Here it goes!

   Today ( I guess I should say yesterday now) was my last day at home for 26 months. I've actually been calmer about it than I thought I would. I went out for breakfast and a drive around town with my mom this morning while still wearing my pajamas. Then I spent time on the couch cuddling with the dogs and watching "The Cosby Show" and "The Gilmore Girls". I checked my paper work over to make sure I was all set and passed on important information to my parents, but I didn't feel stressed out by it. It actually felt really good to know that it was all organized and ready. For dinner tonight we had tacos and some egg nog flavored wine (yes, it exists!) and it was delicious. I put a few more pictures in my luggage of friends, family, Maine, and Boston.  I talked with some friends at different points throughout the day, and my brother called from Boston tonight to say goodbye. I made it through all of those goodbyes just fine. I stressed out slightly over my luggage one last time, but I ditched a few more things and felt better. I spent time chatting with my mother and sister and laughing about various family stories. I talked to them about being nervous about flying, and we made some jokes about it and moved on.
   Now I'm sitting in my room alone with all of my luggage piled in a corner, and this is weird. I know it is a good thing that I'm going because I'm so excited to go and this is what I've wanted for so long and what I still want very much. It just feels weird that it is actually real. It is weird to have all these people saying goodbye to me and sending me positive messages. I appreciate it very much, but it is surreal feeling.  It is strange feeling so happy to be able to go to Botswana and feeling sad to leave the people I love here at the same time. I don't think I've ever felt a mix of emotions quite like this before.
   I'm not sure when I will be able to blog again. I may from the hotel I'll be staying at during staging or from the plane. Stay tuned for much more interesting blog entries in the future though!
Peace Corps Botswana here I come!


Battle of the Sleeping Bag

   I officially have one day left at home before leaving. I spent much of today in an intense battle with my sleeping bag. The sleeping bag won. No space bag or amount of jumping on/ kneeling on/ punching was going to force that sleeping bag into fitting inside my hiking pack. What did I do? I cried. Ridiculous? Yes, I know. Nonetheless, I cried and sat in my room and talked to and vented with friends who had contacted me to check in anyway. I told them about my stupid sleeping bag. I told them about how I was worried I didn't know how to use my new computer well enough and am going soon and cried some more about that. I told them I'm scared about going and having a hard time saying goodbyes. And I cried and let it out as I talked to them. Then I ended up laughing, partly because I realized how ridiculous I sounded and partly because of the ability of my friends to cheer me up with both kind words and sarcasm.
   I gave into my sleeping bag. I tied it to the front of my hiking pack; thanks to some great advice from a friend of mine...thanks BD! When I realized my bags were over weight I got rid of more things and paraded around the house wearing my hiking pack to make sure I could carry it. My sister and mother laughed at me because the pack looked out of place on me, and the dogs barked at the huge pack on my back out of fear that it was alive or something. I laughed too.
Deep breaths. Everything is going to be fine.


