Q: How’d Your Interview Go? A: Yes.

I’m attempting the somewhat terrifying task of transitioning from Peace Corps life to long-distance job-seeking for a future in New York City. To go back to the beginning of this story of transition, click here. For the second installment of my adventure, click here. The following is a quick update of my progress.

Interview Numéro Trois: My patient and friendly NYC recruiter liked me well enough to refer me up the chain and scheduled a skype interview with the person who would likely make the final decision on who they hire. It was just yesterday and ended somewhat incomplete with the interviewer asking to continue the conversation next week. That said, I haven’t really digested how it went well enough to say what went wrong and what went right. I will say this: nothing about it was as I expected, yet it was a pleasant experience.

I dressed well and found a quiet conference room to set up my computer for the interview. I practice skyped to make MjAxMi1iNzYwODEyYzhmMjNjMWQwsure all was technologically sound and I could talk about myself effectively in spite of the anxiety. I rehearsed answers and double-, tripe-, quadruple checked that I looked well-groomed and professional. Then for whatever reason, my interviewer called me on my cell and it became a phone interview.

But the roles seemed reversed in our “interview”. She opened with asking for what questions I had about the position, and most of the conversation consisted of her talking about the role, the work environment it exists in, and how I would work with her if I were offered the job. Then I got to talk to the woman whose shoes I would fill, who also just wanted to answer my questions. It was a great chat and I learned a lot about what I was applying for—honestly just became more and more convinced that it’s exactly where I would thrive right now—but I don’t know that I sold them on me as a candidate. If anyone reading this has advice or comments about the peculiarity of this interview, I would love to hear it. As it is, I look forward to continuing my discussion with them next week. I’ll keep you posted. For now, I make these simple recommendations for a skype interview:'Oh, drat. My cell phone battery is dead.'

  • Obviously, you do want to dress for the part on a skype interview. They can see you, duh.
  • Make sure ALL of your means of communication are charged and ready—if my phone had been dead or close to it, my whole “skype interview” would have fallen through.

And a couple comments about job searching in general:

  • Prepare, but I guess expect the unexpected! And if you have anxiety, do NOT have caffeine or large amounts of sugar within several hours of any interview.2009-03-13-anxiety-disorder-paranoia-caffeine
  • Yes, these tips take a lot of effort to follow. But if you’re not willing to make that effort, it’s likely due to a lack of enthusiasm about the career path you’re trying to go down. That lack of enthusiasm is almost guaranteed to show in an interview. Also, maybe there is something you could focus on that better lights your fire, thus being a better use of your time—I know we don’t always feel like we’re in a position to be flexible and/or picky. Some of us just need an income. But you can always apply for more than one kind of opportunity—apply for jobs you qualify for and can do that would get you that much-needed paycheck. ALSO apply for jobs that maybe you’re a bit less confident that you qualify for, but that you know you would LOVE doing. In many cases, your passion will more than make up for some lack of qualifying details. The worse they can do is say no. ;) 
  • And ALWAYS keep this in mind:

    ~ Hank Green Don't Forget To Be Awesome. Then don't forget that YOU ARE AWESOME. Then let your awesome shine in an interview! This is the one time you are SUPPOSED to talk specifically about how fantastic you are!
    ~ Hank Green
    Don’t Forget To Be Awesome. Then don’t forget that YOU ARE AWESOME. Then let your awesome shine in an interview! This is the one time you are SUPPOSED to talk specifically about how fantastic you are!

To those who are reading these tips and feel like they’re dying under the weight of hating the job search: I totally get it. I have always felt that way. For years, I was looking for a job that paid the bills and/or might someday give me an idea or direction of what to do with my life. Sometimes (like when you’re trying to pay your way through school), that’s just life. I hated it because I would try to follow tips like those in these blog posts, but I didn’t care about the companies I was applying to work for, making me feel disingenuous. I would dress up and try to brag about myself, but didn’t really have any experience, making me feel pretentious. And I’m a bad liar—people would just see right through it all.

