Gender Equality Networking Program

My first job interview was when I was 17 years old. My sister and I decided that one day we wanted to get a job, so we walked to the biggest employer of our city to see if they had any openings. Back in my day (I’m just kidding, I’m not that old), you could just walk over and ask for a job. We lived close to a theme park and we thought working there might be fun.
I remember thinking to myself that I had no idea what I was doing. No one ever walked me through what an interview is like or what I should expect. Somehow, even though I did not dress in business professional attire, I still got the job after three hours of interviewing. Working as a food hostess was a great professional learning experience. Looking back, I made two big mistakes: I had no resume and I did not dress professionally. Granted, I was applying for a minimum wage job and wore jeans to the interview….but still, not the best idea.
In this regard, the youth in my community and I have that in common. I had little opportunities for mentors and career advice, and so do these youth. However, I did have a school counselor (who was an amazing human). Public schools in Georgia do not have school counselors. In fact, I’m not sure if Georgians are even aware that schools counselors are a thing. Therefore, learning how to write a resume and exploring career goals are not topics discussed in schools.
One of our mentors (left) working with her two female youth on their resumes and 5 year goals
The previous cohort of the Gender Equality Committee did a mentoring project in one community. It was gender split and the beneficiaries were the IDP youth (Internally displaces persons, typically from either Abkhazia or South Ossetia). However, this year, my cohort (the G16s) wanted to expand this program to different regions within Georgia. We held workshops in three regions: Samgerlo, Imereti, and Guria. My friend Kelley was the mastermind behind the whole thing. I helped her run just one of the workshops: the Imereti Region Workshop.
For each workshop, we planned on recruiting 8  mentors (4 female and 4 male). We also wanted 16 youth (8 female and 8 male). The plan was to equally split up the youth with the respective mentor with the same gender. As I’m writing this, I’m giving a little chuckle. Why on earth did we think we could get the perfect number? Just because we wrote in our Let Girls Learn grant that we could 16 youth and 8 mentors, reality always has a different plan in Georgia!
Ryan, Peace Corps Volunteer, (3rd from the left top row) with the male mentors and youth at the Workshop during the gender split session
I co-hosted and organized the Imereti Region Workshop along with my friend Ryan. You’ve should have heard his name by now, I’ve mentioned him in various posts. Ryan calls me five days before the workshop and tells me that we do not have any youth signed up. I nod my head and just sigh. My response was, “Ryan, it is Tuesday afternoon. Friday is a holiday. Do you think we can actually find 16 kids to show up within 2 business-days?”
Optimistically, he responds, “we can try!” I replied, “I guess it does not really matter. Even if we found a bunch of kids, they could just drop out any second. Let’s just try to get kids. If there aren’t many by Thursday afternoon, we will postpone the event.” Thursday rolls around and Ryan calls me back. “So, we actually have more than 16 kids now.” I laughed and said, “of course, we do. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them do not come.”
Sure enough, Saturday rolls around and we only had nine kids show up on time. We waited a while and then three more stroll in like being late is still the fashionable thing to do. Kelley, Ryan, and I look at Manana (Ryan’s counterpart) and ask her if more people are coming. Manana said she will be right back and walked out the room. Through the window, I see Manana walk to park in the center of town. I assumed she had a good reason and did not think anything of it. Minutes later, Manana comes back by gently telling a teenage boy she brought with her to sit down. I asked Ryan what happened. Apparently, Manana walked through the park, some a kid, and “invited” him to attend this workshop.
I have to hand it to the Georgians. If they want to make an event happen, it will happen. In America, I would not be so confident to just go to a park and grab a kid. Secondly, I would have been stressed out if days before the event I were to have to registered participants. But so life here….predictably unpredictable.
Other than the little participant count mishaps, the event went without a hitch. Kelley did a great job presenting the various job-related skills. I conducted a session on job interviewing. The kids were very engaged. In fact, I don’t remember seeing any kids trying to sneak in a little Facebook time on their mobile phones. I was pleasantly surprised at how active the youth and the mentors were in the sessions.
Some of our mentors and youth as they were participating in an activity during the Job Interviewing Session.
When the day was over, one of the mentors I invited came up to me and said, “Workshops like these are very important in Georgia. It is a shame that only these youth came. More should have come.” I had also invited Justin’s Georgian tutor and she echoed the sentiment. In fact, she even suggested that Kelley and I should hold the fourth workshop at her private school. Granted, we had only planned for three workshops, but Kelley and I loved the idea of hosting more workshops. In all honesty, I loved that the mentors and the mentees loved the workshop that they volunteered their opinions that more should be conducted.

