Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Decision is in!

Seattle it is!

Here is where we will spend the next two years...

And here is how we'll be spending it...

We couldn't be more excited for what's ahead. Although, did I mention that we may be classmates soon?? Hmmm... this make take our relationship to a whole new level. Haha, good thing I have practice sharing a classroom with a family member, growing up with a twin brother.

Anyway,we're off in less than a month now. I will likely post at least one final entry from Lesotho before it'll be time to say farewell to this blog until next time.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Riding into the sunset once more

Howdy folks. It’s been another nice month here. I hosted my very last volunteer group, celebrated my husband’s 29th birthday, and spent a long weekend at the lovely Chintsa Beach off the Wild Coast of South Africa. Winter is starting to creep into Lesotho which means crisp mornings, chilly evenings, and probably the start of winter power-cuts and cold showers. Joy. Lucky for me I won’t be here for the worst of it this year. Plagued with back-to-back winters upon arrival to Africa almost two years ago, I will now be blessed with back-to-back summers. At least I got one thing right!

I’ve mentioned previously that I am in the process of applying to graduate school which means that I’m heading out of here soon. Well, somehow ‘soon’ turned into ‘real soon’ which is now ‘just around the corner.’ My official departure date is just over a month away and I’ll be heading back to the US after more than 2 years out here in the beautiful Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. When asked if I feel ready to leave, I can confidently say YES. While I know the transition maybe tough and I will be sad to say goodbye to dear friends, I am definitely ready to move on and start the next chapter of my life.

So, what is the next chapter? As of now, I still don’t know exactly where the road ahead is taking me. Remember a few months ago, how I said that this feeling of not knowing is kind of exciting? Well, I take that back. It is not exciting. It’s stressful and scary for the most part. My husband and I submitted our applications before Thanksgiving (yes, I’m one of those students), yet we are still waiting to hear back from some schools. Unfortunately, I didn’t anticipate that in the middle of an economic recession, grad schools would be inundated with more than 3x the number of applicants and that consequently the process would be more grueling and drawn out than ever. It gets a little more complicated when trying to do this all remotely and also when trying to coordinate schools, acceptances, and decisions with a spouse. Phew!

As I said, we’re still waiting for initial decisions from some of our schools, yet we are meant to confirm our choice in just 2 weeks! I wonder how that will work… eenie, meenie, miney, mo! To make the process just a little more fun, it seems as if some schools are just playing around with our heads. One school accepted me, then took it back, then accepted me again. Huh?!

Anyway, decisions or not, I have to move forward. In fact, I have already begun to pack up my life. I put in my notice at work, started selling household goods, and began planning a farewell bash. It’s time to move on and at the end of the day, even though this stage of the process is giving me some gray hairs, I am looking forward to what’s ahead for me. Wherever I end up, I will soon be in a classroom again, learning new things and growing as a professional. I will be meeting new people, seeing new places, and enjoying the perks of America again (somewhat decent drivers, lots of great food options, live music, the list goes on!) I will finally discover what marriage can be like when not dealing with everyday challenges of life in a developing country (ha!) I am also looking forward to being closer to family and friends again. I miss being able to pick up the phone and talk to my loved ones as often as I want.

Anyway, the road ahead may be unknown for now, but for the first time I’m not alone on this ride and I see good things ahead for us, however it all ends up.

Signed, the ever-optimistic, Fat Passport

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Happy February

It’s been a good start to the year. Not a terribly exciting past month, but a good one nonetheless. It’s nice to get back into the swing of things at work. I hosted a volunteer group my first week back and am now busy preparing for another one in a few weeks. (At least my work boots are getting a lot of use out here!) Started my year off with a health & fitness plan (here’s to cliché resolutions!) and managed to stick to it. Even vowed to reduce my intake of fabulous South African wine, which is no easy feat considering the good stuff costs next to nothing out here.

On a less healthy note, I had my first African dental encounter recently. Noticed the subtle differences in care and the not-so-subtle differences in cost, from the US! With *perfect* timing right before the big holiday road-trip, I started to have some awful toothache. (Anyone who knows me knows I am plagued with dental woes!) When I say “awful toothache,” I don’t mean a little sensitivity. I mean fall-to-the-ground, migraine-inducing, tears-streaming PAIN! Needless to say, it was bad. So that’s how I found myself at a dentist’s office in the middle of nowhere, South Africa, just a few days before my holiday. I had taken a friend’s recommendation and luckily the dentist agreed to see me right away without an appointment. No calling ahead to find pre-approved dentists. No waiting lists. No need to compromise care for coverage. What a relief to step away from health insurance bureaucracy for a minute!

Anyway, the dentist was very polite and professional and managed to numb me up, take several digital x-rays, tame some misbehaving nerves, AND re-seal a filling all for less than $40!! I know! And that’s before insurance covers their portion, if anything. I was in disbelief when I saw the bill. I cannot believe the same thing costs hundreds of dollars back home with comparable facilities, equipment, and treatment.