Bittersweetness, Hopes, and 2 days left

   I now have two full days left at home before I leave. Today I went to Bangor with my mom and youngest brother, who is 11. My mom and I dropped my brother off at his dance class, and then we were trying to figure out something else to do while waiting. I literally felt disgusted by the idea of going to the mall or any stores that sell clothing because I didn't want to think about or look at clothes at all today. I finally have felt confident with my packing, and I didn't want to risk any second thoughts. We ended up going to one store because I needed a space saving bag for my sleeping bag. It was a store with home supplies in it, and it was strange walking around looking at nice home things and knowing that I do not have a home right now. It made me think about going to Botswana and wonder what it will be like staying with another family and then getting placed in my own home there. I wonder if it will feel like "home" and how long that will take?
   After the store my mom asked me if there was anywhere else I would want to go that I would not be able to go to for a while. We then drove to Orono, which is close to Bangor and the town that I went to college in. We drove by my old campus and by some other familiar places. It always feels so weird going back Umaine because even though it has only been a few years since I graduated, some times it feels so long ago, and other times Orono still feels like home. Going there felt bittersweet.
   Later, after picking up my brother from his dance class, we tried to think of a place to go to dinner that was "new and exciting" and decided to go to this casino/hotel/ restaurant place to a buffet dinner because I had never been there. The food was good, but my stomach has felt anxious so I couldn't actually eat that much. I had a nice time with my mom and brother though. I had to laugh to myself a little at the fact that one of my last meals with my family for a while was spent at a casino.
   Leaving in a couple of days feels very real, exciting, scary, and bittersweet right now. I think it is feeling the same way to my family and friends who have been asking me more questions and checking in with me a lot. I love and appreciate them, and sometimes it is hard because I do not have the answers to all of their questions because I do not know the answers myself yet. I can't wait to learn more about Botswana and be there to experience everything for myself. I hope that I love it as much as I think that I will. I hope that I make some sort of difference there. I hope that I do feel at home at some point and that I meet lots of wonderful people like I think I will.

And here is a poem that represents how I feel about my friends and family that an amazing friend of mine shared with me recently. Thank you everyone.

The Time We Spend Together Means Everything To Me

One quality of our relationship
That I deeply cherish
Is our natural ability
To enjoy and appreciate
The time we have
To spend with one another.
When you are present,
The fun and happy moments
Come so freely,
Because we are never trying
To force an emotion.

When you are absent,
I cannot help but miss you,
Yet the quality
Of our time spent together
Leaves me feeling
Warm, happy, and content.

For all the times we have,
Please continue to be yourself,
Because that is the person
I admire, respect, and love,
For yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Poem written by Scott McCormish

My Ipod is ready and so am I!

 Ok, so now that I have only 3 days left before leaving on my big adventure, I have become the sappiest person alive. Today I spent time making sure I had my favorite music on my ipod. Here are some of the songs and musicians that I will be listening to during my 15 hour plane ride. Some are very sappy and others are completely ridiculous

"Only the Good Die Young" by Billy Joel- I love Billy Joel. I have listened to him since I was a kid because of my parents and when I listen to this song I just feel happy

"Standing Outside the Fire" by Garth Brooks- I've listened to Garth Brooks since I was about 9, and I love this song in particular because of the message about living life to its fullest and not letting fear stop you from taking chances

"Between the Lines" by Sara Bareilles-I just think it is a beautiful song

"Someone Like You" by Adele- another song I just really love, along with the rest of her new album

"I Won't Back Down" and "Free Falling" by Tom Petty- I like both the ideas of sticking with something when it is difficult and of going with the flow

Everything by the Beatles- so many amazing songs

Rent soundtrack- I love the musical, and it also reminds me of my first Alternative Spring Break volunteer group because we saw the movie together and listened to the soundtrack/ sang songs constantly throughout our trip to NYC

All American Rejects , My Chemical Romance, and Hanson---their songs remind me of my youth and make me laugh a little

"Breathe" and "Goodbye to You" by Michelle Branch because they are sappy and also make me think of my teenage years/ college/ now haha. I just enjoy Michelle Branch

  Third Eye Blind- because I love '90s music and their songs remind me of time spent with friends listening to '90s bands in recent years

3 Days!


All packed and 4 Days!

   Four days until I begin my adventure. Tonight I finished up my packing.  I was going to wait, but I wasn't feeling stressed out by it so I just went for it and finished. I was able to separate out what I will need for Pre-service training and what will be stored away. During PST everyone is asked to give one bag of luggage up to be stored until training is completed so that we do not overwhelm the families we are staying with for home stay. Basically, I  had to separate out what I will not need during my first two months from what I will need. I will have to rearrange a little by moving my computer into the bag I will be storing and switching it with some other items since I will not have my computer during PST. Having this all figured out is a huge relief. Being able to set aside so many things and say "I don't need that" feels great!  It has made me think about how I've been keeping an unnecessary amount of "stuff" over the years and how ridiculous that is. I'm done packing for real this time!
   Other than packing all I've been doing is  double checking everything.  This involves making sure I have the right paper work to bring with me, making sure my parents have the info they need, and overall just confirming things to put my mind at ease and be prepared.
   Tonight I spent time with two of my best friends whom I've known since I was 15 for the last time before I go. One of my friends has a young child so we spent time playing and painting together, which was nice. It made me think a lot about how much things will change when I'm gone. My friend's child will be 5 when I get back! It was fun hanging out with them, but it was surreal saying goodbye and  not just saying "see you next week!" this time. I will miss them tons. I know best friends are still best friends even from far away though.

