Sunday, September 24, 2017

Hola a todos!

Hola a todos! Since today is Sunday, my traditional blogging day, I thought I should start on my first in-country blog post…though I’m not sure when this will actually get posted. I cannot believe that as of tomorrow I will have left my house a week ago…it feels like I’ve been here FOREVER (in the best way possible). In this post I’ll just give you a quick overview of what I have been up to since Monday. I’m not planning on making every blog post an executive summary of my life but this one will be.

Monday: Bright and early Monday morning Brand and her Mama came to pick me up and drive me to Logan Airport. After a quick run back to the house (I forgot my jean jacket) we were on our way. The moon was a beautiful crescent hanging out with Venus (I think) as we made our way down Route 9. The whole trip to Miami went smoothly, I met up with one of the girls in my training class, Berlyn, in Boston and her cousin drove us to the hotel in Miami. Our first night was pretty low key; we had registration and then a short introduction. I just layed low that night, went to Panera, and sat in my room watching HGTV.

Tuesday: I started Tuesday off bright and early (are you sensing a theme?) with a trip to Pasión de Cielo, a coffee shop, with my hotel roommate Candice. We headed back to the hotel to grab something to eat and then were in “staging” sessions all day. Staging was a great opportunity to get out there and really start talking to people in our cohort. We all of course bonded over Trump’s ridiculous UN speech which was playing on all the TVs (including in the bathrooms). A group of us also went out to a sushi place for lunch (I got veggie fried rice) and bonded over being late getting back…Latin time right? That night, after packing and repacking and repacking Candice and I went out to a Spanish restaurant. It was so wonderful. I wanted to cry when I looked at the menu because it felt like I was back in Spain. We had a big pitcher of Sangria with dinner and talked about everything under the sun. One of the best parts of being in Peace Corps so far is the amazing access I’ve had to a diverse group of people who at their very core see the world as I do- a place for opportunity, change, and creativity. The people I’ve met over the last week are down to debate the education system, how we grow food, cultural norms, prejudices, etcetcetc. It’s wonderful.

Wednesday: If Tuesday was Christmas Eve, Wednesday we were up at the crack of dawn. We met in the lobby at 5:30am to leave for the airport and say goodbye to the staging staff. We all complained about the early wake up call, especially for an 11am flight, but it was warranted. It took us forever and a day to get through security and there was a lot of packing/repacking to get everyone under weight limit. The flight was short. I sat next to a very nice woman who I talked to a little bit about Peace Corps. When we got off the plane and went through customs, we came down the stairs to a band playing and Peace Corps volunteers and staff dancing and shouting to welcome us. There were definitely tears. Trying to get luggage, and everyone organized was very overwhelming, as was walking out of the airport. We all got crammed into busses and were taken to the Peace Corps office. It was a very overwhelming couple of hours but in a good way. The rest of that first afternoon was sessions and lots of information. I was really tired so after a quick walk around town and dinner at the hotel I went to sleep.

Thursday: After breakfast at the hotel and official pictures, we had lots of sessions on Thursday. My favorite part was having our second language proficiency interview. These interviews determine out training groups: where we live and who we work with during training. My facilitator was Felipe, he’s very funny and has been working with Peace Corps for a long time. He got me talking about Spain (how they speak multiple languages there) and my work with the International Rescue Committee, two topics that I could talk about for days. The best part of the day was after all the sessions when a bunch of us went to the hotel to change and then went back to the PC office to workout/play games/hang around. It was really cool to just share a space with a bunch of people and drift in and out of all the activities that were going on on the soccer field. Plus being barefoot in the grass was wonderful. Note to self: you only feel like garbage when you are trying to connect to the wifi.

