Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Update 2015

Dear family & friends,
What a lovely year it has been, filled with unexpected and delightful changes.  Last year, I left Portland on Thanksgiving to spend December with family, not knowing where the path would lead.

I stayed through mid-February, covering maternity leave for the McCook Central High School assistant librarian, and helping with the one-act play.  Christmas Day 2014 brought a letter from Camp E-Nini-Hassee, an all-girls therapeutic wilderness program in Florida.  Under the Eckerd umbrella, ENH is a sister camp to my former beloved Camp E-Ma-Etu in North Carolina, where I spent 2007-2009.  I have often thought fondly of my days with Eckerd and considered returning in one capacity or another.  I left for Florida in February, only to promptly be given an interview with McKinsey & Company for a San Francisco-based position.  I explored this possibility but ultimately joined the counselor staff in Floral City, Florida, in March.  There, I worked with amazing young women and co-chiefs (as counselors are called) in the Ayukumkus group through mid-July.  Highlights included a two-week river trip on the Suwannee River (my 6th canoe trip with Eckerd), several girls' camp graduations, reading Harry Potter and singing to the girls at bedtime, a "blood and guts" ramble, pow-wow fires, butterflies, dragonflies, fireflies, and noisy armadillos rustling under the tent/cabins at night.

The job was every bit as magical as I remembered, and incredibly demanding.  If I arrived by 8:15 AM on Wednesday, I'd stay until late Sunday night or early Monday morning.  As counselors, we were on duty from 6AM until 10PM.  During the eight nighttime hours, we were still near the girls in campsite, but we were relieved by nightwatch staff to write documentation (~2 hours per day), decompress with a co-counselor, check phone messages, attend to any personal needs, and sleep.  It was invigorating and exhausting.  On our two days off per week, I had adventures with other staff in nearby Inverness or around the region.  Yet without a car, I felt alternatively stranded or overly dependent upon my co-workers' generosity.  I had come in response to a letter seeking short-term assistance, and while it was a fantastic 1/3 of a year, it was not a permanent arrangement.  We explored a teaching position at camp, but ultimately I instead accepted an opportunity to join the student affairs staff at South Dakota State University.

When I visited my sister Beth (now a senior) in Brookings the weekend before departing for Florida, I would have never guessed that I would return five months later to become a Jackrabbit myself.  Halfway into my yearlong contract, I am amazed at how filled my life has become with a family of students.  As a residence hall director, I oversee two halls that consist of three Living Learning Communities (LLCs): Ag/Bio, Healthy Lifestyles, and Honors, with a combined 300 students.  I have 18 student staff members who serve as Community Assistants, and whom I absolutely adore.  I've taken up water aerobics and learned to rock-climb at our awesome Wellness Center, and the commute from my residence hall apartment to my office is an enviable two-minute walk.  Beth generously shares her car with me, but I spend most time on campus.  Living two blocks away from her is awesome, and we manage to live independent lives but still see each other and collaborate fairly frequently.  We're looking forward to co-presenting a talk at the first-ever TedX-SDSU in February.

While I am having a blast in my current life, I continue to explore other paths.  In October, I again took the Foreign Service Officer Test and passed.  With the help of some editing-savvy friends, I revised and submitted my written narratives and will soon learn whether I advance to the third stage of the selection process.  After the exam (and relevant preparation), I joined the cast of Lie, Cheat, and Genuflect, a farce produced by Brookings Community Theatre.  As "Jane," I was onstage for the first time since high school.  It was an enjoyable experience and begins a humble theatre résumé that I hope to build upon in the coming years.  I continue to conduct Harvard College interviews as an alumna, and I'm making progress on personal goals related to music performance, writing, and artwork.

