Thursday, June 26, 2008

I'm in AFRICA!

Sanibona! I just wanted to let you know that I landed safely in South Africa after a grueling 19 hour flight and a battle v. mosquitos on the runway in Senegal. Luckily, mosquitos don't bite me and I've made friends with another volunteer who seems to be pretty good mosquito bait. It was quite the bonding experience.

We're staying in a pretty nice hotel here in Johannesburg for the evening before heading off to Swaziland early in the am by bus, where we'll be greeted by some of the current volunteers and a large quantity of Peace Corps staff. Tonight we met the country director, Chad, and he seems pretty cool. We also met our traning director, Musa, who seems like a cool guy as well.

I can't believe that I'm back on the continent already! I don't have a cell phone number yet becuase the hotel is all sold out of minutes for MTN cell service (and even if they weren't I couldn't buy them with US dollars and their bank is all out of Rand!), but as soon as I have a number I'll text my mother who will post it on here. Not that you need to call, but if you want...

That's all for now. Much love and salani kahle!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Staging - Philly 6/23-6/25

So I'm currently in Philadelphia, where I've been since Monday afternoon. First things first, my bags weighed in at 4 pounds UNDER the limit--a huge accomplishment for me and I think a first in my saga of international travel.

But more importantly, our staging was fantastic! We had sessions Monday afternoon/evening, and then all day today (Tuesday) where we got to know one another in the Swaziland training class, learned about the policies of Peace Corps and ate cookies and made fun of each other. The group consists of 36 people of which 12 are guys and 8 are married (so 4 couples). Everyone seems to have bonded pretty quickly, united by the fact that we're all going through the same weird life transition that nobody else in our lives has really been able to understand fully. We bonded over such activities as "change 5 things" and trying to lower a tent pole to the ground with only one finger each...don't ask.

This evening, fifteen of us went out to Thai food for our last meal (scary!!) and I had some delicious green curry shrimp that had about 20 jumbo shrimp in it. A GREAT last meal. I've also packed and re-packed about a million times and I'm fully prepared for at least one of my perfectly packed bags to get stolen/lost/picked over in the Jo'burg airport...last year, 20 people out of the 25 in the training class had AT LEAST one bag "delayed." The joke is that they're delayed by a few days so that the security people in Jo'burg have time to x-ray them and pick out all the valuables. We'll see...I'm prepared to live out of my carry-on for at least 5 days. (Tip: If you're going on a long trip like this, the backpack I got for a carry-on is perfect! It's a North Face Backtrack 50 and it's amazing in every way).

Also, I volunteered to be a Group Leader (GL) for the trip which essentially means I'm in charge of everyone's passports, plane tickets and general well-being for the duration of travel tomorrow/Thursday. We're leaving tomorrow early in the morning and heading by bus to JFK to fly to Johannsburg via Dakar, Senegal. Woo! It's a 19-hour flight with some re-fueling time and HOPEFULLY no complications.

I'm feeling really good about my decision to join Peace Corps thus far. I know there will be ups and downs ahead of me and I'm prepared for that, but I really think I'm in good company as far as the training class is concerned. I'm optimistic about my language abilities (which is kind of cheating since I'm really just relying on what I remember from Zulu class) and I have a much better idea of what to expect culturally, physically and emotionally than most of the other people in my training class. But mostly I just realize that I'm to the point that I'm getting on the plane in the morning and I have no an ounce of nervousness or second thoughts or ANYTHING but excitement. I'm beginning to believe in fate...I'm not exactly sure how I ended up headed for Swaziland, but exactly where I'm supposed to be.

I'm not sure when I'll be able to update again, but definitely check back periodically! I've also taught my mother how to update so if there's anything REALLY important going on I'll have her update it if I don't have internet access (I SHOULD have a cell phone...we'll see if I'm allowed to use it). In the meantime, I'll try to send some letters (but I don't know how practical that is) but you can send me letters too! It's only 94 cents...I'm worth that, right?

Love to you all and I'll be thinking of you!

Sala kahle,

PS Happy 16th birthday Zak and Happy 5 1/2 birthday Damian!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Countdown

Sanibona! (That means "hello everyone" in siSwati)

Just in case you don't know (by some miracle--it's all I talk about these days), I'm leaving June 23 for Swaziland where I will work as a community health HIV/AIDS educator for the Peace Corps. I have training from June-August 2008, then I'll HOPEFULLY (if I'm deemed competent) be sworn in on August 28 as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV)! But for now, I'm studying and shopping and generally freaking out about the fact that I'm moving to Africa for the next 27 months.

So, now I'm frantically making last-minute preparations like packing and studying siSwati (that's what they speak in Swaziland) before my departure for Swaziland. Next Monday, June 23, I'll be leaving for Philly for my "staging" where I will learn all about safety and what to expect and meet everyone else in my group (there are 35 of us), then we will all board a bus to JFK where we'll fly to Dakar, Senegal, and Johannesburg, South Africa. After a brief rest, we'll be taking yet another bus to Swaziland where we'll begin our Pre-Service Training (PST). And hopefully all my packing will not be in vain...but the Jo'burg airport is notorious for luggage thieving!

I can hardly contain my excitement! I've been communicating with a few other people in my training group on Facebook (lame, I know), but I'm excited to ACTUALLY meet everyone in Philly. ALSO, in some random twist of fate I happen to know one of the other girls in my training class--Serena and I are both AEPhi alum from AU. It's an incredible coincidence...

Anyway, I'm moving to Africa. Again. If you would like to send me a letter or something (not that you have to, I'm just posting this in case!), here's my address:

Justine Amos, PCV
US Peace Corps
P.O. Box 2797
Mbabane H100, Swaziland

You can also send stuff DHL if you want:

Justine Amos, PCV
c/o US Peace Corps
Farm 188
Gate 256 Muzi Road,
Dalriach West, Mbabane
Phone #: 268-422-0411

So, that's all for now. I'll probably be able to write once or twice between now and August, but maybe not at all--it really depends on the frequency of internet access. BUT, I should have a cell phone within a few days in Swaziland (all I have to do is buy a sim card since I kept my phone from South Africa) and I'll post my number whenever I get a chance.

Also, when I have them I'll post some photos on this blog (if I can figure out how to do that...) for your viewing pleasure!

Hamba kahle,