But now I’ve accrued some experience, I have found what lights my fire, and I know what I’m aiming for. It makes for a completely different job-seeking experience. The tips I have been outlining here apply to everyone, but are definitely the easiest to follow for those in my current position, not for those who haven’t quite reached that sense of purpose. But I suggest getting to this point BEING your sense of purpose. Let your search for direction and meaning be the motivating factor that lights up your enthusiasm in your job search. The key is seeing every position you apply for as an opportunity for defining who you are as a professional. Potential employers will see that energy and, possibly, want to give it direction.

All that said though, I am still in the middle of my job search and am open to any tips or comments with regards to the process. Please share your stories, too.

Some things you can’t know unless you’ve been there but oh how far we could go if we started to share…

Leaving Paradise with a Purpose

Being back in the States after two years in paradise–then seeing said paradise shredded by a “monster cyclone” shortly thereafter–hasn’t been easy, to say the least.  But the experience has reinforced my Purpose, enabling me to carry it with me from the South Pacific and the toughest job I’ve ever loved, to my next great endeavor of building my future in New York. My Purpose is to work with and for those whose lives have been shattered so that they can build their lives anew, strengthening the communities they live in (and humanity as a whole) by being living exemplars of strength and resilience.images

Here is the second installment of the search for my next work-medium for fulfilling this Purpose:

Interview Numéro Duex: My wonderful recruiter gave me tips on how the online job posting system works and which kinds of jobs would suite my needs and qualifications. After I applied for probably the perfect job for me right now, she forwarded my application on to the person who is recruiting for that specific position. Before I knew it, I had a “phone screening” scheduled with a senior recruiter in NYC. Though I had just an hour or two to prepare for it, I absolutely dove into prep-mode for this one.

What went wrong:

  • I was only kind of prepared, due to time being so short. It wasn’t the end of the world, but if I could suggest anything, I would say to prepare answers with specific stories from your experience to potential questions before or at the same time you start 9xr5ivooh8mrmc8u_v2_submitting applications. That way you are in a general state of ready on a moment’s notice. Of course this doesn’t mean you won’t have to do more research and prep specific to later interview opportunities, but it gives you a good foundation.
  • I didn’t have any questions to ask her. With such huge volumes of applications to sort through, a recruiter or interviewer has to try to find the people that are truly interested in fulfilling a specific role, not just interested in it because it’s a job opening. Having questions to ask is your opportunity to demonstrate your sincere interest in the position as well as your knowledge about the organization (or desire for that knowledge).
  • I had a lot of awesome humanitarian work to talk about, and I was applying for an administrative position. She ultimately told me “You obviously have a lot of great humanitarian experience, but what qualifies you to work in an office?” Make sure your answers are directly applicable to the job you are applying for. Know the job description inside and out, and develop your answers accordingly.
  • I looked top-notch professional. All the advice I found for phone interviews said to treat it like a face-to-face interview and get cleaned and dressed-up for it. I did this. For the vast majority of people, this is probably good advice because it helps them keep their professional hats on in a potentially casual-feeling context. But when you struggle with anxiety in a need-to-sell-yourself kind of situation, maybe that’s not the best choice. I was nervous and rambly as hell on the phone, feeling unfit for the nicely-pressed outfit I had on. In most cases, I enjoy looking nice and presenting a professional look, but in this specific judge-me circumstance, it didn’t pay off. When the recruiter had to call me back several times that afternoon, after I had gotten back into my normal mode and a pair of jeans, my anxiety quickly vanished and my professional confidence was able to resurface. Maybe that was only partly due to the outfit, but it certainly had an impact.

What went right:

  • Because I only had a small amount of time to prepare, I didn’t have stories from my professional life that demonstrate my awesome rehearsed and ready to perform on queue—but I was able to speak knowledgeably about the organization and the role I was applying for. The internship system can and, in my opinion, is often abused is our here-and-now, but in this case it really paid off. If you can find any way to swing a few months of work with little to no pay, an internship is a great way to get the inside scoop on an organization you’re interested in and learn how to thrive in their culture (and if you’d actually want to try).