A lovely (and very much intended) consequence of my time in Florida and South Dakota has been the chance to spend many great moments with family.  I was able to attend the Gasparilla coronation and my cousin Emma's graduation, an extended family Easter, and a lively Timmel family reunion.  My mom worked hard to bring all my siblings and nephews to Florida to spend time together prior to the reunion, reaffirming the importance of family connections.  Likewise, back in SoDak, I've had several opportunities to spend time with my family in Salem, Vermillion, and Sioux Falls, including Becky's confirmation, Anne's coronation as Homecoming Queen, and numerous performances and school activities.

The year has been fruitful.  I've had three jobs, added two locations to the places I call home, and widened my family with marvelous youth and colleagues, while clocking many hours with my longtime relatives.  I've been challenged and rewarded.  As I reflect on the past twelve months, I am grateful for their twists and turns.  I look forward to an equally unpredictable 2016.

Here's hoping the year to come is filled with laughter, light, and love.

Andréa Mayrose

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Happy Birthday, Peace Corps!

March 1 marks the 53rd birthday of the U.S. Peace Corps.  It's incredible to me that JFK had created the organization (under the State Department) within about 6 weeks of taking office.  The first volunteers were on the ground in Ghana before the end of the year.

I am lucky to have found an active Returned Peace Corps community in Portland, and it is exciting to learn from others (many significantly my senior) who have served in countries all around the world and who continue to believe in the importance of the Peace Corps and its mission.

This is a picture-of-a picture of two of the wall hangings in the Peace Corps provincial office in Northern Province.  The President of Zambia, elected during my service, and an old school PC poster overlooked many a report-writing and Skyping session in that office.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Christmas Letter, 2013

I'm rather embarrassed at my delinquency in posting anything.  I started writing, in my journal (Peace Corps service made me much more of a handwritten pre-writer), a reflection on my first two weeks in Portland...but before I finished it, I found that three weeks had passed...and then four.  My recent journal entry, a draft of my annual holiday update, will have to suffice for now.

Dear friends,
Happy holidays!  As I write this in December 2013,  I have recently felt snow, for the first time in nearly three years...

2013 has been a year of transitions, of movement, of family and friendship.  The new year broke to laughter and dancing, nine volunteers in the yard of one of our homes, in a village in Kasama district, Zambia, after a memorable 60-mile bike ride the day before.  The first third of 2013 was filled with projects, events, and visits to close out my work and life in Zambia.  From watching the national football (soccer) team in Ndola stadium and meeting many of the players and coaches afterward, to being initiated by women in my village in a coming-of-age ceremony with two fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, to our village HIV & family planning event, to having my little sisters pile into my bed for a last-night sleepover before I left, teary-eyed, my village for the last time...those last few months in Zambia were filled with beautiful moments.  Farewells came and went, and I found myself on a train to Tanzania...a plane to the United States...a bus to South Dakota, via North Carolina...a car back to Florida, via Wisconsin, Illinois, and North Carolina...and a plane to Boston.

Nine weeks after leaving Zambia, I was able to empty the suitcase and put my things in a drawer.  The summer embraced me in familiarity--Harvard's campus, bustling with high school students and my 17-member undergraduate staff, new and old colleagues with whom I deepened both professional and personal relationships, new streets and old in Cambridge & Boston to explore and enjoy--but it, too, passed. 

I asked my heart where it fancied to journey, and it answered Alaska...so off I went to work, however briefly, for Alaska Wildland Adventures, at two remote lodges.  Though I initially entertained staying in Alaska, I decided that this was a time for reconnecting, and once the people who had drawn me north left, Alaska was going to become too cold, dark, and far away to be alone.

So I returned to South Dakota, realizing that in two and a half years, I had only spent a few weeks with my siblings, and that my lack of tethers gave me a wonderful opportunity for bedtime-story-reading, volleyball game and cross country-meet watching, substitute teaching, and bonding with the kinfolk back in my hometown.  While I do not feel that South Dakota is the place I want to build my life, I always enjoy going home, and I had a wonderful six weeks living in my mom's basement spending time with my family while searching for the next job and place to which to venture.  I also prepared for my goal of having one of my brothers move with me and complete his senior year in a new location.  During the process, I found a very temporary camp-counselor-like position at a co-curricular camp in Wisconsin, and the ten-day interruption this provided allowed me not only to meet some students and teachers from Chicago and fellow staff at House in the Wood, but also to see 9 different friends in Chicago and Madison en route home.

