When I was preparing myself for this amazing adventure... I (like most other volunteers I would imagine) spent a lot of time being overwhelmed and stressed out. I made a few mistakes (for example I probably should have stopped working a few weeks sooner) which caused me to rush through a lot of my goodbyes.. it was a huge whirl wind. While obviously spending time with loved ones before you leave (especially those that you will not see again for 2 years) is what everyone should be doing.. and of course packing is important too.. I would advise making sure that you have enough time to really enjoy those last couple weeks. I know for me I spent way to much time wrapping up projects I had been working on for months.. and stressing over everything (imagine that). Packing is important.. but honestly anything you REALLY need to survive you can find in your country of service.. people do live there.. if they didn't you wouldn't be going.. anything special that you pack is really just a perk. I know that when I was packing I filled a good portion of my luggage with snacks from home (at the advice of a few different former volunteers) it felt like a silly waste of space.. but I assure you it wasn't.
That being said.. if I had the ability to do the last few weeks over again.. I would try not to stress so much.. maybe by 2014 I will have learned that one. I am starting to think however that my general stress level is deeply engrained and probably not going anywhere anytime soon.. I was stressed out as a baby and I will probably continue to be so for the rest of my life. I accept that.
So everyone is probably thinking right now.. ok Zoe.. as of this week you have officially been in Benin for 3 full months... why are you talking about this now?
Well.. my dear friend. Now that I am living in this little house of mine.. For the first time since I got here.. now that everything is unpacked and put in its place.. I have an opinion on what I should have been preparing for.. and what was superfluous. Here are some thoughts:
Things That I'm Glad I Did Before I Left
Spending Time With People: I spent a lot of time getting to see people.. even people who I hadn't seen in awhile. It is crazy really when someone knows that they won't be ABLE to see you they get the urge that they HAVE to see you... and it was really nice to get to talk with friends who I had been missing to no fault of either of us. However, this wasn't something I had anticipated and I think that some people who I did see all the time normally might have felt a bit neglected. I am sorry for this... This is probably the main reason why I feel that I might not have given myself enough open time before leaving.. the hustle and bustle of preparing for service is a crazy thing. I remember one day during the weeks before I left... some friends wanted to see Erik and I... people who I like a lot but who we rarely saw.. right before we were about to go out I got very upset.. I didn't want to go.. I was tired of talking about the Peace Corps with everyone and their mother.. I just wanted a NORMAL day with our NORMAL friends. Leave yourself some days where things can feel normal. [In case I offended anyone with this.. I'm very sorry.. if you are close enough with me to feel offended than i'm pretty positive I'm not talking about you. AND I love everyone very much it was just an overwhelming time in my life]
Getting Away: I know this probably sounds contrary to what I just said.. but another thing that we did before I left.. was Erik and I went on a small vacation. I know, far from a normal everyday thing. But it gave us a few days.. away from everything and we got to do things we like to do; go canoeing, see sites, go for nature walks etc. It was really nice. It was really good for me.. but I imagine even better for him.. to get me away from the constant packing and errand running. We weren't home.. so I couldn't worry about it. It would have to wait.
Let Them Throw You A Party: I struggled with this one. I wanted a going away party – who wouldn't. At the same time.. having a party thrown in my honor makes me really uncomfortable.. and I definitely vacillated about the importance of it. It seemed really silly BUT It was wonderful.. I am really glad that we did it.. and I am so grateful to all of my family and friends for making it such an amazing day. I think we timed it perfectly too. Not so last minute that I couldn't enjoy myself.. but close enough to my departure that people realized that I wasn't going to be having anymore free time before I left. I also got to see a lot of people who I may not have gotten a chance to see other wise. (Thank You Again Joanne and Richie for hosting this for me.. and Everyone Else who helped out that day – miss you all!)
Things That Were Important – But Mismanaged
Bike Classes: Yes.. I know I am not great on a bicycle.. and this was very important for my confidence. However, I don't like riding bikes.. I never have.. I still don't. If the bike classes were to really be worthwhile then I should have allotted more time to riding bikes before I came here. I realize now that the issue was never that I couldn't ride a bike.. that part wasn't hard to get past. The issue is I don't want to ride a bike. As of now I walk everywhere.. and I look very silly doing it.. eventually when I know the neighborhood better I'll ride my bike.. I just really hate it.
