Tuesday, January 31, 2012

American Lemonade

A couple of months back my roommate got robbed at gunpoint just around the corner from our apartment. In Oakland we call that getting jacked. In Cape Verde we call that a casabodi... as in "your cash or your body." Fortunately, he walked away unharmed, albeit without his iPod. In the following days, as he sought to come to terms with his experience, he turned to poetry as a form of therapy. The haiku he created was hilarious, but due to the sensitivity of the event, someone mentioned in the poem asked him not to publish it. If you are worried about my roommate, please don't... he's doing just fine.

Last week I got jacked too. Not at gunpoint or with a knife—in fact, I didn't get casabodied at all, but I still feel like I've been robbed. After 2 months of training, and 4 months of service, I found out that due to budget cuts Peace Corps would be closing its operations in Cape Verde in September 2012.* I am still processing this information, and I've only started to weigh the options before me now. Here is an extremely simplified summary of the different paths that I could take, in no particular order.

  • Start over. Get transferred to another country, go through Pre-Service Training again, then complete 2 years of service there.
  • Finish my first year of service in Cape Verde, then transfer to another country and complete my second year of service there.
  • Finish my first year of service in Cape Verde, then move on with my life.
  • Throw up my middle finger, E.T. (early termination) and go home tomorrow.
Obviously, each option is more complex than I've made it sound. Each choice would have its own pro's and con's. Honestly, I only included the last option in this list because I need to vent a little bit. Right now, budget cuts or not, I do feel like Peace Corps has not fulfilled its commitment to me.** That being said, I'm not going out like that. This isn't the end of the world, it's just a big ol´ box of lemons... and you know what  that means.

C'est la vie, right? The most important thing for me to do now is to figure out what is best for me next, and to make the most of my remaining months in Cape Verde. In fact, knowing that my days here are numbered has helped me tune into all that there is to appreciate. Like my roommate, I have also decided to experiment with poetry to help me cope in these difficult times. So, in the spirit of art therapy, I present to you the first in a series of Live From Tomorrow Haikus.

"American Lemonade"
a haiku 

Dad, I joined Peace Corps
...now I feel American...
I just got laid off.

Pura Vida,


*The "official line" is that after 24 years of operations, the Peace Corps Cape Verde Program is "graduating." As the agency faces serious budget cuts and uncertainties, the decision has been made to focus Peace Corps efforts and resources on the countries and people that need it the most. After a full review, six countries were selected for closure: Cape Verde, Romania, Bulgaria, St. Kitts, Antigua, and Suriname. For more information about the decision to end operations in Cape Verde, please visit the following links:

**I understand, and actually agree with the agency's decision to select Cape Verde for closure. I do not understand or agree with the decision to close operations in September 2012, when 25 volunteers will still have one year of left on their service contracts. Sell a tank, have a bake sale, I don't care—let's just finish what we started.

Friday, January 20, 2012

I Need New Shoes

I’m back at home in Cape Verde after a short vacation in Dakar. The trip was excellent, but the fallout was considerable. My legs feel like I swam home from Senegal,  my bank account is looking real bad, and my liver has gone on strike in the hopes of renegotiating its labor contract. In short, we did it big last weekend.

After six months in my new home, I headed to the mainland to participate in W.A.I.S.T.—the West African Invitational Softball Tournament. All I have to say is that if baseball was more like W.A.I.S.T., then I would play and watch it a whole lot more. Every January, hundreds of Peace Corps Volunteer from across west Africa converge on the Senegalese capital for a weekend of mostly-unproductive camaraderie. The weekend follows directly on the heels of several constructive events, including the WID/GAD* conference and the All-Volunteer Conference, where folks get a chance to share ideas about their actual work. In stark contrast, W.A.I.S.T. is more like homecoming meets The Wellington Sevens. I’d like to tell you all about it, but what happens in Dakar stays in Dakar. Instead, I’ll give you just a little taste. So, with no further ado, I present...

Ten Things I’ll Never Forget About W.A.I.S.T. 
  1. Partying so hard that even the kitten was passed out on the couch for most of the following day;
  2. Pondering the idea of replacing the “Classic 1 to 10 Scale” with the “Binary System” for rating the attractiveness of women... kinda like red light / green light, or taking a class Pass/Fail;
  3. Having a blast on an improvised Slip N Slide (plastic tarp + soapy water);
  4. Seeing a softball team plug their defensive gap in the short-stop hole with an inflatable killer whale;
  5. Charging the mound to tackle (and tickle) the pitcher from Team Far East after he beaned our batter;
  6. Committing hara-kiri after that same team pounded us for three innings;
  7. Replacing the third “s” in “sh*t, shower, shave” with “shawarma”;
  8. Kraus;
  9. The taste of a medium rare steak smothered in green peppercorn sauce (good); 
  10. The taste of homemade moonshine imported from Korea (bad)