On Halloween, I got the call that a position was most likely waiting for me at Mediation Case Manager, which administers the Oregon Foreclosure Avoidance Program on behalf of the state Department of Justice, pending an in-person interview.  Five days later, I was on a plane, two suitcases filled with essential belongings.  Four days after that, I had signed a job offer and a lease on a lovely little apartment, and I rushed to Goodwill and Trader Joe's to buy a blanket, pillow, pot, spoon, and groceries--the basics for my first night in my new home.

Eight weeks after my arrival, I feel...really great.  I feel comfortably settled into my house (though I'm still buying things) and job (though I'm still learning things).  I'm starting to have people I call friends...even close friends.  Learning that my brother was not going to join me (due to legal opposition from one parent) was an adjustment; I had structured my entire life at this time to support this goal.  However, I've embraced the opportunities that this change allows.  I've visited a lot of bars and coffeehouses, laughed and flirted and mingled.  Socially, the atmosphere is laden with possibility; Portland is full of youth and energy and ideas, just as I had heard (and hoped).  At the same time, I'm finding that though I didn't plan to live alone, and probably will not for long, I have loved my moments of solitude.  In one way, it's a part of my life in Zambia that I can preserve here.  Recreating aspects of my Zamlife that I loved, and adapting them to shape my life here, is something I hope to continue in the coming months and years.

As I approach my thirtieth birthday, a central question of this time of transition has been what am I building? Nearly eight years out of college, I have experience...yet I remain surrounded by open doors and paths untraveled.  I sense that graduate school emerges nearer in my future, but I'm still toying with what sort of classroom I want to enter.  I recognize that military service is still a possibility, and I'm deliberating how entering into service now might take a different shape than it does for those who enlist in their...youthier youth.  It's an exciting time: I'm old enough to bring a degree of insight to whatever path I venture down next, but young enough that many avenues are yet open.

Both the short- and long-term future are rich with options, and sitting alone in my apartment, I consider all the things a small city offers me.  I can take a class at a community college--Spanish, art, theatre, computer programming, EMT certification.  I can join the Peace Corps community monthly book club and writing workshop.  I can spend time drawing, painting, creating, and learning to read Tarot in my living room.  I can join any of many "young professionals" networking groups or Meetups in the area.  I can buy a membership at a fitness facility, or find a dance club/class, or explore something new, like tae kwon do.  If my brother isn't coming, I can rent out my room, or host friends and couchsurfers, or move into a bigger, shared house when my lease ends in March.  I can settle in deeply to Portland, or take advantage of three different summer job opportunities, or continue exploring career opportunities for the long-term future, while still investing my all in my current job.

In short...my life this past year has been composed of many delightful mini-chapters, each distinct, each introducing the next just as it draws to a close.  I anticipate a continuation of this story structure in the near future; the stillness I feel amidst the ongoing change is not apathy but rather contentment at the pace and manner in which my life is unfolding.  My itchy feet remain firmly planted in possibility.

I am grateful, too, to acknowledge the incredible blessings that this year has brought me.  My family and friends in Zambia, who ushered in the new year and bid me farewell, who remain close in heart if ever so distant.  My extended family, many of whom I got to see for the first time in years: my maternal side at my cousin Matthew's wedding, and paternal side at my grandmother's funeral.  My immediate family, gathered in one place for the first time since December 2010, including my brother Michael, whose much-awaited return from his tour with the Army in Afghanistan came none-too-soon in November.  My four nephews, with whom I had a renewed chance to become acquainted (and vice versa) this year, even if a certain seven-year-old among them likes to admonish me, "You should be married by now."  And the gamut of friends across the country, with whom I got to reconnect, both in many of the places I've been living and en route here and there, from the first month of my arrival to last night.  I'm grateful for the employment I've had of all different sorts, keeping me busy, teaching me skills, easing my transition from Peace Corps work, and making my 2014 taxes the most complicated yet, with five different states and overseas residence for which to account.

