Friday, December 31, 2010

Summing up 2010 - A Year of Waiting

We were getting in the car to go to the gym for one last workout in 2010.  Steve said, "Well, it's the end of a decade."  To which I replied, "Well, every year is the end of a decade, right?"  Smart mouth.

What 2010 was for us, however, was a year of waiting, hoping, anticipating, and feeling frustration, too.  Anyone who reads this post trying to learn about applying to the Peace Corps should be aware that it is always a long process, but is especially so for married couples.

At the end of 2009, we had had our initial interview with the Peace Corps recruiter, Step 2 of the PC application process. (Step 1 is filling out the written application - about an 8-hour exercise.)  She assured us that we were PC material and would soon receive a nomination - Step 3.

So we waited.  We finally heard from her in March that they were extending a nomination for a volunteer position in English-speaking Africa, and that we would most likely leave between October and December.  So we got busy gathering all the medical and dental information they needed.  We also got REALLY busy trying to sell our house.

In August, we learned that our assigned projects in Africa had been cancelled and that the earliest we would deploy would be January.  Back on hold.  Sold the house and moved to a tiny apartment early September.

Mid-October - the CALL!  The Peace Corps extended the invitation (Step 4) to our assignment in Belize, but we wouldn't deploy until late March.  It's NOT typical to get an invitation with so much lead time.  I think it's more usual to learn 6-8 weeks before deployment.

We believe this is really going to happen! We have now started making lists, so we can make timelines (which lead to more lists).  I'm mentally counting down the weeks.

There were some pretty wonderful things that happened this year, too.

  • Top of our list - my son Jeff's marriage to his adorable wife, Stephanie! 
  • Steve attended his 45th high school reunion (UMS-Wright School in Mobile, Alabama).  Drove down with his two sisters and saw all the places where they had lived from 1953-1965.
  • We sold the house in about 6 months, and we didn't lose (too much) on the sale.
  • Steve finished up the last nine months at his practice, and retired at the end of September.
  • My Zumba classes have been very popular, and I'm in the best shape of my life.
  • Our fundraiser Zumbathon raised $3300 for hungry kids in North Carolina.  People are still talking about how much fun it was.
  • We were able to spend one more holiday season with our family.  And we had a white Christmas!

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I think our last entry was made right after we learned about our assignment to Belize.  I managed to think about Peace Corps obligations for about a minute and a half before I had to focus on a project I started WAY back in the summer.  By the time we got the news about the Peace Corps assignment, things were in full swing for the Zumbathon, and there was no slowin' down that train.

Earlier in the year, late July, several of the Zumba instructors in the area decided we wanted to hold a Zumbathon.  We met several times, decided on our "cause" and an approximate time for the event.  We wanted to raise money for the Kids Programs of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?). We thought November would be a good time - before the holidays monopolized everybody's time.

Several people were instrumental in putting our fundraiser together, including yours truly.  Some stuff was easy, like asking people for money.  Other facets of the work were more difficult, such as finding the right venue, getting instructors to commit, and getting the Zumba legal department to approve our event.

I put together most of the marketing stuff - brochures to use when talking with sponsors, posters and reminder handouts for instructors to give their class attendees, print and on-air publicity, and a website where people could donate online.  Here's an example of one of the posters:

We had four teams of three instructors each. We all had to nail down what music to use and rehearse, figure out what our Zumbathon would look like, and round up some reliable volunteers.  We got all that done and more.  In fact, we even had a Stage Manager.  Is that professional or what?

The event was held at the Morrisvillle Outlet Mall near RDU Airport on Sunday afternoon, November 21.  We spent several hours on Saturday afternoon setting up.  Here's a picture of the stage on Saturday afternoon.  That big round thing above the stage is the Zumba logo, and STEVE MADE IT!!  He is SO good,  just looked at a picture and figured out how to make it.
We kinda had the whole family involved.  In addition to all Steve did before the event, he was also the videographer and in charge of first aid (thank goodness we didn't need it).  My son, Jeff, was the DJ, his wife, Stephanie, was a volunteer at the registration desk, and my dad and his wife attended to be recognized as "big donors."