Friday: Our last full day at the hotel was pretty overwhelming. I started off the day frustrated because I was still trying to connect to the hotel wifi and then we had a huge medical session. I’m all for learning about health stuff but getting our med kids and health manuals made me a bit queezy. We had our first language class which was good-our next one is manana! I walked home like a big girl after sessions and did some yoga/dance on the rooftop terrace of the hotel before dinner. That night we had our Bak’tun X (our training cohort) talent show. Y’all is was great. Throughout the week we also got to talk to lots of current volunteers and that was one of the highlights of my first few days in-country. 

Saturday: Día de la familia! After a couple of sessions on Saturday morning we met our families, had lunch with them and then we were out of there. It was very exciting and nerve wracking and definitely a whirlwind. This was the time when I decided that I definitely packed too much-the torrential downpour when we were trying to get all of our stuff didn’t help. Eventually my host mama and I got back home and my Community Based Training (CBT) began. I’ll save the rest for another day, I just wanted to give you a quick view of my first week in PC Guatemala. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

And I'm off...tomorrow

I woke up early this morning, my last full day at home. Preparing to leave has been stressful in that I feel like I'm waiting for some sort of justification/approval. Like: "okay, you're all set! You packed what you need, you have your paperwork, time to go". I feel like I did a sloppy job of packing and am definitely missing things. In any case, the crescent moon kept me company. I think the hardest part has been the waiting. I just want to go. I applied over a year ago and am very anxious but also very excited. Let's get this show on the road folks!

I head to staging for a couple of days tomorrow in Miami then it's off to Guatemala for a three day in-country orientation and then we get placed with our host families for pre-service training (PST)!

I had originally intended on doing a "packing list" post, but I've just had so much else to do. After I've been in-site for a while I'll let you know what I'm glad I brought and what I wish I brought

Monday, May 29, 2017

“A single bracelet does not jingle”

This Congolese proverb rings true in many situations but I have related to it strongly in the past few weeks.  Because I am constantly moving around, I find myself saying goodbye more often than I might like. Don’t get me wrong, I love the thrill of a new adventure, of meeting new people, of breathing new air, but it can get tiring having to say goodbye to a place or an experience that you are in love with.

As I was preparing to leave my Virginia home I remembered this proverb and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. It can be interpreted in a few ways but I like to imagine and arm full of bracelets, each different from the last–some bright and colorful, some understated and elegant, some very loud and some silent–each one representing an experience, or a place, or a person. We are made up of our experiences, comprised of our stories. This beautiful arm represents our entire being and when we reflect and celebrate those experiences…when we dance with all of the energy that life gives us…those experiences sing and shine for us and for those around us. 

This beautiful image is even more impresionante when you remember that you and your friendships, and kindness, and shared adventures are actively weaving the bracelets of others. Your participation in the lives of others is important and you too are celebrated and carried across the globe. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"A place to stand"

Welcome back!

Those of you who read this blog when I posted regularly during my year abroad will notice the new title. The purpose of this blog largely remains the same, it's a way for those at home to keep up with me and also to inspire and encourage others to get out and see our big, beautiful world.

As a Peace Corps Guatemala invitee, most of the posts this summer will be focused on my preparation for departure as well as other things I am working on or have participated in in the past year. Maybe I'll even get around to finishing writing about Spain, Costa Rica, and Norway.

SO, the title change. My year abroad was focused on self-reflection and improving myself. My next long-term travel experience, Peace Corps, will be focused on serving those around me and attempting to better the world in whatever way I can. I believe that you can't be effective in helping others until you are confident in yourself. Self-esteem, self-respect, and self-care are extremely important, this I have learned through experience.

"A place to stand" comes from John F. Kennedy's speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1963. Speaking about the limited (nuclear) test ban that was recently signed with the USSR he said: "It will not put an end to war. It will not remove basic conflicts. It will not secure freedom for all. But it can be a lever, and Archimedes, in explaining the principles of the lever, was said to have declared to his friends: 'give me a place where I can stand - and I shall move the
world' "

As a Peace Corps volunteer I know that I will not change the world but if I can help to move it along, I will be content.

