Archive | March, 2011

Things You Learn Going to Church

18 Mar

This post has been a long time in the making, but it took awhile to distill my thoughts and longer still to find the time and energy to write it.

Walking to work one morning in February after missing the bus I was thinking about a family I know who lost their two year old daughter. Anna was killed by a distracted driver when they rear-ended a car that had stopped for Anna, her mom, and siblings to cross the street. This happened at the end of September, just two weeks after we all celebrated Anna’s aunt’s wedding. Five months later I found myself wondering how the family’s need for support had changed as time passed and they moved through the stages of grief. Not to mention court proceedings had recently started to determine how, if at all the distracted driver, a minor would be charged.

A memory came to me about one day in October when the kids’ aunt, uncle, and I were over after we took them to the pumpkin patch. At that point in time members from their church were bringing the family dinner most nights. We were there when a woman from the church showed up with that night’s dinner. She was so cheerful and seemed so at ease as she exchanged a few pleasantries, dropped dinner off and then left us to continue on as we were.

As I walked to work I found myself in awe of this woman and the other people I encountered at Anna’s vigil and funeral service. There was a reception, I guess you could call it, after her funeral and there were so many church ladies there taking care of the refreshments, which I learned were also provided by members of the church. Later I learned about all of the other ways the church family stepped up to support Anna’s family. I thought also about all of the children I saw at the services. Maybe part of that reason was because of the ages of Anna and her siblings but it seemed that many families were in attendance because they were part of the same church family.

Anna's flower girl dress from her aunts wedding.

Anna's flower girl dress from the wedding. This picture was like a punch to the gut when I saw it. Photo credit Tyler Mitchell Photography.

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been a part of a church family, why is not important to this entry. As these memories came back to me I started to wonder what it would be like to grow up as part of a church like this. To grow up being exposed to loss and sadness in more abstract ways, like going to a funeral of someone you may not really know, or witnessing your parents do acts of caring and support for people you may not know well. Would it then make it easier to support people you care about through a loss?

I feel like I’ve been to too many unexpected funerals in my early 20’s. Not that there’s ever an appropriate time or number in your life for funerals, but as you move through life and people you know age, it becomes a little more likely that someone you know will die. I don’t think I’m at that point in my life and each time it happens I feel incapacitated with sadness and hurt. I want so bad to know how to comfort the people I care about but always find myself at a loss about what to do. The one thing I have learned is how not to be a stressor in my desire to comfort, how to take cues from those in need. I’ve also learned that comfort and support is needed long after the funeral. It never feels like enough.

In less than two months I’m moving to a country where any one over 16 years of age has lived through extreme violence. Where the majority of people have tragically lost a relative, if not entire families. Where people die before making it to old age more frequently and of causes that are preventable here in the US. As part of my training I will visit genocide memorials as well as live and work with people who have experienced tremendous loss and trauma. My challenge is to find the grace and strength in order to live through this experience and find the balance between suppressing my feelings of sadness and letting it take over entirely. Leaving me unable to do anything.

I look to Anna’s family as an example of strength and grace in the face of loss. Anna’s mom has taken on a new mission, not out of anger or a desire to see justice served, but so no other family will lose a loved one because of distracted driving. She has met with Legislators and testified before the Senate in support of a vulnerable user’s bill in Washington state. Anna’s mom and aunts have started a memorial foundation to raise awareness and prevent distracted driving. Visit the website or Facebook page to find out how you can get involved.

Remember Anna keep your eyes on the road.

The Peace Corps Community

15 Mar

There are a lot of blog ideas floating around in my head but it never seems like a good time to dedicate a chunk of time to composing one. I thought maybe this one would come relatively easy, so here goes.

Remember when facebook first came out? At first it was like fight club, you didn’t talk about it, but slowly (unlike fight club) it snuck into everyday conversation. It wasn’t long before people stopped apologizing for bringing it up in conversation and there’s relatively little judgment when you admit to friends about fb stalking someone. That’s kind of how I feel about the the online Peace Corps community. Well, except for the part where it’s become a normal part of everyday speech with my peers. Which I don’t see happening anytime soon since no one else I see on a regular basis is a full-blown applicant yet (and I do mean the yet).

So aside from feeling a little bit crazy every time I reference something I read on a volunteer’s blog I have to say that I am so incredibly thankful for the online community(ies?). I can’t even imagine what it was like before the internet made the world so small. Can you imagine showing up to a hotel in some East Coast city waiting to meet a bunch of other strangers and then be shipped off to a developing country with these strangers who are supposed to be your support network for the next 27 months? I read about volunteers texting each other and calling home, skyping etc on a regular basis and I think how isolating the experience must have been before that technology became widespread.