Everything came off without a hitch - really!  When the music for the first team started, the crowd was so excited and energized it gave me goosebumps! For two full hours, people were dancing/exercising, jumping and clapping, cheering.  It's all on video (YAY!) and we're making DVDs to give to all who were involved.

Here's a picture of us after it was all over.  Maybe looking a little bedraggled, but happy!

When all the money was counted, including our online donations, we had raised about $3300. We were definitely pleased, considering it all started as an excuse to teach Zumba to a big crowd of people.  We took it from that little seed of an idea to reality.  Cool, huh?

So now, back to the real world - Spanish lessons, holidays and shopping, preparation for departure . . . .

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Passports, Spanish lessons and other stuff

We have lots of work to do to prepare for our work in Belize.  First off, we applied for new Peace Corps passports.  Same application form as anybody, BUT we don't have to pay.  They hold onto our current passports.  We did have to make new pictures.  Since we did our own snaps before, we tried it again. Not too hard - 2 X 2 inches, white or light background.  Here they are:
Of course, what you can't really see very well is Steve's day-old beard and my glitter.  I was dressed to teach my Zumba class, and it was the day before Halloween.  So of course I had to dress up.  Here's the "whole" me.

Yes, I was dressed as a California Gurl and was very generous with the glitter :--)  How 'bout those fishnet tights?

The official language in Belize is English; however, only about 3% of the population speak it as their first language.  Most speak Spanish or Creole (I've also seen it written as Kriol).  Naturally, Steve and I want to brush up (HA - rescue) our Spanish-speaking skills.

Steve is going the Rosetta Stone route.  He bought the first 3 levels for $516 (including tax).  For that amount, you get about a dozen discs and earphones and microphone.  Steve has loaded about 5 of the software discs.  Don't know whether he's supposed to print out any materials or not.  The software will evaluate and give feedback on his pronunciation.  I'll let him write about how it's working.  We just bought it two days ago, so too soon to tell.

I have lots of old materials I can use - from Durham Tech (equivalent to beginning Spanish in High School), from UNC (two semesters' worth, Spanish I and II), from Chicle, a local language school here in Carrboro (only one session), and from the UNC School of Public Health (an intermediate course which I started and dropped out).  After all those classes, I still felt very uncomfortable in a conversational setting.

Gael, a woman from the Zumba class I teach at the UNC Wellness Center, told me about an organization offering free Spanish instruction to those who qualify.  She sent me the link to the Claro Initiative,, offered by  The company is part of Bilingual, and they mainly market to businesses, a competitor of products like Rosetta Stone.  For free, they offer the lessons to health care professionals, ministers, social workers, volunteer organizations, anyone involved in a social needs position who works with the Spanish-speaking community.  I wasn't sure if I would qualify, since my work won't be in the United States, but I applied anyway.

Well, they did approve me, and so now I've started their course.  The training materials are online, and I have to print them out myself.  There are also lots of videos and audio work.  I decided to purchase a once-a-week tutoring session (via telephone) so I'd have a real person to practice with and learn from.  They recommend telephone tutoring over face-to-face (of course they would) because there won't be any visual cues.  We shall see.  I had a short conversation with Yvette this afternoon to set up my first session.

Of course, Steve and I are not being competitive.  We're starting from two different places (Steve took the Durham Tech course, too, but nothing else), and I have tried to speak the occasional conversation.  He, on the other hand, is much quicker to pick up and retain language.

But I still bet I'll "win" ;;--)

Almost done with this harkey-malarkey.  We have to update our resume in the context of what we'll be doing in Belize.  The country manager and perhaps some government officials will use the information for placement and training.  We also have to write an "Aspiration Statement." I almost gagged when I saw that. They are looking for "expectations about your Peace Corps service and assigned project, your strategies for adapting to a new culture, and how you expect your service to further your personal and professional goals."

I know BS when I hear about it.  Maybe I'll change my mind over time.  More later.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NOW we've got something to talk about!