Look for more in the coming weeks :)


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Next Adventure :)

On the eve of my next big adventure I find myself standing in my kitchen thinking about all the things I haven’t blogged about. I’ve started my big “euro-year” scrapbook but still haven’t told you about the majority of my second semester adventures…or anything I’ve done this summer. I’m sorry but yet I’m not convinced that people besides my mom and a few others read this. I feel like those that do love me enough to be patient <3 [It is significantly harder to blog when you can't go sit in your favorite cafe...]

SO, where to next? Well I’m off to Costa Rica to spend ~3 weeks working on an organic/self-sustainable/eco finca (farm)! I’ll be staying with a family that I connected with through I’m excited not only for another homestay but also that they don’t speak any English so I’ll have a great opportunity to practice my Spanish. I will mostly be working mornings so I’ll have afternoons to explore. My work in the morning is compensated in free room and board minus a small weekly fee for things like laundry soap. I’m super excited because I have this amazing opportunity to learn about sustainable farming which is something that I’m really interested in in the future. I'll also get to spend a day or two in the capital, San Jose. It'll be exciting getting to experience and figure out a new part of the world!

I’m just taking a backpack (thanks Dad for lending me yours!) which is an experiment in packing. I’ve travelled for 10 days with just my LL Bean bag in the past but I never needed to bring rain boots! Even though I only have one backpack and my purse I already can’t help feeling like I over packed.
This is my list…I can look back on it when I get home and we’ll see how I did:

·         Button up shirt (wearing during travel)
·         Two nicer tank tops (wearing one during travel)
·         1 pair of nicer shorts (wearing during travel)
·         3 “work” tank tops
·         2 t-shirts
·         1 long sleeve t-shirt
·         1 nice crop top
·         Zip-up wind running fleece (for nights)
·         Rain jacket
·         Knee length leggings
·         Thick ankle length leggings
·         Jean capris
·         1 maxi skirt
·         3 pairs of athletic shorts
·         Socks/underwear/sports bras
·         Bathing suit

·         Old sneakers (wearing)
·         Cheap flip flops
·         Rain boots

The usual, fit into 1 mini-bag and 1 TSA approved liquid bag + baby wipes!

·         Lots of granola/Cliff bars
·         Quick-dry towel
·         Journal (and a million pens)
·         A book to read
·         Baseball hat
·         Water bottle
·         My purse (wallet, passport, etc.)
·         Camera  w/ charger
·         Ipod w/ charger
·         All necessary paperwork 

The finca I am going to

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Love not hate. Hate breeds hate.

I know, I know. I’ve been staring at a list of blogging topics since before I got back. Feria, Paris, Santiago de Compostela, Barcelona, Basque Country, Florence, not to mention the not so pretty trip home and all the struggles that come with being plopped back into your little town.

 Right now I’m about half way through my Summer Honors Research at my university, Sweet Briar College. I’m doing a project on how the sexual abuse and violence that women fleeing from gang violence, government corruption, and domestic abuse, among other things in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras face impedes their ability to successfully gain refugee status in the United States. It’s a very relevant topic, though it’s hard to get up to the minute information and it’s proving to be difficult to get firsthand accounts online, as the information is mostly confidential. If anything, I just want to be able to educate people about this humanitarian crisis in our backyard.

Speaking of humanitarian crises: I was horrified by the massacre in Orlando this past weekend, but then again I wasn’t. I was SO confused when they said it was the deadliest mass shooting in US history. It was “only” 50 people, right? There has to have been bigger ones? Oh, that was Paris. It reinforced the idea that these arbitrary borders we have in our minds or on paper are hurting us. How horrifying is it that I thought, oh only 50 people that’s not that bad. THAT’S HORRIBLE, though I get that it’s just one of my coping mechanisms. We say that we stand in solidarity against whatever type of violence (unless it’s in a non-western country, but that’s a rant for another day) but until we actually do something about the violence, it’s all just for show. It’s not just their problem or the government’s problem it’s OUR problem. We all breed hate on a daily basis, though it’s often in small ways rather than big ways. Any issue in which it becomes “us against them” there is hate and hate breeds violence. It’s simple really: you make a gay joke, a racist joke- us vs them, you make a snide remark about someone on welfare- us vs them, you catcall a woman- us vs them, you laugh at someone at the grocery store for not speaking English- us vs. them. Maybe you don’t mean to, or maybe you do, but when you marginalize people you are destroying lives.

