Sunday, July 16, 2017

Race #3: Hearts 911 Trail Race

Race Website:
Race Location: Flagstaff, AZ
Race Distance: 10km (actually 6.4 miles)
Finish Line Time: Unknown
Strava Time: 1:42:30
Elevation Gain: 813 ft
Max Elevation: 7,402 ft

This was not an easy race by any means.

When I originally signed up for this race, I signed up for the almost-11 miler. It seemed like a good idea at the time, especially because it's just over half of what I will be running at the beginning of next month. However, a number of factors inspired me to drop down to the 10k once I reached registration this morning. I ran this race pretty slowly, so that's one of the reasons I'm glad I dropped down.

What was tough about this race?

1) The Elevation

Flagstaff is "at elevation." What this means for those that don't speak in runner parlance terms is that it is higher than usual for someone like me, who lives in Phoenix. Flagstaff sits at an elevation of just under 7,000 ft compared to Phoenix's just over 1,000 ft. What does this mean for somebody who runs mostly in Phoenix? Its makes running harder. See this article for more on that.

The first mile or so of the run was difficult until I felt myself get into a rhythm. I actually felt pretty good until I landed the wrong way on a rock, knocking myself off balance, which started the first twinge of discomfort in an old injury (see #3 for more).

2) The Terrain

Lots of rocks, a bit of mud, and a section with a lot of sand. All of these can make it harder to run.

Some parts had some great tree cover, but other parts were in the scorching sun.

3) An Old Injury

This was the worst part for me. There is literally nothing like finding a steady (if slow) pace, feeling good, and passing people who pushed themselves too hard too fast, only to have to slow down because you land the wrong way and your body is threatening to put you on crutches if you push it.

A little over 2 years ago, I was running my second race ever in Sihanoukville, on the coast of Cambodia. I was used to training on a flat road, and the roads in this town were rolling - up a hill, down, then up another hill, and so on. I was feeling good, really pushing myself because I was running with friends, when my left hip flexor started to feel a bit of discomfort. I pushed on, thinking my body would eventually adjust to the hills - after all, this was a 10k, nothing too long. 4 kilometers in, I could barely walk, let alone run, and when I hit the halfway point, they had to take me back to the start like in an ambulance, tears streaming down my face from both the pain and the embarrassment. I ended up on crutches for the better part of a week - I had strained my hip flexor.

Today, the first bit of discomfort started again about halfway through, after I bombed down a hill and landed/slide a bit on a rock, so even though my lungs felt fine, I slowed down to a walk. I do not want to injure myself again, especially when I can recognize the signs as they happen. I tried to run again a few times, and even managed some uphills without any discomfort, but downhills were getting really painful.

I'm currently still in a bit of pain, but I walk, so I'll consider that a win.

4) Yesterday's Hike

Yes, you are supposed to rest before a race - what runners call "a taper." Yes, I decided not to do that. And yes, I paid for it. My legs felt a bit like jell when I woke up this morning, but I pushed through anyway. I knew I was going to have trouble today when my legs wouldn't stop shaking halfway back up the trail yesterday.

I don't regret it though. I hiked a bit down the Grand Canyon yesterday and it was glorious, beautiful, and breathtaking. I wouldn't trade that for anything. I haven't been before, and I don't know what I'll get the chance to go again.


My takeaways:

This race was great, but difficult, and I'm glad I did it.

Stay tuned for entries about my first 2 races, and maybe even an entry about why I run.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Run 28 Before 29: My Newest Goal

Again, I apologize as it has been awhile since I last posted. However, I have something new and exciting to write about, and it will definitely have me writing quite a bit over the next year.

I'd been tossing around the idea of running 28 races after I turned 28, mostly because the older I get, the harder this is going to be to achieve. On my birthday, I decided to go for it.

As of right now, I've already run 2 races and I have another race coming up tomorrow. I'm probably signing up for another race next weekend, and then I'm already signed up for a 31km race at the beginning of August, bringing my total to 5 of 28 races by approximately 10 weeks out from my birthday, which means my timing is good for now.

More exciting news: I'll be attending graduate school starting in August! I will be getting my Masters of Public Health from Columbia University in NYC, meaning I'm moving once again. Perhaps I will blog about that trip as well, since I'm driving cross country. It's been 6 years since I made the cross country trip on the train, and that was heading away from my time at undergrad, so this almost feels like a good book-end to that.

I'd also like to write an update comparing my time in Peace Corps to my time as an AmeriCorps VISTA, which will be wrapping up on August 12th. This past year has absolutely flown by!

With that being said, I should probably get some sleep before my race tomorrow.

I hope you're having a great day!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

2 Years Is Long (and So Short!)

It's been almost 2 years since I posted on this blog, and so much has happened since then. I figured that now would be the perfect time to get this up-and-running again, for a number of reasons. However, the main reason is simple: I forgot much of what I had put down here already, so I want to create a blog of memories, so-to-speak. Also, a writing instructor reached out to me to ask if he could use one of my Peace Corps essays in his class on how to craft a good one, and I couldn't say no. I was flattered!