Near the end of the day, the person who felt like my newest New York friend called me back and asked, “If you get a skype interview, and if it goes well, would you be willing to fly to New York for an in-person interview?” This was the first time I hesitated to say yes. After all, a quick trip to New York wouldn’t be cheap, and I am not the only one impacted by my financial decisions. My tip here: No one will ask you to do something like that unless it will likely be worth it. If you know it is something you are capable of, then be willing to make the commitment. Otherwise, I say just be honest. Say you would be willing to, but don’t have the financial capacity- Then ask what s/he suggests you do to get around the financial roadblock so that you can be there for the organization. phone_interview

Coming soon: the latest installment of my job-seeking adventure, Interview Numéro Trois.

From Isolation in the Peace Corps to Job-Seeking in New York…Whew.

In response to my last post, I received this comment from a wonderful woman:

I think you could write about getting re-acclimated to the U.S., making decisions about school and career, sharing your insight into the things you are passionate about.

These are the things I would like to write about—but sometimes it’s hard to see the trees for the forest and actually choose something specific. These are large topics. That said, I’m glad to get this tip for what to write about because it has helped me pick out a tree or two in the complicated and diverse forest that is rebuilding a life here in the USA. Specifically: the job search.

Now that we’re 90% sure of where we are moving to, I have taken the plunge and started to apply for jobs. So far, I have applied for 3 positions (all within the organization I am interning for, but at a location on the other side of the country), done a ton of research on job search advice, done 3 interviews, and have another interview scheduled for next week.

With all this experience fresh in mind, I wanted to add to the ocean of tips for job seekers that is out there, because SO much of it has not applied to my experience or been great advice for someone like me: an ambitious and professional introvert with excellent experience and work ethic, but who has a nearly impossible time portraying these qualities in an interview due to serious anxiety in a self-promoting setting. I have not received a job offer yet, so maybe I haven’t proven myself to be someone who can give advice. But I CAN share my experiences, and maybe they’ll be, at best, helpful to someone or, at another kind of best, entertaining to others.

stress_and_anxiety_funny

Please enjoy the first installment of my job-seeking experience. :)

Interview Numéro Un: A recruiter within the organization I’m interning for hears about my pending applications and wants to talk to me about moving into a career (out of an internship) with the IRC. She just moved here from the location I want to move to—a huge bonus! She says it will be an “informational interview,” about my ambitions.

What went wrong:

  • I showed up at the appointed time empty-handed, then had to run for my calendar and a pen. ALWAYS have your calendar and something to take notes with at an interview of any kind! Having a copy of your resume, etc., doesn’t hurt either.
  • I didn’t prepare. I guess I didn’t know what to expect in an informational interview with a recruiter, so I didn’t make any preparations. Upon reflection, it seems best to treat any scheduled conversation directly related with your job search as a job interview: Have answers prepared for likely questions, and come with questions of your own.

What went right:

  • Having just come from my office job across town, I looked great and was in business mode. Always look professional and ready to get down to business when the opportunities arise.
  • Though I hadn’t recognized her name (and she didn’t recognize mine, of course) when we arranged for the interview, as soon as we saw each other we both realized we had met before: her first day at IRC SLC we sat next together in the staff meeting and shared some small talk and laughs. Always present your best self and be friendly and professional at work. You never know who you’ll meet!

There is more where this came from, but I’d hate to put it all in one novel-length post. Stay tuned for the next installment of my job-search experience.

New Directions

I need your advice.

Time and time again, I have been told that I need to write more. Writing is a valuable skill and, for me, a great outlet. It seems that there also people out there who enjoy reading what I write. So, I would like to get in the habit of exercising and developing this skill, ideally by making regular blog posts–perhaps a new one each week? But I am no longer living on an exotic island that limits my focus to a conceivable number of topics. I’m back in the big bad world of connectivity and information.

So I need your help to figure out what to write about. Assuming the fact that you’re reading this quick note means you are one of those people interested in reading what I write, I ask you: What do you want to read about? What questions pop into your head when you glance at my blog that seem to be left unanswered? What else can I do for you?

