Monday, February 7, 2011

Uganda Peace Corps Website

The Incredible Lightness of Leaving

There is something both unbearably serious and laughably light-hearted about leaving, like I am doing tomorrow. I'm trying to think back on 5 years ago when I was busy packing up all of my stuff for college, and the unthinkable future of 4 years stretching ahead of me. Truth be told, college never once seemed like this continuous four year stage of my life, probably because it was constantly changing its face, and more importantly, I was constantly changing. The difference between my freshman year and my senior was immense, and by the time I graduated, I looked back at my freshman-year self as a child (and someone I might have thought twice about bringing to a party). Not to say that I'm a together adult now... but, by the time that I left Madison for good, I was considerably different than the girl who came to Madison for the first time.

Despite what I thought at the onset, "college" turned out to be a lot more than studying in Madison for four years. You make your life wherever you end up, and I don't think that I could comprehend that "college" wouldn't come to define my existence, that in fact there would be a lot of wonderfully strange details, phases, entanglements, adventures, and detours in Madison that would eventually lead me to stay there an extra year! I don't think that that scared 18 year old could have had any idea of what the next 5 years would bring, and certainly could not see those years as anything other than a cold, hard statistic. The good thing about time, as my friend Caroline recently reminded me, is that it never stops, which sounds a bit obvious, but can sometimes escape me. A lot of life happens in 2 years, and so maybe it's better to forget how long you will be gone, but rather live as you would as any other moment in your life. There is a lot of life hidden behind the very numbers and calender dates that you perseverate over and plan around.

Anyway, this is a long way to explain how I feel both weighed down by the prospect of the next two years, and completely unburdened. If I think of it in its entirety and in a numbery sense (2.25 years. I'll almost be 26 when I come back), it's a bit terrifying. But, short-term, I'll be in Africa in four days, with two bags. I get a chill when I read that.

I have had a wonderful last few days. I have found support from a lot of surprising and not-so-surprising places. Thank you for your kind and encouraging words, regardless of the media that you used. It has helped this transition to go much more smoothly. My cup doth overfloweth...or whatever.

On that note, I'd like to mention that for the first 2-3 months of my time in Uganda, I'll be fairly unreachable. We will be completely immersed in training, language learning, and staying with host families, so my internet access will be intermittent and spotty. I probably will get online rarely. So, no word is good word. Once we are posted to our actual sites for service, I should be able to get more reliable internet, and will be much more accessible. I will also be purchasing a cell phone which you could call me using skype or a phone card for a reasonable price. You can, however, still reach me by mail. My address for training is:

Ilse Griffin, Peace Corps Trainee
P.O. Box 29348
Kampala, Uganda

Mail Tips: Write "Air Mail" or "Par Avion" on the envelope to prevent tampering. Mail takes several weeks/months. When sending packages padded envelops make it through the system the best. When declaring, do not write the factual amount or contents. Always claim the package as containing less than $25 worth of objects. Also, address to "Sister Ilse Griffin" and scrawl some religious (read: Christian) quotes/symbols on the envelope. This will honestly make it more likely that I receive the mail intact. Plus, it's hysterical. Best biblical quote wins my lifelong respect and approval. WWJD, yo.

I'm determined to be a good pen pal while in Peace Corps, and I will probably have a lot of free time once I'm at my site, to write long letters. So please throw me a line if you are interested. Awkward postcards also acceptable.

I need to enjoy my last night in my over-sized bed. I'm still warming up to the idea of not getting enough sleep for the next few weeks.

Love and Lions,

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Packing; more commonly known as "death by crocodiles"

I am not organized. It's true. I have a few theories about the whole thing, and none of them are pretty.

Somehow, as a result of my parent's union, all four of us Griffin children are laughably messy and appallingly disorganized (although I have heard from several sources that Erin and Leif have changed their ways). This makes even less sense when looking at our pedigree. My dad, a pediatrician and health administrator, always has his shit together. He is the one we approach about anything related to red tape, finance, insurance, bureaucratic nightmares, and basically anything practical. I think he has gotten me out of every single stupid mess that I have gotten myself into, that has to do with money or calling millions of people about my health insurance. His brain definitely functions in a very math-friendly and practical way and he is an excellent problem-solver. My mother is simply the most organized person I have ever met. There is nothing in our apartment that is out of place. She sorts mail, makes piles, compiles lists, has assigned places for everything, and cleans before the cleaning ladies come. She also is a pediatrician, which in itself, requires a high capability of organization and rationality. She has also gotten me out of numerous messes; situations in which I somehow constructed pure chaos from order.

Maybe having kids involves creating a balance, and thus my siblings and I had to make up for our parent's togetherness by being four little black holes of disorder, sucking up all of the cleanliness around us. My sister's bedroom in her teenage years was legendary. Whenever I snuck in there, I found a milieu of treasure, and pretended that I was in a jungle as I traversed a floor littered with spilled make up, school tests, shoes, and magazines. This is not to belittle Erin's current state, because she is now a lot cleaner and better organized. I can attest to that from seeing her place in Amsterdam. Neil has the completely unique ability to completely destroy any room he stays in, within the first 10 minutes. Sometimes he packs everything in ripped paper bags. I have been known to do this too. My brother Leif has improved greatly since living with his girlfriend Kat, but has similar habits to me. We all lived in near squalor during our time in Madison, which left our visiting relatives politely refusing to come inside our apartments. Several of us made beds out of mattresses that we put on the floor. The bed that I slept on for most of college, I had found on a curbside during Madison's "hippy Christmas". Speaking of beds, my mom just recently told me that she was going to teach me how to make a bed before I left for Peace Corps. (I can totally make a bed. It just looks terrible).

This is all just a circuitous way to explain why my life is shambles right now. I have brought an inordinate amount of disorder to my parent's lives over the past few months, as I did to my various roommates over the years. My bedroom is always shut-off, and we skip over it when giving people tours of our house. I think it could probably give someone a seizure or maybe an epiphany, if shown in the right context.

Anyway. Packing has been fun. My mom basically hired one of her best friends to come help me once a week. Fortunately, I happen to adore her, and it's a lot of fun to have her over, but our time together has mostly consisted of her cracking the whip and forcing me into action. " more dilly-dallying!" "Ilsers...what are you doing right now? You are supposed to be sorting these clothes!" These are all common lines heard around my room on the days that she comes over. Honestly though, it has made all the difference. My room, for the first time in years, has a semblance of order and I actually have one suitcase packed.

Knowing my work ethic and organizational ability, I started the process of packing an entire month before my departure date. And, I'm still not done. Planning ahead is completely necessary for someone like me. I'm the kind of person who LOVES to talk about packing and what I should pack and how packing is going, but then never actually does it. Packing for two years for a third-world country is definitely a few steps above anything I have ever had to do, so it's been a big stresser recently.

This all leaves me remembering the night before I left for my semester in Rome, Italy. My friend Kristin came over, took one look at my progress, and then immediately took over. "7 pairs of shoes? What were you thinking? This is not happening."

Please cross your fingers that I lock it up this weekend.