The content of this blog is the creator's own thoughts and does not represent the views or opinions of the Peace Corps or the United States Government. I would also like to apologize for all my spelling and grammatical errors... there will be a lot.

Monday, July 16, 2012

FECA and AfterCorps and PC-127C, Oh My!

Peace Corps has a reputation of being, well… disorganized. I’m currently frolicking through the world of insurance battles. Supposedly any injuries obtained overseas are supposed to be covered by Peace Corps when you return. I even have a niffy form that says basically says Peace Corps must cover any thing relating to my ankle injury. It appears I was wrong to trust this form. I’m currently fighting with insurance to cover my doctors’ visits and X-rays,

The actual wording on the form is: “Covers up to 4 visits with surgeon including X-rays, must be used within 6 months of COS”

I have heard every excuse from “It doesn’t cover X-rays!”, “You need to file XYZ claim!”, “You need a new form for every visit”. In a word: difficult. Everyone I speak to in Peace Corps says that’s crazy the form should cover it, but for some reason the actual people that give the money are tightening the purse strings screaming “No, no, no! You can’t have its ours!”. I sort of imagine them like this:

I’m getting the feeling this is going to be an ongoing process, considering I’m still getting E-mails from South Africa about money not being paid. We’ll see how it goes with physical therapy, and my COS doctor’s appointment. I’m avoiding all the medical processes I’m supposed to get done because I really don’t want to do battle with insurance every week.

I take bitter sweet comfort in the fact that I’m not alone in this. There is an whole web group originally named “Abandoned by Peace Corps” that deals exclusively with post medical evacuation difficulties. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Med Evac Blues

4 am is the standard time for me to get what I have come to call “med evac blues”, basically this is when I’ve run out of things to distract me and I begin to dwell on my situation. I’ve been trying to find active support groups or at least blogs by med evac RPCVs but interestingly the internet seems to be drawing a blank. The only really groups I have found are about trying to get your medical stuff dealt with (which seems to be a huge issue for most PCV’s returned to the states).

A friend of mine from PC Zambia Jessica is one of the only sources of real info on the subject, she was sent home from Zambia after contracting HIV and her blog is an on-going look into what she is doing after. I sincerely suggest looking at it.

Though every med evac is different I feel like there is a common sense of “well now what?” and bit of hanging on by your finger tips. We experience all the feelings and trouble adjusting that a regular RPCV has but we didn’t get to mentally prep at all.

For me my biggest struggle is the lack of mobility and independence. Just now 2 months after my accident I can carry a plate of food myself and navigate a store without getting winded. I’m still on crutches, can’t drive and can’t start working yet. Also that I’m 24 years old with a college degree, and have been living on my own in another country for a year and suddenly I’m transported to feeling like I’m in high school again. Living with my mom, no money, no car and unsure of what I’m doing in life.

I guess the point of this entry to make a formal calling out to other med evacs, how are you guys doing? What did you do to not make yourself crazy?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

To cat or not to cat?

So I am faced to with a dilemma that only an American can have. Back in Africa I have a cat named Anansi. I had planned 100% on bringing him back to America with me when I COSed, since obviously that didn’t happen plans have changed. Now at this one moment in time I have a very expensive and complicated way of getting him back to me in America, my issue is wither or not this is insane and if I should just let someone else adopt him.

Get the cat:
-          I miss him
-          I raised the cat from a baby
-          I feel totally responsible
-          I had planned from the beginning to bring him home with me
-          I will regret not getting him
-          Even if I get him another home for now it won’t be permanent
-          Many animals left by PCV’s don’t get real long term care and sadly some die
-          The animal care is sub-par, when older he won’t have any real access to medical care

Don’t get the cat:
-          People have offered to Adopt him
-          He is a village cat
-          It’s expensive as hell
-          The trip is horribly long and stressful for the animal
-          I am putting a lot of nice people under stress
-          Its kinda crazy to fly a cat from Africa
-          The place I am staying in America already has 3 cats
-          I have no idea how he will adjust to the new lifestyle

My friends and family have had total opposite views of what do. Half think I am a monster if I don’t bring him, half think I’m a monster if I do ship him here. Its kind of a logic versus emotion thing. Thoughts?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Goodbye Africa!