Peace Corps invitation to serve arrived today - one letter addressed to both of us, along with a very large packet of information.

Country:  Belize
Program:  Healthy Environments
Job Title:  Rural Health Educator
Dates of Service:  June 11, 2011 through June 11, 2013
Orientation Date (in the US):  March 23, 2011
Pre-Service Training (in Belize):  March 24, 2011 through June 10, 2011

[Peace+Corps+Belize+sign.jpg]We're both feeling REALLY good about this.  We're not sure why we got such a wonderful assignment - I mean, really - BELIZE.  It's beautiful.  The official language is English.  Formerly British Honduras.

Now reality - it's a very poor country, except for small portions of the coast where the tourist trade contributes to the economy.  We'll be stationed in a rural area, most likely with no running water or electricity.  And we'll need to learn an indigenous language.

Time to dig in and learn about our future home :-)  We'll share more right here.  Cathy

Friday, October 22, 2010

Promise of an Invitation

Oh, gosh, it’s been SO long since we’ve written.  We’ve sold the house and moved to a small apartment.  We’ve been cleared medically – waiting for dental and legal clearance.  We discovered the North Carolina Peace Corps Association and went to their semi-annual picnic.  BUT – nothing was happening.

Today marks a major milestone for us. We had a scheduled conference call with Kristen Arbuckle (our “Couples” Placement Officer) to “discuss our skills” in preparation for placement. During the conversation we revisited most (or all) of the questions from the Couples Questionnaire that we already answered. Apparently we got the answers right, because we were offered jobs in rural health education in Central or South America.

A written invitation is on its way, and we have a week to accept the offer. We are scheduled to go in mid- to late March. When we got off the phone we danced and whooped and hugged each other. We do have to put up with another North Carolina winter, but we also get to see another season of Tarheel basketball.

Time to call the fam and post on Facebook.  An Invitation (capitalized) is the final YES from the Peace Corps.  It’s a job offer, not just a promise to be considered.  Tomorrow we’re going to a picnic in Winston-Salem with Cathy’s side of the family – the “see off.”  Now there’s SUCH A GREAT REASON TO CELEBRATE!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

And now the Bad News

So Thursday the 22nd we got the offer to buy and they suggested a closing date.

On Friday I wrote our Peace Corps Placement Officer, Lateefah Burgess, to ask if she could shed any light on when we would be leaving.  The buyers were waffling between early September and mid-October, and we wanted to accommodate them as much as we could. On the other hand, we believed that we were set for an October departure date, so we needed to be careful. Received an auto-reply that Lateefah would be out of the office until Wednesday.

OK, so sit tight and work on other things (house inspector came on Tuesday), like packing!

Late Wednesday afternoon, Lateefah called and Steve talked with her.  She said, "I am afraid have bad news for you.  Both of your programs have been cancelled."

Steve was struck silent, and thought, "OK.  She's not gonna make me cry."  Of course, if it had been me, I would not have hesitated to cry.

He said, "Is it for security reasons?" thinking about the early July bombing that took place in Uganda.  The Peace Corps monitors the political/social situations in all its partner countries to insure that the volunteers are safe.  Which is good, dontcha think?

She didn't answer the question.  She just said, "I'm so sorry.  The earliest that we will be able to match you to a program will be a January departure date."

So Steve goes into "sell mode," explaining how flexible we are, that just because we had been assigned to do public health and IT, doesn't prevent us from doing something else.  He mentioned that I would be more than willing to give vaccinations, or teach health issues, etc. Heck, I'll dig ditches as long as I've got some good sunscreen!

So now we're really in limbo.  The house is sold and we need to get out.  Steve's last day at work is August 27.  We need to find some temporary housing (cheap!)  Steve wants to find some kind of volunteer project he can work on between now and when we leave.  I'll keep teaching Zumba and whatever other fitness classes come my way.  I may have a little charity project in the works, but I'll write about that later.

Looking on the bright side, we get to spend the holidays with our family, and maybe even see some Tar Heel Basketball before we leave!

