Taking Togo by Storm

My Peace Corps training and life in Africa.

It's been nearly a month since my last update and now I have to cram all the events of the last four weeks into a few paragraphs on here. First and foremost, Cody's graduation. My little brother is (get your hankies ready) officially a high schooler now. Here is a picture of him getting one of his academic awards (he received several but I think this may be the math medal)
Cody at his Middle School Graduation

On a slightly happier note, my family threw me a big going away party. There was a massive gathering of relatives and all the little ones got to ride the train at Noccalula while the grown ups milled around. Here is a picture of me with everyone except my poor Pawpaw who was taking the picture for us
My people in Alabama

Enough about parties and such though. I need to give a few words of warning/advice to everyone who reads my blog and may intend to comment on it at any point in the future. For the next 27 months I have no political or religious opinions. I may occasionally mention things as they pertain to my life in Togo, religious festivals or political rallies that I run across, but I will NOT give my personal opinions on them and I ask that you not do so either. There are two reasons for this. One is my own personal reason, I don't want silly fights breaking out on my blog between my friends who are from different religious or political backgrounds. The second (and primary) reason is that it makes my work in Togo less safe. If you have anything to say about either of these topics or would like to rant ("Really Charity, I can't believe you let them sacrifice a chicken to protect your home") then please do so privately by emailing me at charityjones89@yahoo.fr

Also, if I don't know you and you've stumbled across my blog on Google or something and you've never commented or made yourself known on here...don't email me...it's creepy and weird

I probably won't update again before arriving in Togo and starting my training. I wish you guys all the best and hope to get lots of emails and letters keeping me up to date on life back here in the states.

Well whoever says it, they're wrong. Last Thursday was spent with the RPCV group in Birmingham at the Mellow Mushroom. There was hummus, a few brightly colored fruity drinks (which I am too young to order *le sigh*) and many many people all either interested in applying to the Peace Corps or going through the process now. Mike Robie (the regional recruiter for Alabama) showed up to answer questions and we got to spend a bit of time discussing how my preparations were going. But, as with any PC event, the main event (i.e. the pizza) could not be enjoyed until those of us already under their mind control were subjected to a bit of humiliation by Dan Fredrick (who, make no mistake, is a singularly wonderful man).

All the nominees stood up first to say their name and the area to which they had been nominated. It was really kind of sad to see an entire line-up of people whose spirits have been broken by the process and think that a few shorts months ago I probably looked just as miserably uncertain when talking about the Peace Corps.

Next the trainees stood up, just myself and one other girl who was (I believe) headed to the Bahamas. We went through the same spiel looking altogether much more cheerful than the other group (we've made our peace with the fact that the Peace Corps owns us and have shiny invitation packets and plane tickets to assuage any lingering unease) and spoke about our individual assignments.

The rest of the evening was spent peeking forlornly at the exit as people queued up in front of us both and the verbal assault began. I had terrible flashbacks to English 402, sitting in the middle of a room with a wild mob (mostly full of people at least 10 years my senior) surrounding me on all sides and shouting "So THAT was the answer to question 3?" and me meekly nodding and hoping to make it out in one piece. The prospective volunteers mostly ate their pizza and drank their beers and chatted with one another in that adorably naive way that said they had no idea what lay ahead of them. The current applicants though, they stared at the two of us as if we had found some magical secret to an easy admittance and were hiding it from the masses. Several of the returned volunteers were watching from the shadows and laughing at our predicament, having been in a similar position many times themselves and I would have shaken my fist at them but I doubt they could have seen it over all the people.

Eventually the questions died off and we both grabbed a piece of pizza and the evening was generally lots of fun. I walked away with sense of great accomplishment as if I HAD actually found some magical answer when in reality it was just lots of perseverance and demanding they not ignore me that got me in. In any case it was nice to see that much interest in something that is possibly one of the most worthwhile programs the U.S. government runs, especially in Alabama where the mention of the Peace Corps usually leads to a lot of vacant stares.

Probably just one more blog before I leave and it'll be a few weeks from now. Look at it like this, I'm preparing you all for the long wait between posts that you'll endure when I'm in Togo :)

So I promised I would pack and post a funny blog about all the drama but the truth is there hasn't been much drama. I few bruised toes from dropping lotion bottles, a broken nail as a reminder of my victory in battle against the stubborn zipper, but other than that surprisingly little to report. I will post pictures though, if for no other reason than so that you can all comment and tell me what an amazing and resourceful packer I am. This is a picture of my pile of junk that I plan to take with me (minus a few small things I still need to pick up):


And here is a picture of my two bags fully packed and zipped up:

bags packed for Togo

I captured the bottom of the chair in both pictures as a size reference. No magic was used in this process though I scraped a few knuckles cramming it all in.