So it's official, my flight back is tomorrow night at 7pm. By Wednesday afternoon I'll be getting off at JFK and start my life as not a Peace Corps Volunteer. I'm happy to leave the guest house but I'm struggling with the idea of leaving Africa for good. I hope with all my heart I find a way back in the future. I'm not sure if it will be with Peace Corps, or not. There are a thousand things I want to write, but I think instead I'm just going to show you the best things about being in Peace Corps Zambia

I'm going to have my emo moment and post the lyrics to a Frank Turner song:

I have wept until I've slept
Into the lap of the lady that I love
And though she begged and she cajoled
I couldn't tell her what I was thinking of

I didn't chose, no I was chosen
By a life that must be lived in passing through
And though she changed so much for me
Changing this is the one thing I cannot do

Darling, I'm leaving
The distance keeps calling me on
Darling, come morning
I'll be gone

She is beauty, she is graceful
In a poison she is gentle in her care
She is the calm in the center of my storm
She has her fingers through my hair

She has my heart but it is breaking
Cause it knows that deep inside she still believes
That there will ever come a morning that I'll stay
And not gathering to leave

Darling, I'm leaving
The distance keeps calling me on
Darling, come morning
I'll be gone

Baby let's get out of the city
We need to breathe some cleaner air
That creeping feeling starting like I miss you
And we're both of us still here

There's a sadness in your smiles now
And an edge of desperation in your voice
We have all this independence
But it still feels like we never had a choice

Darling, I'm leaving

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Day 21 of Medical Separation (Q&A)

Today marks 3 weeks since I originally broke my ankle, making this technically day 21 of medical separation. Some people have been asking me why I can’t just come back to Zambia right now, so I thought I’d explain what is going on in more depth.

 What is Medical Separation/Evacuation: Generally this happens if a volunteer has or develops a medical condition that Peace Corps cannot medically accommodate or resolved within forty-five (45) days or less (such as a triple fractured ankle). After the 45 days the Volunteer will be medically separated. Volunteers in Africa typically are sent to South Africa for any major surgeries or illnesses. In extreme cases some are sent straight to Washington DC for the 45 days. If a volunteer manages to heal in the 45 days they can just return back to site and their service is not affected. In the case of separation the volunteer is sent back to America and no longer a part of Peace Corps. Depending on the condition the volunteer can reapply after they heal, depending on the staffs’ decision. In some cases the PCV can be sent back to their original country and possibly site, but more often they have to restart their service going to a different country and going through PST all over again.

Why will it take over 45 days to get better: Unfortunately I messed up my ankle really badly. One fracture is rough but I have 3, and had to have screws/plates put in so the healing time is even longer. It should take about 3 to 4 months for the ankle to bear weight again. The real healing time is going to be after I can put weight on my foot, because of the damage I have to retrain the muscles to walk and do any exercise.
What I’m doing now: I’m currently still in South Africa, waiting until my ankle is healed enough for me to fly back to America. In the mean time I have been to physical therapy a few times which has been interesting. To reduce swelling and to encourage the nerves re-growth the doctors do a variety of weird things to my ankle. This includes using an ultra sound machine and zapping my foot with electrodes for 10 mins at the time. Right now I’m still mostly stuck in bed with my ankle elevated, but I’m slowly hobbling along on crutches for short adventures.

How do I feel about all this: I have to say being bedridden for 3 weeks is one of the most boring and depressing things I have ever dealt with. I’m honestly heartbroken about leaving my village at this point in my service, I had finally been making big progress in my village and felt like I was really doing good work. Unlike a normal RPCV I don’t get the emotional prep time for leaving, this is more like a death it was sudden, unexpected and untimely; I’m mourning over it. I’m also going nuts about leaving my cat behind and am frantically trying to get him sent to America with me.
What am I doing when I’m healed: I honestly am not totally sure what I am going to do. If I get lucky and I heal quickly, I may try to go back to Peace Corps Zambia. But the more I talk to people the longer the healing is looking. I more likely am just going to go to grad school a few years earlier than I planned.