I want to tell you all what I've been doing since I last wrote, but I don't want this to be an extremely long post, so I'll break it down by date and a brief description. Here we go:

  • March 2015 - August 2015: Finished up Peace Corps service, applied to a bunch of jobs, then decided that I wanted to stay in Cambodia - no extensive traveling after service, no heading home, just staying and living. Not even a week after my service ended, I started a new position. 
  • August 2015 - July 2016: Living and working in Phnom Penh. During this time I had two jobs, discovered that what feels like failure can lead to new opportunities, and I figured out that, at this point in my life, I'm not the biggest fan of working in the private sector, but I still absolutely love teaching. I was in a moto accident with accompanying injuries, I went home to be a bridesmaid, and I made the choice to move back to the US because it felt like the right time.
  • July 2016 - August 2016: Funemployment, or "My new position starts in 3 weeks, this is the second time in less than a year that I haven't had a job to go to every day, and existential dread."
  • August 2016 - Present: I'm an AmeriCorps VISTA (because I can't get enough of service, apparently) and I live in Phoenix. 
Since I've moved to Phoenix, I'm learning much more about myself. I enjoy moving to new places, and discovering that yes, it's hard to make friends as an adult, but much easier if you put yourself out there. I finally joined a November Project tribe and ran my first half marathon! I've made countless friends, and I went to a real Superbowl party for the first time in years. I'm also working part time for Kaplan (I really, really love teaching). My VISTA position has me in constant contact with the justice-involved population, which has been both challenging and enlightening. I've learned so much and I continue to learn something new every day. I'm extremely thankful for all of the opportunities that I've had along the way, and continue to look forward to the new opportunities that each sun rise brings into my life.

Oh, yes! And I forgot to mention - I've been applying to graduate programs in Public Health. I've heard back from the majority of schools that I have applied to (all "Accepted" so far) and I've even been offered some scholarships. So, I will definitely be moving again come the summer, but I don't know whether it will be 2 hours away by car from Phoenix or if it will be on the East Coast once again. Only time will tell.

I hope you all have enjoyed my update! I'll be sure to put some more time into this - I want to remember all the big joys I've had this year and will continue to have.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Life Keeps (March)ing On

What can I say about a year? I know I’ve been in-country for over a year and a half, but really, March seems a fitting month to look back and examine what has happened since last March.

Last March, my first friend from home came to visit and we had a splendid, if whirlwind, time exploring all the tourist sites that Cambodia has to offer – the Temples of Angkor in Siem Reap, the beaches of Sihanoukville, the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, and of course, the everyday life of my site. Last March was my first time judging the WriteOn! Competition, and what a marathon of a day it was. Last March was also when my Peace Corps service unexpectedly changed - my first hostmom at my site passed away.

That is why I am now reflecting on last March to this March. What has changed? A lot. From the end of March last year to the beginning of March this year I have done, seen, and experienced so much.

Peace Corps-wise, I went to a number of workshops: Project Design and Management, HARVEST/Food Security Training, Mid-Service Training. We also said goodbye to the group of volunteers that came before us and hello to the new group of volunteers, some of whom I feel I have known for my whole life, even though it’s been less than a year. With the rest of the GenEq Committee, I helped train the newbies during both their Pre-Service Training and their In-Service Training. Heck, I wrote the In-Service Training from scratch, which felt like quite an accomplishment.

Site-wise, I felt like I started over. My first host mother liked to keep me around the house, and, being extremely shy when not speaking English, I didn’t push the issue. I think she was just nervous for me, as she was for her own daughters, as she told me one. I moved houses in May, and it was quite a difference. For one, I moved into a two-story house, where I live in a room on the top floor. Yay stairs! I also gained new host siblings, who were younger than my other host siblings, new host parents, and a host aunt who reminds me of my old host mom sometimes, in the ways that she is spunky and talkative and tries to get me to understand everything. My new host family liked me to be out and about, so I embraced it, and I also used my love of art to bond with my new host siblings. All in all, it has been a good change.

Literal things at my site have changed as well. After a huge wind storm caused trees to fall on various buildings, all the of trees along the road and near the schools were chopped down. My town now has WiFi at a local cafĂ© that was built in under half a year, and that I didn’t know about for a while. The new market has been built and moved into, and the old one abandoned – this is one of my favorite things because it means no sloshing through mud to get my breakfast during rainy season, since the new market is concrete and compact, rather than dirt and along a road. The road the runs through my town has been completely re-done – no more potholes. Even the health center has gone through changes! It was completely redone to include new electrical outlets, new lights, and new fans. The road leading to the health center, which was once a small dirt track surrounded by grass, is now cement. We even got an ambulance! All in all, things in my town seem to be being built up for the better.

Service-wise, a lot has happened too. I participated in a Camp GLOW in another province. Unfortunately, the women from my province were unable to bring students due to budget concerns, but seeing the camp helped set us up nicely for our own Camp GLOW planning, which we are in the midst of now. I stopped teaching English at the elementary school, and then started up again this school year. I feel like I’ve gotten into a rhythm with the students, which is awesome. I started doing home visits at two villages in my commune – one that requires a 3km bike-ride, and one that requires a 7.5km bike ride. I’ve counseled countless pregnant women after taking their blood pressure and measuring their bellies. I’ve taught kids how to wash their hands. I wrote a grant, which was fully funded by donations from you wonderful people. I helped to write another one, which we will hopefully hear about soon. My Khmer has improved – I tested at Intermediate-Mid in September, and I believe (I hope!) it’s gotten better since then. The babies I’ve seen born have grown so much – that’s how I measure time passed these days. Some are even walking and talking!