This letter comes post-Christmas, rather than before.  Another new year has broken--this one in a much different way than the last.  I felt more than a small bit of nostalgia for what I left behind, for moments like that one, celebrating at midnight under the brilliant African sky.  I know for certain, however, that I've neither left behind Africa forever nor denied myself a promising horizon.  I am grateful for 2013 and all of the incredible people who filled it with joy, and I am excited for all the fruit that 2014 will bear.

Peace and love,

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tell the ones that need to know...We are headed north

(written 11 September 2013)

Today was my fourth time in the Ted Stevens International airport in the past month.  How quickly the foreign becomes familiar.

The month began with a week at the backcountry lodge: kayaking one fair evening, a tiny hike up Cottonwood Trail, although split-shift hours didn’t permit me to make it all the way to the tundra.  A night of merriment and costumes in a staff tent-cabin crawl.  Hastily-made arrangements to be present for the funeral of my last grandparent back in South Dakota, and an invigorating return to Alaskan air. 
Round two of this foray into the country's largest state: I spent a night in the company’s Anchorage house, used for folks in transit, rode down to Cooper Landing (with one of the employees who’d most made me feel at home that first night I arrived) and to Seward with the Operations Manager and RPCV (returned Peace Corps volunteer) who had conducted my phone interview in July.  After a laid-back evening in the port town of Seward, I boarded a boat for the four-hour, relaxed journey to the Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, another of the parent company's remote locations for Alaskan getaways.  A cold sea breeze accompanied us as we saw sea otters, harbor seals, orcas, humpback whales, puffins, eagles, and more wildlife in Resurrection Bay.  A glacier calved as we bobbed alongside it, keeping enough distance to maintain safety without compromising the view.

We reached the lodge, and I got aquick tour and whirlwind introduction to the 20+ members of staff.  The next ten days were filled with much of the same work as I’d been doing at KBL—washing dishes, folding sheets, preparing cabins for guest occupancy—but in a different location, with different views, a different vibe, a different staff community.  The “new girl” feeling never quite wore off, but I was welcomed all the same.  Kayaking and canoeing in the lagoon, stargazing on the beach, hiking up to the base of Pedersen Glacier and to the ridge that offered spectacular 360 degree views, and reading a John Grisham novel by candlelight filled my off-time hours. 

As we wrapped up the season, there were nights of singing along with talented renditions of Avett Brothers music by talented manipulators of piano, guitar, banjo, tambourine, and cow-hide drum.  ("Pack the car and write the note.  Grab your bag and grab your coat.  Tell the ones that need to know.  We are headed north.")  Games of Apples to Apples, Celebrity, and Big 2.  Stitching to help one guide finish her homemade bridesmaids’ gifts as she prepares to wed another staff member next month.  More costumes and drinking and dancing.  And laughter—so much laughter.

Reverse the trail: boat to Seward, shuttle to Cooper Landing, then to Anchorage; taxi to the airport.

And somewhere in there…I did what I came to do.  Had the conversation I flew over 3,300 miles to have.  Watched the Kenai rush by and the sun dip below the trees and the last embers of the fire die out.  Felt the steady rhythm of the rocking chair—how I love rocking chairs.  (If only I had succeeded in convincing YasiProsper, my carpenter, to learn how to craft one in Masamba.  I may never have left.)

Felt the warmth of friendship.  A closeness I still don’t know how to explain.  The certainty that the story is still being written.  Though goodbye was painful, I know it’s not forever.

I came to Alaska to see not just an old penpal, but to experience for myself the place and community that he’s admired so much in his writing, lauding such praises as, “Alaska gives me more than any place I’ve ever been.”  In venturing north to glimpse this feast, I found myself nourished by it as well.

