Saturday, December 20, 2008

Two Alaskan girls in the South

Internship = done. Last day was December 12. I had a great official "performance review" with my supervisor. We formed a great relationship these past four months, and I enjoyed my time at the Fish & Wildlife Service. I finished up all my major projects (look for some neat Native American-related podcasts to go up soon at http://www.fws.gov/) and after packing up all my stuff (how did I accumulate so many things in just four months here??), saying goodbye to my fellow interns (very sad), I hopped on an Amtrak train for the 9 hour ride down to Charleston, South Carolina to visit a friend from back home in Sitka - Alana. She has gone to college down in Charleston for the past three years, and after hearing her rave about it, I had to come visit. I've never been further south than Virginia, so I had no idea what to expect.

Immediately after arriving, I realized that I was a world away from D.C. People were much calmer and relaxed, and much friendlier (people actually got annoyed if you didn't say hello to them when you walked by), and the weather was a good 40 degrees warmer. The Christmas decorations and lights placed among the palm trees seemed a little out of place. I was a little disheartened when the first few people I met did not have southern accents (to Alana's great amusement, I about had a heart attack when I heard the first "y'all").

My second morning in Charleston, I wet for a run in a nearby state nature reserve. It was foggy and a bit eerie that day, but not too hot. The trail was a nice paved loop through the convoluted branches, moss, and bushes that characterize the forests there. I felt pretty safe, despite being the only person around, until I saw that the lake in the middle of the park had a sign that said "Do not feed the alligators." Hm... Also, when I got back to the apartment, Alana told me that there are usually huge spiders living in between the trees, and she recently had a contest with her friend Joe to see who could count the most during a walk. She told me he counted over 50. Great. No more running in the Charlestonian forest for me. (Although, yes, I realize the irony that in Nicaragua there will be snakes and spiders and freaky animals as well.... Baby steps, baby steps).

Alana and I filled our four days together with a lot of outdoor activities (and salsa dancing our last night). We toured Charles Town Landing, one of the area's first defensive structures. It even had a mini-zoo with a black bear, bison, turkeys, shorebirds, elk and deer. We were practically the only people there besides the workers-so we enjoyed walking around the grounds and being in the sun. We also rented kayaks one day, but fog started rolling in right when we started off on our paddle, and by the time we were out in the channel, we could barely see the boats surrounding us. We also rented bikes and biked across the new Charleston bridge. We went out for wine at a downtown social event we were randomly invited to-and although it was filled with people that were old enough to be our parents, and made more money than we probably ever would, we had a fun time mingling, and because it was held at a jewelry store, I felt compelled to buy something. I purchased probably the cheapest thing in the store-although I really needed it: a Swiss army knife. We also took a boat cruise out to historic Fort Sumter National Monument, where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired. This tour was more crowded than the other activities we had been doing- Alana told me the Fort is a big draw for tourism, and most of the other folks on the tour were retired military.

My last night there, we went to James Island in the evening to see the beach. So beautiful. Charleston reminded me of a cross between Maine, Florida, the deep south, and Hawaii. In some areas, I felt like I was in an east coast community-with all their seafood and old buildings, but then we'd cross a bridge and go to another little community that was more "hippie" and free-spirited, on the beach, with beach bungalows, swimsuit shops, and margarita lounges. Then we'd be in on an old Plantation-which reminded me of the old movie, "Gone With the Wind." Charleston was such an eclectic mix- I can see how Alana really likes it there. If you grow tired of one area: just jump in your car (you have to drive everywhere) and go to another nearby island, or suburb, and the vibe is completely different.

Charleston was much more relaxed than Washington, D.C., and this, combined with the warmth, really made me feel like we were on summer vacation. The long train ride back to D.C. yesterday, and the 35F weather right now are jolting me back to reality. I'd better get used to it, since I go back home to Alaska tomorrow for Christmas.