Missing Out on Key Events

When I signed up for the Peace Corps, I full well knew that I would miss out on key life events of my friends and family. Since the events were unknown when I left, I did not realize the true value of what they were. I’ve been gone nearly two years and I have missed out on weddings, engagements, births, and deaths. The closer the friendship is, the harder it is to miss. Life moves on, regardless if I’m there or not. A hard fact of life.
A few days ago, I received a wedding invitation from a dear friend of mine, Lauren. Within the first few weeks of PST, Lauren messaged me and told me that she got engaged. I was incredibly excited for her and was so happy to hear the news. Justin and I met Lauren on our very first day during our Hong Kong exchange. Lauren is from Australia and she was also an exchange student the same semester as us. Since the first day, we were inseparable. I think there were only 3 days that I did not either speak or saw Lauren the entire 6 months we lived in Hong Kong. One year after Hong Kong, Lauren spent Christmas with my family in California.
Lauren with Justin and RAwan
Justin (left), Lauren (center), ad me (right) during our first dinner in Hong Kong
Eight years later, we still keep in touch and keep each other in the loop for any big events. So here I am, staring at her beautiful wedding invitation. I have deep sinking gut feeling in my stomach. I know that I cannot go. My first thought was, “If I was still at my old job, I would have bought my plane ticket and looking at hotels right now.” But I’m not at my old job. I am here in Georgia. If I sound a bit bitter, I am. I hate missing out on these things, but this it the price that I have to pay. These are the down moments in Peace Corps. The worst part is, this particular “down” moment has nothing to do with my service or even Georgia.
Me (left) and Lauren (right) having a girls night while studying abroad in Hong Kong!
This is not the first time I felt this way. Remember how I spent Thanksgiving early with my friends on a winery? If you did not read my Thanksgiving experience, here is the post. On that Sunday morning of our departure, I woke up to a few messages on my Facebook. One of my oldest and closest friends, Nikki, got engaged. She sent me a picture of her engagement ring, with the caption, “Look what happened Rawan! :)” Then immediately after, “we tried calling you.”
Me (right) and Nikki (left)- a picture of us during our senior year in High School at one of the school dances.
My other friend, Nicole, was also sending me pictures of the surprise engagement. Yes, I have two close friends with the same name. One is Nikki and the other is Nicole- it is actually not confusing. Nicole’s caption was, “She wanted to Facetime you.” Then, the tears rolled down my eyes. My phone had died during our Thanksgiving. The engagement happened in the middle of the night in Georgia, but I was actually awake still celebrating Thanksgiving. It upset me that I could have virtually been there and I wasn’t. My Peace Corps friends were sitting next to me when I received the news, so they comforted me.
Nikki was one of my bridesmaids when I got married. At least 15 year of friendship and still counting…
Regardless, when I got back to site, I could not help but feel immensely homesick. I laid in bed for the better half of the evening. I just kept on thinking that I would never have wanted to miss out on Nikki’s engagement. It is true that I have not lived in my “hometown” for about 6 years. Before Peace Corps, I used to make the 8-hour drive for anything important back home. If I was super homesick, I just got in my car. The only thing I could do here, in Georgia, is make popcorn and watch a sappy movie on my laptop. Not. the. same. thing. at. all.
The only thing that makes me feel better is that distance is not a test of my real friendships. I have not seen either Lauren or Nikki in years, but here we are, still friends. Missing out on life events of friends and family is hard, but at least they are still trying to include me in their lives thousands of miles away. And that, my readers, is a wonderful thing to be grateful for.

Let Girls Learn: Composting in Imereti

My organization and I applied and received a grant from the Let Girls Learn project to encourage teenage girls into sustainable, green farming! How? We taught them how to compost and provided them with the materials to do it in their villages!

When I studied abroad in Hong Kong during college, I took a day trip to Mainland China for a Spa Day with a friend. In the cab, on the way to the spa, I saw a milk ad on a billboard. It had a cow, showing its utters, stating how fresh her milk is. Right next to the cow billboard, there was an ad for pork. It had the same set-up, a pig was basically saying, “Hey, I’m yummy. Eat me.” It freaked me out. I realized that American commercials (excluding Chick-fil-A), tends to shy away from things like that.

American culture, regardless of personal values, does not have a strong desire to know where our food comes from. Things are slowly changing, but it is true. When I told people that our “pet chickens” were later “dinner” in Peace Corps, people thought, “oh, my poor thing.” It is completely forgotten that most of the world and human history knows exactly where their food comes from. For centuries, most of food came from our backyard’s or our neighbors.

My PST (Pre-Service Training) Host Family were farmers and grew various vegetables and fruits. I personally picked out these garlic bulbs from the garden back in PST.

For Georgia, this is still the case. According to The Fund Georgian Center for Agribusiness Development, the “agricultural sector employ[s] around 53% of the active workforce.” For less than 4 million people, that is a crazy amount of farmers. In my personal opinion, this is probably an inefficient way to feed a nation. To make matters worse, there are a lot of harmful farming practices in the country.

My host neighbors in PST riding their tractor to the far early in the mornings. I would see this man so many days on my way to training.

Georgian farmers heavily use pesticides and toxic fertilizers. Green farming practices are nearly non-existent on a national level and are not commonly used by local, small-town farmers. According to WECF International, Georgia still uses illegal and toxic pesticides in their farming practices. Many of these pesticides are untested, and they are replicates
of the “western trademark pesticides.” Farmers tend to use these replicates because they are cheaper; however, they contain harmful toxins and pesticides that are also less effective at killing their targeted pest. The improper use and storage of these illegal and banned substances pose a health risk to the farmers and contribute negative effects on the environment.

My youth counterpart and I receiving fresh fruit from one of the farmers in our composting project

Also,  men make up about 90% of farmers in Georgia (our own needs assessment). Females may look after small livestock, such as chickens. However, the men are strategically in charge of the farm and make the important decisions. Women, on average, own fewer assets, such as land, livestock, and human capital. They have less access to inputs, such as seeds, fertilizers, labor, and finance. They tend to depend on their husbands for these things. Increasing women’s resources could “help rural women maximize economic opportunities, increase productivity, and improve food security, education and healthcare since women tend to reinvest in their households” (The World Bank).