Please, leave comments below or contact me otherwise. If I get enough of a response, I will start writing weekly blog posts to go with the requests. That’s not saying I won’t go in some random unexpected direction with a suggested topic, but that’s the fun of reading/writing, right?

And here’s a picture of me working on a new and fascinating piece:

Image result for writer

Stand With Vanuatu: An Update

Has it really already been a week since Cyclone Pam tore through Vanuatu? I suppose it has! As is always the case, there is good news and there is not such great news.

First, the good news: so far, there are minimal casualties in all of Vanuatu! I have directly heard back from almost all of my friends and family who live on the main island, and all of them are safe.

The bad news: There is still no word from the island on which we served for two years, which means no knowledge of how our host family is doing. This is the case for countless others who are counting the days since they have heard from their loved ones. Also, while the people endured in the face of a Category 5 cyclone, it has yet to be seen whether they will endure now that their livelihoods have been destroyed. Most of Vanuatu’s population, including everyone in the village we lived in, feed their families solely with their gardens as subsistence farmers. Those gardens are now gone, and will take months if not years to fully recover. Now they not only must rebuild their homes, schools, clinics, and churches, they need to recover any source of clean water that was destroyed, and start from scratch in cultivating their gardens.

Port Narvin, our village, before Cyclone Pam.
Port Narvin, our village, before Cyclone Pam.
Port Narvin after Cyclone Pam.
Port Narvin after Cyclone Pam.

This is where some of the good news comes back in: You, Me, and Everyone even so far away, We Can Help! Here is one way you can help if you live here in Utah:

In light of Vanuatu’s massive losses after being devastated by Cyclone Pam, we are holding a 10 Day Kakae this Sunday, March 22nd, where we will:

  1. Give you a chance to taste the Pacific region’s most famous custom: kava! (If you want, that is.)
  2. Provide a small assortment of the SALT Bistro’s tasty treats
  3. Stand With Vanuatu by making contributions to the organizations that are giving emergency assistance and will be helping them rebuild. There are prizes!!!
The first person to donate $30 at our 10 Dei Kakae can choose a
The first person to donate $30 at our 10 Dei Kakae can choose a “lavalava,” such as this one!
The first person to donate $60 at our 10 Dei Kakae can take home this shell necklace, handmade by people in our village from shells on our beach.
The first person to donate $60 at our 10 Dei Kakae can take home this shell necklace, handmade by people in our village from shells on our beach.
The first person to donate $90 at our 10 Dei Kakae can take home this pandanas basket, hand woven by people in our village, made out of pandanas grown on Erromango!
The first person to donate $90 at our 10 Dei Kakae can take home this pandanas basket, hand woven by people in our village, made out of pandanas grown on Erromango!

Please join us at the Salt Bistro at 209 E 500 S in Salt Lake~ We will be there from 12:00-3:00pm, so drop by whenever you can!

Not available? You can still Stand With Vanuatu. Scroll down and choose one of the organizations below and make a donation now, while you have a minute! We will have a shell in your honor at our 10 Dei Kakae. :)

These are the organizations currently working with Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office to provide aid and recovery to our family and people like them. Click on a link to go directly where you need to be to support victims of Cyclone Pam:

  • OXFAM works to help governemts, businesses, and communities be as prepared and strong as possible. They assist organizations in working together to build a stronger future.
  • The Red Cross focuses on first aid training as well as responding to crises, helping under-resourced communities across Vanuatu.
  • World Vision staff assess damage and distribute pre-positioned relief supplies including food, clean water, shelter materials, hygiene supplies, and cooking sets.
  • UN Women in Vanuatu supports the protection of the women and girls affected by this disaster, and invest in reconstruction that will benefit women and their families
  • UNICEF works to ensure that communities have the knowledge and resources necessary to provide for the needs of their children.
  •  CARE works in communities across Vanuatu, preparing the people to face disasters such as this, and gives them the skills they need to respond and rebuild.