Look at the gangs in El Salvador. They do terrible, really horrific things and have taken control of large parts of the country. The government calls them terrorists. Maybe if the government wasn’t so corrupt and actually funded social programs instead of labeling gang members and their families, funding indoctrinating Nazi-style military schools killing “the problem”, the violence could be lessened. Build the economy, fund schools, provide opportunities. Love not hate. Hate breeds hate.

Maybe it’s idealistic of me to think that a solution is this simple. Actually I know it’s idealistic of me but I’m honestly so exhausted. The fact that the most deadly shooting in my country happened and the first two thoughts in my mind were, oh it was only 50 people and oh at least I didn’t know anyone this time, is sick. I promise you that if you go look back far enough in any situation, the perpetrator was marginalized by society’s idea of something. Am I saying they aren’t responsible? HELL NO.  People are 100% responsible for whatever it is they do. Everyone is responsible for what they do, including us. This is not about us vs them. This is everybody’s issue.

Why do we do it? Why do we separate people into categories? Discrimination is real. I’m guilty of it, I could talk for days about how people (who I don’t think deserve it) get welfare while I have a disgustingly high interest rate on my (government) student loans. Maybe I don’t think that’s fair. Explain to me Holly, what exactly is complaining about it going to do? What is saying bad things and making grossly inaccurate blanket statements going to do? Nothing, it’s going to do nothing except create hostility between you and this population. Couldn’t your time be better spent doing something about it? Looking at people like humans and asking, what can I do to help? Love not hate. Hate breeds hate.

Again maybe it’s too simple. But honestly, with the direction this beautiful country and out amazing world are going in, what other choice do we have? Please, let me know if you come up with a better option. I love reading the news, but I shouldn’t feel sick every time I open my app

Thursday, April 14, 2016

When in...Rome

I had been pretty indifferent about going to Rome until I had a conversation with my host dad one night in the kitchen during first semester. After telling me about how much he loved the city, despite how touristy it is, I decided I had to go. I found a decently priced flight in January and sort of forgot about it until a week or so before I was going. I quick google search lead me to a small eco-hostel about 30 minutes outside the city. It sounded like the perfect place to stay. Since I wasn’t going to check in until Friday night and had an inconveniently early flight home on Monday morning, I threw a romper and some PJs in my backpack, grabbed my three essential travel items: my camera, my journal, and my toothbrush and hopped on the plane.

My game plan was to “do the Vatican”, that is the museums and St. Peter’s, on Friday once I arrived. I bought my ticket ahead of time so I was expecting it to be pretty easy. Unfortunately I had been feeling sick since I got on the plane and was light-headed the entire afternoon. I was also very overwhelmed by how crowded it was. I’m not sure if you remember but since the terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso, I’ve had a hard time riding on the metro. Rome was no different. I had to take the metro both to and from the Vatican. On the way there, there were some guys smoking in the metro, but with very big/smoky electric cigarettes. I thought it was weird but then a mother turned and looked at another woman with this horrified look on her face. I don’t know what it was, but it made me sick. I had to get off at the next stop and then get on the next train. On the way back I was in a very full car and there were two men with camo backpacks. I’m sure they were perfectly nice guys but I was convinced that something bad was going to happen when I saw them texting a guy a few seats down. Again, I felt sick but made myself stay on the train.