To alleviate some of this, my youth organization, Youth2Georgia, wanted to do a Composting project in the villages of Imereti. Initially, we submitted the proposal to the German Embassy, but we got denied. Therefore, six months later, we revamped the project idea and submitted it as a Let Girls Learn (LGL) grant. I discussed a bit of what LGL is in this post if you want to read more. We felt that composting was a great way to reduce the dependence of harmful fertilizers and pesticides while increasing female participation in sustainable, green farming practices!

Iberia College Training and Composting Demo. Here, we are building the first composting bin at the Agricultural School at Iberia College.

So for a couple of months, I worked hard with my counterparts. Many times, a Peace Corps Volunteer will write the SPA or LGL grant, but because we were not on a tight deadline, I refused to do that. For nearly two months, I spent several hours a week working with my counterparts. In fact, I did a mini, informal Project Design Management training. I explained all aspects of the Let Girls Learn grant writing process. They even wrote the first draft to the grant. I worked with them on all the edits. In the end, I rewrote a lot of the English and fixed it up. However, it was a truly a group effort and I was very proud of how much we designed the project together.

In total, we delivered three separate trainings. The first training was at Iberia College with about 20 participants. We trained the entire staff under the school of agriculture and their students. The staff and students included both male and female. We strongly believe that in order for gender equality to be achieved both men and women must participate in the process. The second training involved teenage girls and several of their mothers. We were hoping that involving the parents would increase the likelihood of them actually composting.

A picture of our second training. We held the event at a local winery of a famous female winemaker. The well-known female winemaker was also a participant and served as role model for composting.

We have later learned that there was no correlation between parent participation and girls composting. In fact, it seemed that less teenage girls wanted to participate in the training with their parents. Therefore, for our third training, we only invited 20 teenage girls. All the participants were from villages in our region. Therefore, all of them had access to large farms in which they could do composting.

This is the winemaker’s composting bin! I was so proud of how she got started on it and already filled it up half way within a few weeks.

Now, I will admit…We were not the most successful with the turnout. Only about 17% of the participant actually composted on their farms. However, over 80% indicated they understood how composting is made and why it is important as evident by our post-tests. More importantly, they understood why increasing female participation in farming is important (we had a gender component in our training).


On one of our monitoring days, we visited the sites that started the composting. I’m not making this up, but it was one of the most beautiful days I had in my service. I cannot tell you how bright the smiles were of our participants. For those who composted, they loved it! Seeing how proud they were made me proud! It was heartwarming how they took care of their composting bins and how it will change the quality of their farming.

For two of the three trainings, I had partnered with one of my friends and Peace Corps Volunteer Ryan. If you read the Thanksgiving post, he is referred to as Yarn Skallah. He was conducting a grant and a project to teach youth to professionally film and edit videos in the same community I was doing my composting. We thought it would be a great idea to film the composting trainings. If you are interested, here is a YouTube video of my trainings!




Small Projects Assistance (SPA) Committee

Given it is early December, I only hang out consistently with a warm metal box at my house; I call it my heater. Everyone else calls it a heater too, so I suppose I should give it a better nickname…Regardless, I was next to the only heater in my place, propping my feet up on a stool, with my laptop on my lap (and verifying in my mind, once again, why they named a laptop). Most Georgian homes do not have insulation or central heating. I am extremely lucky to have one gas heater in my home that works- even if it does not heat the entire house. So there I  am sitting there trying to stay warm when suddenly my dad calls me on Facebook Messenger.

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Actual footage of me next to the heater from November-March

He begins with, “How are you doing, Baba?” I responded with, “I’m working right now.” He was confused since it was around 10 p.m. at night on Saturday. I told him two things: 1) Peace Corps life does not have a regular 40 hour week. It especially does not end at the end of the workday. 2) I had a record number of grants to read, so working on the weekend was a given. This promoted a discussion to exactly what grants are in Peace Corps and why I was reading them. I told him that I was on the Small Projects Assistance Committee. Since my dad was curious, I thought….this might be a good blog post.

I had barely mentioned that I was on SPA on this post, but I did not go into detail. As stated on the USAID website, “The Small Project Assistance Program (SPA) is a joint collaboration between USAID and the Peace Corps to support local community development…Local Sustainability Division manages USAID Mission access to SPA and encourages USAID Missions and Offices to participate in the program. Peace Corps Volunteers compete for funds allocated by USAID through a proposal process managed by the local Peace Corps field offices.” I believe that each Peace Corps manages SPA slightly differently, but since I’m in Georgia, I’ll explain a bit of how it goes here.

The current SPA Committee. From left to right, Erin (G17), Dora (G17), Sarah (G17), Felix the Cat, Kara (G16), and Daniel (G16). And I’m taking the picture

Have you ever followed any of Peace Corps’ posts on social media? Well, I bet you that a lot of those posts were SPA related! For example, if you see an English Cabinet that is renovated in a village school- that is probably SPA! So basically, SPA is a powerful tool to get our $hit done! We mobilize our communities with notebooks in hand changing lives.
Sounds cheesy, well, it is because it is. How are so many of these grants ends up so awesome?