   I am eager for Thursday to get here so that I'm not waiting in anticipation anymore!


Freaking out, kids, and the ocean!

   6 days until staging and here is where my life is at...

    This morning I had the second of two small freak outs of this past week. I started to panic that I was going to show up in Botswana with all of the wrong clothes, and I felt very unprepared and scared about going for the first time. Thanks to some helpful advice from volunteers already in Botswana and some time spent away from my luggage, I'm feeling much better about everything now. I've decided that I am not even going to bother to pack anything else until Monday or Tuesday. I know this may sound crazy since I leave on Thursday.  However, I have a basic plan, and if I keep over analyzing my packing I'm going to go insane. I'm letting it go for now and trusting that it will work out just fine.
   I got in contact with the local middle school today, and I'm going to be corresponding with a 7th grade social studies classroom here when I'm in Botswana! I'm very excited about this! The plan is for me to meet the class on Wednesday and talk with them a little about what I'll be doing ( this will be pretty general of course since I do not know all of the details of what I will be doing yet myself). I can't wait! I wasn't very much older than them when I began to think about the Peace Corps as something I may want to be involved in someday, so the idea of being able to share my experiences with some kids from rural Maine when I'm in Botswana is something that I'm in love with! I've also heard great things about this particular teacher's interactive lesson plans so I feel honored to be able to help out with something for her classroom in particular.
   This afternoon was supposed to be snowy, and I had been disappointed because I was supposed to go to Bar Harbor for the day with a good friend of mine. Then the clouds cleared away, and the sun came out!  It was cold, but we still had fun walking around by the water, getting dinner, and eating ice cream. Bar Harbor holds a special place in my heart because of past time spent there with friends and family so being able to go there once more before leaving for Botswana was a huge deal to me. Even though it is pretty empty there this time of year, it was very peaceful and exactly what I needed today.

So grateful for everything



   Nine days until I get on a plane to Philly for staging! Yikes! I am so antsy right now. I keep feeling like I should be doing something, but all I can really do is finish up packing and wait and look over some Tswana lessons, which by the way is making me somewhat anxious in itself. 
      Yikes, packing. My room looks like a tornado hit. I've been living with my parents as I prepare for this adventure.  I am staying in the room that my brother had as a toddler because when my sister and I moved out he took our old room. My parents have an old farm house, and the room I'm in is one of those rooms that has a walk way going through it and is quite tiny, not uncommon in older, New England homes. This means I'm trying my best to keep it neat, but right now it is a hotmess. Figuring out things to leave behind feels freeing, but it is frustrating that every time I think I am done packing I then realize I am not. I'm accepting that it won't be perfect though and that I will be just fine. If I have to readjust my packing at the airport I will. I guess it is just hard having this time to wait because then I have time to sit and think over every little thing. I just want to get on the plane and go! Then maybe I wouldn't have this anxious, waiting feeling in my stomach. 
   It helps to know that I'm not alone though. I've been talking with some with other Bots10ers, and they seem just as antsy as I am.