Personal-wise (personally, I guess, but I wanted to keep the flow the same), things have changed as well. In the time period we are talking about, I have had one relationship end, and another start and end. Living in a village in rural Cambodia does not bode well for those of us who started out single. I fell in love with exercise, and then with running. I ran/walked my first 10k! Meditation and constant self-reflection have become important to me. I was able to visit home for the holidays, which rejuvenated me in a way that I sorely needed. I’ve read a lot, watched a lot of American TV shows, and spent almost 6 months journaling every day. I’ve fallen out of the habit since I’ve been back from America, but I need to get back into it. I’ve reconnected with old friends, and had more friends visit this gorgeous place. I’ve made countless collages and drawings, and I attempted and failed to do NaNoWriMo. I feel more at peace, even when I am at my most anxious. I’ve been asked to be a Maid of Honor, and accepted with glee.

This March… this March has been amazing, even though it started out on the wrong foot (or leg!). The first weekend of March, I was running another 10k in Sihanoukville and I strained my hip flexor, landing me in Phnom Penh for a few days. I still haven’t been able to go for a run since then and it is driving me up a wall! The second weekend of March was WriteOn! Judging, which went smoothly and much more quickly than last year, due to some new rules Emma and I put in place this year. The third weekend of March, I traveled to Siem Reap to go to a Gender Conference where we were able to meet Michelle Obama and Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet after each gave remarks about the new “Let Girls Learn” Initiative. It was really a moment to remember! The fourth weekend in March, this past weekend, we held the WriteOn! Winner’s Workshop for our two grand-prize winning students. This was actually really stressful, as we had to re-plan the workshop due to an unforeseen circumstance. However, everything worked out really well.

Michelle Obama and I, hugging it out

April looks like it will be exciting this year as well. Over the next two days, I have interviews for two different positions that would keep me here in Cambodia for at least another year. Even if I don’t get either position, I think I’ll still stay and look for work elsewhere. I’m not done with Cambodia, and I know I won’t be ready to leave by the time August rolls around. I’m also planning a mini-vacation with some other volunteers for next week, and the weekend after that will be Khmer New Year, which I am extremely excited to celebrate at site this year.

So that’s life. Here’s a quote from a book I just finished, to end the post:

“It was a land of almost breathtaking beauty or of savage poverty; a land of screaming ghosts or of sun-flung possibilities; a land of inviting warmth or of desperate drought. How you see a country depends on whether you are driving through it, or living it.
How you see a country depends on whether or not you can leave it, if you have to.”
- Alexandra Fuller, “Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier”

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Typical Day

So, I’ve been living at site for over a year, and I haven’t really detailed what my daily life is like. This fact actually drives my parents crazy, so Mom & Dad, here is the blog entry that you can direct people to when they ask what exactly I do.

My current Monday through Friday
6-6:50am – My alarm goes off.

  • Yes, even with 8 hours of sleep, it takes me a long time to wake up.

7-7:30am – Get out of bed and get ready for the day.

  • The usual: brush teeth, wash face, get dressed, etc.

7:30-7:45am – Eat breakfast at the market.

  • I really enjoy this time as I get to talk to everyone who walks by. I used to eat bai saach jrook (pork & rice, usually with eggs) every day, but then the lady who sells it stopped selling it for a while, so I started to eat bon chaio (Cambodian omlette) every morning, which is what I usually saved for weekends since I love it so much. Now my pork lady is back but I’m still eating the omlette because I haven’t ruined it for myself yet, so why stop a good thing? Sometimes, both of the ladies aren’t there, in which case I have nom ban chock (Cambodian noodles), of which there are plenty of stall to choose from. There are two types of nom ban chok, with red soup or green soup. Personally, I’m a fan of the red soup, whether the meat in it is chicken or fish. 

7:45-11am – Work at the Health Center.

  • This can involve any number of things, but usually I just help the midwives with ANC appointments (I am an expert at measuring blood pressure and pregnant bellies at this point!), including asking questions and talking about different health topics. 

Hard at work... laughing. My co-workers like to play with my phone when we don't have patients.

11am-12pm – Relax and eat lunch.

  • Relaxation usually involves any number of things: dancing around my room to my latest musical obsession (lately: 90% Taylor Swift’s 1989, 10% Sia’s 1000 Forms of Fear), Facebooking, Redditing, catching up on news, watching TV on my computer (lately: Gilmore Girls & Full House), reading (currently the His Dark Materials series), writing To Do lists for later in the day, organizing my bookshelf and table. Lunch is whatever my aunt, dad, or sister makes, usually a vegetable, a small amount of meat, and lots of rice. 

12-1pm – Get tutored in Khmer.

  • I do this every day, because language skills are important to my work and also I really enjoy knowing how to read this language, even if it is still pretty difficult with words that I don’t yet know. 

On the wall of my room. Khmer rounded style (the kind seen on signs and book covers) and Khmer regular style (the kind I can actually read and write).

1-4pm – Do important things, exercise, shower, and relax.