My friend Emily, right, on the launch day of her Healthy Living Club

First, we welcome and encourage Peace Corps Volunteers to have us review their grants in advance before submitting it. In essence, I would read the grant and offer the Peace Corps Volunteer objective critique and constructive feedback. It could be about the grant idea in general or the actual writing of the grant.

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“Your grant is fine, but here is some things you could work on.”

However, they are not required to submit us anything in advance. We are there if they want us. When it comes to the recommendation after the submission deadline, each of us actually read every single grant. To reiterate, all six of us reads every single grant submitted and rates each grant based on objective criteria. During our quarterly meeting, we discuss the grant with two of the Peace Corps staff members and then offer our recommendations to the Country Director.

Each Peace Corps Volunteer and one counterpart is required to go through training at PDM Project Design Workshops. Each volunteer brings along one counterpart to the training, that way, we are also increasing the capacity of host country nationals. If the grant is approved, they are either funded a maximum of $2,500 if it is a local or $5,000 if it is community-wide. For basically chump change for many companies, these funds can literally shape and change a community.

These are the G15s when we were wrapping up our May 2017 cycle. We basically hide in the Peace Corps office’s large conference room discussing each grant.

Being a part of the process is amazing. First, I feel like it is one of most impactful part of service. I have helped dozens of volunteers with their projects indirectly. I have offered them suggestions that strengthened their proposal and/or their grant idea. Some volunteers have engaged us in conversations with their counterparts from the start. Others will just send us their final version to ensure they aren’t missing anything before the submission. However, speaking with Peace Corps Volunteers in the early stages can be fun. It can shape the success of the grant. For example, my friend Emily (who is on the Gender Equality Committee with me), engaged me from the start! She wanted to do a healthy living club at her school.

Emily teaching her kids some sporting techniques!

There have been times where she would call me, “Rawan, can we do this? Can we do that?” I have spoken to her and her counterparts on speaker phone giving recommendations. I also read the grant and offered a comprehensive review once she put pen to paper. When her grant got funded, I almost felt like I was a part of the project! It is awesome to serve as a resource for other volunteers to help them create and implement better projects in their community!


Welcome to Jurassic Park

No, this is not click bait. My friends and I actually camped where the dinosaurs once lived. I will admit, the campsite site is not called, “Jurassic Park,” but rather, “Sataplia- Imereti Caves Protected Areas.”

The entrance sign

Here is your Georgian lesson for the day, “Tapli” means “honey.” The kind that you eat, not the nickname that your grandmother has for you. The Georgian language has some logic to it, whenever the “place” for something is, you add, “sa” in front of it. Therefore, “Sataplia” loosely translates to, “the place where the honey is.” So, why am I referring to it as the Real Jurassic Park? Well, Sataplia is well-known in Georgia for the dinosaur footprints and its beautiful caves.

Katharine, Peace Corps Volunteer, took this wonderful picture of the dinosaur footprints

The plan was to leave in the morning on Saturday, November 25th, 2017. We originally wanted to go to Oktase Canyon, but they were not allowing any visitors because of the snow. Many of us traveled far for this camping trip (I did not), so the snow was not going to stop us from camping. So we settled on Sataplia because it was close and mainly because they were open to visitors.

Sataplia National Park has this viewing balcony that you can view the mountains and the city of Kutaisi. (photo cred: Erin)

Everyone who knew we were camping thought we were crazy. The other American Peace Corps Volunteers thought, “Don’t freeze out there!” Thanksgiving weekend has been the first snow of the season for many parts of Georgia. The Georgians were simply dumbfounded to why anyone would want to sleep outside- by choice. I was able to get a local Georgian friend of mine to call his uncle to drop us off at Sataplia. His question was, “Where are you going after Sataplia?” Our answer, “We are staying at Sataplia.” He kept on repeating the question, because why on earth would anyone stay in Sataplia in the snow. From then on, we coined the theme of the camping trip, “#Campingordeath.”

Outbound to camping! Front right-hand corner: Neil. Second row (left to right): me, Joe, Erin, Katharine, and Cherish. Back row: Tyler’s hand (you can only see him waving) (photo cred: Neil)

When we arrived, we definitely looked like the crazy Americans. The park rangers were confused as to why we had so many things with us. When we explained to them that we are Peace Corps Volunteers who want to go camping, they welcomed us with open arms! The director of the park had hosted (as a host family) a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2013. So within minutes, some of them left the park to go buy some cha-cha (similar to vodka), wine, and bread to celebrate!

“Quick! Do the T-Rex!” Sataplia has a couple of dinosaur models in the park. (photo cred: Lasha, via Erin’s phone)

In the meantime, one of the park rangers, Lasha, took us a personal tour of the caves and the park. Lasha embodied the hospitality of Georgia. Of course, the entire tour was in Georgian, but we understood most of it 😉

For the next couple of hours, we drank and ate bread with the park rangers in their office. We shared with them our pretzels and snacks that we bought for the trip. You simply cannot get a better cultural integration moment than that! We laughed and ate and just enjoyed each other’s company.

Neil and I collecting firewood! The snow was slippery, especially when walking with a huge log downhill! (photo cred: Katharine)

By the time we finished drinking and snacking with the park rangers, it was almost 4:30 p.m. We immediately started setting up our camp and collected firewood. It was the first time in my life collecting firewood. For bonfires in the U.S, we would just buy the wood at the store. Nope, I spent the next couple of hours looking for dead, fallen branches in the woods. I’m not going to lie, I surprised myself with how much I carried and contributed.