 Because through the few weeks of this Alaskan adventure, there were conversations upon conversations about the future.  There’s something empowering about a community full of dynamic, seasonal workers, who are well-acquainted with instability, who believe in the power of the flow, who trust that everything will work out for the best, and it’ll probably be a darn good ride along the way.  It’s amazing to stand in a kitchen overa skillet of eggs and say, “My plan?  Well, that pretty much ended last night.  Today I’m deciding where to buy a plane ticket,” and be affirmed by a response of, “Cool!  Me too!”

I often feel a bit like the little bird in the children’s book who asks the other animals, “Are you my mother?” in a search to figure out where he belongs; like Ellen DeGeneres in that old commercial with Beyoncé:  “Are you my people?”  I don’t know if I totally fit in at this Alaskan company.  These folks are far more outdoorsy than me; I always enjoy camping, but the idea is sometimes less appealing when I have a bed in front of me, and perhaps my call-to-adventure side is a bit muted by my laziness side.  I don’t have a lot of technical skills in outdoor activities; by contrast, this staff includes folks who are among the best young kayakers and skiiers in the country, and many of them have done extended through hikes on such endurance-testers as the Appalachian Trail.  The conversations about travel and hiking and national parks were so different—both in what was said and what wasn’t—from those I had with my colleagues and friends in Cambridge.

But still.  There were many things about this environment, these people, that reminded me of my Peace Corps experience and fellow volunteers.  There were laughter, encouragement, hugs, long talks about the lack of a plan so many of us have.  There were moments of introspection and clarity.  I’ve decided not to stay in Alaska, at least for now, and my first flight of the day touches down in Seattle shortly.

Yesterday, a few of us explored Anchorage a bit, particularly enjoying the art and history and children’s imaginarium we found at the museum.  We walked home along a Cook Inlet trail.  As we walked along, I looked at the mountains and thought, I could have stayed here in Anchorage this winter, and been happy.”

But of course.  Happiness can be found everywhere.  My Peace Corps replacement, a young woman from Oklahoma, arrived in our village last week.  My home has become hers.  My family and community: hers now.  I’m off to keep creating new ones.  Headed north, south, east, or west...I know I'll always find a Brooklyn that will take me in.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Next Step Begins

(written 17 August 2013)

Just under four months since I finished my service in the Peace Corps, and I find myself again sleeping under a mosquito net, waking up with a keen awareness of the temperature outside, blowing out a candle in my electricity-free, simple cabin, using an outhouse, and marveling at the beauty all around me.

I'm keeping house at a lodge on the shores of Skilak Lake, on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska.  I've been here in the Northern USA for about four days--enough to remind me both how uncomfortable transitions can be and how quickly we settle in to new environments.

What brought me here?  Ten letters, more or less, written over five and a half years...one question that cried out louder than any others.  The urging of my heart to be where it felt it needed to be.  As I journeyed from Boston to Minneapolis, and Minneapolis to Anchorage, I realized, my soft landing is over.

Harvard--my Cambridge home--felt like a moment, begun and finished in one seductive bat of an eye.  It was all I hoped and anticipated it would be: students, staff, colleagues old and new.  Street musicians' melodies wafting in my dorm room window, more pizza and ice cream than one could ever need, endless amounts of food savored under the magnificent chandeliers of Annenberg dining hall.  It was new relationships and old ones taken to new depths.  It was sculling on the Charles, talking into wee hours, alternately being silly with and scolding high school students.

Come early August, the fairy tale ended, as it always must.  The students moved out, the glass slipper lay idle on the stairwell as I fought another round of the recurring battle with my suitcases.  The trip included, as a bonus, a night in Minneapolis with my high school classmate Angie, who had switched apartments since I last saw her (two weeks prior to my Peace Corps departure).  An icy plane ride provided glimpses of breathtaking Alaskan scenery below.

