Transitions

15 08 2013

I have always had a deep appreciation for transitions. There’s something gratifying to me about the way that our literal actions, like packing up boxes or hitting the open road, mirror the deeper emotional changes they accompany. When making the decision to stay in Cambodia after my close of service date, I thought often of the fact that I would not be able to make my transition back to the States, and later to Philly, with Tim. The symbolism of taking this next step alone, and months after my husband, didn’t sit well with me. For two years, we had imagined our flight home together, our first day back in the States together, exploring our new neighborhood together. Although I do not have even an ounce of regret about my decision to stay, I am still a little disappointed that Tim and I will have these experiences separately.

Last night, while I was fast asleep, Tim began his journey from Michigan to Philly. He loaded up the moving truck, said goodbye to his parents, and headed east. He drove 300 miles from suburban Detroit to Pittsburgh, where he was lucky enough to meet up with the warmest, most caring friends we’ve ever been blessed to have. They had a small dinner party complete with treats like blackberry basil tea, eggplant sourdough pizza, and peach shortcake — things I can only dream of! Tomorrow, he’ll be making the rest of the trip and moving all of our things into our new, adorable one bedroom apartment in South Philly.

To commemorate this important transition, here are a few pictures from his trip.

moving truck

The moving truck loaded and ready to go

Eating a cookie while driving?

Eating a cookie while driving?

The best of friends

The best of friends

Her too!

Her too!

Katie

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Serving in the Peace Corps as a Married Couple: Togetherness

1 02 2013

Since joining Peace Corps, Tim and I do everything together. We eat all three meals together. We lesson plan together. We work on projects together. We socialize together. We travel together. And, apparently, we get sick together.

Two weeks ago, Tim and I woke up with what turned out to be dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness that’s pretty widespread in these parts. We had muscle aches, sore eyes, nausea and neither of us could stay awake more than a few hours at a time. Although I’m not happy that Tim was sick too, the old saying rings true: misery loves company. We spent the better part of two weeks laid out in bed, groaning together, popping pills together, and feeling sorry for ourselves together. We eventually went into Phnom Penh on medical leave, and at that point, our routine changed just slightly, with us also watching bad TV together and ordering American food to our hotel room together. In fact, I think we may have broken a record for the most sub sandwiches eaten in a 6-day span.

The mosquitoes beat us despite our best defenses

The mosquitoes beat us despite our best defenses

We got cleared to go back to site and are definitely on the up-and-up, so no worries about us. I’m just happy I had someone to be sick with. Our lives have certainly never been as entangled as they are here in Cambodia. Now, Tim and I just need to make the transition back to productivity together. Good thing this weekend is a four-day weekend – the transition will be a slow one.

Katie





Celebrating the Journey

11 10 2012

Three years ago, Tim and I celebrated our new marriage with a small wedding in Pittsburgh. Today, in an effort to revisit that occasion,  I read through the ceremony once again. Here, I share one of the passages that seems particularly relevant as we begin our second year of service in a rural town half a world away from the place where we fell in love.

[Officiant]

The road the two of you have traveled since we all lived within a few blocks of one another in tiny Mount Pleasant, Michigan, has been remarkable… But what of the journey ahead?  Where will it take you?  No one can say.  Consider for a moment, as Rumi did in many of his writings, a compass.  In his time this invention was both innovation and revelation, but a compass is a simple thing, really.  It only knows one thing for certain, and everything else is just a well calculated guess.

It knows its true north…

Know your true north.  Let your arrow guide you.  Follow the road on your shared journey forward that runs closest to your hearts.

Katie





To My “BFF Forever”

4 10 2012

Living abroad often means missing out on important life events back in the States. Believe it or not, all of the normal life stages continue to take place, even in my absence: Babies are born, people die, students graduate and couples get married.

…Like my “BFF Forever” Susannah, whose wedding is this weekend!

Susannah and  I have been friends since elementary school, when we were both members of the “Babysitters Club,” a small group of exclusive ten year old girls with zero babysitting experience. A couple of years later, as middle schoolers, we created a magical world in a small wooded area near her house. We painted abstract art together. We played together on a soccer team that didn’t win a single game. We passed boy crazy notes to each other during class. Since we were born on the same day, we also had a joint birthday party, which is where this gem of a photo comes from:

A lot has happened since then. Throughout high school we continued to be best friends, spending countless weekends together, cramming for tests together, and even switching dates for the senior prom with one another! I remember being worried about what would happen when we left to study at different colleges, but there was no need for concern. Despite the fact that we haven’t lived in the same town since high school, Susannah and I have maintained a deep friendship that I consider to be invaluable. She is family.

 

 

So today I want to take a second to send a BIG CONGRATULATIONS more than 8,000 miles away to my best childhood friend. I hope you and Rob have a beautiful day. I wish I could be there to celebrate with you.

Katie

 





Serving in the Peace Corps as a Married Couple: Project Opportunities

10 01 2012

Tim and I will, from time to time, be offering insight on what it’s been like to serve in Cambodia as a married couple. If you haven’t seen the previous installments of this series, check them out here and here.