  • How do I define important things? Anything related to my job here (reading the CHE Manuals to make sure all my information is correct), anything related to learning Khmer (yes, I spend some time going over what I learned and also have other materials I look at occasionally), anything related to secondary projects (grant-writing), anything related to the Committee I’m a part of (GenEq) or the Competition I’m co-organizer for this year (Write On!), and anything related to home that needs my attention (loan forms, credit card things, questions from past tutees). As for exercise, my aunt usually exercises with me, and I do exercise videos. For the past two months it’s been Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred and Shaun T’s Focus T25 on rotation, sometimes it’s Zumba, or Tae Bo, or Hip Hop Abs. Sometimes I switch up my routine and exercise as soon as I get home, then go hang out at the high school to practice my Khmer and let the students practice English if they want to, which some of them usually do. 

4-5pm – Teach my health center staff English.

  • This is pretty self-explanatory. We’ve only been doing this for a few weeks. They seem to really enjoy it. 

5-9pm – Hang out with my host family, eat dinner, and relax.

  • This is when my host siblings will usually come into my room and watch TV with me or listen to music with me or ask me English questions from the large amount of English books I have on my bookshelf. Dinner usually happens between 6 and 7, although sometimes it is later than 7. Dinner is like lunch, sometimes the same food, sometimes my mom will whip up something else. 

9-9:30pm – Bedtime routine.

  • This is my routine, and it never changes: floss, mouthwash, brush my hair, write in my journal.

By 10pm – In bed, ready to sleep.

Of course, over the past year and a half my weekday schedule has changed a lot. Last school year, I taught at the elementary school from 3:30-4:30pm, and then at a local NGO from 5-6pm. I also didn’t start my exercising until August, and after school let out, I would work afternoons in the health center from 2-5pm. I never really ate at the market until about 3 months ago, and I used to be the first one to my health center every day. Now I arrive at the same time as everybody else. My Khmer tutoring time has been the same since last October.

One exception to this schedule is when I go to a different village to do home visits. My day starts off the same but then I bike to the village, trying to arrive by 8:30am, at which point I meet up with the Village Health Volunteer (VHV), and we walk from house to house, usually speaking to pregnant women and new mothers. Every now and then one of my VHVs will get into a discussion with someone, so I will play with their kids, asking them about hand-washing and teaching them songs. I love children.

The other exception is holidays, of which Cambodia has a lot. This year Cambodia has a total of 27 days of holidays.  Depending on the holiday, I either stay home, so the day is like a usual weekend day, or I go somewhere else (if the holiday falls on a Friday or Monday) to have a three day weekend. The somewhere else is usually Phnom Penh, because the other volunteers have the same idea, so we can all see each other and hang out.

My weekend days usually consist of whatever I want them to, aside from Skyping with my parents every Saturday morning and doing laundry either Saturday or Sunday mid-morning. We hand-wash clothes here, so laundry takes some time, but I find it oddly relaxing at this point, and I’m much, much faster than I used to be. Sometimes I go for walks or bike rides, or hang out at the market chatting with people, or I visit my Khmer friends or talk on the phone with other volunteers. A lot of the time I read or watch a movie. Sometimes I take a morning visit to a town an hour away by torrie (get there by 8am, leave by 12pm) to see Devin and Meagan and go to the ATM in their town. I also do art projects with my little siblings: collages, mosaics, paper dolls, coloring. We’ve done them all.

Art project: mosaics

Art project: draw body parts. In this case, the heart.

Art project: collages. This was by far the most popular. I have folders upon folders of collages that the little sibs made.

So this is what my daily life is like. If you want me to, I can write up a post about the 5 major health topics that CHE volunteers like me are supposed to teach about.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Weight Loss and Other Changes

Note: This post is potentially triggering for talk of weight loss. I know I have some friends who have suffered or are suffering from eating disorders, so beware. I love you all. 

 To start with a quote: “Sometimes I think we travel to see ourselves rather than what we’ve supposedly come to see.” – Louise (a friend of the author’s, from the book Gecko Tails) [Note: I know I’m more ‘living’ than ‘traveling’, but it’s the same idea.]

 It’s no surprise to anyone that Peace Corps service changes you. Over and over again, you’ll hear volunteers say that their country of service gave more to them than they were able to give to it. Two years out of your comfort zone, away from your childhood friends, your family, your support system… it really does do a number on you, mostly good, sometimes bad. That’s beside the point, though.

 The biggest change that volunteers see, and the most noticeable, is weight change. Some volunteers gain, some volunteers lose, some volunteers gain and then realize they have to change their diet and exercise routine to go back to the way they were pre-service, and some volunteers lose, become comfortable in their surroundings once again, find the awesome nom ladies, and then gain the weight back. It’s a spectrum. From what I’ve been told, usually, it’s women who gain and men who lose.

 I’m one of those volunteers who has lost weight… a significant amount of weight. Some 52 pounds of weight since I landed last July. That’s roughly 25% of my starting weight. I’m a numbers girl, so I’m going to keep throwing them at you. The first weekend we were in Cambodia, our measurements were taken so that we could bring them to the tailor to have sampots and shirts made. My starting measurements (in centimeters)? 107-92-121… My measurements now? 90-74-100… that’s a total of 56 centimeters lost in just my bust-waist-hips! I can see a difference in my arms and my legs as well, but the differences aren’t just superficial.
July 2013 vs. Sept 2014
I realized a few weeks ago that I haven’t had knee pain in a very long time, and I’ve had chronic knee pain since I was a young teen. I get winded less easily. I can run, sort of. My stamina is higher and I just feel really, really good all over. And once I hit about 165 pounds, I started to get serious about exercising. Aside from trips into Phnom Penh, and sick days, I’ve exercised almost every day since the second week of August. So now not only am I thinner, I’m also stronger. I did the first push-up, the first real push-up of my life last month. Not on my knees, not with my butt in the air, but a real, straight-backed push-up. I can hold a plank position for over 30 seconds. I can do crunches and lunges and squats correctly. I feel amazing. It is so much easier to work out when there is less on you to move around.

 Of course, the weight loss hasn’t been all fun and games. I arrived in Cambodia at around 205 pounds, courtesy of stuffing my face with all my favorite foods before leaving. 205 pounds is roughly 93 kilograms. During the course of the 8 weeks of Pre-Service Training, I lost 8 kilos (roughly 17.5 pounds), arriving to site at 85 kilos. Those 15+ pounds just melted off of my body with the increase in movement (we biked everywhere and played volleyball on the weekends and sometimes played soccer in the afternoons, not to mention going from washing machines to hand-washing clothing) and the change in diet (what, no Starbucks lattes three times a day in Cambodia? No macaroni and cheese? No frequent beers with friends? No Twix or Snickers or KitKats?). That’s what experts always say, right? Diet and exercise… and for me, both had dramatically changed from my previous life.

 So, I arrived at my permanent site a lovely 85 kilos, which Khmer folks still consider to be rather large. My current host aunt never tires of telling me how the Health Center Director’s wife told her that the barang (white person) that Peace Corps sent this time was “so tall and so big and her neck is so fat” (This is normal for a Cambodian to say… just keep reading). After a month at site, I was down another 4 kilos. (Measurements: 102-86-111). That’s not healthy, so let me explain. I tried to be vegetarian, and in the process was basically starving myself. My host family at the time didn’t really know how to make many vegetarian dishes, so it ended up being a rotation of the same 3 dishes over and over again, which I got bored of. I also had really ridiculously terrible food poisoning during Pchum Ben last year, which left me throwing up for two days, and it was another 3 days before I could stomach more than 3 spoonfuls of borbor (watery rice porridge).

 After another month, I was down another 2 kilos, again for the same reasons, although I didn’t have food poisoning, I was just sick in general. That’s been an interesting theme this year. I am forever sick – colds, sinus infections, stomach illnesses, ear aches, food poisoning, general malaise. I’m talking, at least once a month. I used to record on my calendar when I was sick, but then I decided that was futile since I feel under the weather a lot of the time. Between the rain, the heat, and the changing seasons, my body always finds something to complain about. However, at this point, I embrace it. What’s life without a little illness to remind us that we are human?

 Anyway, by the middle of December, the weight loss had slowed and I had lost just one more kilo. By the beginning of 2014, I was down another kilo and weighing in at 77 kilograms (measurements: 92-86-103). This was after another bout of food poisoning on New Year’s Eve of all days. By the beginning of March I was down to 75 kilos (measurements: 94-80-101). After that, life got a little rough for me so I didn’t measure anything again until late summer, and now it’s October, so I’ve lost a little over 5 kilos since March. You probably didn’t need or want to know all of that, but hey, I had it recorded so why not write it down?

 How do I know all of this? It became a bit of an obsession for me. Not in a disordered-eating way, but in a “I’ve always been the slow, fat, picked-last kid and now I’m not, whoa, this is awesome” way. So every few weeks I would record my weight and every few months, I’d measure myself when we had a slow moment at the health center.

 I’ve allowed the weight loss to push me into healthier habits all around. I’ve already mentioned the exercise. I drink at least 2 Liters of water a day, mostly because I was(am) tired of being sick and that is supposed to help. It did help with some recurring headaches so yay for not being dehydrated all the time! I make sure to eat lots of vegetables every day, along with lots of rice and a good portion of meat or fish. (Headline news: Vegetarian of 11 years decides that meat tastes amazing! Who knew?!). I even meditate. I also sleep 8 hours a night. This, I think, is the biggest change for me.

 During high school, I averaged between 5-6 hours a night on school days, 10 hours a night on weekends, unless I was working at church that Sunday. During my first year of college, I averaged the same as high school. During my sophomore through senior years of college, I worked a night job, along with doing a million other things, and would sleep anywhere from 0 hours a night to 4 or 5 hours a night on nights that I worked. I also napped, but it never helped. To put it lightly, I was wreck. I would cry easily. I was stressed beyond belief. Sometimes I even fell asleep during shifts, or worse, during classes. Sometimes I didn’t even go to class so that I could catch up on sleep. It was a nightmare of my own making. After graduation in 2011, I moved back home, but I still didn’t sleep much, thanks to taking more classes, working a lot, and the lure of the internet. So again, I was averaging 5-6 hours a night, sometimes less if I put off homework until the last minute. (I really like taking classes, can you tell?). Anyway, the point of all of this is that I have never had a proper sleep schedule that I kept for long periods of time. And now I do. And now I feel the most emotionally stable I have ever felt in my life! Yay for giving the brain the rest that it needs!