I leave for Nicaragua in a little under a month. I just received e-mails from Peace Corps with the details of my upcoming deployment. We'll meet in Miami, Florida in January, and our group of Health Care volunteers will take off together for Managua. It's becoming real! I'm making my travel arrangements to Miami on Monday... Although Charleston was in the low 80s F and sunny, I know that was just a taster of what's to come. For the next two years I don't think I'll see weather much colder than 70F. Who hoo! Now I just have to conquer my fear of humongous spiders...

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Coldplay concert on Halloween!

I've had two "life goals" in terms of concerts: Shakira and Colplay. I had the chance to see Shakira last year in Spain in Granada. Despite not having slept the 24 hours prior to the concert, it was amazing- in an outdoor bull-ring, with back-up bellydancers and everything. And last night (Halloween '08) I got to see COLDPLAY in concert here in D.C.!!! I bought the ticket this past summer in Alaska when I saw them go on sale- there was no way I was going to miss this concert- despite not having anyone to go with me :)




I dressed up as a black cat this year (I know, lame, but also really easy to do) and celebrated with 15,000 of my closest friends at the Verizon Center here in D.C. Afterwards I hung out with my friends- Amy was a spider and Ellen was the "Indian Ocean"- aka-she wrapped her blue blanket around her, put origami fish all over it, and shells and then put a feather headband on for the "Indian" part :)

The concert was amazing- complete with flourescent confetti, a shout-out to Obama, and huge LCD-screen globes with jack-o-lanterns displayed on them. I danced my little black cat tail off, and made friends with the people sitting around me. Coldplay definetly draws a diverse audience- there was an older Indian couple there, some girls from Saudi Arabia, some couples from Nebraska, and the girls I was sitting with were from Vermont.


I got so upset towards the end of the concert because they still hadn't played "Yellow"- an oldie but goodie from when they first began getting popular. But- not to fear! It was their encore song!!! :)


The metro ride after the concert was less than thrilling though- when thousands of people leave an event at the same time and all try and get on a tiny metro bus, bad things happen.

I saw a lot of funny costumes though- one of the ones I thought was funny was a guy dressed up as Jesus carrying a "W.W.J.D?" sign and a McCain/Palin sign. Another guy was dressed up in all read and had the names of the metro stops pasted on his shirt (Dupont Circle, Cleveland Park, etc.) and he was the "red line" on the metro. haha. I guess it's sort of something you have to experience to get...



"Yellow":



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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Peace Corps Nicaragua!


Peace Corps application submitted: December 15, 2007

Nomination by regional recruiter: February 27, 2008

Medical clearance obtained: June 2008

Peace Corps invitation: October 6, 2008


After probably the most arduous and bureacratic process of my life, I've finally been "invited" to serve in the Peace Corps (or Cuerpo de Paz in Spanish). Why do I tell you the translation? Because I had to figure out how to say it in Spanish because I will be serving in NICARAGUA!

Nicaragua is a very poor, largely rural and agricultural country inbetween Honduras and Costa Rica in Central America, 11 degrees north of the equator (I am going to have to make a serious adjustment to the heat).

I will be working as a Health Care Promoter in a rural area (yet to be determined), working with women's and children's groups using non-formal education methods in HIV/AIDS, STD awareness, educate in proper nutrition, pre-natal health, basic healthcare, etc. There will be about 30 other volunteers going over to Nicaragua in my group, but we'll all be in different towns/villages. There are currently about 170 Peace Corps volunteers in Nicaragua right now. The country itself has about 5.5 million people in it and a large portion of those are under the age of 18. The richer and more modern Costa Rica to the south views Nicaragua sort of how the U.S. views Mexico in many respects, I've heard. Nicaraguan immigrants come to Costa Rica, take the manual labor and low-paying jobs "away" from Costa Ricans, and are discriminated against.

Right now, there are still many more questions than answers, but I'm just busying myself learning as much as I can about Nicaragua-meeting with returned Peace Corps volunteers from that area and reading books. I also had to obtain a special government passport for my time there, and send my updated resume and an aspiration statement to my "country desk" at Peace Corps national headquarters.