First the Good News

We sold our house!  How fantastic.  And what a load off our minds.

We had decided to throw in the towel and just rent the house.  After showing it SO MANY TIMES (32, I think), we still had not received a single offer.  On Monday, July 19, we met with a guy from a rental management company (Louise Beck Properties) and signed on with them to take care of things while we were gone.  We were very impressed with their services and especially with their knowledge of the market and how things should be done.  He recommended that we keep our house on the market, but we would move forward with marketing it as a rental.  On Wednesday a woman came out to take pictures that would show the place on their website, left ANOTHER lock box.

And on Thursday we received an offer to buy the house!  It was a really low offer, but we took it.  We're just barely breaking even on what we paid back in 2003, but that's better than a lot of people have done.  The house inspector has inspected, and we're waiting for their repair requests.  We're hoping to close in early September, but don't have that nailed down yet.  More on that later.

The people at the rental agency were SO nice and didn't charge us a penny for the work they'd done.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Various and sundry

It's been a month since my son Jeff married Stephanie.  Beautiful wedding at the Old Well, and great fun other events!  They went to Argentina and Brazil for their 2-week honeymoon.  If this blog were not about the Peace Corps, I'd post a bunch of pictures ;--)

We have dumbed down our house even more.  Stripped it of 2/3 of the furnishings (we had already taken out about half), and painted most of the rooms beige.  We've shown the place more than THIRTY times, but not a single offer.  Steve thinks nobody's buying.  I'm definitely getting a little panicky.  At some point we'll have to decide whether to drop the price SO low (it's already the lowest priced house in the neighborhood), or hire a manager and lease it out for the time we're gone.  Sigh.

News from a friend - a new resource

I received a Facebook message from my friend, Alex Amorin, who is serving as a PCV with her husband, Lucas.  They are working in Vanuatu, an island in the New Hebrides of the South Pacific.  She had such a WEALTH of great information, including some food for thought regarding serving as a married couple.  They keep a blog at  It's referring to Antarctica because before they served in the Peace Corps, they lived and worked in Antarctica for 6 months.  Actually, FIRST they got married here in the US, worked in Antarctica (for an adventure) and saved lots of money.  Then they traveled around the world for 6 months before they went into the Peace Corps.

They both teach various topics at the schools; right now it's mainly workshops about acquiring and maintaining clean water.  They are really good about posting pictures and keeping up with the latest activities.

ANYWAY, Alex directed me to a site - - that is fabulous.  Developed by PCVs FOR PCVs, it is chock full of great stuff, including ways to calculate when and where we might go.  (WHY does it have to be a secret?)  I spent a lot of time looking at living conditions for the different English-speaking African countries.  It's likely that we won't have running water or indoor plumbing, but we will have one or two rooms (one might be a porch) we can call our own.  Probably won't have electricity where we live.  Of course, if I'm working in IT, there must be a little electricity at least for part of the day somewhere close, right?

Have some fun digging around in Alex's blog and the Peace Corps Wiki :--)

Medical stuff turned in

Cathy here.  We continue to wait (on the edge of impatience) for news about our assignment.  I have completed all my medical screenings and have sent in the very thick packet of paperwork.  Fingers crossed, y'all.  I received a confirmation email that the PC received the paperwork, with the caution that
"Peace Corps received the results of your physical exam on June 29, 2010. If the program you are nominated for is not scheduled to leave in the next 4 months you may not hear from Medical until the time of departure is closer. Currently those programs scheduled to leave in the next 4 months are being reviewed. For applicants leaving within 4 months Peace Corps may request additional medical information. Please respond quickly to these requests."

So I'm focusing on that line about "scheduled to leave in the next 4 months."  I guess October is 4 months away, so maybe they'll go ahead and start the review of the docs.  

Steve goes to see his last doctor next Tuesday.  Here's hoping that pulling together all the test results and myriad "attachments" required is a speedy process.

