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Location update!

Yeah! I have more information! One fewer question to which I have to answer "I don't know."

As stated before, for the safety of all of the PCVs, our whereabouts are not made publicly available...which also means that they don't tell *us* much about where we're going. But I got an email over the weekend whose attachments I just took a look at, and lo and behold! I learned something new.

In addition to nifty factoids about appropriate presents for our host families and about four iterations of the alcohol policy, they gave us packing advice and logistical information for the first few months:

You will be arriving in [Arrival City]*... Once everyone has cleared customs and luggage has been collected, you will make the bus trip to the initial training site in [Coastal City]. There, the rest of the training staff will greet you, and you will have a chance to unwind, unpack, and relax. Your first three nights in Morocco will be spent in a hotel in [Coastal City]. We ask that you remain in the Hotel from your arrival until the following afternoon, during which time you will receive a briefing by the Regional Security Officer from the US Embassy. After your first three nights, buses will drive you to your Environment Seminar Training site, in [Mountain City]. We recommend that you pack so you can easily access your toiletries and a change of clothes. This will save you from completely unpacking your bags until you arrive at [Mountain City]. Please pack in one of your bags everything you will need from the time you arrive in [Coastal City] until you go to your [Mountain City] (3 days). Expect to be at [Mountain City] for the first week before moving to your Community-Based Training (CBT) site, where you will stay with a host family. The stay with your host family is typically a week to 10 days after which you will return to [Mountain City] for 3-5 days to debrief and participate in group training activities. Because you will be traveling back and forth to your host family site several times during pre-service training, it is advised that in addition to your larger bag(s) you also bring a smaller, lockable bag or suitcase suitable to carry enough clothes for each 7-10 day CBT period. A storage room for your larger bag(s) holding the bulk of your belongings will be available at [Mountain City].

* Out of respect for the Peace Corps' safety procedures, I'm not naming the cities involved on this publicly-accessible blog.


Going away parties

I should leave the country more often. It's a great way to flush the luv out from the underbrush of propriety and social mores. :D

Seriously, I've received more hugs, free meals, and spontaneous expressions of affection in the past week than in most months. :) Here's a quick rundown:

2.08.08 - Taken out for dinner and hugs. (Zola - American fusion)
2.13.08 - Given a gorgeous picture frame and hugs.
2.14.08 - Taken out for lunch and hugs. (Capital City Brewing - American)
2.15.08 - Taken out for lunch and hugs and kisses. (Lugiano's - Italian)
- Visited friends at their home, given a goodbye pashmina and dinner (and hugs).
2.16.08 - Taken out on the town (and by "the town", I mean New York City) for karaoke and dinner (Acapella - Italian). Received hugs and kisses from my friend *and* half the wait staff. Affectionate people, New Yorkers. ;)
2.17.08 - Taken out for lunch, dress shopping, a movie, and many, many hugs.
- Taken out for dinner and hugs. (El Paso - Mexican)
2.18.08 - Taken out for lunch (Tao - Chinese) and the Zoo. And hugs.
2.20.08 - Taken out for brunch and hugs. (Panera - Soup/Sandwich Shop)
- Gave away snake, received fourteen (or so) hugs from long-lost friends. Good trade!
- Given going-away ice cream party and eclipse viewing and *lots* of hugs.
2.21.08 - Given help with packing ... and hugs.
- Taken out for dinner and hugs and kisses. (Eggspectations - Breakfast food all day) Given awesome wallet card commemorating amazing women.
2.22.08 - Taken out for breakfast and hugs. (Eggspectations - yes, it's that good)
- Given balloon and hugs.
2.23.08 - Given breakfast, pamphlet, and hugs.
- Given dinner and hugs. (Thanks, Mom!)
2.24.08 - Lots and lots of hugs.