And just for good measure here are some pictures to give you an idea of what is going on with my leg.

Leg After 3 Weeks of Healing:

Original Break:

 Screws and Plates:

Friday, April 27, 2012

Guess Who is Getting Medically Separated?

Alright so I have bad news; my Peace Corps Service is being cut short. On my vacation to Tanzania (which I’ll post pictures of later) I had a silly accident playing volleyball. I went to make a shot (I won btw) and my body went one way and my foot didn’t. I ended up fracturing my ankle in 3 different ways and dislocating the foot.

This injury really illustrated the difference between African medical care and American health care. I was on Zanzibar so it took 8 hours for me to get an ambulance and to get to a hospital. They took X-rays but because of the machine quality only could see the dislocation; the doctor there relocated the foot and wrapped it up and said I’d be fine in 2 weeks (which was very wrong). Thankfully the PCMO for Tanzania came the next day and flew me to Dar Salam to get real X-rays. Where they saw 2 of the fractures and decided I needed surgery. So then I was flown to South Africa. I ended spending a week in the hospital; during surgery number 1 they found a 3rd fracture which required a second surgery. 2 weeks since the break, I now have an ankle made of screws and plates, and am at the Rose Guest House in South Africa waiting until I am well enough for a trans-Atlantic flight.

The estimated healing time is sounding like 6 months until I walk normally and longer before I can rejoin Peace Corps. I’ve been hearing longer and longer times from other people with similar injuries. Peace Corps has decided to send me back to America for good. I’m bummed that my service is ending because of a volleyball game. I didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone, finish my projects, or even pack my stuff. I don’t really know what I’m going to do from this point on.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Helping Zambian Girls GLOW (You can help too!)

Man this past week has been all GLOW related. Myself and another volunteer thought it would be a good idea to have our girls clubs celebrate women’s day together. After a lot of planning and a few minor heart attacks later it actually happened. The event consisted of my girls club (120+ girls), her club (15+ girls), a group of interested girls from another of my schools (9 girls + mentor), 4 Peace Corps volunteers and whoever else wanted to show up. The girls were fantastic; they sang, danced, said poems, and had a debate. I was lucky and managed to wrangle up 3 guest speakers and enough nshima and beans to feed everyone.

Our GLOW 2012 camp is now officially booked for November. We start official planning soon. Which means I’m going to be asking for… DONATIONS! I’ll post more about our needs and the official link to donate to the project after my grant gets approved. GLOW is a fantastic project; it has been the single most rewarding aspect of my Peace Corps service. Girls in Zambia face so many challenges and GLOW helps the rise above it, so they can have a fighting chance to improve their own lives. While we work out the details, have your hearts (and maybe your wallets) open to helping us this year. In the mean time enjoy my video about the fantastic women/girls in my village Lumpampa.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Safari at my House!

Despite what the lion king would have you believe there are not zebra, lions and giraffes running around my house in the bush. I do however get some pretty interesting wildlife.

Black Mamba (The HOLY SHIT snake)

To be fair I get plenty of non death inducing snakes (currently snakes sightings at my house are 12). But I will never forget being cornered in my house by this jerk. I was minding my own business in the middle of a bright sunny day, going in and out of my house cooking when all the sudden right in front of my doorway was this HUGE snake just staring me down. Now I’ve become used to seeing snakes near my house, until recently I had a snake family living under the bricks near my house. I’ve even killed snakes before. But this thing was a beast, I screamed like a little girl, grabbed my hissing cat, slammed my door shut, and hid in my house until I was sure it was gone. I’m convinced it’s somewhere in my yard still…

Seki-Seki (Demon mice)

I’m not sure what they are called in English, but try to imagine a chinchilla and a mouse fused together. This thing is adorable; it also has the capacity to fill me with nightmares. They crawl around my roof at night and make surprisingly loud scratching noised. This isn’t an issue I’m used to that, however they laugh at you. I’m serious they don’t squeak they laugh, it sounds like in the horror movie when evil children laugh at you.