By the way, my primary care physician, Cecelia McKay, must have spent MANY hours working on my stuff.  I saw the statement from BCBS and it was over $1500.  She didn't charge me a cent!  She is just too cool!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Another Exclamation Point

Not real news here, but I'll write it down.  Steve and I received notice that our legal forms are being reviewed.  What's that mean???  All the stuff regarding ex-husbands/wives and mortgage/loans is being looked at to determine that we're not trying to run away from our responsibilities and debts.

In the meantime, we finally got some RAIN!  It's tough to sell a house when everything is brown . . . .

Friday, May 14, 2010

Treading Water

Well, not much going on here, Peace Corps-wise.  Steve and I are still going to all the doctor appointments, having many tests and lab analyses.  My last appointment is next Wednesday, but then I have to wait for lab results, so Steve may still pull ahead in our race to the medical finish.  Wait - that sounds pretty bad, doesn't it?

No real progress on selling the house, either.  We've painted a little to "dumb down" the rooms, packed, given, and thrown away a ton of stuff.  The house has been shown about 25 times, but no offers.  We're waiting till June to consider dropping the price.  Well, actually, we've already decided to do it, but we're waiting till June anyway . . .

. . . BECAUSE on May 30 my son Jeff and his fiance, Stephanie, are getting married!  There are LOTS of fun tasks for that momentous event.  One thing I'm doing (and I LOVE to do) is creating a multimedia presentation for the rehearsal dinner and reception - pictures and graphics, movies and animations, all set to great music.  I'm also practicing doing my own hair so it looks good for the pictures.  That's pretty important ;--)

Steve is in Alabama right now with his sisters, Nancy and Carol.  He was going to his 45th high school reunion and told them about it. The next thing you know, they had all planned a major walk down memory lane to see friends and places they knew when they were kids. 

So I'm just bachin' it this week - teaching Zumba classes by day (Eight classes this week. I am TIRED!) and watching chick flicks every night. 

Are you still awake?  It's OK - I think it's boring, too.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Focusing our Energy on Medical Clearance

Steve here --- This is an exciting time in the process for us to become Peace Corps volunteers. We will go to Africa in October if we pass the rigorous medical clearance. Every organ system that has ever had a symptom has to be checked out by an expert in that discipline of medicine. Cathy and I are having an undeclared race to finish first with all the consultants. It is also important to have every line on every form completed.

My secret weapon is a returning Peace Corps volunteer I worked with in the emergency room many years ago. He was such an outstanding resident physician that I asked him to be my family doctor when he finished training. After all these years he has remained true to his values that were part of his experience in the Peace Corps. He is working on the comprehensive form for me. Cathy’s edge is that she is younger and has fewer organ systems that have had speed bumps along the road of life. We understand that 85% of the volunteers that complete the medical forms make it to the next level. My question is what happens to the other 15%. We both hope that no new problems with our health will be discovered during the process.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Peace Corps Potluck Dinner - RPCVs, WPCVs and Hopefuls and Interested

Sunday, April 25th, we attended an "end of the year" potluck dinner at the home of John and Jill Paul, and their son and daughter-in-law Chris and Anna, in Chapel Hill.  Except for Jill, they are all Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs).  Nice sized crowd there, many of them students from the University.  Most of the guests were nominees (as are we) or invitees (have a definite departure date and destination).  That makes them Waiting Peace Corps Volunteers (you guessed it - WPCVs).  The remainder were people who had applied but not been nominated (Hopefuls) or those who wanted to learn more and spouses (Interested).

We learned SO much - from how much underwear we should take, how to deal with snakes, mosquitoes, and scorpions, what the PC will give us and what we're expected to provide. 

Let's see, what else?  How to ride a bike while wearing a skirt.  In most countries, the women are expected to wear a skirt - a long skirt - AND the a common way to get around is on a bicycle.  We will not be allowed to drive, so bikes, taxis, other people driving a car or bus, will be our way to get around.  Well, walking is OK, too.

The majority of the people had been somewhere in Africa.  Sounds like we need to be careful about the water if we're in a rural area.  Those who chose NOT to boil the water eventually got used to the critters in it, but went through some serious sickness. 