Collecting firewood during sunset! I loved this photo that Erin took of me. It just captures the beautiful Georgian nature.

The park rangers let us borrow their shovels, so we used that to remove the snow where our tents would be. Then, we set up our tents and our sleeping bags. I inherited an old sleeping that has been passed down several Peace Corps generations in Georgia. I am very thankful for it because it kept me alive throughout the night.

One of my favorite pictures of the trip. Erin captured our campsite with the set setting down. It is picture perfect, to say the least.

We spent the night telling each other stories, huddled around each other to stay warm. Tyler kept up the fire most of the night and he did such a good job. Yay us for collecting enough firewood! It was definitely a fun experience camping. Now, would I do it again in the muddy snow? Debatable.

I also found out that on our way back, the park rangers had given the office key to one of us. They offered their indoor office in case it was too cold outside. So, it was nice knowing that they did not want to find seven, dead American bodies lying in the snow the next morning.

One of a Kind Thanksgiving: Back to the Basics

Yarn Skallah*: “So we have a slight issue. Baia does not think she can get us a Turkey anymore.”
Me: “Do you think you can get a turkey? I mean you can literally probably just kidnap one off the street? They just run around, maybe no one will notice.”
Yarn Skallah: “I was hoping you get one at your site.” I simply laughed at this.
Me: “What is a Thanksgiving in Georgia without a bit of drama? I have never seen a turkey sold here. But I will ask Dato and we will figure it out.”

*Yarn Skallah is a nickname that Ryan adopted during our PST experience. He has specifically requested for me to use his nickname in this blog post. I will refer to him as Yarn going forward.

Turkeys literally just roam around in villages and towns. Suggesting to kidnap one is not unrealistic, but still unethical.

The above conversation is in reference to our planning stage for our Thanksgiving event in a nearby village. Baia, referenced above, is a local, famous, female winemaker who has a guesthouse attached to her vineyard. Our plan was to rent out the guesthouse, invite several of our Peace Corps friends, and celebrate Thanksgiving early with Baia. I also invited Dato, my director at World Vision, to celebrate with us.

Immediately after that conversation, I request Dato’s help, “Do you know if we can buy a Turkey here?” He nods and said, “Yes, at the poultry market. We can go today and see.” So within the hour, I hop in the car and Dato and I were off to this poultry market that I had no idea existed. Funny enough, it was a couple of blocks away from my host family’s house. This market was filled with live chickens and pigs for sale. Unfortunately, that day, there were only 5 live teenage turkeys. We felt that the price was a bit high, so we decided to pardon the turkeys’ lives and let them live for another day.


You can see a couple of pigs in the bottom right-hand corner. The rest of the picture is filled with live chickens.

I felt perplexed by the whole thing. I really wanted to brine the turkey for days before roasting it. However, Dato was convinced that on the weekends, the price of a live turkey drops. Considering that our event was on a Saturday night, this would work out in our favor. Whilst all this was happening, I could not help but laugh at the situation.

Here I am arguing about live turkeys for Thanksgiving with a villager who grows them for a living. In California, Justin and I would buy our turkey weeks in advance from Costco and begin defrosting it a few days before Thanksgiving. It got me thinking, did pilgrims, the ones who did not raise turkeys, have the same conversation at the market nearly 300-400 years ago? Or did they just kidnap one off the “street” like I jokingly suggested we should do?

During the whole week, I had a gut feeling that there might not be a functioning oven. I know that may seem odd to you, but MOST homes in Georgia do not have ovens. Yarn and I continue to discuss this potential dilemma on the phone while we are both working. Dato overhears me and proudly suggests, “We can just boil the turkey.” I swallowed. I calmly said, “we are not boiling the turkey. You do not boil turkeys. You roast the turkey. I cannot stress this enough, but we need an oven.”

This is the picture Baia sent us. This oven was in no shape to bake anything beyond chicken breasts.


We call Baia to see her oven situation. She basically has something equivalent to an easy-bake oven. Her suggestion, “boil the turkey.” Hearing that sentence was making my blood boil. How do people think this is a suitable alternative to baking?!  In the end, I told Yarn that I will attempt to bake the turkey at my house and then wrap it in foil and come to the dinner a bit late. But then, we were stressing out because I had no way to bake the turkey unless I literally just put it raw and hanging on the oven rack. I do not have a big enough casserole dish or anything equivalent. This was a problem for future Rawan. I decided to just focus on buying the stupid turkey first.

I go to Georgian tutoring clearly stressing out about how to cook the turkey. A first world problem is, “oh, I hope I don’t make it dry.” A Peace Corps problem is, “I hope I have an oven. I hope I don’t get chicken $hit murdering a turkey. Oh, if I do find an oven and a turkey, I hope I have a way to bake it.”

My tutor’s suggestion for getting stressed about the turkey’s death was, “It is good you have yard.”
“What do you mean, Lana?”
“So Justin can kill it in the yard and you do not have to worry.”
I proclaimed, “Justin does not kill chickens. Turkeys are bigger. He still won’t kill it.”
Lana suggested, “For cooking, you can still boil the turkey.”