It is Vanuatu’s cultural tradition to mark the end of grieving with a big meal 10 days after losing a loved one. For the 10 days leading up to this meal, the family is cared for by the village, giving them time and support to grieve. On the tenth day, the family gives gratitude with their “10 Day Kakae,” feeding everyone who has been so supportive, and allowing them to return to their work. On Sunday, we will have our our 10 Day Kakae, marking our support in the country resuming their hard work, moving forward, and rebuilding a new paradise in Vanuatu.

Click here to see how some of the amazing people you are helping get down.

Sending Out an S.O.S.

While we were living in our little bamboo village on Erromango in Vanuatu, I don’t know how many conversations we had with our friends and family there about the environment. While the rest of the world is still debating whether climate change is real or not, places like Vanuatu can only try to learn to cope with the effects it sees from climate change on a regular basis. Things like rising sea-levels, rising temperature of air and ocean (affecting gardens and sea-life), and an increase of extreme events, such as Cyclone Pam, are an inarguable reality for them.

What remains of a concrete house near Port Vila.
What remains of a concrete house near Port Vila.

But that doesn’t mean they have the funds or materials to build adequate precautionary infrastructure, such as we would have in the western world, to face these catastrophic circumstances. Today I am writing regarding Cyclone Pam, one of the most monstrous cyclones in the history of the Pacific.

A concrete house in Port Vila that lost its roof in the midst of the strongest rain and wind the structure had ever seen.
A concrete house in Port Vila that lost its roof in the midst of the strongest rain and wind the structure had ever seen.

Pam tore through Vanuatu and is still on the move. Images are now pouring in from the capital of Port Vila, a city made mostly of concrete, showing heart-stopping destruction. Meanwhile, I’m wondering when we’ll begin to hear from the outer islands like Erromango, where we lived and served for two years. They have some concrete buildings, but the majority of structures are built from bamboo and leaves.

A bamboo structure, or what is left of it, after Cyclone Pam.
A bamboo structure, or what is left of it, after Cyclone Pam.

Please share the links to the organizations that are providing immediate relief to bamboo villages like ours. If you have the means, choose your favorite organization below and make a donation. They will need all the help they can get*.

Thank you so much for your time and generosity. My Vanuatu family thanks you.

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*Please note, these websites will convert your donation to Australian dollars. You can use google to see exactly how much you are donating in your own currency.

A Post-Return Capsule Story

That moment in the car, bass booming, me singing, that I suddenly stop. I just stop. Stop and realize that I have been taking the joy of my technology and the freedom of my music for granted for days now. I thought nothing of it. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for the simple details that add flavor to our lives.

car jams

Then I remember that as I sit there feeling the vibrations of my sound system, my Vanuatu family and friends are preparing to be smashed into by two major cyclones. At least, I hope they’re making preparations. I have no way of knowing.

pam and nathan
The “large” Cyclone Nathan (left) and “Monster” Cyclone Pam (right) wreaking havoc in the Pacific.

This moment on the same day we finally received a couple of the packages we mailed to ourselves from Vanuatu more than 3 months ago.

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You Got Fries to Go With That Shake, Laaaadies?

When I was preparing to study abroad in Egypt, I was warned by many well-meaning friends and family that they do not treat women well there, that women are harassed on the streets every day. I was told to buy a wedding band so people would think I was married, to never walk alone, to do all these things to save me from the patriarchal culture.

A photo I took during my first days in Cairo, Egypt.
A photo I took during my first days in Cairo, Egypt.

I didn’t have a single experience of harassment while I was in Egypt (though the circumstances in January-February 2011 obviously weren’t the norm in Cairo, nor what I planned for, I was still always treated with respect).

However, the harassment I was warned about—cat-calls, whistles, general disrespect—is not at all foreign to me or the women I know. I grew up experiencing these things in Salt Lake City and its suburbs; I experienced it as an adult in Portland; and now as a 28 year old woman I still get it here in Utah. The most common incident, in my experience, occurs when I am walking down the street—the time of day, what I am wearing, all of that is irrelevant. I’ll just be minding my own business when a car drives by, a head pops out a window, and a whoop, whistle, meow, or inappropriate remark is flung at me, a perfect stranger.