I'll be going back to Sitka for Christmas, then to Portland, Oregon for a bit to visit family and friends, and I'll take off for Peace Corps January 20, 2009. All the volunteers in my group will meet in a U.S. city of departure (probably Miami, FL because of it's location), and from there we'll leave in one large group for Nicaragua for three months of training in-country, living with host families. I will officially be inducted as a volunteer in April and start my service. Most of my work will be in healthcare, but we also get the opportunity for "secondary projects"-and I can start a youth sports team, work in community development, teach English, etc.


It's a little hard to fathom all of this, especially when I'm in the throngs of the city here in D.C., and with all I have going on, I barely have time to let it all sink in. I know that I need to take a bit of a break right now in my life and build on my intercultural communication skills, patience, leadership, and define my future career, so I am ready to go!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama/Biden Rally in Virginia!












My time in D.C. is complete now. I went to an Obama/Biden rally today in Fredericksburg, Virginia. A friend told me about it on Friday, and the rally was on Saturday, so it was a pretty random thing that I even heard about it. Our friend Trey drove me and three other girls in my program to the rally, it was about an hour south of D.C. Virginia is a big "battleground" state, so both candidates have been spending time and energy there.

The first presidential debate happened last night in Mississippi, so everyone was all fired up. As we drove into the area where the rally was going to be held, we were "greeted" by people standing along the highway holding McCain/Palin signs. They were definitely in the minority though.

We really underestimated the time we should've arrived... We got there at like 4:30 (Obama/Biden were scheduled to speak at 6:30) and people had been there since around 8 am... The line was literally about 2 miles long winding around the university campus it was being held at. We hung out in line for about an hour, which wasn't too bad, until it started to POUR down rain. It was like being in a shower... We were so soaked, we stopped even caring that it was raining...
After a while, the long line sort of dissipated into nothing since people realized that they had reached capacity and were no longer letting people into the outdoor stadium. So, we found ourselves going on to plan B - working our way through the huge crowd of people on the outside of the stadium, trying to find a place where we could see a view of the stage.
We got pretty close and if we stood on our tiptoes and squinted, we could see the main stage pretty well. There were cops standing on the roofs around the rally for security. It makes you think about the sick people that would want to assasinate Obama...

I felt really lucky just to be there! Presidential candidates never come to Alaska, and actually seeing these people in person made the election even more "real" to me.

I also felt lucky that BOTH Obama and Biden were there. At this point in the election, most candidates split up from their VP to cover more ground, but it was really neat to hear both of them speak and talk about each other. They seem like a really good team.
One of the things that stuck with me about what Obama said when he spoke was what he said about the previous night's debate: "Last night you heard John (McCain) talk a lot about me...but he never mentioned any of you. He never once said the word 'middle class' or 'working class'." He also talked about how McCain is very disconnected from the economic crisis, and he also talked a lot about the Iraq war and Afganistan. He was a very inspirational person to hear speak. I found myself the whole time not even believing that I was actually there!

One of my goals while I was here this semester was to see Obama speak, so I feel my time here is complete :) Although I had to take an hour long metro ride, hour long bus ride, go hours standing outside in the rain without a bathroom anywhere in sight, it was all worth it!!!





Friday, September 12, 2008

Peace Corps

Yesterday I saw an article by the Brookings Institution regarding updating the Peace Corps (PC)for the 21st century. They actually have a few related articles: (http://www.brookings.edu/search.aspx?doQuery=1&q=peace%20corps)

There are currently about 8,000 volunteers serving in the the PC, and starting in January 2009, in just about four months, I hope to become one of them! The PC was born during the cold war, and "created to win hearts and minds in the non-aligned developing countries."

I was "nominated" (the first step to PC acceptance) in February, and after a verrry lengthy medical clearance process (think of every test/exam you can have, and multiply that by two, and then add in the all the bureacratic forms, and time to snail mail it, and that's what I had to go through). I'm currently awaiting my "invitation" (step two) where I will find out my exact country and area of service. I've been told little details of this process so far, but I do know that I will be placed in Central/South America and should be departing in mid-January. Although it's subject to change, I will probably be working in healthcare education or perhaps community development. Yesterday, they said I have about 4-6 more weeks until I'll know for sure.



