Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Packing, computer shopping, french class

Reading the blogs of other volunteers who have served or are serving is proving to be more helpful than I could have believed.  Not only is there a ton of advice to be had on what to bring, etc, but there's also a wonderful validation that all of my mixed emotions are in fact normal.  Waiting to leave is like a roller-coaster - one minute I'm so excited and inspired that I can hardly stand it, the next minute I'm crying because I still haven't finished getting everything on my packing list and the house needs to be packed to move to Arizona by the weekend and I'm not prepared for French class tomorrow and I haven't done Rosetta Stone yet today and I really just want to go back to Massachusetts.

Admittedly I do wish I had a little more time to prepare, although that would likely lead to the temptation to put it off anyway. 6 weeks just seems like so little time to learn about a country and culture where you're going to be living for the next 2 years, on top of trying to get all of your affairs in order and maybe brush up on some French (still need to give Mom power of attorney so that she can file my taxes while I'm gone, should find out how to do that).  I'd like to go back to my temp job that I started before leaving for the wedding, but I'm starting to doubt that I can.  He had me working 1-7pm, and frankly I know I won't feel like packing once I finally get home around 8, but I don't really get much packing done in the morning before I go to class either (I leave by 9:30am, and wouldn't have time to go home between class and work).  Plus the great move south starts next week, leaving little time to work anyway.  But it might be worth a try - I'll send an email tomorrow and ask.

On a more positive note, French class today was pretty nice. I'm finally realizing that I had a pretty great education at SMA, and I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't see it sooner (hindsight, as they say, is 20/20). The girls in class sigh and roll their eyes when Madame pulls out a bag of toiletries for the lesson today on bathroom items, but I see that she's tried to find something more interesting and engaging than simply reading out the labels on the textbook drawing.  Her insistence on only speaking French is sometimes exaggerated and comical, and her directions to re-write over vocab words in another color pen seem silly and odd, but her reasoning is sound - the only way we will learn to think in French is to be forced to speak it, and re-writing over words forces you to focus on every letter in order to remember the proper ending of the conjugation.

On the other hand, my motivation is clearly different from all the students around me.  They are finishing the last semester of their high school language requirement - they may enjoy French and want to go on the summer trip this year for a month to France, but many people in France speak English almost fluently - if you want to say something complex, you'll be able to get the point across.  In fact, I had a hard time practicing my French because everyone wanted to practice their English with me!  But now I'm sitting in class laughing at the image of myself trying to convey in sign language to people that speak absolutely no English that I'm in need of toothpaste or deodorant or shampoo, grateful for the reminder of basic vocabulary that I haven't seen in over 5 years.  I even re-learned a little history about the Edict of Nantes and the Catholic/Protestant (Huguenot) conflicts in 1500s Europe - less useful but still interesing.

After visiting some other former teachers in the lower and middle schools (and being invited to sit in on a 7th grade social studies lesson - I'd forgotten that teachers could be so enthusiastic and engaging, and that the Republican party started as the Northern liberal anti-slavery platform - when did that change?), I went on a computer searching adventure.  I stopped in BestBuy, but was still unclear as to which computer would best suit my...unique...needs, so after a trip to the library for some quick online research (very confusing and unhelpful) I settled on calling the support lines for Toshiba and Asus to see if they could help.  The Asus website was beyond difficult to navigate and I was on hold for close to 20 or 30 minutes, but their computers seem to not only have longer battery lives but also cheaper replacement batteries (to be taken with a grain of salt, of course.  It may take the battery 14 hours to run down if you open the computer and leave it alone on the counter, but since I plan to *use* the processor at least a little bit I'm guessing 14 hours is a bit optimistic).  Still, the Toshiba is a little less expensive, more highly rated by Consumer Reports and cnet.com, and I was only on hold with them for 10 or 15 minutes and the phone number was actually easy to find on the website. ;)  Customer service still matters! (sorta)  The take-away lesson has been that most netbooks are  essentially the same in power/memory/performance and since the service warranty won't matter if I can't get my laptop back to them, battery life seems to be the most critical factor.

After our electronics adventure, my poor friend Caitlin got to sit and knit her sweater-vest while watching me attempt to pack up my drawers.  If I only have to pack my own room I suspect it won't take me all that long (3 drawers down, 4 drawers, a closet and some bookshelves to go), but it might be polite and all to help with the rest of the house.  And I still need to find time to finish checking off my Peace Corps packing list - still need the computer, some kind of charger (solar? hand crank? for just a cell phone or one big enough for a laptop?), another camera battery, a voltage transformer rated for computers, a sleeping pad, consider exchanging my mosquito tent-shaped net for a mosquito tent with poles (more expensive but clearly more useful), more skirts (I only have 1 besides a "nice" skirt!) and a more formal shirt for nice occasions, some kind of shorts/capris to wear under skirts especially while biking, a cheap hiking backpack for traveling to and from Burkina (looking at Guerrilla Packs on amazon - anyone have good/bad experiences?), and a handful of other things that I think I could normally find in our house but have probably been packed away and may need to be purchased anyway (a kitchen knife and sharpener, a non-stick skillet).  Whew!

Somewhat related - a friend posted this on my facebook wall and it really made me think about my own motivations for the Peace Corps.  I think it makes a lot of good points.  The title makes it sound like it's trying to dissuade people from going, but it just points out 5 reasons that people often cite for wanting to join and talks about how a 2 year commitment requires a little more than just those basic reasons.  Something to think on.

Oh! And today I found out that I'm going to be staging in Philadelphia! Starting to wonder if that's where everyone goes to, or just West Africa volunteers.  Maybe I'll have an hour or so for family in the area to come say hello?

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