I remember talking to my friends when we were 14-15 years old about how we handle it: giving the harasser the finger, cursing at him, just ignoring him. We argued about what was the best way to assert our right to respect. The truth is, especially in these drive-by assaults, there is absolutely NOTHING the woman, girl, or even unfortunate guy who is receiving harassment can do to impact the situation. We are completely powerless. And perhaps that’s the point.

I have spoken to guys (and women) about these experiences, and I get a variety of responses, but two more often than others. The first category consists of people who say “boys will be boys, at least they’re not actually hurting you.” Then there is the second group: guys who are shocked into disbelief because they have never witnesses this kind of behavior.

To the first group, I say this: Imagine a perfect stranger treating you like a prostitute, and not giving you an inch of opportunity to make him feel bad for it. If it happened just once—who cares. He doesn’t know you. But now imagine that experience on repeat. Several times a week, starting when you’re a tween and throughout your adulthood. Different men calling out to you like they own you. Compound that with everything in your culture saying your value lies first and foremost in being attractive. Then when someone acts like they have a right to your body—even just to call out to it from a car—you have no power to say otherwise. Sure, you can brush it off, tell yourself it doesn’t mean anything. I do this every time it happens. But if you don’t think it adds up, you’re in denial. Imagine your daughter or sister being put in this powerless situation on a regular basis. How many times a month, a week, a day would she need to be subjected to harassment before you think it will start to impact how she feels in public spaces? Before it will impact her self-image? Before it changes what value she thinks others see in her? Dealing with this BS simply becomes part of what it is to be female, whether we like it, or even acknowledge it, or not.

Sorry for the explicit language. But to be fair, if you don't like seeing it in my blog, imagine how we feel getting it walking around in our own neighborhood.
Sorry for the explicit language. But to be fair, if you don’t like seeing it in my blog, imagine how we feel getting it walking around in our own neighborhood.

To the second group—guys who are shocked that this experience is so common—I totally get it. I have never had this experience while hanging out with guy friends or male significant others in public spaces. So if it doesn’t happen to girls accompanied by guys, how would guys witness it happening? Unless of course you’re the one doing it, or sitting next to the juvenile a-hole in the car. But if you fit into this category, chances are you never hung out with these kinds of people, nor were the kind of friend that would laugh at and encourage this immature posturing in your friends. Since I have been married (nearly 4 years), I have decided to tell my partner about each incident I experience—and every single time, he is absolutely shocked. How could this be happening as I walk down the street in our safe suburban neighborhood in the middle of the day? Who are these people? What kind of society do we live in? He gets furious every time, and it’s almost enough to make me not want to tell him anymore. Afterall, I’ve been dealing with this behavior my whole life. The only way to deal with it, being completely powerless each time it happens, has been to not get too worked up about it. But maybe he’s right.

Yesterday he said to me, “How can men be allies if we have so little exposure to the problem that we can’t come close to grasping its magnitude?” Great point. That’s why I am writing this blog. And why I will continue to tell him about my experiences. Because face it ladies, we need guys if we’re ever going to assert our right to respect. Just like they need us as they commence their journey of defining what it is to be a man and/or human. We need them not just because they aren’t completely desensitized to the issue and can breath new fire into it, as my partner is doing, but also because there is only one group of people who can make the drive-by perpetrators of harassment feel shame: the buddies who are in the car with them.

So what can guys (and gals) do to bring shame to this behavior?

  • Stay aware of what is happening in our communities.
  • Teach our kids which behaviors are evidence of a strong, smart, impressive person; and which are evidence of slowed maturity and an inability to grow up and become a “real man,” or just a mature human being.
  • Then teach our kids to stand up for these values, and by doing so help their friends to not succumb to primitive tendencies that not only dehumanize their targets, but dehumanize themselves.
  • Walk the talk. Part of teaching anyone to stand up for their values is doing it yourself. If your friends say/do something disrespectful, say something. Don’t grow a tail and stick it between your legs.
  • Discuss with friends and family the fact that anyone who is treating others like a dog is necessarily acting like a dog him/herself.*

And ladies, speak up. Maybe you can’t say anything to the drive-by a-hole that will do anything other than make him laugh, but you can help the men/boys in your life be more aware of the world we are all living in. In doing so, you’re helping them be better friends, brothers, fathers, partners, and allies.