Scorpion Spiders (Kill it with fire!)

There are some big spiders in Africa, but none freak me out more than this guy. Despite not being poisonous they are super aggressive. These guys show up out of nowhere and run at speeds you cannot imagine and if you don’t see them they snap at you! I don’t know what is about them that I hate, but they are the reason I have declared a war against spiders…

Impashi (Not again…)

My house is plagued but these. Imapshi are also known as flesh eating ants. They appear from nowhere and come in the hundred to the thousand and invade. The ants actually march and war on other ants/termites. So every few days, I get thousands of biting ants appearing to attack the termites that live in my trees. The thing about Imapshi is that they don’t care what is in their way. Oh you have a house? That’s nice they will just walk up the walls and continue to go straight through. You have to arm yourself against them and try to deter their path. Your weapons: fire, ash, soapy water, boiling water, or a stick to pound the living crap out of them.

Widow Birds (OMG a dragon!)

I don’t know anything else about these bird other than they are so cool to look at. The first time I saw one I seriously thought it was a little dragon. They have beautiful long tail feathers, and the fly in this really graceful motion that you can help but notice. Supposedly they only look like this when they are in mating season, the rest of the time they look like sparrows.

Other Creatures:

I have plenty of other creatures near my house; I get chickens, goats, cows, dogs, my cat and Iwes (children).

Friday, February 17, 2012

How to Take a Bucket Bath

Having new Peace Corps Volunteers over reminded me of the first time I took a ‘bucket bath’. In PC Zambia, there is generally no running water so bucket bathing is the way to go. I remember before I came here I was somewhat confused about how you can take a bucket bath, so now being an expert I present a short guide.

What you need:

  • Large basin/bucket
  • A cup with a handle
  • Water (My baths are literally one 10L bucket of water.)
  • Eye of the Tiger

How to take a bucket bath:

1. Put on your game face and fetch about 10L of water from you borehole/well/river. (10mins)
2. Start a fire (10-20mins)
3. Heat half the water in a large pot to a slightly hotter than comfortable. (20-40mins)
4. Combine hot and rest of cold water together in basin. (1min)
5. Using your cup, slowly pour water over your body. Make sure to get your hair soaked through, and your entire body wet. (2-5mins)
6. Soap up, shampoo hair (I tend to combine my conditioner and shampoo here). Take care to not get any soap in the water basin the idea is to keep the water clean. (5mins)
7. If you need to shave, fill cup with water and set to side. Shave using conditioner or soap, using cup to rinse razor as need be.
8. Take cup and proceed to rinse, cupping water over your head and parts of body. (5mins)
9. If you lucky you’ll have a bit of water left over, pick up and dump contents over head. You’ll feel like a boss.

Alternatives -

Water Saving Option:

- When first wetting hair and body lean, over basin so water falls back in and doesn’t simply fall on the ground. Or wash feet first, and then step into water basin and cup water over your body.

- Then proceed to soap up and rinse outside of bucket. Your water will still be relatively clean for rinsing. And you’ll save about half or so of the water.

Congrats! You have now just taken a bucket bath.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

One Year in Zambia

So it is officially February 2012, that makes a year of Peace Corps service. Well technically I think I was on the plane on Feb 1st last year, but I’m counting it. To mark the occasion I got to host first site visit for the new RED’s coming in this year. It was a blast, I tried to give them an experience of everything. I took them to school to observe classes and talk to the teachers. My HIV support group came over to talk to them about working in the community. My favorite part though was making a huge Zambian dinner with Nshima, chicken, chiwowa (pumpkin leaves), soya, soupu, and potatoes. My counterpart came over and helped us kill the chicken (well the trainees did) and cook. The people at the dinner included teachers, villagers, my host family, my pcv neighbor, and the new volunteers – it was pretty great. It was really heartwarming to see all the people my village that matter to me in one place sharing a meal. Happy anniversary Zambia.