My effort to avoid names is being strained by this post. But I realize that, if you're one of the people involved, you know who you are, and if you're not, it doesn't make much difference which friend did which thing. So ... my friends are totally, utterly, and undeniably **awesome**. Thank you all. :)


Father, Friend, and Guide*

Non-disclaimer explanation: I'm a religious person. I believe in the power of prayer. I realize, though, that not only is that not necessarily true of all my readers, but I actually have a few readers (or, well, people who said they'd check my blog, and I have no reason to believe they won't) who are uncomfortable with any discussion of prayer and its impact. But I have other readers who share my faith tradition and who understand that there's no way I can share my full experience in something as transformative as the Peace Corps without reference to God. So, dear readers, here's what I'll do. Any blog entry that deals largely or entirely with my prayer will have an asterisk in the title. See, it's up there. Plus, I'll tag them with "prayer" as a label. So, if you don't want to read it, you don't have to. It won't be on the test. And if you do want to read it, enjoy! :)

Preparing to join the Peace Corps has been emotionally schizophrenic. I'm excited and happy on one hand, nervous and apprehensive on another hand, and sad to leave my friends and family on a third hand. (Like Teviye in Fiddler on the Roof, I have too many hands.) Some of the apprehension has been centered around the fear that some unexpected, last-minute calamity will arise that will yank this opportunity away, like Lucy with Charlie Brown's football. It could be a medical test, or a parking ticket, or a financial lien, or who knows what, but it could rear its ugly head just as I'm on the cusp of this amazing moment.

Wednesday's readings from the Bible included the passage from Revelations about the woman waiting to give birth, with a dragon breathing down on her, waiting to attack as soon as the baby is born. I'm not pregnant, but I am on the verge of the culmination of (well over nine months of) loving preparation for an important idea. And it sometimes feels like there's a dragon waiting to eat me, or otherwise destroy this idea I've invested so much of myself in. So as I listened to the readings from Revelation, and heard about the woman rushing into the desert - like Hagar, whose needs (and those of her child) were met, even in the wilderness - I remembered the promise from Isaiah, "Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth?", God's reassurance that nothing can prevent or interfere with the harmonious conclusion of all my labor. Pun intended. (It also occurred to me that more than one woman has probably come to her 38th or 39th week and read that verse with a "So what's taking so long already???" kind of thought.) But God has promised a successful conclusion, in His time, and I can trust in that promise. No dragons can snatch away the product of so much love.

As I thought that through, the swirling anxiety began to ebb away, and I felt myself breathing more deeply. When the time came for the second hymn, which I think was 294, or maybe 297, I saw Hymn 291, which has the lines, "Quiet, Lord, my froward heart ... As a little child relies ... Let me thus with Thee abide, as my Father, Friend, and Guide." The whole hymn is pretty great (it's written by John Newton, author of Amazing Grace; the version in my hymnal is slightly adapted from the original text, available here), and has calmed me down before, in the face of many challenges--most often final exam weeks. This time, the final line landed especially hard. It conjured up memories of going for walks with my dad when I was an itty-bitty kid. We'd range all over the neighborhood, and probably beyond, but I didn't then - and don't now - actually know where we were. I was too young to use the techniques I've learned since, of marking landmarks, noting street names, etc, to avoid getting lost. At the time, I just knew that my daddy knew where we were going, and I really didn't think about it beyond that. I knew I had nothing to fear, because my father, friend, and guide was holding my hand -- or, often, carrying me on his shoulders -- and would keep me safe for the *whole* trip. Not just the first part, but the whole trip. It never occurred to me to worry that he'd take me somewhere, then abandon me, or hide behind a tree and giggle while I flailed around, lost. And if Dad could be counted on for that, how much more can I trust my Father in Heaven to keep me safe for this whole venture? The God who is Love has inspired, illumined, designated, and led the way thus far; He's not going to let go of my hand at this point.

And the rest of the fears were gone.

In the days since then (because yes, even though I'm time-stamping this entry as of the 19th, when I had all these ideas, I'm actually typing it up on the 24th), there have been various other obstacles to overcome: picking up the U-Haul, driving through an ice storm, saying goodbye to dearly loved friends, and others. But every time fears have begun to nibble around the edges of my thought, I've remembered this. My Peace Corps adventure will yet be brought forth. And no matter how far I venture from my parents' house, I'll have my Father at my side, leading me, or even, when the going is rough, carrying me all the way through.