There were several couples who had gone over as married couples.  They admitted that it was really helpful to have someone with whom to share/vent/rely.  One couple admitted they didn't cook all the time, that it was fun to go out to roadside stands or little markets to get ready-made meals.  Just like Steve and I do now!  They did mention that there's no 1-800 DOMINOS.  :--(

Enough for now . . .

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Medical Forms

We got our packet of medical forms - about an INCH THICK!  'Course that's only one-half inch for each of us.

So we're busy making and keeping appointments with many doctors.  They've been so nice trying to accommodate our need for an early (rather than "Sorry, Dr. --- doesn't have an opening until August.") appointment. 

We're invited to a Peace Corps potluck  tomorrow night.  The parents of a returned PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer - a common acronym within the organization) are hosting the get-together for other RPCVs and new recruits. 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Just a little bit more about what we know

I'm still wondering why the PC people keep our destination a secret.  For some nominees, it may be because they (the PC people) need to keep options open to use the nominees' skills in the most effective way.

The procedure is to let the applicants know within a month or so after the initial interview if they are going to be nominated, at which time they start going through the medical checkup stuff.  We originally interviewed way back in December.  They weren't able to find a country that wanted a married couple with our combination of skills.  In our case, they found a country where they could reopen two separate programs that we matched.  Gosh, I'm assuming we'll be working in the same area/town!!  Also, they said they knew we needed to leave in January 2011 (so Steve could get his vested retirement income from his practice), but these programs needed to have the volunteers leave in October 2010.

All that being said, it sounds like these are specific jobs that start at specific times.  Back to my original question - why are they keeping our destination a secret??? 

The good news is - we are not in competition with anyone for the positions.  Typically the Peace Corps has about 12,000 applicants a year for 4,000 positions. Other volunteers must jump through the medical clearance hoops and they still have to compete with others after that.  We won't have to worry about someone else getting the job.  Yay!

Friday, April 16, 2010

It's the Gov'mint

Our status was updated this morning, April 16, 2010.  To see the change, we have to login to the PC website.  Here's what we found.

I guess they don't like to wait, even if we have to . . . .

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait

We've had time to tell our family about the exciting news, so now we're spreading the word wider.  Steve told the folks at his office and the hospital.  I sent notes to my work supervisors and started telling people in my classes.  Yes - let the good vibes wash right over us.

We had a neighborhood potluck last night where we had plenty of time to hear good stories about people's travels around the world.  Our good neighbor, Ed Hutton, travels a lot as a consultant.  He told a great story about some Japanese clients and his female translator.  She was assigned to him, apparently meant as an slight (the female translators are not as esteemed).  However, he was very pleased with her skills and told her so as they went through the meeting.  Because of his honesty and appreciation, she started helping him beyond the ordinary translation, giving him interpretation of body language and emotions, and tips on when to push in the negotiations.  Turned out to be a very successful day for him.

He shared several examples of culture differences he'd come across.  We will need to be soooo sensitive to every situation in Africa.  I should start practicing now, trying to count to 3 before speaking (not like me, I know), and considering how I phrase responses rather than blurting right out.

We have written the placement officer, Kirsten Albert, to try to get more information about our assignment.  No response yet.  We got an automated email from the Peace Corps indicating that our status has changed to "Nominees," and that we should look for a packet with medical forms that need to be completed ASAP.

Nothing else new going on.  The garden is beautiful . . . .

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Well, we're on our way! We found out Friday that we have a Peace Corps assignment in Africa somewhere. And we're slated to "embark" in October, 3 months before we anticipated!  Steve will be working in public health and I will be doing some kind of IT work. That's all we know so far, but may learn more next week. As for which country in Africa we'll be working, all we know is that there is no language requirement. Our Peace Corps recruiter, Chinyere Alu, said that narrows it down to about 11 countries.

We've been pretty much floating since Friday, but we'll have to dig in now to prepare. We still have all the medical and legal hoops to jump through, but I don't predict any snags along those lines. And we have to sell our house! It's been on the market almost 6 weeks and has shown many times (18 so far), but still no offers :--(