I'm very excited, but also nervous. It's been a long process, and a lot of patience has been required. I'm not very good at making decisions that affect my future, when my future is dependent on something so unclear. I've been trying to keep busy in the meantime-graduating, finding an internship here in D.C., and that has helped a lot so I'm not constantly waiting by the phone for the placement office to call.



This article that I saw, and related ones on the website really solidified my thoughts about joining. It's a difficult thing to commit to: 27 months in another country. Right now that feels like a lifetime! But after talking to many returned PC volunteers and hearing about what an exceptional program it is, and how valuable the experience is, I know it's what I want to do.



These recent articles on the PC, and recent talk by both presidential candidates on the PC are making me really excited to leave. Everyone seems to agree that a critical challenge for the next president of the US will be to convince the rest of the world that we are more interested in being a reliable partner than a military superpower. Reversing the negative attitudes that have built up over the past few years in other countries towards the U.S. will be something that the PC can have a significant role in. In 1966, there were around 16,00 volunteers, and currently, it's half that size. Both presidential candidates agree that we need to scale up the size of the volunteer force.



I'm really excited that people are beginning to talk about this kind of thing. It shows that we have a real interest in our reputation abroad, and know that interdependence is key to a successful nation.



I do think that one of the things they'll have to do to increase participation in the PC for the future would be to make the application process a little shorter and more transparent.... (sense the annoyance...)

I'll let everyone know as soon as I do about my placement! I'm hoping for South America, but at this point, I'm really open to anything. I think I can learn from wherever I am placed.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Couchsurfers

I don't know if you've ever heard of the website, "couchsurfing.com" - but I'm becoming more acquainted with it, and yesterday, through some friends, I actually met some D.C. "couchsurfers." Couchsurfing.com is a social networking site, sort of like a mix between Facebook and Myspace and a hostel (but for free). You create an online profile of yourself, and make friends with people in other cities/states/countries, and if you're traveling through for a night or two, they might let you "surf their couch" and stay with them for free. I know, I know, it sounds pretty weird - but there are a lot of ways the site is working to "authenticate" the people that are on there, and you can read what previous people who stayed with them had to say, etc. I've personally never used it and I don't know that I will anytime soon, but I have some friends who traveled around Europe and swore by it.


It is a cool site to meet people from a different area though, and last night after work, some friends and I went to "Jazz in the Sculpture Garden." And outdoor concert held at the National Gallery of Art in their sculpture garden. Hundreds of people were there sitting outside on the lawn and around the lake listening to music. And a few people came who were from couchsurfing, and they were really neat people to talk to! One was from Venezuela, one from Peru, and one from DC. I got to speak Spanish all night! They told us about some local hangouts, and showed us a neat bookstore/bar/restaurant in DC called "Busboys and Poets" that had some of the coolest interior decorating I've ever seen.


I don't know if I'm actually going to stay at someone's house on couchsurfing anytime soon, but social events with those people are fun, and a good way to get to know a city you've never been to...


Here's a photo of the jazz in the garden event:

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Brazillian Day NYC!

So, my second weekend here in DC, and I decided to take the 4.5 hour bus ride up to New York City! I've never been there, so when my friend Luisa said she was going up for "Brazillian Day," I couldn't say no... Luisa was born in Brazil, but moved to Iowa when she was around 10. I studied with her in Spain the year before last.
We took the infamous "Chinatown bus" because that was the cheapest option. $35 round trip will get you a somewhat clean bus without a working bathroom, and a very nice bus driver though! His name was Muhammad and he was from Egypt originally, and Luisa and I enjoyed good conversation (mainly about the upcoming election-he wanted to know everything about Sarah Palin that I knew...) since we were sitting in the front two seats :)

We were dropped off practically right in the middle of Times Square-and what a thing to see at night! So many lights and people! Although Luisa had been to NYC before, we were both getting dizzy looking up at all the skyscrapers.

We stayed with some of her friends from high school in Iowa who are now living the typical NY lifestyle; i.e. aspiring dancers, actors, singers... They had a great apartment in Queens though and I would love to see them again.