If you read this far, thanks. For letting me share this with you. :)


Other Peace Corps Blogs

They found me!

I don't know who or how, but somebody found my blog on January 20th and added it to the list of Peace Corps - Morocco blogs. (I just found the list five minutes ago, which makes me all the more impressed that they found me three weeks ago.) So if you want to read what other PC - Morocco bloggers are writing, check the list here:

Staging packet

So I've received my "staging packet", which is typically sent out three weeks before departure, and it's slowly dawning on me that I'm leaving REALLY SOON. I mean, *really* soon. It also finally occurred to me that twenty-seven months is a LONG TIME. I've lived in DC for about 30 months.

Yeah, OK, so maybe this should have occurred to me sooner. But...whatever. I'm still really excited to go. This has just added a bit of urgency to the to-do list (that doesn't seem to be getting any shorter).

Now that the long-awaited Staging Packet has arrived, what useful information is at my fingertips? Some very useful details, like my flight number and travel times, plus some bigger-picture things like tips on adjusting.

I've also been reading extensively. Other Morocco PCVs recommended In the Caliph's House, which I've now read, plus I've started Power, Faith, and Freedom, which is a comprehensive history of the relationship between the US and the Middle East. (From a US perspective, anyway--the author, Michael Oren, couldn't get access to most of the Arabic archives.) I checked the index, and there's not a single reference to the Peace Corps on any of the 800 pages. Admittedly, Oren had over two hundred years of history to discuss, but I still thought that we'd rate a mention. I brought this to his attention at a book talk/signing. From his very brief response - he was trying to get to the next person in line - I think he thought I was trying to zing him with a "Gotcha! You left something out!", but really I was trying to see what role, if any, he thought Peace Corps Volunteers had played in US-Middle East relations over the past forty years. (Yes, 40 years. Pushing 45, actually - Morocco was one of the first countries to get Volunteers, after all.) Morocco was also only the second country--ever--to sign a treaty with the U.S., and claims to have been the first country to recognize our independence from Britain. The book is full of fun facts like these.


Going away ... giving away

As part of my plan to get rid of my stuff, combined with my desire to see my loved ones before I head for Morocco, my friend The UberHostess threw me a going away / giving away party. She came over a few hours early to decorate my apartment with streamers and balloons. (Note from two weeks later: I have to say, the balloons have been fun ever since. We still have them, and have used them for countless hours of catch, hackysack, and a series of practical jokes. Most recently, I had trouble getting into my room because a dozen of them were taped to the backside of the door, preventing it from opening more than a foot or so!) The place was festive and fun, plus there were maps of Morocco on the walls, both to set the mood and as part of her plans...

Long story short: A whole passel of friends came over, ate awesome food (brownies, stuffed mushrooms, tuna sandwiches, chips, clementines, and more), drank fabulous drinks (particularly noteworthy: cranberry juice, ginger ale, and orange slices in a lovely punch bowl), and talked a lot. 'Twas much fun. :)

The UberHostess also had a truly lovely idea, the second half of which I'm looking forward to more than I want to admit: she took pictures of everyone in front of one of the maps of Morocco (which, by the way, I'd bought with her, in my favorite local map store) and had them all write notes to me on note cards she'd brought. She'll print out the pix and put them with the notes into a scrapbook, which she'll send to me once I'm in country. I haven't seen any of the notes or pictures yet, and I'm already deeply moved by the thoughtfulness behind this idea. I have a feeling I'll be fairly overwhelmed by my friends' love when I open this book in Morocco.

After the munching and the toast (to me!), we moved into the Giving Away part of the evening, and I was delighted to pass off to my friends all sorts of stuff. Everything from DVDs and books to kitchen equipment and dishes was carted away to good homes. (The furniture will be going later, when I'm no longer using it.) I've talked about this in other posts, but the short version is, I'd rather have my stuff being used than gathering dust while waiting for my return.
Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps