Wednesday, February 28, 2007

From Philadelphia With Love

My Parents and I arrived in Philadelphia this evening, and it's been pretty tame so far. Oddly, the 'rents aren't exactly the go-out-on-the-town type.

Last night (Tuesday) Zach, Odessa, Brian, and I went to Blossom Dairy for an excellent goodbye meal. The conversation was good, the company was better, and the sad goodbyes followed thereafter. As I explained during dinner though, I can't think about that sort of thing. I'm going to miss everyone, but I just have to tell myself not to think about it, otherwise I'll be miserable for far too long. So, I'd like to apologize to those persons to whom I have said goodbye and seemed a bit unaffected. It isn't that I am not upset, it's that I'll go insane if I allow myself to start regretting the things that I am leaving behind.

In much brighter news, I purchased a digital camera this morning! This means that it is possible that there will be fun pictures to be seen throughout my stay in Uganda. At least, there will be fun pictures every three months or so. The camera is pretty much exactly what I need, small, runs on batteries, and not so expensive that I'm going to be insanely possessive over it.

Tomorrow I'm meeting my cousin Dharmeen in Philadelphia for lunch. He lives in New Jersey, but he's taking a train over to see me. It's too bad that I haven't seen him since he's been here for 18 months. Luckily, I can remedy that, albeit briefly, tomorrow. Hopefully I'll take some pictures tomorrow as well. Think cheesy family vacation.

In related news, friday is my birthday. This is also the day in which i begin my Peace Corps staging. I'm not the type of person to stand up in front of a room full of strangers and say "It's my birthday, I demand that you pretend we're friends and bring me some cake", so it's going to be a quiet one. I'll have to quietly raid the minibar that night, so i hope you all have a birthday drink for me on your own time.

Finally, I have narrowed my top 10 list to 10 albums, so now all that is left is for me to rank them. Will I finish before I leave? Most probably not. This sounds like a good secondary assignment.

Okay, it's glaringly apparent that i don't actually have much to say, but feel that I should post something since i'm not going to be posting much anymore. Just a reminder, you can subscribe to this blog's RSS feed in the sidebar (the column to the right). There are a few other things on the sidebar as well. You can subscribe to receive an e-mail every time the blog is updated. You can also check out some blogs from fellow volunteers who are going to Uganda with me. Thus far they are all ladies, so excuse the differences in packing lists. And speaking of packing lists, if you got me a going away present and it isn't on the list, don't worry, I'm bringing it, I just didn't post it.

peace out cub scouts

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

You say goodbye...

And i say goodbye as well. This will be my final post from West By God, so it means the end of fun pictures (unless i happen upon a digital camera sometime between now and tomorrow morning), and the beginning of long text-filled posts about how much i miss home/how busy i am and can't post much. at least that's what i expect. who knows, in a few months my writing may be reduced to ruminations on existentialist philosophy. i just hope that this doesn't turn into a series of diatribes about how great i am and what wonderful things i am doing. this includes phrases such as "can't believe how humbling this is" and "puts into perspective" and "am probably the greatest person ever to walk the planet". I know how easy it is to get on a soapbox, so if that ever happens, please send me a torrent of hate mail.

The last couple of weeks have been my farewell tour. I started in Chicago, where the boys and I had one last weekend together. If Matt ever figures out how to use his camera i'll post the pictures here.

Friday night we went to a house party, filled with the typical rock-star atmosphere that tends to follow us around. There was a soul train, the worm, and an exciting limbo contest in which patrick decided to participate during every round despite the fact that he failed in each of the previous ones. Later that night there was chicago's pizza, a dislocated shoulder (sorry again), and an excruciating conversation about something.

Saturday night was pretty much all me. We went to my favorite places (Ginger's, The Map Room, and now The Old Towne Ale House). Here are a few completely uncensored pictures from that evening of wholesome fun:

From rishi
Yes I know, it's like the rat pack has returned.
left to right: Rishi, Patrick, Vik, Matt

From rishi
A very disorienting picture. I'm glad I knew where I was going.
pictured: Me (pointing), Kremer (w/ ketchup)

From rishi
The two amigos

From rishi
Mike, Vik, and I, keeping it real

Good times.