Demographics have an impact on what kind of projects volunteers can easily carry out. For instance, as a woman, I am in a better position than male volunteers to educate women on birth spacing options or the importance of breastfeeding. I can more easily build relationships with young girls through a girls’ club. I can lend a hand in the delivery room. Men sometimes do these things too, but as a female, I am more naturally poised to help out in these settings.

Married PCVs, woot woot!

Similarly, serving in the Peace Corps as a married couple puts volunteers in a position to more easily address certain issues. Being a couple may grant you access to certain populations like, for example, women working in the sex industry. If a single male volunteer tried to work with these women, most community members would likely assume he was paying for their services. If it’s a single female volunteer, the community might assume that she is working with the women. Both of these things could ruin a volunteer’s reputation and greatly hinder their work. Not to mention the safety concerns of being alone in this potentially dangerous environment. Although there will always be obstacles in working with marginalized populations, a couple might have an easier time providing education or counseling to these women.

Tim and I realized early on that, as a married couple, we were in a unique position, and we committed to trying to leverage our status as a couple to take on projects that might be more difficult for single volunteers. For our first project as a couple, our population will not be women in the sex industry though, we will be working with young newly-married couples.

We are in the process of starting what we’ve decided to call a “Healthy Relationships Group.” We will meet regularly with a few young couples to talk about issues such as family planning, domestic violence, decision-making, division of labor and conflict resolution. Since dating (at least how we conceptualize it in the US) often does not take place before marriages in rural Cambodian, couples generally know very little about one another before their wedding. This group will hopefully encourage newlyweds to discuss important issues and be deliberate in making decisions that will strengthen their relationship and bring them closer to their goals as individuals and as a couple.

Cambodian newlyweds

This group is likely to be a challenge because Cambodians seem to be rather reserved, particularly when both genders are brought together. The topics we plan to talk about are very personal and, even in the most open societies, can be difficult to discuss in a group. However, we feel that it’s very important, and we’ve gotten a lot of positive responses from the various NGOs we’ve spoken with about the group. The ideal situation would be that the group goes well and the participants are interested in being trained to lead Healthy Relationship Groups of their own. For now though, our plan is to take the group slow and really focus on building relationships with the couples who have agreed to participate. I think it will be really interesting to see how this develops.

Katie





Serving in the Peace Corps as a Married Couple: Part Two

10 12 2011

Tim and I will, from time to time, be offering insight on what it’s been like to serve in Cambodia as a married couple. If you haven’t seen Part One of this series, check it out here.

When deciding whether to accept our invitation to serve in the Peace Corps, one of our biggest concerns as a couple was what our housing would be like in Cambodia. Before leaving, we had been married for 20 months. Of those twenty months, we had lived with a roommate or host family for 14. So we were more than ready to move into a space of our own. Then, the Peace Corps Washington staff told us that we would be spending the following 27 months with a host family. Oh boy. It was the single biggest issue that we discussed when making our decision, but we ultimately decided that the inconveniences of living with a host family could not possibly outweigh all of the life-changing experiences that coming here could offer.

As you probably all remember, Tim and I got to live together during training. This does not always happen with couples in the Peace Corps, but with the way that our training was organized, we ended up in the same village. During training, Tim and I had a much more traditional homestay. We had one bedroom in a house, and we lived with a mother and her teenage daughter. We ate all of our meals together, watched TV or studied together, and generally interacted with one another for several hours each day.

Despite this, we were still given a lot of independence, and although there are many factors involved, my impression is that much of that independence was given because we were married. So while some other volunteers felt like their families were watching (and, at times, criticizing) their every move, we were free to wash our laundry, clean our room and go for bike rides with no scrutiny. When I got food poisoning at the house, the family insisted I eat some food, but promptly backed down when Tim explained that I was not ready to eat yet. From what I’ve heard from other (single) volunteers, their experiences were much different and their families were much more involved and worried.

In many ways, the fact that we are married helps us fit in with Cambodian expectations. “Good” men and women get married (albeit a little older than we did). Once you are married, you are seen as being responsible, independent and capable in a way that your single counterparts are not. Our training host family both trusted our judgment and knew that we had one another to rely on, relieving them of some of the pressure to take care of us.

Being married also let them see our personalities much more than if we were living in the house alone. It can be very difficult to feel like yourself when you have to speak in a foreign language all day, but Tim and I have the luxury of speaking English together. This means that our family got to see us talk, study and play together in a way that we were unable to do with them because of the language barrier. I think this helped them see us as more complete (and happy) people than what they could see when we had to rely on our Khmer. Furthermore, if one of us was having a bad day or struggling with the language, the other person was there to pick up the slack with the conversation and help smooth things over. I think our family was less likely to be hyper in tune with our individual moods because the other person acted as a sort of buffer in those situations.

