Greetings from warm, sunny, beautiful, humid… Philadelphia?
Yes, it’s true. I am not in Africa. A huge thank you to everyone who pointed that out for me, as I kept saying, “Wow! There are so many Dunkin Donuts in Africa! It’s a miracle!”
Before we depart for Togo tomorrow morning, all of the current Peace Corps Trainees (there are 48 of us) went through a process called Staging. It’s a rapid-fire information overview. A lot of the information had already been presented to us in different formats, but I am NOT complaining about the reinforcements. Being in the Peace Corps involves learning a lot of information quickly, and the more help I have, the better.
I flew into Philadelphia Saturday morning and had five hours to kill before checking into my hotel room. I walked around the downtown area, which is absolutely beautiful. Reading Terminal Market is a real catch. The Liberty Bell is something everyone should see, and the attention the surrounding museum pays to the complicated history of slavery is really important to learn. I also got to walk through a Lantern Festival and see my old (and very good) friend Julie! Not only is she kicking butt in her life as usual, she also gave me some GREAT recommendations for Philadelphia food and nightlife.
I shared a hotel room with a fellow Trainee. I thought we would all have our own rooms, which explains why he first saw me while I was napping pantsless. He is really great, and he’s also working in the Health sector!
When Staging began Sunday morning, we were greeted with a welcome video by First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama! Because Togo is a country that participates in the Let Girls Learn Initiative, spearheaded by FLOTUS, our Staging was longer and more intensive than other countries’. Promoting gender equality and hearing from Michelle Obama—what more could anyone ask for?
(If you’re saying to yourself, “Money. Gender equality and Michelle Obama would only be enough if I had money,” don’t worry. The Peace Corps extremely generously gave us each a $200 debit card for the next couple days to make sure we were set for meals and any last-minute purchases. How’s that for a nice bonus! Thank you, Peace Corps!)
On the first day of Staging, we talked a lot about our excitements and fears for the upcoming 27 months.
This cartoon picture was our group’s biggest fear. I will allow you to caption the picture on your own. Our Staging facilitator had this awesome piece of advice: “It’s not a matter of if you get extremely sick. It’s a matter of when.” Someone also mentioned that pretty soon, “every fart will be a gamble.” What did I sign myself up for!?
Getting to meet everyone in my cohort has been amazing. It’s an extremely diverse group of backgrounds and skillsets. There are a few of us who just graduated college, but others have Master’s degrees or a lot of work experience. On top of that, I have never met a more well-traveled and cultured group of people. People casually bring up the time they taught math on an island outside of Madagascar or sharkdiving! ( Microsoft Word does not recognize the word ‘sharkdiving’ but it is an actual thing that a new friend of mine did.) There are also two married couples in our cohort, which is the definition of #RelationshipGoals.
We had a fun discussion on the reactions we got when we told people that we were going to serve in the Peace Corps. It was extremely comforting to know that the comments I got were not unique to just me. Other people were greeted with concerns about Ebola/ISIS and incredulity as well. But overall most people said that the majority of reactions were positive and encouraging. This is definitely true in my case. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I have the most amazing support system.
The second day of training was a lot like the first. We learned a lot of important information quickly and got to meet each other, too. These last couple days have been a lot like college orientation week; you meet a lot of people rapidly and try to make yourself seem as cool as possible. I put a smiley face on my nametag, which seemed to really help. The sessions were thorough but not draining. I learned a ton, especially about understanding cultural contexts and not being so quick to rush to judgments. These are skills that are extremely going to come in handy not just during service, but during the rest of my life.
I was really apprehensive that the cohort wouldn’t like me, or that I would forget to zip my fly for the entire day. Luckily, only the latter happened! I am making a lot of friends, who are soon going to become my family, my people. I can’t wait.
The best part of Staging was getting a FREE T-SHIRT! (Seriously, if you’re considering joining the Peace Corps, do it. There’s a free shirt involved.) They told us we could take off the shirts after the group picture, but I’m still wearing mine now. I can’t take it off. I can’t believe this is all happening.