Some may argue that constant access to the internet and ‘outside’ world may inhibit integration. The airlines always tell you to put your oxygen mask on before assisting someone else. I’m of the belief that in order to be a successful at anything, it’s important to be on good footing emotionally, for many that means being in regular contact with loved ones. Sure, technology is used by some volunteers as an escape mechanism from their life at site, but I’m sure if it wasn’t the internet or hard drive full of movies it would be something else. People will find coping mechanisms wherever they can.

So what kind of online communities am I talking about exactly? Well first, there’s facebook where I belong to two, actually three groups. The first is for general people associated with the Peace Corps process, called Future Peace Corps Volunteers. It’s kind of like the sorting hat* of pc groups, people come with general questions, their invitation etc and meet fellow invitees and form their own country specific groups. This is how I found a fellow Rwandan invitee who started our very own group, which is the second fb group I belong to. It’s a mix of six invitees and some current and former Rwandan volunteers. They are awesome and answer silly questions like, ‘what is appropriate pajama attire?” Right now there are only six invitees in our group. We’ve been told that we’ll probably be around a group of 20. So where is everyone else?!

The website that is probably the biggest time suck is Peace Corps Journals. It’s an aggregate of volunteer blogs. You can sort it by country and there’s even a special applicants section. This is where I’ve made some ‘friends’ hahahaha. You kind of fall in a wave of people who are in the same part of the application process as you and maybe get a little invested in their process. Also, there are some people who I am so confused about because their blogs are part of PCJ but they don’t ever talk about being an applicant or return volunteer. Trust me, I’ve snooped. For the sake of not diluting this valuable resource I really want to leave a comment on their blogs asking them to remove their blog. Then I feel silly for being the internet police and try to figure out where these strong feelings about non-pc related blogs come from. Any other PCJers feel the same?

One of the touching things, and what prompted me to write this blog is reading entries from current Rwandan volunteers posting their packing list and packing tips in anticipation of our arrival. The Rwandan PCVs aren’t alone in their awesomeness as I’ve read volunteers from other countries doing the same thing. There’s been a couple entries I’ve read about how new volunteers are greeted in country by current volunteers getting off the plane and a comment from a volunteer about how excited they were for the new group to come in. It’s just so touching how strangers, who are dealing with their own challenges, and by no means an easy life overall can find the energy to make new volunteers feel welcome. It’s humbling and inspiring to know that there are strangers anticipating my arrival and rooting for me before I’ve even started the race.

Then there’s this AWESOME project I’m part of called Snapshots of Service. Basically this awesome lady Kim (who I’ve actually never met) who is leaving for service in Ukraine was out with some PC peeps and came up with the idea of  sending a journal to volunteers around the world and having them make an entry about what was going on at that moment in their service. Since it’s the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps the suggestion of 50 volunteers in 50 countries came up and since it takes a LONG time for mail to get to the places volunteers live we settled for 4 volumes of the journal so that every volunteer can see it twice (hopefully) during their service. People (strangers) stepped up and made a fb group, blog, and took the responsibility of coordinating the travel of the different volumes. Not to mention it was a group effort to recruit all 50 volunteers. Team work among strangers that came so easily. How cool is that? I’m so excited to be the representative for Rwanda because I am nerdy like that.

So there you have it, just like all you xbox and WoWing people I’m part of a community of people who I really only know online. And I am so thankful.

*Harry Potter is extremely popular with future volunteers and probably why I chose that analogy since I’m not a particularly huge fan.

It’s gettin’ real!

6 Mar

Friday marked two months until my departure and I’m actually starting to get excited! My upcoming move to Rwanda is feeling more real and the excitement is finally starting to dominate the feeling of being overwhelmed. That’s not to say that I have any less to do, but maybe. I have finally  made peace (for now at least) with the fact that I’m going to get done what I get done and that’s it. I’ve also internalized that the Peace Corps selected me because I AM a qualified individual not because of some ability to cram in as much preparation and training before leaving as possible.

With that in mind, I’m going to enjoy the next month of busy weekends with family and friends. In addition to trying to wrap my head around the fact that I have just a little more than a month left of work. I think it’s probably finally time to start planning for my transition out instead of just talking about it.

This evening I went through my clothes and got rid of all the things I feel mediocre about. Tomorrow I’ll take the decent stuff to a consignment store and give the rest to the needle exchange at work. I still have to sell my bed,  eventually get rid of a bookshelf  and that’s it for big stuff. I’m sure when it comes down to it there will probably be a lot more ‘small stuff’ to get rid of than I anticipated. However, I am confident that I will be able to meet my goal of everything I own fitting into 4 rubbermaid bins and a hope(less) chest.

Where does the time go? At least the next month holds lots of time with friends I don’t see frequently.