My arrival in Alaska was simultaneously warm (the people) and chilly (the weather).

Imagine your first embrace with a friend you've not seen in so long you've forgotten his face.  Imagine surroundings that are new but remind you of places you've loved.  Imagine becoming roommates--even temporarily--with the stranger who picked you up at the airport.  Imagine knowing that right at this moment is where your plan ends.

And the real transition--from the Peace Corps to the unknown, the next step--begins.

Back at camp in North Carolina, we used to sing karaoke to The Fray's How to Save a Life.  I hear a particular line in my head all the time, with one word change: "Had I known how to make a life."  I once rejected the notion that I am an academic, and was gently corrected by a professor that I can call myself one or not, but it doesn't make me any less a scholar.  I haven't figured out what I'd like to pursue as advanced training; it's fluctuated among ideas including filmmaking, fine arts, disaster relief, crisis intervention, Master's and PhD's degrees and biscuits for all.  But if nothing else, I think I'm currently and unavoidably a scholar of the shapes and rhythms of human life.  I'm fascinated by what fills our days in various roles and locales.  I'm intrigued by how much my rhythm can change...by what stays the same...by what that means about me.  Is who I am determined by what I do?  If so, when what I do changes, what of me stays the same?

For now...the air is crisp, the mosquitos hungry, the lodge cozy, the kitchen always filled with myriad delights for both nose and tongue.  My hands feel the soreness and fatigue of dishes and cleaning.  My body slips into deep sleep at night, and in quiet moments throughout the day, I pause, rocking back and forth in a rocking chair, keeping time to the lapping of the water on the shores of Skilak Lake.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Reentry: One Week

(written 15 May 2013)

I've been back in country for one week.

My first impressions of America:
 - Stairs are common, and my knees still creak.
 - The post office staff is remarkably efficient, they don't debate shipping costs, and they possess supernatural powers that allow them to transport a package from Florida to Alaska in a mere 4 days.
 - More water is run down the sink for no reason than is needed for an entire day's use in the village.
 - Paper towels are extremely wasteful but so handy that they're used ubiquitously.
 - Houses are enormous, with vast amounts of wasted space.
 - Mid-size cars have grown and are practically the size of an SUV.  Everyone drives the same non-grey, nondescript color.
 - Food is unbelievably good.  The variety is staggering.  Yet many people eat mostly non-food or highly-processed food, both expensive and poor in nutrients, which is confounding given the availability of delicious nutritious options.
 - Eating out appears to be the status quo.
 - Air conditioning makes every place too cold.
 - Many people spend the amount of money that would put a child in my village through grade 8 or 9 for an entire term (and the absence of said amount prevents many from enrolling) on a meal or an outfit without batting an eye.  I have done so numerous times already, though I cringed a little inside.
 - iPhones have taken over the nation.  They do appear to be pretty handy.
 - Cars can now turn on without the driver removing the key from his/her pocket.
 - Sidewalks are every bit as wonderful as I recall.
 - The current dress styles are not particularly flattering on my body.

and perhaps most importantly,
 - Family stay family despite years of absence.

Reflections on myself:
 - I have a strong sense, influenced by Zambia, of what kind of family lifestyle I do and don't want my (future) kids to have.
- Writing letters to people I care about is still a priority.
 - Not having my own phone (and hence not knowing for certain the date, time, or anybody's latest plans) is pretty nice, and I may stretch that out as long as possible.
 - I almost miss nshima.
 - My body still hasn't quite figured out a rational sleeping/waking schedule.
 - I'm getting back into some "American" habits far too quickly, even if I resisted them the first couple of days.
 - Constructing sentences in Mambwe is already a challenge.  Caipa sana.
 - I'm scared.  Of forgetting.  Of losing my language, my connections, my values.  Of Zambia drifting away and becoming a hazy phase in my life's timeline.
 - I hope that, despite our distance and potentially years (ahead) of absence, my Zambian family will also stay family.