LeatherMan: If you are going into the peace corps.. get a multi-tool leatherman type of thing. Really really really important. Also Important however is maybe knowing what tools you have before you leave the country.. and practicing using it for everyday things like cutting fruit for instance. It is important to become familiar with it. For example during training one of my friends had broken her glasses (not very bad just needed a glasses screwdriver).. after a few days she sent them to medical to have them fixed (which meant they would be gone for about a week).. the next day I realized I HAD THE TOOL SHE NEEDED IN MY BAG ALL ALONG!!
Running Errands: I am normally one of the most organized people when it comes to running errands. I know what I need, where to find it, and I go out and get it, I map out my destinations and set a schedule so that the errands can be over and done with. (So organized some people actually mistake it as enjoyment.. but no I like errands just as much as the next guy I promise). During the few weeks before I left.. I was having a lot of trouble making a comprehensive list. Mostly due to the fact that I really didn't know what I needed. There were many suggested packing lists available to me but what did I NEED? What was important to ME? Also.. I wanted people to run errands with me (which is definitely less efficient).. which I'm sure wasn't enjoyable to them.. but I was trying to multitask. I'm not sure if it is even possible when preparing for the Peace Corps... but I wish I had been able to set it all aside.. and sit down make a list go get what I needed and then been done with it (like normal Zoe mode).. I think a lot of potential down time was wasted running out to stores or waiting for someone to go with me so I could spend time with them.. or sometimes even going to the same store more than once eek!
Things I Didn't Do
Practical Cooking: Everyone who knows me.. knows that I love to be in the Kitchen - cooking... baking.. dancing.. thinking.. who knows. Before I left I went on a spree. I decided that I wanted to cook things I wouldn't be able to cook here.. I was pulling out all the stops. All the recipes I had been saving to try for special occasions. If I wasn't going to be in a proper kitchen for two years I wanted to get it all in while I could. IN REALITY I should have been practicing minimalist cooking.. using ingredients that I could find easily in Benin (to the best of my knowledge at the time)... so that I would be prepared to make a variety of dishes when I got here. I am slowly building up my repertoire of non-fancy peace corps style dining. But it is VERY BORING. I should have spent the time to compile easy and a varied recipes for here before I left.. I will have the rest of my life to cook fancy. (and for some reason every time I think of a recipe from home that i could probably make here I find out it needs celery!! i never realized i cooked with so much celery! i love celery.) :-/
Pretend To Be a Boyscout: I should have spent time practicing some basic knots.. I did bring a book on Knots but I didn't practice any. As of right now my clothes line is rigged up with mini-bungycords (which were a great idea to pack) but it doesn't look very pretty. I should have practiced setting up a propane stove.. because even though they gave us a brief demonstration.. it wasn't quite as easy as I had imagined. What do you do with your trash when there is no trash system.. not everything is burnable? I should have practiced my tree-ids.. not really important for anything but my own peace of mind: its something I am good at at home.. why not here as well? I should have practiced using machetes to open coconuts and dig in the yard. Maybe I should have done some pushups.
If anyone who doesn't know me (and is preparing for service in Benin (invitations start going out in a couple months!!) or another PC country) is reading this I just want to add some other thoughts.. I spent a lot of time stressing about language before arriving.. I wish I could speak better French.. but they get you through it. YOU DO A LOT OF LANGUAGE TRAINING.. practice your language.. but don't let it eat up your life before you go to stage. Bring a hoodie.. even if you are going someplace warm.. you will want it eventually. Ask people at home to write you letters.. or maybe even send yourself a care package before you leave (a lot of people did this).. it is hard to explain how excited everyone is during training on days when mail shows up.. it is like Christmas (or your comparative holiday) just to have something from home to hold... Even if you think you don't need letters from home.. once you are here and everyone else is getting them.. you will want them.. make sure your friends have your new address (I am very glad that I did!). Du Courage!