Only eighteen more hours until I depart to this amazing adventure called Peace Corps service in Malawi, Africa. It took me 11 months to prepare for this trip. And I cannot believe I actually still have time to write another entry.
Why does it take so long to get ready for service? I cannot speak for everybody, but in my case there were a lot of loose ends to tie up, many arrangements to be made, jobs to finish etc. But what about the details?
The application for Peace Corps service is the longest application process I have ever been through and the longest I have ever heard of. It starts with writing a letter of intent. I filled out a form and ask to be invited. I also pick the field of employment and three countries you want to be considered for. After that I sent in a resume, references, and aspiration statement. An interview was set up next where I already had to show familiarity with electronic communication tools. Well, I failed this test. Fortunately, the PC is all about being flexible. I had my interview via old-fashioned phone instead of business skype 🙂
After the interview I was told to wait for a response, which could take up to 4 months. After all, Peace Corps receives 17000 application each year for 4 to 5000 positions. During our conversation I was also assured that my references will not be called until much later in the process, so I felt safe to give up my principal’s address. Little did I know that I was invited within a couple of weeks which did not give me any time to notify my employer first, it being summer and all. Luckily my principal is was a good sport about it and I still love him for that.
Anyway, after I received the official invitation letter to serve in Malawi as an Education Volunteer I received a link to a Peace Corps portal. And that was when I got a first glimpse of how much work still awaited me. The portal was full of tasks all to be completed in a very specific time frame. Tasks ranged from security clearance to dedicating beneficiaries of the life insurance policy. Nothing was left to chance. I also had to re-write my initial statements and resume aligning it more with my now determined assignment.
The following months were filled with passport applications (yes, the PC has their own version of passport, which seriously confuses the passport agent at the local post office), finger printing, essay writing, picture taking, re-doing the passport application, going to doctors, dentists, labs, getting all vaccinations up-to-date which included getting re-vaccinated for childhood diseases I already had, filing paperwork, taking online courses, starting to learn the local language Chichewa, reading PC books and manuals, finding tenants for the house, dedicating someone for power-of attorney, writing my will, deciding that I want my ashes spread….well, you get the point.
I started the process in July 2016 and received my final clearance not until April 2017.
What an amazing marathon. And when I thought I finally could relax I started to look at packing lists. Yes, I bet you have not asked yourself the question yet how to survive on two suitcases worth of stuff in a culture you have no clue about and with the expectation to be professionally dressed for work every day.
In short, I spend several months shopping for things I had never used before like a kindle for example, or a solar charger since I will be living in a mud hut without water nor electricity. Yes, and after I felt good about all my purchases I tried to pack all that good stuff into my two bags. You can imagine the rest. I just survived the wildest packing orgy in my life and I already have moved to foreign countries twice before.
It is Sunday afternoon and I still have time to add this blog entry to my day. Unlikely, but true. And yes, I also had to learn how to create and maintain a blog and how to navigate a messenger group discussion with, I believe, 70 people chatting with each other in 4 or 5 different time zones.
Everything worked out in the end. I successfully completed my job, my second job, my medical and legal clearance tasks, my license renewal, my house, utilities, car, and tenant challenges, said good bye to all my friends and family (which included a trip to Germany), gave presentations about Malawi in two countries, packed my bags, beautified my yard and took the dogs on a last walk though the canyon.
Last year I had a to-do list of 4 double-sided pages hanging on my fridge. Today, the only note that is still around reads “don’t forget to take alarm clock”
Yes, it is always impossible until its done.
P.S. Next week I will be in Africa with no reliable internet connection. I will write again as soon as it will be possible…..until then, tiwonana (see you later)