A Transition

(written 8 May 2013)

It's 11:25 Eastern Time, and I'm an RPCV--a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.  Here in Dulles airport in D.C., awaiting my connecting flight, things feel surprisingly normal.  The international flights were luxurious, of course; hot running water in the lavatories--imagine!  I didn't have hot running water in my house.  I didn't have cold running water in my house--or any water at all, unless I pulled it from the well and carried it in myself.  Cheese and chocolate at every meal!  Delightful.  I was overwhelmed initially by the staggering number of movies, music, and other entertainment options, but I barely slept as a result, too enamored with the sights and sounds of my personal screen and plastic-wrapped headphones.

Now I'm home, back on American property, even if my feet have not yet touched American soil.  My Peace Corps journey is over in some ways, but because the 3rd Goal (teaching Americans about the host country of my service) is ongoing (hence the reason PCVs are not "former" or "ex" but simply "Returned") I'm not in a hurry to hang up the hat quite yet  I had more things I wanted to write: about meeting the Polish priest to whom much of the credit for anything translated into Mambwe is due, about working in the district library and my love affair with books, about the meaning of luxury in the village and more.  Perhaps I'll still write some essays on these topics.  Perhaps their absence will be a reflection of the many things I wanted to do in the village and didn't.

Nonetheless, it seems dreadfully negligent to reassume my life in the USA with a blog that ends in midair, last updated over two months prior to my Close-of-Service (COS) date.  Likewise, I've done a poor job of including photos in this forum.  Thus I've decided to try and address both deficiencies efficiently.  Hence, behold my photo summary of Peace Corps: Community Exit (the last 2.5 months).

I focused this term on finishing up my work, trying to spend less time at school and more in the community, both for my sanity and to make up for a less balanced approach in the past. Rather than solo- or co-teaching a class, I worked with 7th graders doing remedial and supplementary reading.  This was really rewarding, and because we worked in the staff office, many teachers saw my literacy instruction methods and copied them.  Skills transfer!  I also made last visits to several of the schools in my zone.

The signpost for Twime, the school up the mountain which is in transition from being community-run to being a full-fledged government school.

I finished a preliminary organization of the district library's collection (a year in progress) and worked to create links between people at the local district provincial and national levels who can drive it forward.

Working with the clinic to help with Under 5 baby-weighing and health lessons and with a community committee to organize a VCT (Voluntary Counselling and Testing for HIV status) and family planning event spiced up my life.  Moving outside of the school's structure helped me to get a taste of the types of work many other PCVs do and helped prepare my community for the possibility that they get a Volunteer in the future whose project focus is on health rather than education.
An outdoor Under 5 session at the Masamba Rural Health Centre
Women were offered a variety of family planning services through partner organization Marie Stopes International

Pupils presenting poems and dances at our VCT event
Pupils wait out a rainshower in a room set aside for HIV/AIDS information.
 While efforts to organize a community library were not as successful as I hoped, I was able to leave behind books sourced from my family and the Canadian High Commission to start a community library shelf in one of the village shops.
Yes, that's my college classmate on the cover of a magazine joining our humble library shelf.  I found the juxtaposition of our two lives amusing.

Band practice at the Roman Catholic church.  The instruments are made by hand; guitar heads are made out of old X-rays.
I also tried to focus on having more time to experience Zambia.  To reacquaint myself with my role as Learner.  I pounded homemade peanut butter, sifted cassava meal, learned to use a treadle sewing machine, helped repair the thatch on my roof, hung out at the dorms, wandered the village, sat in on a church band practice, and sat more with my family and others.

Thatching my house
Sifting cassava meal
Improving the aesthetics of my house with a new coat of mud along the bottom exterior
Learning how to use a treadle sewing machine with my friend Jane
Jane happens to be much more patient with the sewing machine than am I
Getting my hair done by grade 8 and 9 pupils at the girls' dorm

The mosquito net longevity study (no photos allowed due to study protocol) gave many opportunities to interact with the community outside of my normal routine, as well.