We ended up at Clarke's (where they DO pay their waitresses) as was befitting, and i had the lion's share of a baked apple pancake.

Sunday night we all went out for dinner, which was also when the goodbyes happened. I said goodbye to everyone that night, and to matt the next morning before driving back home. On the drive home i finally started to realize that i was leaving a lot behind, and i hope that those of you reading this who know me know that i will miss you all more than my jovial stoicism allows me to show in person.

So, i came home, hung out for a day, and on wednesday it was off to boston to see Sheila, my sister. Once again, no pictures, so you'll have to just believe me that it happened. I got to see fenway, i ate veal, and enjoyed the glamorous night life of beantown. i also got to meet a lot of my sister's friends, who were all very cool. the sam adams brewery was very educational, and i actually met up with one of the other Rishis of southern west virginia (there are three of us total). Finally, i said goodbye to sheila as well, and barely made it onto my plane in time.

Sunday night was the oscars, and i took my exhausted self to zach's to watch. of course, everyone i wanted to win won, since it is my year. i obnoxiously took all of the credit for scorcese's victory, but i feel like i deserve it.

So, here i am, my final hours at home. I've been doing laundry, ripping CDs, and sending out e-mails. my family and i are going out for lunch in a little bit, and tonight i'm going to go out to dinner with zach, odessa and brian.

I've also been working hard on my top 10 list. i have it down to 13 albums. 8 of them are locked in, so it's a battle between 5 for the last two spots. i realize that my list is pretty much meaningless, and i'm going to forget it as soon as i'm done with its assembly, but let me have my pleasures. I'll post it when it's finished, so perhaps this won't be my last post after all.

I leave for philadelphia tomorrow morning (feb 28) with my parents. we're going to hang out in philly til the morning of the 2nd, when i will enjoy my birthday anonymously. on the 2nd and 3rd, i'll be in staging which is like a freshmen orientation for the peace corps, except not on the site. we'll be getting shots and attending seminars and getting to know one another. on the morning of the 4th i will be leaving for uganda, and that'll be that. For those of you wonderful people who want my address in order to send me letters, cds, or care packages, for the first ten weeks you can send them to:

Rishi Desai PCT
P.O. Box 29348
Kampala, Uganda

please, please, please send me stuff. if you want to send a postcard, put it in an envelope otherwise it probably won't reach me.

okay, my dad needs to use the computer, so farewell my dear sweet friends, and i will see see you in a couple of years (and don't any of you go getting married while i'm on the other side of the world).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

It's A Packstravaganza!!!

Obviously I saved the better title for the later post. A reward for my repeat viewers.

The second packing run has been a resounding success, and I have somehow managed to pack everything into one small bag (the kind that is just an 8x10 inch nylon bag with strings instead of straps), one piece of carry-on luggage (in stylish electric blue), and previously described 5400 cubic inch backpack. I will have to also carry on my sleeping bag, which i plan on claiming to be my pillow. Thus, i will probably not have to pay a hefty fine, and i will have reduced my load to a much more manageable size. The spanish wine botas hasn't been included, but i think i may be able to squeeze it in somewhere.

And of course, here are my packing list and some photos:

Item # taken
Belts 2
Windbreaker 1
Cubs hat 1
Sunglasses 1
Sturdy Gloves 1
Cotton or Polyester blend slacks 2
Nice Shirt 2
Ties 3
Button down shirts 2
Shorts 1
T-shirts 5
Cotton Underwear 20
Socks 12 pair
Swimming Trunks 1
Running Shoes 1
Dress shoes 1
Work Shoes (comfortable) 1
Hiking Boots 1
Chacos 1
Medicine All
Shaving Cream 1
Deodorant 3
Shampoo 1
Toothbrush 1
Toothpaste 1
Razor 1
Blades 4
Nail Cutters 1
Spices 6
French Press 1
Towels 3
Swiss Army Knife 1
Leatherman 1
Measuring spoons 1
Mess kit 1
Color visa size photos 6
Black and white visa size photos 4
Passport photos 10
Sewing Kit 1
Alarm Clock 1
Nalgene Bottle 1
Slumberjack and inflatable pad 1
Headlamp 1
Reading light 1
Watch 1
Binoculars 1
Day Pack 1
Backpack 1
iPod solar charger 1
Guitar 1
Books 3
Sketch Pad 1
Guitar Strings 3
iPod 1
Tuner 1
Hiking Pants 1