 Aside from the previously mentioned changes, I think the biggest psychological change I’ve gone through, aside from the wonderful emotional stability, is that I have become more patient than I have ever thought possible. I mean, if you’re reading this now, there’s a chance you read the earlier posts when I was talking about how long it seemed Peace Corps was taking to get back to me and to get me an invite and all of that stuff. But now, delays just seem to roll off of my shoulders. The torrie is going to be two hours late? Ut bunyaha (no problem). The tuk-tuk driver has no idea where he is going? That’s why I left early (Although, on rare occasions, this does make me impatient). My friend said we were leaving in an hour but it has actually been two and it doesn’t look like we will be leaving anytime soon? Tomadah (Usual). Khmer people are rarely in a rush, so why should I be?

 I’m hoping to carry this new-found patience with me for the rest of my life, as Cambodians have been so patient with me when it comes to customs and language. I now understand the difficulty that people go through in trying to learn a new language, especially in adulthood. I hope to never laugh at somebody’s English skills again, but instead, to help them through what they are trying to say. In terms of American life, so many people believe that in order to move permanently to the US, a person should speak English. While I can see where they might get this idea, it is easier said than done. English is a really hard language to learn, especially coming from a country with fewer words, no articles, and very few verb tenses. I’m grateful I’m an English speaker learning Khmer, rather than the other way around.

 So, a year and a month into service, this is how I have changed, and really, these are just the changes I’ve noticed. I’m sure I, and my fellow volunteers, have changed in ways that we won’t realize until we land at home. Maybe when I’m home for Christmas, I’ll realize more. Who knows?

 Long Side Note: I know it seems like most of my blog entries are about me. I hope I don’t come across as self-centered. I try to write about what I know, and I know me. I never feel like I could truly put into words what I think I know about Cambodia. Every time I want to say something that is not a description, every time I want to tell a story, I feel as though I may say something wrong or offend somebody. Really, someone who aspires to be a writer shouldn’t feel like this, but I do. I want everyone to know how wonderful and amazing and confusing this experience is, but it’s hard to put in the right words. It’s the reason why I haven’t posted in so long. I’ve written plenty of entries, but I felt none of them were good enough to post. I’ll leave you with this quote, found at the beginning of the book I’m currently reading (Gecko Tails by Carol Livingston):
 “After a week in the country, I thought I could write a book. After six months, I thought I could write a story. After a year, I didn’t know what to say.” – Unknown Rwandan relief worker

Friday, May 2, 2014


Edit: This post was written on Sunday, the one month anniversary of my hostmom’s death. I was having a hard time emotionally with everything that was going on. Now, I am okay. I feel fine and like I’m ready to continue with my work. With that being said, here’s the original post in its entirety. 

Coming up in the next few weeks on this blog: all of the trainings I’ve had this year (which will probably be posted at the beginning of June, as I have another training at the end of May), the grieving process and how it’s been different than the last time I experienced a death, and the details of when I had two friends come (on separate occasions). 


Two weeks ago, I had a friend visit. This is my second friend who has come to visit, and it was a lot of fun, but that is not what this entry is about. One of the main topics of conversation throughout the week and a half that my friend and I spent together had to do with Facebook and how we, as people, present ourselves to the world through our various forms of social media. We both agreed on one thing: people try to make their lives look shiny and enviable on the internet, always posting the good things and leaving out the bad. Personally, I try not to do that, but everyone does it to an extent, even if we don’t try to.

What does that have to do with this blog post? Everything. I’m about to get extremely honest right now, and it’s not pretty.

Being in the Peace Corps is HARD… It has moments that are terrifying, life-changing (for the worse), exhausting, and hurtful. It is filled with experiences that are hard to relate to anyone who isn’t a fellow PCV. It is tiring. It changes you, mentally and physically, sometimes for the worse. Your English starts getting worse, and if you binge on TV rather than books, you could have trouble concentrating when trying to get back into reading. You have to speak in a language that you just learned with enough fluency to get your needs met, day in and day out. Sometimes, you want to stay in your room and not speak to people, but you need sustenance. Depending on your country, your physical needs may not be met at all (think hugs/cuddles/etc), and your emotional needs can only be met by telephone, because learning how to express emotion appropriately in a completely different culture takes more than just a few months, and if you are more than a bike ride away from a fellow volunteer, it can be weeks before you can accurately express everything you are feeling in person to another person who will actually understand what you are saying.

On the job front, weeks can go by where you feel like you are not accomplishing anything at your site. Some days may feel like a success, and then you want to review what you thought was successful, only to find that nobody remembers. It is hard to motivate people. You can learn everything about Behavior Change Communication and still be unable to get people to listen. You want to help but you feel helpless yourself.

Sometimes, things happen suddenly that can completely change or destroy your service. At home, a family member may fall extremely ill or may pass away suddenly. At site, a host country national that you are close to may suffer a similar fate. You could get hit by a moving vehicle and have a serious enough injury to be sent home. You could be assaulted and decide that you no longer feel safe in country. Your body could decide that it just cannot handle something in country, and go berserk on you until you have to leave. Your brain could do the same.

You could want this with every fiber of your being, and still want to ET. Peace Corps loves acronyms… ET stands for Early Termination. There is no judgment in ET-ing; sometimes, what you thought you wanted just ends up being completely wrong for you in practice. We recently had a K7 ET. But this isn’t about that person, this is about me.

For the past month, I have gone through moments where I am seriously ready to pack up and go home. I miss my family. I miss the way things used to be at my site before my host mom passed away. I feel lonely and dissatisfied, and I find myself with some really not awesome thoughts that I haven’t had in a really, really long time, and that scares me. That’s the big stuff.

And then there’s the little stuff: I miss refrigeration, air conditioning, “modern” amenities. I’ve lived without them fine for the past 9 months, but when you are down, all you want is a little comfort from home. I miss 7-11s and Starbucks and Trader Joe’s. I miss cheese and fresh salad whenever I want. I miss being able to drive. I miss speaking English and not having to rephrase things until people understand what I am trying to say. I miss being in control of my life…

I knew becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer would be hard. It took me two years to get my invite and, if you know my personality, you know I’m the kind of person who researches everything about what I want to do. I read histories of the Peace Corps, books by RPCVs, blogs by current PCVs. I kept up with any and all news having to do with PC: deaths, rape statistics, current legislation (this included keeping an eye on what was happening with the Kate Puzey Act). Everyone says that it is hard. Heck, during training, we were given a rough graph on what our emotions would be like during service and told that “the highs will be the highest, but the lows will be the lowest.” Truer words were never spoken.

I have had some pretty ridiculously low points in my relatively short life, but nothing, NOTHING, compares to the lows you feel when you feel low in Peace Corps. Luckily, I am surrounded by amazing, wonderful fellow PCVs who are on the ride with me and we have been so supportive on the days were I’m 2 seconds away from saying “F- it” and going home.

 I know I would absolutely hate myself if I voluntarily went home from service early. But some days, it just seems so easy. It’s a strangely comforting thing to be able to think to myself that I could be on a plane home in less than a week if this gets too hard. That I could never have to speak another word of Khmer. That I can escape the staring, the comments on my body and skin color, the 30 people crammed into an 11-person van, the constant price-jacking because of what I look like. That I would never again have to deal with the torrential downpours, the heat, the mosquitos.

I want to end this on a high note but I want to stay true to my feelings right now, so here are two tips I’ve heard on getting through the rough times if you are a current or future PCV:
1) Think to yourself: what would I be doing if I was at home? And not just the good stuff… what job would you be doing? Would you be going to school? Where would you live and with whom? If you are seriously considering leaving, start to set these things up. By the time you finish, you might find your funk has finished as well. (My note on this: I’m a control freak, so it calms me down to feel like I’ve regained control, even if it is just a little control. When I’m feeling ready to ET, I browse LinkedIn on my phone. I can’t tell you why, but it is comforting to look at all the jobs and realize nothing is going to have the impact I hope to have by the end of my service.)
2) The One Week Rule. If you find yourself in a constant funk, try this: Count each day as it goes by. If nothing makes you happy or nothing gives you even the smallest smile, that day becomes 1. If it happens the next day, that day becomes 2. And so on… If you make it to 7, then perhaps ET-ing will be good for your mental health. BUT, if even one thing makes you crack a smile, something as small as a child that smiles at you that causes you to smile back, then that day becomes 0 and you have to start all over again. Eventually, you’ll find you can’t even make it one day without finding something good that happened.

Have any other tips? Leave them in the comments!

Monday, March 31, 2014

In Memoriam

Here is a picture of my amazing host mother (and me):

The last picture we took together. I'm so glad she suggested a little photo shoot.
This was right before the dinner for International Women's Day.

Unfortunately, my host mom passed away on Thursday, March 27th. It was an unexpected and sudden death. She had been feeling sick all weekend, went to the hospital on Monday, got a little worse on Wednesday, and then passed away as my host sister and I rushed to Phnom Penh to see her at the hospital to say our goodbyes. We didn’t make it in time.

I was crushed. I still am crushed. I’m having trouble processing that this has actually happened. If you are my Facebook friend, you know just how much I loved my host mother, since I was always sharing stories about her. Here are some of my favorite memories of her:
- The way she would say “mostiko” instead of “mosquito” and “cocodoung” instead of “coconut.”
- How she got me to open up by putting on karaoke DVDs and dancing around our living room with me
- She made me pumpkin on Halloween because I asked
- She organized a Christmas party for me at our house after she caught me crying as I decorated my little tree, because I missed my family so much and she just wanted me to be happy
- She invited me to all of the happenings in town: the festival for Pchum Ben, the January 7th Commemoration, the dinner to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th (she even won a free sarong at that dinner!)
- She went to the carnival in our town with me, and managed to basically drag me onto the ferris wheel, after buying me a ticket to go on.
On the Ferris Wheel together.
- The time she sat me down to tell me how worried she was about my host sisters because they are women in Cambodian society and she is always afraid that they are going to get hurt
- She took me to the school to meet everyone so that I could try to get something going at the high school
- Whenever I asked, she would explain to me what she was doing when she had lots of papers in front of her: grading, scheduling, etc. One time, she was getting her stuff ready to go to the provincial town to do some more trainings, and she showed me pictures from her teacher training classes and all of the certificates she had.
- How she sat me down within my first two weeks in her house to tell me about her experience with the Khmer Rouge. I understood only about 30% of that conversation, and I was going to ask her to write it down so that I could have it translated to fully understand her experience. Now, I’ll never know.
- The way she would always encourage me to dance at weddings
- Sitting and playing cards with her and my sisters
- She taught me how to Khmer traditional dance
- She invited me to go to Kampong Som with the teachers from the high school on New Year’s Day. That day was a lot of fun, even if most of it was spent in a torrie going there and coming back.
- She never wanted me to spend a lot of money, so she would send one of my sisters to go with me or she would go with me if I wanted to buy something, so that I could get the “Khmer price”
- On Valentine’s Day, we were drinking together, and she broke down crying, telling me that she would miss me when I left and that I would forget her. I told her that she shouldn’t cry because I’m not leaving for another year and a half, and I would never, ever forget her. I thought we had so much time…
- Most of all, though, she treated me like a daughter from the moment I stepped into her house