OH, MY GOD. Stop it with the boiling suggestion already. 


On Saturday morning, Dato, my supervisor, was going to hire one of World Vision on-call drivers, Dato, to pick Justin and me up. Oh, this is not a typo. They are both named Dato. In Georgia, you will find a lot of Datos (short for Davit, the Georgian version of David). In fact, half of the males in my office are called Dato. Regardless, the two Datos, Justin, and I arrive at the poultry market early that Saturday morning. The plan is to see the marshutkas (mini buses) arrive from the villages with the live chickens, turkeys, and pigs in tow to ensure we get the best turkey.

While Dato was finalizing our transportation for the next morning, I sat on my dining room chair thinking about how I’m going to cook this turkey, Thanksgiving style.

Ryan calls me with a suggestion, “How about you cook the turkey at Baia’s?”
“But Ryan, I thought we went over this. Her oven won’t work. It might be better if I cook it my house. The turkey is supposed to cool off a bit before we cut it anyway.”
“What if I bring my oven?”
“You are telling me you going to lug around a big oven.” It would be a logistics nightmare to carry a huge home oven from the town to the village. Then, I remembered,  “Wait, you don’t have an oven.”

….an awkward moment of silence…

Ryan admits, “Yeah, I just bought one.”
“What do you mean you just bought an oven?” In pure excitement, I continued, “You are literally the Thanksgiving Santa Claus. You literally just saved Thanksgiving.”

Ryan had bought a small, electric and very portable oven. It was similar to Baia’s, but it was bigger. It would be enough to cook a very small, teenage turkey. (Well, so we thought…more on that later).

I called Dato immediately after and told him the change in plans. We were now going to go early to Baia’s so that I cook the turkey there.

When Saturday rolled around, Dato was very matter of a fact about the whole thing.  We strolled to the turkey section of the market. He looked at me and said straight in the face, “Which one do you want?”  I felt very connected to my food at that moment. I said, “I don’t know.” So Dato proceeded to pick two up and offered both to me to see which one weighed more.

Holding up the turkey at the live market!

As I held up the turkeys by its legs, they were both super chill and calm about it. To be more specific, they did not object. Both of them just hung upside down, blinking at me, unknowing that one of them was literally about to die. The picture above looks like it may be flapping its wings. Trust me though, the wings naturally spread hanging upside down. Another side note, turkey features are super soft.

Here is a Georgian turkey shopping hint: blow on its features while it is upside down. The trick is to blow softly (but hard enough) to see the skin below the features. That way, you can tell what food the turkey is fed. Is it junk food? Is it proper cornmeal?Don’t ask me how exactly, but skin color has something to do with it. I’m not sure I believe in this, but my boss totally took a huff puff or two.

When I finally came to my decision, I gave both back to Dato and said, “That one!” It felt very off-with-its-head-queen-of-hearts moment for me. The turkey seller took the turkey and went off to butcher area for it to be killed (picture below). I could have went home with the live turkey, but I decided to spend the whole 5 GEL to have it killed and plucked! It was honestly the best 5 GEL that I ever spent.

Sorry that the picture is blurry, I was trying not to be weird taking photos of this moment. 


The process of killing, plucking, and cleaning the turkey took about 30 minutes. While we were waiting, we stood in the warm “roasting pig room.” The men who worked there were so curious as to why these two Americans and one Georgian man were at the market early in the morning buying a turkey. Second moment of confusion, why would I waste a whole 5 GEL to have someone else kill it for me. Would you like to guess what happened next?


The room where we waited while the turkey was being killed


You guessed it, they gave me suggestions on how to cook the turkey. You guessed again, “Ah, just boil it!” I looked at my boss and I finally snapped. “I’m sorry. I’m not going to take advise from people who have never cooked a turkey. And, I’m not going to take advice on something so inherently American- something that is almost a 400-year-old tradition.” Dato laughed. I, on the other hand, am serious about turkey.  On a depressing note, the conversation was a very good distraction to the noise of the pigs being killed. Silver lining, our turkey was very quiet.

When it was plucked and cleaned, the lady offered to put the turkey in a garbage bag for me and Justin. It was so awkward just going home with a plastic bag with a turkey just lying dead there. I think I miss buying meat and poultry where it is on a styrofoam platter covered with saran wrap.


Me, preparing the turkey before baking it in Ryan’s oven!


While I started preparing the turkey at Baia’s, I noticed something I was not happy about. The turkey was not fully cleaned out of its insides. Anatomy lessons are great, I just wished I did not have to have one on Thanksgiving. I was surprised to see how small some of the organs were. If I’m grossing you out, I’m sorry. At least, you were not the one who had to clean it out. I look all happy there, but moments before, I was nervously about to cry while cleaning the turkey out properly. Again, another first world privilege I took for granted.

As the way Peace Corps life goes, another challenge awaited. After I prepped the turkey perfectly, we noticed that it did not fit in Ryan’s oven. I picked the smallest turkey I could find at the market, but it was a bit too big. Neil, another Peace Corps Volunteer, tried punching the turkey’s breast so that the bones would break. That didn’t work. So we took regular kitchen scissors and tried cutting it while maintaining its main form. That slightly worked. So I wrapped the whole thing in foil so it does not directly touch the oven’s “ceiling.”