Now, I admit that this post has been a bit less wholesome than the others on this blog, and I wouldn’t want you to walk away with a bad impression of W.A.I.S.T. Truthfully, despite the debauchery, I can look back on the weekend and appreciate some valuable takeaways. For example, the opportunity to meet over one hundred volunteers from across the region was golden for me. Being stationed in Cape Verde, I am constantly reminded how different my life is from the “typical” Peace Corps experience (if there is one). It was nice to actually compare notes with Volunteers serving on the mainland, mostly in rural sites throughout Senegal, Guinea, The Gambia, and Mali. Not surprisingly, I found that their experiences were very different—the biggest shock for me was to realize just how damn many of them there are! We have less than 50 volunteers in Cape Verde, plus we are spread out across several islands so we are never in the same place at the same time. At times it felt like there were that many volunteers crashing at the Regional Transit House in Dakar on any given night.

 By far, the highlight of the weekend for me was dancing. Actually, I’m bumping Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album at 11:00am as I write this, so you know what I’m about. It was just one of those times when you’re out there for 4-5 hours straight and every song that comes on just happens to be your jammy jam... even when you actually can’t stand it. It wasn’t until the next day when I went to get dressed and observed that my shoes were dirtier than Sarah Silverman's mouth, that I realized just how "active” I had been on the dance floor for the last two nights.

Believe it or not, Team Cape Verde did not make it to the semi-finals of the tournament, so we had Monday off to chill out. My original plan had been to use that day to explore the city a little bit, but I ended up exploring the couch at the Transit House. I can’t remember the last time I travelled to a new country or city and saw so little of it. I’m not proud of how little I integrated into Senegalese society during my four day stay—but I’m also not ashamed. Everyday for me in Cape Verde is a struggle to integrate, and I just needed a vacation.

Since my plane did not leave until Tuesday afternoon, I got to spend my last morning walking the streets of downtown Dakar. It reminded me how much I enjoyed riding solo during my travels leading up to entering the Peace Corps. More than anything, those few hours made me want to come back to Senegal again—maybe for W.A.I.S.T., or maybe for no good reason at all. At least I know I have a bucket of new friends in west Africa, and at least a few mud huts that would welcome me. I’ll make it happen... inshallah.

Pura Vida,


*From Women in Development to Gender in Development

Friday, January 6, 2012

Just Like Daddy

I love kids. I love them enough to go on record and state that I want some of my own—just not yet. In the meantime, I’ve been content to practice for the upcoming challenge. Some of you reading this have been generous enough to dump your kids on me from time to time, and for that, I thank you. After all, that’s what Coach Drew is here for, right? In addition to the hordes of rug-rats and miscellaneous youngsters that I’ve had the opportunity to pseudo-parent, I’ve also had the chance to hone my skills while rearing my two adopted children, Dino and Mia.

Even though they live thousands of miles apart and have never met each other, they do have one important thing in common: they’re both just like Daddy. Dino, for example, loves him some bola*. Like me, he’s really not into running just for the sake of it, but give him a ball and he’s on it like a fiend on a pipe. All joking aside, I would recommend against using the b-word* around him unless you are already at the park and ready to roll with ball in hand.

Mia, on the other hand, is not crazy about balls. In fact, I literally just tossed one at her and she ran out of the room. That’s OK because she still likes to get active... which brings me back to my original thought: she’s just like Daddy too. I guess it's true that the apple never falls far from the tree—especially the part about falling. Unfortunately, my little girl had some kind of spill during a unsupervised brinca** session with some of her friends. Now she’s got a broken left arm... just like Daddy. Actually, she’s ahead of schedule—I think I was about one year old when I first broke my arm, and she’s only six months.

It may sound like I am taking this pretty lightly, but I’m not. I guess the bitter humor is just how I’m dealing with it—the pity, the guilt, and the frustration. After a few trips to the local animal clinic it dawned on me (again) that I’m not in Kansas anymore. Honestly, it’s easy to forget how isolated I am when I’m watching English soccer via satellite and checking my Facebook at work (just a little bit). Then my little girl’s got a limb hanging limp, and all the vet can do is give her a shot for the pain and improvise a splint from random wood scraps and a few strips of tape. Oh yeah, I forgot: I live on a tiny island in a developing country in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Somehow it had slipped my mind that there wasn’t a fully equipped professional doggie surgeon in the local yellow pages. My bad.

If there is a silver lining, it must be that Mia is taking this whole thing a lot better than I am. Like I said, she loves to get active, especially with other dogs, and this hasn’t slowed her down a bit. Even with only three functioning legs, she is still down to rassle and she never passes up a chance to let the other canines know. And since she's just like Daddy, I expect that she won't be letting a broken arm or two (or three) stop her from doing big things. 

Honestly, the chances for a full recovery are not looking good right now. All I can do is hope for the best and remind myself that either way, she’s got a long happy life ahead of her. In the meantime, think some happy thoughts for her.

Pura Vida,


**playing around