As training came to an end, we were eager to learn about our permanent site. Even after 17 months of living with families abroad, I have never been good with homestays, and I was quite nervous about what our housing situation would be at site. Turns out, it is fantastic! Tim and I have the entire upstairs floor of the house and have been given a huge amount of independence.

We have the freedom to cook all of our own meals and have our own bathroom. We come and go as we please. We have plenty of space so we aren’t attached at the hip all day long. We don’t even necessarily see our host family every day, but they are there whenever we have questions or need advice. It’s been an ideal living situation for us so far.

Of course, every couple’s situation is different. Some have nicer or bigger places than us, some don’t. Some have host families that are more involved than ours, some don’t. I have to say though that Peace Corps has been willing to work with all volunteers on issues relating to housing. If a volunteer isn’t comfortable in his/her house, s/he isn’t going to be happy and probably won’t be as effective in the community. I have total faith that the PC Cambodia staff would help us out if we felt like we needed even more independence in our homestay. Luckily, this isn’t an issue for us.

So, it turns out that housing, an issue that was almost a deal breaker for us, has turned out to be one of the highlights of our experience so far. It’s been wonderfully reassuring to feel like we have a home here in Cambodia. We can walk into our second floor apartment, plop down in the hammock and feel completely comfortable. We can eat exactly what food– and what quantity of food– we want. We can have private conversations without feeling like we have an audience. And–this is really exciting!– I can hold Tim’s hand or sit close to him without offending anyone or making others uncomfortable. These little things make the world of difference after a hard day.

Katie





Serving in the Peace Corps as a Married Couple: Part One

11 10 2011

I thought it was only fitting today (our two year wedding anniversary) to write about how it has been to serve in the Peace Corps as a couple so far.

One of the clearest memories I have from staging in San Francisco is the swarms of people gushing about how lucky I was to be serving with my husband. “That’s so great. It will be so much easier for you two,” they said. At the time, I resented this a little. Having lived abroad before (with Tim and alone), I felt like they were missing a big part of the story. Yes, in some ways it will be easier, I thought, but in many ways it will be much more difficult.

With Hal and Sam, Another PC Cambodia Couple


However, more than two months in, it looks like they were more right than I was. Serving together has been extremely easy so far.

In many countries where the Peace Corps serves, couples are split up for training. This means that couples spend their first two or three months in country—the most difficult months for many— apart from one another. In Cambodia, however, Tim and I got to live and study together during training. Although I imagine that being separated would have helped us feel more independent and to get to know more of our fellow volunteers, being together in Takeo worked well for us. We were able to come to permanent site with a similar foundation that made us feel unified in our knowledge, goals and expectations. It was also great to have a built-in study partner during training, and it was incredibly useful to have two people trying to decipher Khmer instead of going it alone.

I think the biggest advantage though has been the comfort and ease with which we have been able to face transitions. Initially moving to Cambodia, visiting our new site, and then eventually moving in were all much easier for me with my partner at my side. I don’t think either of us felt the isolation or panic that some volunteers felt when being faced with these completely new situations. While I think our personalities certainly play a role in the smooth transition, being with my best friend was a critical part of it too.

The biggest difference in our relationship since we’ve arrived in Cambodia has been the amount of time we spend together. We both have histories of being workaholics in the States, which limited the time we were together each day, but right now we are spending around 20-22 hours a day together. It’s been so much fun to share and process all of these new experiences with one another. We’ve had plenty of time to discuss Cambodian politics, play cribbage, ride our bikes through the countryside, sip on coffees, invent catchy songs about the heat, conduct impromptu puppet shows, and then get bored of each other. And during those times, we just do the housework, catch up on our reading or write more blog entries.

We've gotten so close we even ride the same bike!

The one challenge I think that couples face that is unique to them is that it can be easy to take out any negative feelings on your partner—and this holds true, not only in Peace Corps, but in all stages of life. All volunteers feel frustrated, exhausted, confused or overwhelmed. And all volunteers will feel these feelings on a very regular basis, even if they are only fleeting feelings that dissolve quickly. Presumably, if you are a single volunteer you will take a nap, go on a run, have a good cry or call your family and the feelings will pass, no harm done. However, as a couple—and particularly a couple that is together as often as we have been here—it can be easy to take these feelings out on your partner without realizing it. And, depending on the day and the mood of your partner, this can easily escalate from a momentary feeling of frustration to an all-out argument or, even worse in my opinion, a silent wall of tension. Luckily, I am married to a man who is able to keep perspective and maintain a positive attitude so this does not happen too often, but the heat, bugs, language struggles and cultural differences can wear on anybody so it happens—even to us!—from time to time.

Serving with Tim has been a blast up until now, and I can’t wait to see where we are at the end of our time here. We will undoubtedly face a lot of challenges here as we develop, learn and integrate at different speeds and in different ways; however, I feel privileged that I get to celebrate two sets of victories, learn about two different sectors and gain insight from two people’s separate experiences.

I hate to admit it, but I guess everyone at staging was right…

Katie