And since I'm sure you're all so anxious to hear all of the goodies in those bags I'll fill in the details. My packing list consisted of:

5 skirts (longer than knee length as Togo is more concerned with modesty than we are)
7 shirts (some button down, some tees and some dressier)
6 sports bras (anything with an under wire dies quickly in Africa)
3 bottles of sunscreen
2 bottles of aloe (for the inevitable sunburns)
2 bottles of lotion (which like all my beauty products is not animal tested)
2 bottles of face moisturizer
3 bottles of 3-in-1 shampoo, body wash and conditioner
1 tube antibiotic ointment
2 bottles mentholated alcohol
tweezers, nail clippers, nail files, etc
yoga mat
travel embroidery case
spare embroidery hoop
7 books (which added probably 15 pounds but is more than worth it to me)
Case of fruit stripes gum (I'm told it's the PC equivalent of cigarettes)
Several bandannas and scarves for tying up my hair
A plethora of pony tail holders and clips
Case of citronella candles
Gallon of unsweetened applesauce (don't judge me...I'll need the vitamins over there)
Quick cooking barley and oats
Dried Fruit
2 washcloths
1 towel
Lots and lots of water flavor packets

I also packed a beautiful windchime to hang at my new house because it makes me happy :)

I have one more small bag for my envelopes and stationary, last minute items, etc. This list is mostly to help others who are searching for packing lists to help them make their own (which is exactly what I did). I'm sure once I'm over in Togo I'll think of a million things I wish I had made room for and I'll whine about each one of them but on the whole I'm pretty freaking proud of what I've gotten ready.

I'm heading to a Peace Corps dinner in B'ham on the 22nd. The regional director for the southeast will be there as will the head of the RPCVs Dan Fredrick. There will also be RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers for those not in the loop) and other nominees waiting to head off to training so my next post will likely be all about our fun times at the Mellow Mushroom.

So I'm in. Completely and totally in. I have a lovely booklet with my country and job assignment and ship out date and all of the things I've been anxiously awaiting to hear about for what seems like an eternity. Getting here wasn't easy (as those of you who have listened to my near constant whining for the last 9 months know) and I'm making this initial post to give some advice to those interested in applying or going through the application process. I knew that the wait would be long, the process difficult, the questions repetitive and endless and if you are seriously considering the Peace Corps I hope you are well aware of all this already. I knew all of it because I had gone to a recruiting seminar (I highly recommend you do the same), read countless blogs and talked with many RPCVs who had all assured me that although the PC was the greatest experience of their lives to date, actually getting in was akin to having half your teeth pulled without the help of Novocaine...and oh how right they were.

I applied in June, was scheduled for a meeting in Atlanta a few short weeks later, and left the office with a tentative nomination and high hopes. "Wow" a much more naive girl with far fewer gray hairs said to herself "what was all the whining about? This whole thing is going so smoothly...I may be cleared in just a couple of months!" I'll give you a moment to stop laughing and compose yourselves. I won't bother giving you the dates each stage was completed or the details of every little hiccup along the way. Hundreds of other volunteers have already taken care of that and the truth is that as soon as you read their blogs you'll see the trend without any help from me at all. The short version is that it takes far too long for most people's liking and there will inevitably be at least two or three problems with your paperwork or references that will require more work on your part.

To be clear, I've never doubted that the Peace Corps was right for me. I acknowledge that fighting through the bureaucratic red tape serves a purpose, namely to weed out those less dedicated before they get sent half-way around the world. That knowledge doesn't make the entire process any less tedious though, and so the best advice I can give you is to not be discouraged. If there is a problem with your physical (like there was with mine) that requires 1 or 2 or 7 additional trips to the doctor look at it as character building. If your placement officer calls you weekly to question everything from your most recent volunteer work to the frowny face you got in K-4 accept that she's merely doing her job and let it double your determination. For all of us who get in there were entire weeks during the application and placement process that we were convinced that the whole thing was bound in tragedy and yet we all made it through in one piece with most of our mind still intact and only a few less handfuls of hair.

That's all the sage advice I'm handing out for today. Tune back in next week to hear all about my packing adventures as I try to squeeze 27 months worth of necessities into two bags.


The opinions expressed in this journal are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the other Peace Corps Volunteers, the Peace Corps itself, or the United States government.


Mailing Instructions

PCT Charity Jones
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 3194
Lomé, Togo
West Africa

Number every letter so I'll know if I miss one
Write par avion/air mail on each envelope
Always try to write in red ink and doodle religious symbols on the envelopes to minimize snooping.

Keep in mind that the minimum delivery time for even plain envelopes is usually 6 weeks so it will be quite a while before I get things and respond to them.

All letters and gifts will be greatly appreciated and help me hang on to my sanity :)


For my parents and other folks who want to send me cool stuff click here

It's really just a whole bunch of books because that's all I can get here and because I'm a dork and it's all I like :)

My new home

My new home
Look how tiny it is