   I have 11 days until I leave for Philly for staging. Time is going by even more quickly now. My goodbye party was yesterday, and it was a lot of fun. I got the chance to see a mixture of family and friends, and we ate, talked, and danced. After the party, some of my friends and I went to an Irish pub that also happened to have a '90s band performing at it, which was perfect. We danced even though  initially we were the only group of people dancing there at all. Some of us then went to Denny's late at night like old times, and we laughed a lot. A group of us stayed at a hotel to be closer to where we were going out. It was nice to be able to just relax, have fun, and catch up on life.
  After the party everything feels so much more real. I know I keep writing " I think it feels real now" that I'm going. After saying goodbye to family and friends whom I will not see in the next 11 days, it truly feels very real though. It was strange saying goodbye to people and knowing I probably won't see them for over 2 years. I definitely cried a little today driving home after saying more goodbyes this morning and this afternoon. Don't get me wrong, I am very excited about going. Saying goodbye is tough though. I've felt so loved and supported, especially lately. It feels kind of crazy to be leaving the people I care about  and who care so much about me to go live somewhere I know very little about with people I do not know. Yet, I still want to go very much. I'm just going to miss everyone I love.


Finished at Work and 2 weeks to go

      I can't sleep because I have a lot on my mind so I'm trying to clear my mind a little by listening to some music and writing. Tonight was my last night at work, and things are feeling much more real. The students on my wing made me a lovely card and gave me a sign that says "Dream" and a beautiful photo album so that I can bring pictures of my family and friends with me to Botswana. I seriously was so lucky to have the kindest students I could have asked for on my wing. At work tonight we talked a lot about the Peace Corps, and they made jokes about me living in a hut and eating bugs. I told them I may or may not try eating worms.
   After work I read my card and cried a little on the way home. The tears were happy tears though; they were tears of gratitude and the feeling that I did make some sort of difference in these students' lives during the 7 short months that I worked there. I found out from my Co-Ra at the end of the night that one of my quietest students had been the one who orchestrated the whole gift giving surprise. I also noticed after work that this same student had written on my goodbye card "Thanks for being you and for pushing me to speak up". Anyone who knew me as a child and teenager knows that I used to be very shy and that it took a lot for me to be assertive. I understand how hard that is for some people and for this student taking charge of planning a surprise out  and then announcing it at a meeting was a huge deal. I am very proud of her. I will miss them all.
   I have 2 weeks left before staging. I know the next two weeks will fly by very quickly because the past two weeks already have. I'm really starting to prep for some more difficult goodbyes now, like the ones I will be saying to my family and close friends very soon. I've been emotional but in a good way. I feel nervous, but the butterflies I'm feeling are the good kind. I have no idea what I'm actually getting myself into, but at the same time I feel like it will all be worth it.


17 Days!

17 Days until peacing out and here is where my life is at...

Packing: I've now packed my carry on bag 3 times. The first time I realized that I hadn't put any clothing in it, and If my luggage was lost I would have been out of luck and naked in Africa. Then I realized that I had packed books and things to use on the plane underneath everything else, and I had images of myself trying to fish through my bag and dropping my clothes and underwear everywhere on the plane. Also, not good.  I think I am all set now with that one bag at least. I guess that is why they, and by they I mean experienced Peace Corps volunteers, say not to wait until the last minute to pack.

Working: I only have 2 shifts left this week, and then I will be finished work! As glad as I am to finish up there, I know that saying goodbyes to staff and students there will be tough. I made the students living on my wing a card and wrote a letter to them thanking them for their hard work and encouraging them to keep it up. They are having a pizza/ ice cream party to say goodbye to me as well.

Eating: Many people know that I had been a vegetarian for a while and that before that I had only eaten chicken and fish for 12 years. Well, I made the decision to go back to eating chicken, fish, and some red meat a couple of weeks ago. Let me tell you, that was a great choice. I feel better and like I have more energy. I think that I've probably been overcompensating a little for the fact that I will miss certain foods when I go to Africa though by eating a bit too much junk. I'm trying to get back on track so I can be healthy and strong when I go.