Anyway. The Vatican was overwhelming. It was huge and crowded and frustrating. I didn’t like it at all. I definitely feel much more “holy” in my little church at home or in the streets during Semana Santa than I did there. It was too much. I headed out to my hostel around 6pm. It was a 30 minute train ride…for some reason I can do trains, just not metros. When I got to the little town of Zagarolo I walked the 20 minutes to the hostel even though they had free pick up. I didn’t feel like calling them and wanted to walk anyway. The sidewalk was sketchy at best, so I got rides all of the other times I went to the station.

The hostel, Wiki Hostel, was perfect. I absolutely loved it. As they were checking me in they told me that since it was Friday there was a pizza party for only 6 euros. They had a wood-brick oven and these Italian guys to cook tons of pizza/teach us how to do it. And they were made with all local ingredients. The bar was also stocked with local wine, by the bottle only. It was exactly what I needed. While I waited for the cooking to commence, one of the employees, a British expat, gave me a map of Rome and helped me plan out the perfect two day itinerary complete with pizza and gelato suggestions. During the pizza party I ate so much of the best pizza I’ve ever had/made and met a bunch of cool people (yay hostels!). We finished off the night with a Nutella pizza J

The next day I got up for breakfast at the hostel before heading into Rome around 11. I followed pretty closely the itinerary that the guy at the hostel gave me, stopping at a few churches and parks before walking around the Coliseum and Forum. I didn’t pay to go in since I have seen Roman ruins before (in Italica, a Roman center just outside of Sevilla). It was super fun to people watch. I especially liked watching this one older couple who were carrying around Teddy Bears taking pictures of them in front of the ruins. It was adorable. I went to lunch at the recommended pizza place and got the truffle pizza. Wow. It was good. On my way to get gelato I stopped in a Nepalese store and talked for almost an hour with the guy who owns it. He moved from Nepal ten years ago to open the store and he took the time to explain a lot of the Buddhist symbols and theory to me even after I told him that I wasn’t going to buy anything. The coolest thing he showed me were these “singing bowls” which are used for meditation and relaxation. It was really cool and he showed me how to use them and explained how they are used in different cultures. It was definitely one of the coolest experiences I’ve had. I love things like that; if I hadn’t decided to walk in just to browse I would have missed out on all of that. It was also kind of funny, who would have thought I’d get my first introduction to Buddhism in Rome?

After my intro to all things Nepalese I made my way to the gelato place. They sell gelato on every street corner in Rome so it’s really hard to know where you should go. I’m sure it’s good everywhere but I’ve ended up with sub-par gelato too many times in my life. The place I went to, Giolitti, is super popular/old and they have something like 70 flavors. It's the oldest one in Rome having opened in 1890. It’s literally insane if you go during the day. I walked by at 11pm on my last night and it was a completely different story. After waiting for ten years/literally being pushed out of the way by those annoying people who go up with ten orders, I finally got my first Roman Gelato: Caramel and Stracciatella. It was beautiful and everything I needed after a hot morning of walking around the city. At this point I was pretty tired, so I took it easy, wandering around a bit before getting the train back to the hostel. I knew the next day would be a long one so I took advantage of the “order-in” service that my hostel provides, you can order from a number of local restaurants and they bring it right to the hostel. I got eggplant parm and chickory. It was great. I went to bed pretty early, though I had some trouble falling asleep because one of the women in my room breathed really, really loudly. I had lucked out the first night because I was the only person in my room…but that’s life. I do love hostels, but I also love sleeping in peace and quiet.

The next morning after breakfast we went on a tour of the “old town” of Zagarolo. The town history is really interesting. It’s older than the Roman Empire and they were constantly at war with the Vatican because “those who rule religion rule everything”. There’s also a wine festival in the fall where they have local wine running from the city fountains all weekend! I need to come back in October! My favorite part of the city was looking down all of the little alleyways. They were adorable and felt like “real Italy”. It was also interesting because there were a ton of cars on the tiny streets and the tour guide told us that all of the town residents insist on driving their cars to church on Sunday even though the majority of them live less than a mile away. There’s a petition to ban cars from the old town. After the tour we went to a farmer’s market which is still relatively new. There are a lot of people in the town interested in sustainability and being eco-friendly. There are a bunch of projects in their beginning stages right now; it’ll be interesting to see where they go!