Dato and I literally squeezing the turkey in the oven


The turkey was so small, it took less than 2 hours to bake! Remember how I said I bought one of the small turkeys at the market? Well, apparently, it showed when we took it out of the oven. The poor turkey was so underdeveloped that the breast was protruding. It looked like a bunch of voulchers took a few nibbles before we were able to serve it.

The turkey once it was done baking. This is before we ate it.

Regardless, it was delicious. I mean, how could it not be? It was the freshest turkey any of us have ever had. I also managed to cook it perfectly, despite my conditions. It was not dry and it tasted like a real, American Thanksgiving meal.

At the dinner table, many of us toasted to our friends and family back home. We combined the Georgian tradition of toasting with hoars and the American tradition of going around the table individually giving thanks.

Yarn toasting with a Georgian horn to express what he is grateful for.

When it was my turn, I gave thanks to the turkey. Without this turkey, this Thanksgiving would not have been possible.


*Only one animal was harmed for the making of this thanksgiving.

Mini METS: a One-day STEM Workshop

Mini METS are our one-day STEM workshops conducted at various Peace Corps Volunteers’ sites.

When BJ, Amanda, and I created the METS Initiative in 2016, BJ had suggested that it should be more than just a camp. There should be another component of the initiative: Mini-METS. Amanda and I wholeheartedly agreed. Mini-METS are one-day “camps” that would be hosted in various Peace Corps Volunteers’ sites upon request. As you may know, METS is our STEM initiative. It is STEM spelled backward and it also means “Me too” in Georgian.

Even though Georgia has made efforts to increase science education, it is still not a popular major to study in university. Not only that, many of its scientific facilities are outdated. This is one of the reasons why the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) invests in Georgia. In fact, MCC is the one that awarded San Diego State University the $30 million grant to partner with Georgia to have an American Accredited University in Tbilisi. As you may recall from my previous blog post about METS, Georgian San Diego State Universities acted as our counselors in our camps.


As this article in the Daily Aztec mentions, the money from the grant “will be allocated toward renovating labs and improving the quality of higher education.” Also, the article mentioned that “MCC wanted an American accredited U.S. degree to be offered in Georgia because Georgia needed higher education to meet the standards of emerging democracies.” This is one of the many reasons why the whole METS initiative started. This is why we feel that we need to continue our work in METS beyond just our summer camps.

Rose (left), me (center), and Atka (right) hosting our Mini-METS on Saturday, October 28, 2017

This past Saturday, on October 28th, 2017, Atka, Rose, and I hosted the second Mini-METS in a local town in the Imereti Region at our friend Ryan’s site. The first one was conducted in the spring by BJ and Amanda. On Saturday, we had nearly twenty youth show up to the event. We conducted three activities for Mini-METS: 1) rockets 2) math tricks and lastly 3) lungs. With each presentation, we discussed the theory first and then did the experiment. It is important for students to understand the science behind the experiment. I don’t want them walking away thinking it was “magic.”

Atka explaining the chemical composition for our rocket experiment

So for the rockets, Atka explained what were reactants and catalysts. She taught them how all the materials interact with each other to create a mini “rocket.” Curious to what our rockets actually were? Simple. They were Alka Seltzer tablets, water, and a film tube canister. No, seriously that is it. You put half an Alka Seltzer tablet in a small film canister with warm water. Close the lid. Place the canister upside down and wait for it to launch!

What was surprising was some kids left immediately after this experiment. It was a bit shocking because this experiment is a huge hit and every student loved it! They were all jumping in glee and we had to do some crowd control. It is just difficult to compete for their attention- on the weekend- especially when they have Facebook waiting for them at home.

Then, I did a math presentation. I know, it sounds like a snooze. What kid would want to learn math on a Saturday? Ryan was hesitant to have this when I told him that it was part of our agenda. I can’t blame him. I thought it was going to be boring when I introduced it at the Kobuleti camp. However, it was such a hit. The kids in Kobuleti were literally jumping out of their seats to participate.

So, I tested my luck for the second time to do it at Mini-METS. Guess what? Another hit. I taught them how to divide big numbers by five – in seconds and in our heads! Spoiler alert: you double it and then divide it by then. I decided to do a simple math trick because many of the students in the audience were in the sixth grade.

Lastly, Rose did our lung presentation. She explained how lungs work and what can cause inflammation. One way to stop inflammation of the lungs is smoking. Thus, it was basically a mini-anti-smoking campaign. How best to illustrate how bad smoking is? Do an experiment where you can literally see the damage after a few minutes.


Rose (center) is explaining how to properly use our lung model above.


Our lung model is basically built from plastic bottles, balloons, and cotton. The device is the one actually smoking the cigarettes. Even after even a few cigarettes, the cotton inside the plastic bottle changes color to a more yellowish-brown. Thus, this indicates that lung damage from smoking is almost immediate. It is a great way to show kids immediately how smoking damages the lungs. I want to say this experiment is completely harm-free, but I cannot. We did incur a bit of second-hand smoke during this process.


The students “building” their lungs for the experiment.


A lot of the kids enjoyed this too. I’m not sure how many of them will not pick up the habit of smoking though. Smoking in Georgia is a big problem. The majority of males in this country smoke. It is not very “lady-like” for women to smoke, therefore, the problem is mostly with men. Regardless, we hope that we were able to impart some knowledge on these youth.