We’ve all heard the cliché, “Every man is an island.” And it’s true. We are all, to some degree, limited to our own experiences and interpretations of the world around us. But every island is connected by a vast ocean—an ocean that ebbs and flows, pulling and sharing the nutrients and poisons every landmass has to offer. We can’t avoid impacting and being impacted by the people and things we encounter. But if we pay enough attention to the life that flows around us, the people passing through, and the ripples we ourselves cause, we can enrich our communities and ultimately humanity as a whole. Saying we want clean oceans isn’t enough. We have to admit that we are living in the middle and are a part of it, too.

Epilogue to For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
Epilogue to For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway

*I love dogs, but this is a useful idiom. Especially if you’ve ever seen half-wild, in-tact male dogs around a female in heat.

Capsule Stories VI

Repulsive Rumors Result in Critical Culture Confusion church in Port Narvin, 2013

That time in church when the pastor told his audience that Americans were getting implants that would allow the devil to always track them. I look at one of my all-time favorite people, mama Sonia, who is looking back at me with a look of desperate confusion, like “Is this true? What can this mean?” and I don’t know how to respond except to shrug my shoulders, suggesting I haven’t heard this big news yet. We stopped going to church before long.

Somehow I went two years without ever taking a picture of a church. But this is the set up right next to the Seventh Day Adventist church in preparation for a wedding!
Somehow I went two years without ever taking a picture of a church. But this is the set up right next to the Seventh Day Adventist church in preparation for a wedding!

The Point of Peace Corps? Perspective (also probably my favorite story ever) Port Narvin to Ipota, November 2014

Walking out of Port Narvin for the very last time, we are accompanied by several of our brothers and sisters. We brought small candies to share with them, but were horrified as they would unwrap them and toss their garbage onto the beautiful rainforest floor. Had we taught them nothing??? Peter and I rushed around to pick up the garbage. We were giggled at for our efforts.

Then, halfway to Ipota, we stop to enjoy the most beautiful watermelon I have ever seen. Hungry, thirsty, and in need of the liquefied energy boost, Peter and I dug in happily, spitting out the numerous hard black seeds as we went. Before long our 8 year old sister was running around us, collecting the small seeds off the rocks, again looking at us like we’re crazy.

So we’ll carry collected garbage with us on a 10+ mile hike, but carelessly toss the seeds of future nourishment? Thought provoking, to say the least.

That was one of the sweetest watermelons I have ever tasted~ and look at that color! Beautiful!
That was one of the sweetest watermelons I have ever tasted~ and look at that color! Beautiful!

Unforgettable Gratitude Mama Sonia’s kitchen, November 2014

We enjoyed a small “last kakae” (customary last meal) with Daddy Bob, Mama Sonia, and their family before Mama Sonia left for the capital to deliver her baby. As is the norm, plenty of time was spent giving speeches. Every adult in the room (5 or 6 of us) was given as much time as we cared to take to comment on the honor of the occasion, the memories from the past two years, and share our grief that the time was coming to an end. Each oration was heartfelt and touching. Nearly every one of us spoke with tears running down our face. All the while, our two little brothers, Patrick and Avi (7 and 5 years old, respectively) sat quietly, watching us strange adults go through this lengthy custom.

When all our sentiments has been exhausted, it was announced that we would commence with the feast…but before the announcement could be finished, Patrick whispered something to his mom, who then said that there would be one more “toktok,” given by our seven year old brother.

I briefly reflected on my history with this little boy. During our first year in Port Narvin, I taught at his pre-school where I saw this crazy fire-cracker of a child bounce off the walls uncontrollably. But you couldn’t be mad with him for long with his unbearably adorable smile. After I spoke to Mama Sonia about his behavior, he began joining me in my kitchen after lunch each day to practice his alphabet and be read to for an hour or so, then rejoin us in the evening to study some more. Initially shy, he worked hard and was always eager, never lost his playful and goofy spirit (especially when Avi was around), but learned to control himself in appropriate contexts. Before long, I could hear him trying to read borrowed books at his own house.