Sunday was Brazillian Day- and when they say "day," they mean it. It started at 10 am and went until 6 pm. And we were there for all of it (wearing green and yellow of course to match the flag!) They shut down 25 city blocks and I guess they estimated there were around 1.5 million people there. It was crazy- and got increasingly more crowded and dirty and sweaty as the hot day went on... There were famous bands/presenters from Brazil there, and every type of fried food you could imagine. I couldn't resist getting an Acai smoothie bowl (the Brazillian "superfruit"). It was bright purple and cold. Perfect for that weather.
Luisa and I took a couple breaks from the Brazillian "locura" a few times; walking around Central Park and Times Square a bit, and we even tried (unsuccessfully to get tickets to RENT). By the end of the day we were exhausted and sweaty-but that didn't stop us from hanging out with her friends from Iowa a bit- I got to hear some well-told stories from her theater friends, see some clips of their work on "As the World Turns", and some music from her aspiring musicians, and her friend Tony Chem gave me one of his cd's he came out with a couple years ago...


A few observations about NYC that I saw; the DC metro is much cleaner than the NYC one, there is diversity everywhere, and everyone seemed to be a little stressed out...haha
















Back in DC now, and it felt nice coming back to my new "home" and seeing the familiar faces of my roommates. This coming weekend there are plenty of things going on in DC though to keep me busy. Last night my roommates and I watched Sarah Palin speak at the RNC. For once, I feel like I know a little more about politics than these east coast people being from Alaska :) I feel like I picked the best semester ever to come here to DC. This election is really turning out to be something for the history books- or then again maybe the tabloids.
I'm already thinking about when I can go back to NYC again...

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How did I get here?

Well, the past few months have been, let's just say, "nomadic" to say the least. I graduated in May from University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF) with a double-degree in Spanish and Communication. However, when I crossed the stage at commencement, it was really a lie since I actually had 3 more credits to complete!!! haha So, I had to stay after graduation to do a class for a couple weeks, taking refuge at my friend Mary's house :)
After that, I was back in Sitka, working at Mountain Miss to earn my wonderful discounts on highly expensive outerwear... Caught up with a few friends, saw my family, and generally got my fill of Sitka for a while.
From June-August I was in Anchorage, AK doing an internship through the First Alaskans Institute at the Rasmuson Foundation. If you don't know what the Rasmuson Foundation is, check it out, because they most likely have given thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to an organization, artist, or program that you're close to... (www.rasmuson.org)
Anchorage was alright, but I'm not set on if I would ever live there. Too much driving... Although I did fit in a few fun things (bike ride from Anchorage to Seward - 130 miles, a half-marathon, fishing with my uncle, hanging out with my fellow interns, and doing the ever-so-exciting "networking" in Alaska...)

Which brings me to my current location: Washington, D.C. How exactly did I end up here this fall? Well, I'm not sure, but it was a combination of "networking" and things just working out... I love it when these things happen. I'm doing an internship for External Affairs at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the program I'm doing my internship through is out of American University. So, I'm staying in the dorms (hello sophmore year again, right?) and I'm also taking a couple classes on the side.

I just arrived at the end of August, and I haven't stopped since. I really like D.C. I haven't been here for four years, but some things just don't change (but Administrations do...) All the monuments and major sights are just as I left them. I really liked flying into Reagan Airport and being at eye-level with the Washington Monument...
My two roommates are also in my internship program. Desirae is from Oklahoma and Amy is from Florida. We get along well (when we have the time to even see eachother...) It's a little crowded though having three girls in a room, but I'm not complaining.

Last Sunday, I spent the whole day at the National Gallery of Art. It's actually made up of two buildings (one for classical art and one for contemporary) and a sculpture garden. They're hosting an exhibit right now on Afgan Treasures that were found buried recently. Amazing tiny gold medallions and crowns and pins... Very intricate and well-preserved.

I'm a little in shock about how different the two sides of our country are. I can barely believe I'm still in the same nation!
More later. Right now I'm off to bed. My 50 minute metro ride in the morning to work really cuts down on my sleeping time!