Monday, January 31, 2011

Going Away Party

This weekend I had a going away party on Saturday night. I printed off copies of the Ugandan flag, wrote a fact on the back about Uganda, and hung them all up. My mum and I decorated the house with Ugandan flag colors. We ordered delicious Ethiopian curries and injera bread from a local restaurant. Ethiopia is close enough to Uganda, and way more delicious in a culinary way. I tried to dress Beppo up like a lion. My friends cut out pieces of yellow crepe paper, but naturally, he was terrified of them (like most other objects that you can find in the world). He was our cowardly lion.

It was a great turnout! I had friends from middle school, high school, college, and beyond, and family. Al Franken even stopped by for a late-party cameo, and told me not to "fuck it up" and to practice safe sex in Uganda. Awesome.

It made me so thankful for everyone I know in Minnesota and elsewhere and couldn't have come at a better time for me. I think that these last few weeks before I leave (one week now!) are filled with anxiety-spurned self doubt and second-guessing. They have left me clutching to my dwindling confidence and questioning my choice. It means a lot that so many people came out to bid me farewell on Saturday, especially my friends who drove up from Madison and Chicago for the weekend. It was an emotional weekend for many reasons, as I received a letter that solidified something that I already knew in my heart; the end of a long-distance relationship that had been tenuous at best for the last 4 months. Although this was difficult, the friends and family around me softened the blow and reminded me of people who care about me and who I will never lose as connections and friends.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

My friend Kristin

I wanted to point out that my friend Kristin Radermacher, who currently hails from Cali, Colombia as a math teacher and writer/photographer/traveler, recently pimped out my blog. It looks awesome and I hope it jumpstarts my efforts to keep up with blogging over the next few years.


I got a Swiss Army Knife today. It was listed as an optional item on our Ugandan packing list. My mum and I stood in Target, beleaguered from our trip to the Mall of America, in which we bush-whacked through aggressive groups of mall walkers and ugly clothes.

I should mention here that the Mall of America has a disturbing and uncanny effect on my nervous system and general behavior. When I first arrive, say up until the first thirty minutes, I am wide-eyed and tentative, caught up in the excitement that comes from too many Orange Julius stands, a loudspeaker blaring Lady Gaga, and groups of thirteen year olds on dates. Naturally. Then, upon reaching my threshold of three stores, or thirty minutes, (whichever comes first), I reach a state of "mall-verwhelmed." I can tell the moment I enter this trance-like state, because the world seems to get a lot brighter, I feel faint, and I lose all sense of coordination and motivation. I often forget where I am, what I am doing, or if I like plaid or ruffles better. I run into mannequins and apologize feverishly, I knock over displays, I find myself thinking about tropical fruits instead of what size shirt I should try on. I forget about the human laws of where to walk and when to pass elderly shoppers, and at a certain point, I feel like everyone in the mall is a cold hearted robot. Quite simply, I lose all functionality as both a human adult and a self-respecting shopper. Upon first onset of mall-verwhelmed, I start to form strategy of the quickest way to leave the mall, with the least injury to myself. I forget about all previous objectives and fun, and I sometimes start speaking in tongues.

Anyway. It's unpleasant and definitely an environmentally-caused condition. I was actually ecstatic to go to Target at this point. I was also eager to make up for my erratic and inefficient shopping from before, so I decided to prove myself with the Swiss Army Knife. I decided to pick the Swiss Army Knife with 13 instead of 10 functions, because as I proudly told my mum, "Oh, well, you know, there needs to be a cork-screw," and at the moment, completely unaware of ANY other functions of an army knife besides opening bottles of wine. I mean, what ELSE would I use a knife for? Throwing it at small rodents that will appear in my hut? I don't know. It still is beyond me. But it looks pretty sweet, and I can open a bottle of wine with it.

At some point, there was a point to this blog post, but I completely lost track. It seems like there may be more important things to say than what just happened above.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Four Weeks.

Today I received my staging information! I leave early February 8th to go to Philadelphia for orientation!

I can't wait. I teeter between moments of anxiety and adrenaline but I always seem to land on my feet with a smile. I think I operate the best and reach beyond my potential most when I am in a new and challenging situation. These last 4 months have been sort of terrible for me because I haven't had enough to do and have retreated into a shell. After countless years of school and then going straight into a full year of AmeriCorps, I felt completely lost when my service ended last August. I can't wait for Peace Corps for so many reasons but I think the most important right now is that I will start using my brain, courage, and creativity once again.