During our second year in Port Narvin, Patrick was the star of the first grade, blowing everyone away as he outperformed even some of the students from Class 3. He continued to study with us during our evening study hour. By the time of this last kakae, he had matured into a handsome, smart, well-mannered young boy whom I am proud to call by brother.

Here in front of me I saw all the shy he had ever displayed swarm back to overwhelm him, but he recovered quickly. He straightened up, looked at me, then said, in slow English, “Thank you Nompunvi and Nesi for teaching me and helping me.” Then there was that gorgeous smile again.

Tears started streaming down my face all over again, as they are now.

Patrick, having already mustered the courage and said his piece, feeling free to chow down on some New Yam laplap in Mama Sonia's kitchen. <3
Patrick, having already mustered the courage and said his piece, feeling free to chow down on some New Yam laplap in Mama Sonia’s kitchen. <3

Some Things Come in Threes

There are many challenges that come with being in the Peace Corps. Probably the greatest challenge, however, is being so far away from family when tragedy and challenge strikes.

Imagine then how I felt when I learned that lymphoma had been found in my grandmother’s chest. On top of the fear of losing my grandmother, I knew how much my mom would be struggling to work through the threat of losing her own mother. But there was little to nothing I could do. I was on the other side of the world. I didn’t even have internet. My grandmother beat her cancer, but is now struggling with congestive heart failure resulting from the chemo.

Within a week I learned that my step-mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. With little information to go on and no way to follow what was happening, I had no idea what to expect. Again, there was little to nothing I could do. I was on the other side of the world. I didn’t even have internet. Most fortunately, my warrior of a step-mother won her battle with cancer.

Then there was Kay~ When my brother married this incredible woman named Karen, we learned that she came with an equally wonderful family. Her parents, Kay and Gil, were among the most supportive of us while we were overseas. They wrote us regular letters, contributed to packages, and poured on encouragement and love every time they saw us online. I don’t know how I wasn’t aware of Kay’s struggle with Multiple Myeloma, which had gone on for over a decade. We had no idea she was sick until, amongst all the other news of cancer, we were told of her 6-month prognosis, 8-months before we were due to return to the USA. September 4th, 2014, she passed away peacefully in the Huntsman Cancer Hospital ICU. There was little to nothing we could do for our star supporters. We were on the other side of the world. We didn’t even have internet. We are now enjoy the breathtaking hospitality of Gil and his son, living with them in their home.

(Enjoy this picture while you take a refreshing breath to recover from all that overwhelmingness, then finish your reading with the upbeat message below it.)

When I was at my most overwhelmed with not knowing what was happening with my family in the USA, this little guy, my brother Aaron, was born in the house next door. He served as a great reminder not to forget the value of the family I have on BOTH sides of the world.
When I was at my most overwhelmed with not knowing what was happening with my family in the USA, this little guy, my brother Aaron, was born in the house next door. He served as a great reminder not to forget the value of the family I have on BOTH sides of the world.

So we missed a lot when we were gone, and often felt so overwhelmingly detached from those we needed most. But now we’re back and want to make up for lost time. Every year, the Huntsman Cancer Foundation holds a fundraiser via the Salt Lake City Marathon called Huntsman Hometown Heroes.

Since Peter is a runner, and I’m a …volunteer-er, we decided to take advantage of our time in Utah and participate! Now that you’ve read our story, p-p-p-please click here and make a contribution to our personal fundraising. Even if it’s only a few dollars, every penny counts and it all adds up in the end. We thank you in advance!

Wow! This is Peter running a leg of Hood to Coast in Oregon in 2011. He should have no problem with a half-marathon in April--but only if he gets enough support to raise $500 for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation!
Wow! This is Peter running a leg of Hood to Coast in Oregon in 2011. He should have no problem with a half-marathon in April–but only if he gets enough support to raise $500 for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation!

This blog is solely our thoughts and opinions and do not reflect those of the Peace Corps or the United States government

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