I headed into “town” (lol that sounds so casual. Rome. I headed into Rome) and went straight for the gelato place. I had been thinking about it since the previous day and I was super excited to try champagne and blackberry. Of course by the time I got up to the front of the “line” they were out of champagne. I settled for stracciatella and mint which is my go-to combination. Despite not being the combination I had been dreaming about <3 it did not disappoint. My afternoon was largely spent exploring Trastevere a neighborhood on the Vatican side of the river. I absolutely loved roaming through the tiny streets and sitting in the plazas and people watching. The front part of the area (closer to the river) is pretty well developed touristic-ly but not so crowded that it’s overwhelming. It maintains its charm for sure. A bit farther back I found a plaza full of locals. There was a mini open air market (I got to try some cookies!) and lots of kids playing soccer and just fooling around while the parents were socializing. It was very similar to Sevilla and one of the things that I have loved seeing over here. People just relaxing and playing on a Sunday night. Ugh that’s the life.

I found a cute restaurant on a side street for dinner. It was warm enough to sit outside even though it was like 8:30. One of the things I like to do when I’m eating alone is write in my notebook so I don’t get bored. It’s also fun to see what I write about after a bit of wine. So, here we go (translated from Spanish-I’ve been journaling in Spanish recently):
            Dinner- “Sette Oche in Altalena/Reclamavano la cena”
·         The sky is a wicked pretty navy blue right now
·         Bread, grilled zucchini, and olives as the “with your drink snack”
·         White wine, a “mini jar”
·         There are a lot of English speakers but it’s a quiet street. There are some French speakers next to me (I think?)
·         I ordered “Linguine al lemon” for dinner
·         I really like listening to other people’s conversations. Is that creepy? Lol at this family talking about choosing a college. Been there done that.
·         I kind of feel like a food critic writing in this notebook. I wonder if I pull it off well? Probs not. I look like I’m 16.
·         The pasta is very good, I’ve never had pasta with lemon…honestly it kind of tastes like a dessert. But I like it a lot. I’m kinda full but I’m definitely going to have a coffee and dessert. I need to stretch this out as long as I can.
·         I really like this place. Minus the fact that there was a piece of meat in the app dish. But I’ll survive.
·         Dessert: Café Latte (unfortunately café con leche does not seem to be a thing here) and “tortino caldo al cuore di cioccolato”, whatever that is.
·         Thanks to this wine I have lots of energy right now and am excited to go see Rome “by night”
·         There’s this group of old men laughing with the waitress. They look like locals. The couple next to me is smoking…typical. I feel like I’m definitely sticking out right now. The sky is black now and there are some stars.
·         The group of women to my left (that I thought was French) is speaking some weird language. Sometimes it sounds like Italian but also French, English, and German. Maybe it’s Dutch? What’s going on here?
·         This dessert looks good!
·         OMG it’s an Italian lava cake…there’s chocolate on the inside!!!
·         24 euros for the meal. It was good, too much food for me but very yummy.

After I paid I went and sat on the couch with the restaurant cat for a bit to use the wifi and plan my route. I had to catch the bus to the airport at midnight so I had about two hours to go see all of the “sights” lit up. I made it to the Coliseum, the Forum, and Trevi fountain (much less crowded by night but still a lot of people). At midnight:15 I got on the airport bus and arrived to the terminal around 1. I got cozy and watched 5 episodes of “Ranch” on Netflix and ya esta. My plane left at 6:30, I landed in Sevilla at 9:30 and then unfortunately had to get a taxi since it was down pouring and I have a 20 minute walk home from the bus station. The taxi driver was nice to talk to though, speaking Spanish is always a good time.

So Rome. Loved it. You should go. Stay in Zaragolo. Eat Pizza. Drink wine. Be happy.