Saying Goodbyes: My party is this coming Saturday so I've been preparing for that. We are expecting 40 people to come, which I am pleasantly surprised about. I know people live all over the place and have busy lives. I'm excited to see everyone before I go. I've also just been trying to spend a lot of time with family and friends. Yesterday I spent my day off hanging out around the house with my family, and my 11 year old brother and I took goofy pictures and laughed a lot.


"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony".~Gandhi

   People keep asking me how I feel about leaving in 3 weeks to go to Botswana. I've had a tough time putting my feelings into words because I've felt a mix of emotions. However, I would mainly describe the way I feel as grateful.  I've known since I was 14 that I wanted to go somewhere else in the world and try to make a difference. A lot has happened between then and now that has fueled my desire to go. I'm grateful for my parents who taught me to care about others at an early age and to be true to myself. I'm grateful for my supportive friends. I'm grateful that I found social work as a major in college. I'm grateful that I joined Delta Zeta because I met so many incredible people who taught me so much. I'm grateful for those wonderful people in my life that introduced me to Alternative Spring Break where I found my love for  HIV/AIDS education. I'm grateful that I learned to be true to myself and my own happiness when I decided to move to Boston to work at a residential treatment center for teenagers and for all of the experiences that brought, both good and bad. I'm grateful for lessons in steadfastness, compassion, and patience that I've learned through these experiences.
   Going to Botswana at this point in my life feels right. I feel so lucky to have this opportunity that I know not everyone gets. I feel extremely at "peace" ( pun intended hehe) with going. I know I have the love and support of the people I care about, and I feel confident that going is what I want and will be a worthwhile experience. I am so very happy, and this is what makes saying goodbyes a little easier.


Time is FLYING

   In just 24 days I will be beginning my adventure! I only have one more full week left at work and then a 2 day week to follow. It still feels kind of surreal.  Today I went to a friend's birthday lunch. Everyone was talking about plans happening in April at one point, and it took me a second to remember that by then I will be in Africa!  Time was going by so slowly when I was waiting for staging info, and now it feels like it is flying by!
   People keep asking me what I still need so that they can bring gifts to my "Peacing Out" party. Honestly, all I want is to spend time with family and friends before I go and have fun!. I keep telling everyone to save any gifts for later when I'm in Botswana and am in need of things. Then I will take all the packages of tampons and razors that I can get my hands on!  Until then, let's just hang out.


the tough stuff...

   First of all, I just want to start out by saying that this post isn't directly related to the Peace Corps so it may bore some people. However, I do feel that it relates.

   Tonight was the worst night I have had at work in months. Anyone reading this who knows me well, especially any of my past co-workers at a residential treatment center for teenage girls, knows that I've been thrown into some intense situations, both physically and emotionally speaking. I've been bitten, punched, kicked, pinched, had my hair pulled out. I've been there with kids while they were having flashbacks of abuse that they endured and when they tried to physically harm themselves. I've listened to kids tell me some horrible things that have happened to them. That was in residential treatment though and was something that was more expected in that setting and that people were more prepared for (not that it was easy by any means). These kinds of things aren't common at my current job at a school dormitory for teenagers and young adults.
   Tonight one of my students had a complete psychotic break down of some sort in my office.  I had seen her earlier in the evening and she had been ok. She had been at the school for months now and had never shown any concerning behavior. She was usually smiling and often offered to help out other students with things. We had talked earlier in the day today and she had been ok.I had just seen her again a few minutes before and she had appeared to be fine. I won't share all of the details of what happened on here, but a short while later she was clearly not ok. She was completely unlike her typical self, and I knew something was wrong, but she was relatively calm and sat in my office and  was writing down a report of what was going on because she seemed unable to tell me verbally and based on other things that had happened I suspected what she would tell me would need to be reported. I had thought she was being picked on and was afraid to say something. She was acting a little dazed and saying some odd things, but at the same time did not appear to be under the influence of anything. I have seen many, many teenagers under the influence of various substances and non of the signs were there. I felt safe enough being the only staff there with her because she just seemed sad and afraid and a little confused. She then very quickly went from being completely physically calm to destroying my office. She threw the computer, she threw files and paper work everywhere and broke the window. I was unharmed and was able to get out of the office and yell for help . Another staff blocked the office door, as I got my other students who had been  around off of the wing and checked on those who had been afraid and locked themselves in their rooms. The police had to be called. The student's thought process seemed to be becoming increasingly scattered and irrational as she spoke, which lead to strong suspicion that she had taken some sort of drug and that it was just now fully kicking in or there was something else mental health related going on. She was taken to the hospital in handcuffs. She is a smart, kind-hearted girl who had been doing so well, which is what makes this even more disheartening.
     Tonight was a reminder to me that when you are working to help people, there are many good and bad things that come along with that. People mess up and even when you care about them and do your best to try to help them, sometimes they make decisions that cause harm to themselves or to others. Not having control over that can feel heartbreaking at times. Then there are the moments that warm your heart though. Tonight when I got back from the break that I was demanded to go on by my supervisors following the incident, I was met by several students asking me if I was ok and wanting to talk about what had happened. They were worried about me and about their peer whom they cared about. The sense of community that was apparent tonight warms my heart. It was hard because I couldn't answer all of their questions about what would happen with their friend because I don't know myself, but I love when my students care about each other.
  So yeah. Peace Corps, bring it on. Bring on the good and the bad because this is what it is all about. I want to be a helper even though it can hurt sometimes.