Here are my luggage containers:
From rishi

This is what's going in my backpack:
From rishi

and this is what's going in my small electric blue carry-on luggage:
From rishi


Well, in the spirit of getting ready to leave, I've made up a packing list, and did a preliminary packing run. Everything fit tightly into my backpack (5400ci) and a large blue suitcase. unfortunately, I'll have to leave behind my Spanish Wine Botas but i'll find a way to survive. I also have found that although I am under the weight limit, I'm definitely going to be above the dimensional limit. This is entirely attributed to my guitar. Now I have two options:

1. take everything as is, and hope that i can carry my guitar on the plane with a wink and a smile, but be ready to pay $100 for bringing an extra item of baggage.


2. try and reduce my big blue suitcase into a small blue carry-on suitcase. This would require me to cut the items i have packed down by about 30%.

The first option is easier, and it would save me from worrying about whether or not i brought enough stuff. but i'm a manly man, so i really want to show up and be one of the people laughing at the folks who brought everything they owned, and ended up not needing.

Ah, my laziness vs. my ego. Usually the latter wins out. I'm going to try to repack this afternoon, so the answer will show itself soon.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

The ridiculous application process

When I was starting the application process, i found myself pouring over peace corps blogs, imagining myself in remote locations around the globe. unfortunately there weren't a lot of retrospective looks at the application process, which made it hard for me to really grasp the whole thing. this isn't going to be a very exciting post, so if you're looking for that trademark "Rishi" zest and zeal, i recommend reading toothpastefordinner for the next ten minutes instead. if you're genuinely interested in the process, read on. i really should have mentioned that before toothpaste for dinner.

firstly, i started the application process in november of last year. that is to say, i started filling out the application and getting my references in. you have to have three references: one from a professor or work supervisor, one from someone who has seen you work in a volunteer capacity, and one from a peer. since most of my volunteer experience didn't involve direct supervision, i chose two work supervisors instead. my good friend matt wrote my peer reference, since he had flowered me with praise on the comments section of my last blog (and i swear the detroit academy of ninjas will rise again).

Aside from this, i had to fill out a bunch of forms saying that i've never worked in intelligence, never shot anyone, never slept with a chimpanzee and a south ecuadorian banana tree on the same night, and the like. it was all online, and it was all pretty easy. my references understandably took a little bit more time, but i had the application filled out and all of my references in by the middle of january.

soon after, i received some more paperwork to fill out, including (i think?) some forms for security clearance. i had to get my fingerprints done and fill out some more forms, and send it all in (this is pretty much the gist of this entire post: get some forms, fill them out, send them in, wait, get some more forms). finally, i got called for an interview!

on that note, my friend zach and i were talking recently, and he brought up the fact that people often write exclamation marks in e-mails and notes, even though while they're doing it, they don't seem to be very excited. at first i thought, yeah, of course i don't make a happy face when i type an exclamation mark. but i realized that every time i read someone else write a sentence ending with an exclamation mark (man, if ever a word needed a synonym, it's exclamation mark. i mean, that's just describing what it is. a mark of exclamation. how about some creativity you lazy wordsmiths!) i imagine that they are giddy with excitement, slapping their hands together with glee while asking me if i watched grey's anatomy last night.