I don’t know how it’s possible to completely integrate somebody into your life so quickly, but my host mom was way more than just a host mother to me. My host mom was my Khmer mom, in every sense of the word. I have never met a more caring, loving individual willing to take me on as her own… to house me, to feed me, to help me integrate, even when my language wasn’t awesome. My host mom had the biggest heart, helping people when they needed it, offering advice, and just sitting and smiling with me.

She touched so many lives. In Khmer culture, the body usually sits out for three days (in a coffin), and then the funeral happens on the third day. Throughout the three days, many people came to give their condolences, many incense sticks were lit, and many “good luck” bracelets were tied around wrists.

When my sister and I arrived in Phnom Penh, we went straight to see her body at this wake, as we would call it in the States. While I was kneeling by the body, my oldest host sister, who lives in Phnom Penh (my host mom has four children), came over to tell me how much my host mom absolutely loved me. It’s a sentiment I’ve heard from more than one person. I hope I was able to show her how much I loved her as well, and I made sure to tell her every time she asked. She wore her heart on her sleeve and loved with everything she had in her.

Her funeral was on Saturday, and I will never forget the sounds that my host sisters made. I’ve never seen Khmer people cry like that. It was one of the most heart-breaking things I have had to go through in my adult life.

So here is to my Khmer mom, Teacher Em Mony. May her memory live on through everyone she has taught, everyone she has touched, and everyone she has loved. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Out With the Old...

So, it’s the last day of 2013, and I haven’t updated this thing in over a month. Why? Because I’ve been really busy.

In the last month, a lot has happened:
- I’ve started to teach English at the primary school. I had a meeting with the Primary School Directors on the 17th, and was informed I would start teaching 4th, 5th, and 6th grades the following day through the week. I’m now teaching at the school around 5 hours a week. They know I want to teach health, so I’m going to trying implementing a two-weeks-English, one-week-Health thing, and I’m going to do the Health lessons in Khmer AND English. We’ll see how that works out.
- I’m now on the Gender and Development Committee, which is awesome, right up my alley, and comes as no surprise to anybody who knows me in real life.
- I had lice that refused to go away for two weeks. When we first discovered it, we pulled out over 50 adults and 100 babies from my hair. My hair, by the way, is over a foot and a half long. Combing it was the worst. Here are some pictures:
Look at those little buggers!

This is the length of my hair. Too long!

- Christmas came and went, along with an incredibly crippling bout of homesickness that left me crying for a majority of the 3 days before Christmas. Not only did I get to Skype with my extended family on Christmas morning (Christmas Eve for them) to partake in a tradition that I can’t even remember the beginning of, but my host mom saw how sad I was and threw a Christmas party just for me, complete with special food, and neighbors and students. And beer. It was really special.
- I’ve been sick the past few days. According to my symptoms, the medical officer told me I had a pretty bad bacterial infection. I thought I was better today, but stomach cramps and exhaustion had me home from work in less than half an hour. I’m now surviving on Oral Rehydration Salts. Hopefully I’m okay for a trip I’m supposed to go on tomorrow.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. And now, a reflection on 2013:

2013 started off okay and continued on pretty normally, if a bit hectic between working and school. I almost forgot to write about being selected to do an "Alternative Spring Break" down the shore by MTV. Cool swag, being followed around by cameras, making friends with the most awesome of people (Wolfpack!!), free trip to Six Flags... how could I forget that?! And of course, my trip to LA to see Shaked graduate (my grandlil... I feel so old!), and see my friends and sorority sisters.
Really, the biggest thing that happened this year was receiving my Peace Corps Invitation in March, getting all of my final clearances, and finally boarding the plane to come to Cambodia in July. I was also excited to take my NJ -> Orlando -> Toronto -> NJ trip the weekend before I left for Cambodia, even if it left me a little tired. I finally got to go to Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I got to add Canada to my list of countries I’ve visited (finally!). And the party I had before leaving showed me how much love was already in my life. I’ve never felt more supported and loved than I have as I’ve started and continued through this Peace Corps journey.
Honestly, when I got my invitation, I had huge doubts about coming here, even crying once I processed that Africa was no longer in the picture. However, Placement knew exactly what they were doing, and my time here so far has proven how very wrong my initial feelings of doubt and sadness were. I love it here. I love my host family. I’m sure I probably would’ve enjoyed other places, but everything about Cambodia is perfect for me. I’ve been sick somewhere around 5 times here, and I still have no complaints.

Sorry if this is a bit all over the place, I’m still recovering from being sick!