Making nshima in a showmaker (big pot)  for my last village party
The last three months witnessed another PCV/family village party complete with dancing around a bonfire (thanks to very determined efforts by many), as well as to visits from other PCVs to my site and last visits by me to some of their sites, as well.   I was particularly privileged to take part in a traditional (if watered-down to accomodate our mizungu sensibilities) Mambwe women's initiation ceremony in my village with two close PCV friends.
Lunch with the family on party day (That's my friend Jessi, not me)
PCVs hanging out as I begin the long process of packing and giving things away
Group dinner at the NoPro house with PCVs, including our three incoming agricultural Volunteers
Mambwe initiation ceremony

Coming of age as Mambwe women

Tea at Tyler's.  He is my fellow South Dakotan, a PCV who lived about 150km SE of me for my last 7 months.

Then came the goodbyes.
To pupils, family, friends.  A last night in Mpulungu, Easter Sunday morning contemplation in the old church built years ago by the London Mission Society.  A day saying goodbye to Mbala and many of the people and businesses that have been important to me there.
Easter morning at Niamkolo church

Mpulungu at dusk
Lake Tanganyika

The Catholic church clock tower.  The third side's clock didn't say the correct time, either.
Box 420083 has brought me love from the U.S., Norway, Ireland, Antarctica, and beyond
My best friend and counterpart at Masamba, hard at work in Mbala during his term break from the University of Zambia
One of my hardest goodbyes--brothers Joseph and Davey (and unknown friend), living independently in Mbala while attending Grade 10.
My Zambian brother Davey in a shirt that says U.S. ARMY, holding a snap of my biological brother Michael, a private in the real U.S. Army.

The Mbala/Mpulungu junction at the head of the Kasama-Mbala tarmac road

Goodbye to the community at a farewell party thrown by my school, and to the pupils through my favorite circle dance with a chorus of "Bashana bashana bashana...," and assemblies.

Last moments--ordinary ones--with my Zambian family, the joy of my Peace Corps service.

Photos of family, both American and Zambian, on my sitting room wall

Packing up and giving away.  Boarding a 7:30 a.m. bus with a few belongings in the trailer in back.  Sobbing the first 40 minutes of my two-hour ride to Kasama.

My main host family: me, Ireen, Davey, Sarah, YanaSam, Meleby, and YasiSam Bwalya.

Then goodbye to the rest of Peace Corps.   A night at Chishimba Falls--our Northern Province treasure--and a costume party with most of the Volunteers from the province.  A quote on the wall, as is the custom for every PCV when s/he closes service, and an official ring-out in the PC/Z headquarters in Lusaka.

Officially ending my Peace Corps service at our office in Lusaka

Then I embarked on a holiday (vacation) to Tanzania: 3 days on a train, a Vespa "disaster" in Stonetown, healing on the glorious beaches of Zanzibar, two 20-hour bus rides sandwiching an incredibly restorative visit to parents of an old friend, and an imbasela trip to the Serengeti (the most spectacular natural celebration of Africa's flora and fauna I've ever seen).

Then, goodbye to Mama Africa, for now.  I'll be back, though I don't know when, why, or how.  I'm grateful for the Peace Corps.  In the D.C. airport, I encountered a group of young, green, army recruits bound for basic training.  As we rode the shuttle to our departure terminals, I told them of my own soldier brother, currently in Afghanistan.  I wished them well, and I hoped that they believe in what they're doing, just as I hope for Michael.

I didn't always know, and still don't, if what I did as a Peace Corps Volunteer was good.  If I made the most of it.  If we are right to be there in the way we are.

I do know, however, that I believe in the ideals of Peace Corps.  I believe in my community, and I believe in my family.  I have done my level best.  These initial hours in the U.S. have felt more familiar to me than I might have expected, but it is, after all, my home.  Nonetheless, Zambia is my home, too, and I know that I will miss it every day.