The Plan...

   I found out that I'm leaving for Philadelphia to go to staging on March 31st, one day earlier than originally planned! I will be taking a flight from Bangor, Maine at about 11:30am and arriving in Philadelphia at about 1pm. Then I will be hanging out waiting for registration at 6pm for a while, but hopefully I will be waiting with some other Bots10ers. I will spend April 1st at trainings, and then very early on April 2nd I will be taking a bus from Philadelphia to NYC to get on  plane to South Africa for 15 hours followed by a shorter plane ride from South Africa to Gaborone, a city in Botswana!
   Other good news is that I only have 10 shifts left at my job! My last day at work is also now one day earlier!

I think this feels real now.


One Month!

   It feels very strange to write this, but I only have one month left until staging! Despite counting down the days and preparing, it still doesn't feel completely real yet. Maybe that is because it is hard to imagine my life in Botswana because I have no idea what things will actually be like?  It is difficult for something to feel real if you don't know what the reality is yet. I'm enthusiastic despite this.
  I keep feeling like I should be extremely busy preparing to leave, but the reality is all I have left to do is finish up at work in the next couple of weeks, get some paper work together, pack, wait, and say goodbyes. Easy right? OK, maybe the goodbye part is not so easy, and maybe I've been avoiding some of that a little?
   How does one say goodbye to the people they are closest to for 27 months? I've moved many times, and I enjoy meeting new people so I'm not stressed out about that. However, I've never been so far away for so long. I've always been able to hop in my car or on a bus or train to get to my family and friends if I needed to. How am I going to say goodbye to my 11 year old brother who is excited for me, but I know doesn't really get this whole Peace Corps thing or the concept of how much time 27 months actually is? What if something happens in my family when I'm gone, and I'm not there to help? How am I going to say goodbye to my very old dog Maggie knowing that is it very likely she will pass away when I'm gone? I don't want to tear up at all because I don't want anyone to take that as me being unhappy or not wanting to go. I don't want them to worry about me because I am happy, and I absolutely do want to go. I know I will say goodbyes and that I will be alright, but I also know that goodbyes are going to be the most difficult part of the next month by far. There is nothing else left to worry about!
   My parents are throwing me a goodbye party on the 19th. I think that will help with the goodbye process and enable things to feel a little more real too. Many of my extended family members from further away are even coming , as well as close friends. We are going to eat, drink, and dance! It should be a lot of fun, and I'm glad to be able to spend time with people I care about. As one of my best friends said I'm going to be "peacing out in style"!