes the most beautiful thing in the world.

I finally feel cool, like I'm part of the group. The group in question: those people who are constantly updating their blogs with news of progress. Now, I have news as well. HA! I am no longer lame and waiting! (well, i'm actually still waiting, but whatev.) One step closer. Once I have my letter in the mail, I will have conclusive proof that I am a viable and acceptable candidate for PC service. That in itself feels like an achievement, even though it was kinda a no-brainer for me. It feels like things are finally moving, and since I'm not in school anymore, I have been anxious to be doing something in my life. I don't just hang out very well. I have to be productive. Unless of course, hanging out is productive in the long term. But maybe that's exactly what this is, waiting for PC. Hmmm... a conundrum.

To anyone out there who is desperately waiting: I wish I could share this happiness with you. I have come to realize part of what makes it so awesome is that 10 week dry spell before hand though.

So, medical clearance, check! Next stop, placement and invite!!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Things to do while waiting:

There's this part in the movie Jarhead where Jake G. is discussing a list of ways to prevent bordem while they are all in the desert waiting for the war to start. Though decidedly less explicit, I've been inadvertantly compiling a similar list in my head every time my thoughts wander to the giant elephant in the room that is my impending medical clearance and placement. Here is what I have so far...

1) Weed garden
2) Harvest garden
3) Can and pickle boxes upon boxes of food
4) Stare at, waiting for new updates
5) Begin a GI Joes wishlist for X-mas
6) Count down days until October, which is one month closer to tenative departure date
7) Build fences, stack wood, clean barns (my parents love this one)
8) Plan trips that will probably never come to fruition but are fun to think about
9) Think about getting a job, but realize that no one will hire you if you are leaving in a few months, so instead, do odd jobs for neighbors and friends. Stash money for future plane tickets.
10) Come up with new creative ways to say "I'm waiting to hear my country assignment"
11) Check e-mail hourly, just in case
12) Fight with Department of Ed over student loans (jerknoses). Attempt to consolidate.
13) Print out loan deferral and passport paperwork. File away for quick recovery and mailing.
14) Take pictures of random things and people to show my future host family (who knows, they may want to see an American gas station... I should be prepared)
15) Go shopping. Stare at cute shoes. Contemplate purchase. Realize you're going to Africa. Go home.

In reality, I have been keeping really busy, which is probably best. Fall is nearly upon us here, and on the farm that means lots of preparation for winter. This is my least favorite time of the year, but it is really nice not having school to worry about for the first time in basically 15 years. What a feeling of freedom! No class, no studying, no homework, no finals, awesome. On the other hand, it means that I have nothing to keep my brain occupied besides facebook and this blog. Maybe when the weather gets crappy and the dairy slows down, I'll have time for pursuits of leisure (HA, yea right...).

Shout out to all my fellow wait-ees. We can do it!!! Patience is merely perseverance with acceptance. :D

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Step 1: Twiddle thumbs

So, this is my practice run. I've been meaning to start this up for a while, knowing that I will want a online journal sorta-thingy while I'm away, I was just afraid mostly of jumping the gun and starting one too soon. Today, I just figured I'd jump in and get it going. I mean, heck, that's how this whole PC thing got started in the first place...

I've always been rather suspicious of blogs. People who spill their innermost emotions and problems out into cyberspace seem to be attention-seekers, in my opinion. Therefore, I feel kind of awkward in this new step. How much do I write? Is anyone going to read it? How detailed should I be? What do I even write about? I'm sure that, as with many things in the coming months, the first time will be the most difficult, and I will soon adapt.

Which leads me to my brief explination/update. PEACE CORPS!!!! Yes, my friends, I have applied to Peace Corps. I didn't want to start too early, but at this point in the application process, I feel that it might be appropriate to practice my internet communication skills. Considering how I have been scouring the web for other PC blogs trying to glean information on the next three years of my life, I figured it's about time. I was nominated on April 29, 2009 for an Applied Agriculture position in Sub-Saharan Africa, leaving sometime in Febuary 2010. PC recieved my medical paperwork on June 19th, I was cleared for dental and legal shortly thereafter, and am now WAITING for medical clearance. There is a vauge little note on my account that says basically, "we'll get to you soon, just wait in line." In the mean time, I am spending my time constructively: fanatically comparing my timeline with other applicants and volunteers, researching African agriculture, drying apples, and trying to keep busy with work around the farm. I am trying to be flexible and patient, I'm just so darn excited!

So for a trial run, I'm going to see how this blogging stuff works. I can only hope there are others out there who are similarly desperate for information about Peace Corps applications. BTW, no matter how many ways you word it, Google will only return the same hits when you search for "waiting Peace Corps invitation." Just sayin'...

...I hope I can get this to post now. Yay for trying new and exciting things!