One thing that is slightly different is the communication between doctors and patients out here. Docs don’t really feel a need to discuss what they’re doing to make sure you’re comfortable like they do at home. They kind of just go for it and expect you’ll keep quiet with a doctor-knows-best mentality. Maybe we are coddled at home, with options, consultations, and play-by-plays of procedures, but I’ve really grown to appreciate the dialogue and participation when it comes to my healthcare. If I hadn’t asked the dentist what he was doing, I doubt he would have mentioned a thing.

This phenomenon became all the more apparent when I went for a follow-up visit last week since the initial treatment was apparently just a temporary fix. I assumed he meant a temporary vs. permanent filling and didn’t think twice…until I found myself in the dentist chair again. There was drilling. There were x-rays. But then, there were strange wires, other odd devices, and then came a hand-held torch! No joke. There was fire involved and at one point my mouth was actually smoking! It was only when I saw the bill that I understood he had given me a root canal! Unfortunately it was not my first root canal (I said I have dental woes!) and I am not too squeamish in a dental chair… but these are things one wants to know ahead of time. Either way, the pain is gone and will likely stay that way. The bill surpassed $100 this time, but that’s still not too shabby for oral surgery!

In the end, it wasn’t necessarily a traumatizing experience—just an eye-opening one. I would still recommend the dentist to anyone who finds themselves in a dental emergency in South Africa—which I hope you don’t! Not a massive pinch on the wallet and well worth it to be pain-free.

Other than sitting in denist chairs, January was a good month. I enjoyed catching up with friends, some sunshine and some rain, and just a little bit of nice South African wine. Looking forward to some local trips in the coming months and hopefully to fewer dentist chairs and better health.

Til next time, a votre sante!

Friday, January 15, 2010

More pics

I had another great site visit at work yesterday and brought out the nice camera this time. (Our office camera is circa 1990 and doesn't even have a zoom!)

Enjoy the slideshow below.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Here's to a new year!

Where have the past six months gone? Somehow time slipped by me and I know there’s no excuse for neglecting my dear blog and inter-web friends, but here’s a quick re-cap of what’s been happening in my world the past few months…

July- Transitioned from Caribbean sunshine to African winter and adjusted to my first month as a newlywed. Hosted some volunteer groups. Snow on the ground at build site! Brrr…
From this, to this:

August- This month seemed to be full of work planning meetings, back-to-back. Not a huge fan of meetings, but we did manage to develop our first ever long term strategic plan. Go us! Some political riots disrupted things at the beginning of the month but things smoothed out pretty quickly.

September- Work was still busy but I managed to sneak home for a whirlwind weekend trip to the US for a dear friend’s beautiful wedding. Vowed never to fly home from Africa for less than a week ever again. Jumped right back to work with a workshop in nearby Pretoria . Got the motivational boost I needed. Feeling reinvigorated and ready to work hard.

October- Hosted our first major work event, coordinating hundreds of volunteers at six different work sites. Lots of media coverage (positive for a change). Event a success, but glad it’s over! Jetted to Cape Town mid-month to brave the GREs. (Did I mention studying and grad school applications on top of everything else?) Met my target. Happy to toss my study books and flashcards!

November- Start month off with a 10K race in Soweto (Jo’Burg) with group of friends. Did well, felt great, until we discovered break-in and theft of 4/5 of our cars during race! Talk about a buzz kill. Officially ‘break-up’ with Jo’Burg and get back into some local traveling. Weekend trips to gorgeous Semonkong and local Cherry Festival. Cook pseudo-authentic Thanksgiving meal complete with turkey, gravy, pumpkin pie and all. Realize next day I forgot the specially-imported cranberry sauce in cupboard. Doh!

Semonkong view, not bad.

December- Celebrate 6-month wedding anniversary (already?!) at luxurious Maliba Mountain Lodge. Long-awaited holiday break. Road-trip with hubby and dad-in-law (in from TX) along Garden route for 2 weeks through mountains, safaris, beaches, and winelands. Return well-fed, bronzed, and happy. Ready for a new year ahead.

Happy 6-month!

What a great roadtrip, from safaris, to beaches, to winelands, and cities!

And what better time to get back into my blog and say hello again than a brand new year?

2010. It’ll be a big one in this region. With the World Cup just a few months away, there’s lots of buzz and development around these parts. (Mostly next door in South Africa to be honest, though I have some friends who are working hard to build up local tourism here too.)

It’ll be another big year in my life too (not that it can top last year!) because I’ll *hopefully* be starting graduate school back in the US this Fall. Applications are in and it’s completely out of my hands now, which is actually a great feeling. I kind of love not knowing exactly where I’ll be this time next year.

