It’s Official; I’m finally a volunteer!
Wow it’s been a long journey to officially become a volunteer. I’ve been an aspirant, an applicant, a nominee, an invitee, a trainee, and now finally, a volunteer.
It all started back in October of 2007 when I was in my 1st semester of senior year. I began preparing my application, so that I could leave shortly after graduation, but couldn’t submit it due to unforeseen circumstances that took until March of 2008 to resolve. By that time I was so busy in classes, preparing my senior thesis, and making final preparations to graduate that I didn’t have time to complete my application. Immediately after graduating in May of 2008, a group of my friends and I headed off for a celebratory Eurotrip. I got back in June, and finally officially submitted my application on June 22, 2008.
I was nominated for service on July 8th, 2008, didn’t receive all my clearances until January 15th, 2009, and finally received my invitation to serve on January 17th, 2009, which I accepted on January 28th, 2009. I did more waiting and more paperwork between then and my staging date of May 26th, 2009.
On May 27th, 2009, I flew out of Miami and arrived in Paraguay around 10:00 AM the next day, May 28th, 2009.
At that point I began 3 months of language, cultural, health, safety, and technical training.
On August 14th, 2009 at around 10:45 AM, I said the same words the President of the United States says at Inauguration and swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer!
The longest beginning of my life...
Swearing In Ceremony and Festivities:
We arrived at the embassy, and basically just stood around talking and taking photos. Sometimes you take photos and try to make the environment seem a lot better than it really is...but I want to give you the real deal perspective for once.
The ceremony began shortly after the Ambassador arrived. Our APCD (Assistant Peace Corps Director), Elisa Echague kicked it off with a short speech. She was followed by Country Director, Donald Clark, the Ambassador (I could look it up on Google and pretend I know her name but the reality is I don’t), and Ronnell Perry.
The moment they asked us to nominate people to make the speech, I immediately nominated Ronnell because I knew he was the man for the job. He delivered in a major way. His speech put the Director’s and the Ambassador’s respective speeches to shame. He used the physical and nonphysical things trainees pack in anticipation of their Peace Corps adventure to provide comic relief and draw insights about what has and will serve us well as volunteers. In the end, it’s the things we intrinsically bring with us that are most valuable in our service.
After his speech, the Ambassador administered the oath, and with that we were official!
Then we went to a beautiful gazebo structure out back for a celebratory reception. I had heard about how delicious the cake is, and how I should eat as many pieces as humanly possible, because it would be a very long time before I had anything that good again. It did turn out to be really good and I had several pieces.
We stood around talking. The things that stand out in my mind are the following:
- Mike placing two small, round empanadas up against his nipples not three feet from the Ambassador and in view of our bosses, the Country Director and the APCD. Haha. It was hilarious. I told him the Ambassador saw him do it, and he had no way of knowing because I was facing her and he wasn’t. He turned blood red, and couldn’t stop nervously laughing. It was hilarious.
- Mary having a long conversation with the Ambassador, and then telling me that she hates bureaucratic officials, and told me how the Ambassador was an idiot and didn’t even know that the department she would be living in existed in Paraguay or where it was. The ambassador just threw around buzzwords of the moment. Mary has a Masters in International Development, Public Policy, International Relations, or something like that from Columbia, and some really good experience. She’s really smart, super sarcastic, and critical. It was really funny. It is bad that the US AMBASSADOR doesn’t even have a basic understanding of the departments and fairly big cities in Paraguay...
- Mike, in dressed in his traditional A poi shirt, which reveals his very hair chest, getting interviewed by a Paraguayan news channel. He immediately agreed to it because the reporter was hot.
- Me talking to the Ambassador about her rise to the Ambassador position, the role of public-private partnerships in development and telling her to invite me to her next pool party, and her subsequently offering me an open invitation to come hang out whenever I would like. She even said she might come to San Juan for the famous Dia de San Juan.
- Me talking to Country Director Donald Clark about my senior thesis, which concerned creating a consulting service for Peace Corps volunteers in the field, and him telling me to write a proposal for it, because they were looking for new ways to partner with institutions in the States
Oh, interesting side note! Our swearing in was on President Lugo’s agenda, and he was really excited to come. We made preparations by learning the Paraguayan National Anthem and Ronnell translated his speech to Spanish, which must have been difficult because they were some lofty ideas, abstract thoughts, and English slang weaved throughout it. In the end, someone erased it off his agenda in favor of something else, and when he found this out, after it was too late to change, we are told he was upset (whether or not that is true or just political BS we’ll never know).
Peace Corps Office
Next on the agenda was a trip to the Peace Corps office to handle some administrative tasks such as getting our debit cards, money, cell phones, submitting forms to solicit bicycles, getting mail and packages, visiting the doctor to get medicines to take to site with us, signing a few forms, etc...
I'm going to give you a tour of part of the Peace Corps office complex for your enjoyment and for future Peace Corps trainees curiosity (I know how it is to scour through Peace Corps blogs looking for insight into what my future life would be like...look out for a future blog post on training and recommendations to future trainees).
The whole complex is surrounded by a big brick wall. 1st you have to go through a little security building at the entrance from the street, but once you're on the other side of that this is what you see...the main office.
This is the view from the inside of that building.
I love seeing the Peace Corps logo and President Obama's picture front and center in the office. I know a lot of people reading this blog may be of different political persuasion but personally I'm very proud to call Barack Obama my President, and am proud to be serving under his term. I think he is sincerely passionate about changing the direction America is headed in and the way politics work in Washington. He has good ideas for how to invest in America's future, and is a dynamic and intelligent leader and speaker who represents America well in international affairs. It puts a smile on my face, renews my motivation to be effective in making a positive impact during my service, and overwhelms me with a sense of pride and patriotism every time I walk into the office and see his photo next to the Peace Corps logo. That's all I'll say about that so lets continue with the tour.
Next up is the office of the assistant to the APCD of the RED sector.
This is the office of the Peace Corps coordinator. If you are a particularly motivated volunteer interested in extending your service as a coordinator in Paraguay, this could be your future office. Fancy right?
Once you get on the other side of that building, this is what you see. Directly ahead and to the left a little is the entrance to the library.
The official Peace Corps collection of books are located on the second floor of the building (It's not impressive). What you see is a Volunteer initiated and maintained book sharing project. You are free to take from, return to, and add to the library as you wish. There are some interesting books there, and it's my goal to read some along with my professional reading and GMAT study. I've already read Ismael and have started Collapse by Jared Diamond (an analysis for the reasons of collapses of societies throughout history) and Open Veins of Latin America (the book Castro gave to Obama).
These are the computers available for volunteers to use free of charge and anytime during office hours. There aren't usually a lot of volunteers at the office at any given time, so the lack of a large number of computers isn't a big problem.
This is the view as you leave the library and look back towards the main office. Those chairs and tables serve as a hang out spot for volunteers, and just on the other side there is a big grill that we can use as well. There is also an entertainment room in the building to the right, which has really comfy couches and a television (no dvd yet, only vhs but maybe sometime soon). There are also bathrooms, and a couch, which can be used as a very short term place to sleep and relax in between trips in and out of Asunción.
I threw this pic in to show the Peace Corps cars used by staff. For Paraguay, these SUVs are super lindo, and a treat to ride in because of the AC, comfortable seats, and smooth ride. Don't expect to ride in them much though because most of the time we pack in one of two crappy vans for our transportation to and from places as groups.
My next post will describe the weekend after Swearing In.