I've been reading nonstop about Peace Corps and Uganda, including some very difficult reading about the child soldiers in the Lord's Resistance Army in Northern Uganda. I think it's important that I know about this darker, less-known side of Uganda. Seriously though, why doesn't anyone know about the LRA?? Uganda has been (and is) privy to a genocide just as horrifying as Darfur and Rwanda, but no one seems to know about it. I don't get it.

On the lighter side, Will hire someone to clean out my room and throw away things for me. Seriously. I need an objective eye. And a drink.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Hi, my name is Ilse Griffin and I really like pickles, dogs, and books.

I have a memory box. It is exactly what it sounds like; a box full of memories. My mom brought it up from storage today so that I could go through it and then add more stuff to it. It's all part of the terrible process called "I'm going to Uganda in a month and moving out of my childhood bedroom forever in which I have gained nothing short of a grotesquely appalling amount of shit and haven't seen the floor in over three months".

I started going through this process yesterday, and it mostly involved blaring LCD sound system and half-heartedly going through my ancient CD collection of Backstreet Boys, Nirvana, and other such classics. It came abruptly to a halt when I made a fascinating archeological discovery of old make up I used in middle school, consisting of a million of glittery tube applier things that I used to smear all over my face before going to school. Because having sparkles all over your face got me a ton of guys. Simple a=b equation. Anyway, I got sidetracked. Then, suddenly nostalgic. Then, I opened these 10 year old sparkly tubes and was completely fucking delighted to discover that they smelled EXACTLY how I remembered them to. Awesome. Then, I got more nostalgic and introspective because catching whiff of something from my past always has this transportive ability...more than any other sense, smell can take me right back. Then, I thought really hard about how I should probably throw away the obscene amount of glittery lotions, tubes, eyeshadows, and other gross shit that I used to smear all over my body when I was 13, but then decided that I simply couldn't.

This is why my life is in shambles. A deadly combination of a complete inability to be organized, hyper-nostalgia for inane objects, and a 5-second attention span always brings "cleaning" and "packing" processes swiftly to a halt within 7 minutes of beginning.

Anyway. Today my project of "ruthlessly" (as my mum says) going through my memory box so that I could add more stuff to it ended in a 2-hour spectacle in which I threw away 4 items out of 1200, and alternated between hyper-nostalgia and giddiness. DID YOU KNOW that I once wrote a magnificent story about going to Mars in a box, and spelled every word wrong?? DID YOU KNOW that I created a 50-page document in which I created 50 different English Projects just so that I could be a teacher and grade them in red marker? DID YOU KNOW that instead of completing 3 book projects in 3rd grade, I did 331? DID YOU KNOW that I got 99/100 on a test on dinosaur test and that the teacher wrote, "Ilse, your knowledge of the dinosaur kingdom is remarkable!"?? I AM REMARKABLE. Especially from ages 1-16.

In all seriousness, it's nice to know that somethings never change, despite how far I sometimes feel from the wide-eyed and imaginative girl I used to be. I think I still am her. According to my many report cards, although a complete book-worm and nerd, I somehow always managed to get comments about how I struggled to listen and pay attention in class. "In her own world," was a nice way to put it. Also, I spent much of my free time creating stories, poems, plays, and scenarios, in pen, pencil, and computer ink. With most words spelled questionably. I listed every friend that I had as my "best friend" and talked incessantly about pickles, soccer, dinosaurs, and jungles. My math skills, were "regrettable", and I didn't seem to quite grasp basic math principles, although apparently I always had a huge smile! I wrote about wanting to see the world and the children in far away places. I wanted to visit Jane Goodall in Africa and see her gorillas. I wanted to help others.

I think that seeing all of these reports, pictures, stories, and letters in this box have helped me, more than ever, to feel completely confident about my decision to do the Peace Corps. Simply put, it seems like something I would have wanted to do at age 6, and I think that's all that matters. When it comes down to it, I think the most important thing is to feel a connection with who I was as a kid, when I was full of love and curiosity and a wild imagination and had a jungle-themed bedroom. I never want to go too far from her. (Not so sure about the 12-13 year old sparkly-Ilse who listened to the backstreet boys, however)

I was feeling pretty bad these last few days about people I have fallen out of touch with or lost a connection with, but after looking through letters I received at age 5 from friends I still have today, I don't feel as bad.