So, cheers! Here’s to 2010. Here’s to a brand new decade. Here’s to not knowing what the future holds. Here’s to slowing down the next six months and enjoying the small things. Hoping this new year brings each of you health, happiness, everything you need, and most of what you want in life. Cheers!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Back to work

I am reminded again of why I choose to do this kind of work.

Last week I hosted two enthusiastic volunteer groups of American students who braved the cold (and snow!) to help us build two houses for orphans. It's always so much fun to host groups from overseas and it gives me a chance to renew my perspective on the importance of what our program is doing.

Also, given how cold it's gotten this past month, I felt it was important to visit some of our families to see how they're holding up in the winter. No matter how uncomfortable I get in my house, or how tough I think I have it, there is always someone else out there who has it tougher. At least I have electricity (most of the time) and can afford to run a few heaters. Most of our beneficiary families live without any kind of insulation or heating throughout the brutal winter season. So, with this in mind, this week I went to visit a few families we helped move into new homes a few months ago. Life is still tough for them, but it's a lot better in their new homes than it was before. Here are some photos from my visit and from last week's build. This is why I am out here...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Winter Wonderland?

When I was back home, a lot of friends and family made comments about how tough life in Africa must be and how it must be so hard to be away from all the comforts of home. Granted… life out here isn’t perfect and there is corruption, violence, and a handful of Lesotho-specific frustrations, I couldn’t really say with a straight face, that I was ‘suffering.’ I just couldn’t let rumors of mud huts, no plumbing, and mosquito nets spread among my loved ones. So I interjected and broke these stereotypes, admitting to a lifestyle that was far more comfortable than most imagined. With a furnished and guarded 2-bedroom flat, our very own reliable 4x4, cable TV, and lots of great road-trips close by, life out here isn’t so bad.

However, coming back after 3 weeks of blissful indulgence, great food, sunshine, and warmth, has really opened my eyes a little and I’ve been reminded that life is tougher out here and I am pushing myself out of my comfort zone. (Oh, how quickly those details fade while lying on a lounge chair soaking in the sun among friends!!). Maybe it was the harsh transition from Caribbean sunshine to wintertime gloom… or coming back from my newlywed high alone…or maybe The Fates are just getting back at me for advertising my “easy” life is in Africa, but this past week hasn’t exactly been the epitome of comfort!

Rather than giving into temptation and rambling on about my complaints, I thought it would be fun to just describe a few of my recent day-to-day experiences to give you a little picture of my life out here right now...from the comfort of wherever you are. Enjoy!

Day 1:
First day back, awake to gloomy Maseru day and start preparations for work. Having turned off water geyser while away, hot water tap sputters out barely-luke warm stream. Contemplate not showering, but reconsider due to 48+ hours of traveling and 72 hours since last shower. Turn shower on. Warm water stream comparable to force of a gentle trickle. Tub feels like block of ice on already-numb toes. Contort self into very strange positions, trying to avoid shock of cold water on unsuspecting back. Manage to shampoo and rinse in record-time. Note presence of visible breath while in shower.

Lunchtime. Arrive at home to discover water has ceased to flow altogether. (Also note TV has been shut off while away. Must resort to good old-fashioned books for entertainment.) Planned pasta lunch with hot tea must be swapped for can of beans with heated cocktail-size chicken nuggets, left over from house party approx. 3 months ago. Note unnatural gumball shape of nuggets. Bake anyway. Note that honey has frozen solid in kitchen while away. Resort to leftover ketchup in fridge. Yumm.

Day 2:
First driving blunder since back. Trying to find parking at grocery store. All spots full and impossible to go against one-way road in parking lot for alternate parking. Must exit lot and come back in. Get wedged between two unwilling drivers, unable to go through exit. After multiple arm gesturing and rearview mirror glaring, one vehicle slightly reverses, barely allowing me to exit. Now stuck behind line of 4+ vehicles awaiting petrol en route back to parking entrance. Total wasted time: approximately 25 minutes.

Day 3:
Tough time adjusting to cold (and lack of indoor heat) past few days so promised self hot bath in evening. Turn on hot water tap. Trickling water will result in minimum one hour to fill tub with barely-hot water. Cleverly decide to supplement tub water with boiling water from electric kettle in kitchen. Fast-forward to 5 kettles and forty minutes later. Tub still luke-warm. Drain tub and repeat shower experience from Day 1, record time again.

Well, I think you get the picture, right??

Going through these experiences may be rough at the time, but they definitely help me appreciate the little things that come along. For example, I have learned to really appreciate the joy of a ridiculously early bedtime. (I'm too ashamed to spill details but let's just say these days the sun sets by 5pm.) I also love the simplicity of an evening in with good book, a glass of wine, and a few candles. Also, being so cold in the evenings has forced me to recognize and appreciate the rare moments of warmth. I have to say there are very few things that compare to the amazing sensation of slipping under the covers after the electric blanket has been warming up for at least 20 minutes.


It may not be the Caribbean, but it definitely is bliss!