anyways, i finally got an interview! this was sometime in the spring, march or april i believe. since i lived in chicago, it wasn't a big deal for me to come into their recruiting office, which i like since i'm not a big fan of phone interviews. the interview lasted a little over an hour. everything seemed to go pretty well, and while we were there we set up a second interview. the second interview was on the phone, and at the end of it, the recruiter told me about a few positions that she could nominate me for. the one that sounded best to me was secondary education in sub-saharan africa in october.

a little while after i got my nomination, i received a new set of paperwork (this included access to mytoolkit, an webpage online that lets you track the status of your peace corps application status), this being the monster that is medical, dental, and visual clearance. i don't want to get into the murky details of how this all went down, but it took forever. i sent everything in, and they wanted more tests, and more information, and i sent more stuff in, and they wanted more stuff, and this went on indefinitely. they really, really, make sure that you're healthy enough for this job. this entire process lasted until the middle of october, when i finally got my clearance.

sometime in the summer meanwhile, i was contacted by my recruiter, who told me that i was no longer going to be doing the program in october, but now would be leaving in november. if you're amidst the application process, you should know that just because you're nominated for a position, doesn't mean that's the one you're getting. in fact, a lot of the blogs i've read talk about being switched once or twice.

now, the worst part of the application process is waiting for your invitation after you get your clearances. this is when you know that you can go, and you probably will go, but you have no idea when or where, and you don't know when you're going to find out. it makes it pretty difficult to think about anything else. i have a friend who waited months to find out where she was going. for me, it only took about a week after my clearance for me to find out that my invitation kit had been sent out. so, i diligently waited for the postman to arrive every day, but alas, no invitation came the next day. or the next. or the next. in fact, despite mytoolkit saying that it had been mailed out, i waited a week and a half and there was no invitation kit.

i got nervous and called my recruiter (who was extremely helpful in this entire process. hopefully all the recruiters are like this, and if you're applying and are not sure about anything, this is probably the person who can point you in the right direction) and she told me that she didn't know when i was going, but she could see that i was going to be going to uganda. now, i was more excited, but still worried that my kit had yet to arrive. finally, my dad came in one day after a long day of golf (yay global warming) and brought the kit that he had found leaned up against our garage. i'm not sure if it had been there for days, but at the time i was just happy it had arrived.

so i got the invitation kit, found out i was leaving march 3rd (the day after my birthday) and that all was going to be well. i filled out more paperwork, sent in my passport and visa forms, and read about my actual assignment, what i was going to be doing, and what kind of living conditions to expect. i also got the url for a pdf containing all of the information about uganda for peace corps volunteers. this included a packing list, some cultural information, and that sort of thing.

so, once again, filled out paperwork and sent it in. after everything was in, i was just left to wait around again, this time for my staging kit. this kit tells you where your staging is going to be. i received my staging kit 4 weeks before departure (they say 3-5 in general) and found out i was going to be leaving out of philadelphia. for those who don't know, before your service you go to staging in an american city. here, everyone else who is going to your country at that time meets, and there are a few days of seminars and vaccinations, and name games. after staging, you all fly to the country of service, and the whole group trains together at the same facility for three months. after these three months of training, you start your two years of service.

anyways, i also found out that staging began march 2nd (my birthday, as well as donnie's and dr. seuss's) which was a day earlier than i had originally been told. so, i guess i'm trying to tell prospective volunteers, that when the peace corps says something is subject to change, they mean it. i then called the travel agency to tell them that i would be driving to staging, although most volunteers would be calling to make flight reservations.

so, that's where i am at the moment. i'm just acquiring all of the things i'm going to take with me. i'll be leaving home with my parents on the 28th, we're going to hang out in philadelphia until the morning of the 2nd, when they'll drop me off at the hotel where our staging is going to be, and that'll be it. the beginning of my peace corps experience.

so, hopefully this gives a reasonable timeline as to the process. i began in november, and am leaving in march a year later, so 16 months total from application to departure. the best advice i can give is to get your medical forms in as quickly as possible, and try not to get too frustrated with the lengthy process. this is where i should say that in the end it was worth it, but i won't be finding that out for another month or so. good luck to those applying, and i don't know why you're reading this to those who aren't.