Overall, Mini-METS was a success. It is really fun seeing kids get excited about science and math. It made it worth it to wake up early that Saturday morning!

Expressing Gratitude

I remember as a child whenever I couldn’t get a new toy, I would whine, “I wish I were rich. Then, we could buy it.” My mother and grandmother would look at me and tell me to re-evaluate my definition of being rich. They said that richness can come in many forms. The corniest one of all is, “richness in the heart, where you are full of the love given by family and friends.” Naturally, they received the biggest eye roll a child could give. At the time, they weren’t getting any love with that response.


My facial expression as a kid probably looked like this cutie.


Now, as an adult, I have to agree with their definition. I’m probably going to impart that same “corny and lame” definition to my future children. I’m assuming, but I think we can all agree that there is truth to their definition. However, how many of us would still chase after the traditional sense of being rich- you know, the one with money? A year into service, I don’t think I will be chasing massive “traditional wealth” any longer. However, I will not deny that I would like to live comfortably. Basically, I want to be able to take modest vacations once a year and live in a small house that I own. In essence, I would like to be solidly middle class.

During service, I have a lot of positives and negatives moments just like any other person. However, in the Peace Corps, the lows tend to go a little deeper than an average person in America. Caveat, pain is all relative. For instance, my Georgian neighbors do not think it is a bad day if their water runs out as well as their electricity, internet, and gas. They just deal with it because that is their daily life. However, in the beginning of my service, that would be a bad day for me. Why? Because I never had to deal with all things going out concurrently in the United States (if I paid my bills that is). My definition of a bad day means so different than a year ago.

Just last week the electricity went out due to a rain storm. We did not have electricity for hours. Yet, we worked away at the office.

During my Peace Corps mid-service training last month, when I turned on the hot water in the shower at the hotel, it did not work. Instead of fussing with the nozzle or getting irritated, I just took a REALLY cold shower. I got used to things not working that I did not even try to fix it. Low and behold, if I turned the nozzle to the cold end and waited, hot water would have appeared. My mistake. I should have tried to outplay the engineering of the bathroom design. This insignificant experience shows you something though, I no longer get frustrated over the little annoying things in life. I just move on and deal with the “bad.” I only discovered that the water indicators were switched after conversing with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers who experienced the same thing. I have gotten to the point now that when I do have the perfect shower temperature, I have a great day. Little things like that make me ecstatic.

Therefore, if hot showers make me happy, imagine how grateful I am for having friends and family visit me. As you already know, my great-uncle visited in February and my friend Sarah visited me in April. In July, I had four different people visit me. My friend Nicole, one of my closest friends since I was 14 years old, came for nearly three weeks. My friend Tim, from my study abroad experience in Amsterdam, came from England. Then, my aunt and uncle from my dad’s side came for a weekend at the end of July. Then, my friend Danielle visits me a month later. I don’t know anyone as fortunate to have this many people visit them during their Peace Corps. Thus, I feel rich that I have so many people in my life supporting me in this journey that they are willing enough to take a plane to this part of the world.

Danielle and I holding the Georgian Flag during her first day visiting me on Shepard’s Day, August 12, 2017.

In terms of the love and support I receive, I am very rich. It does not take much for me to remember this either. Every day, in my town, I see children begging for money. I see old ladies sitting on street corners outstretching their hand for some spare change. There are a lot of street dogs and cats. I do have the hardest time with seeing the children and the dogs.

For children, I cannot imagine growing up and being ignored by everybody or even worse, being treated worse than an animal. The street children are shoved and kicked out of restaurants. The children do harass the customers. Sometimes, the children even wrap their bodies around unwilling customers’ legs. I just cannot even imagine the psychological damage, the abuse, and the neglect they grow up with. The silver lining is that I’ve traveled to countries were situations for street children is much worse. There are organizations, including mine, that works to help alleviate child poverty and advocate for children’s rights.

I cannot say so much for the cats and dogs. One day, as I was walking home from work, I heard the loudest cries I’ve ever heard around the corner from my house. I turned to see where the noise is coming from and I saw a dog limping and yelling. One of its hind legs was nearly severed. The dog was limping and one of its legs was hanging on by a thread. A pool of blood was underneath where it was standing. I assumed that the dog was run-over by a car. In those few minutes, I have no idea if anyone helped the dog. I’m not perfect either, I was so horrified that I walked away crying. I was not able to stomach the sight. For the next 30 minutes, I heard the dog yell in pain and I simply prayed.

In America, I would have gone to the dog and called someone. I had no idea what to do in Georgia, so I simply prayed and hoped it wouldn’t suffer for too much longer. On a positive note, Georgia is trying to take care of its stray dogs as much as they can. Nearly all of the stray dogs have received rabies shots and it is indicated by a tag on their ear. Also, many people feed these dogs with bread or scraps of food. There is still hope in this world.

METS Camp: a STEM-themed Summer Camp

One of my proudest accomplishments in Peace Corps has been establishing a STEM-themed summer camp for Georgian youth. And it all started over a year ago…
Once upon a time on the eve of DREAM Camp 2016,  other Peace Corps Volunteers and I went out to dinner in town. I had asked them how DREAM Camp got started and they told me the idea that it is started around November during In-Service Training of 2015. I did not know starting a camp can be “easily” attainable. For some reason, the idea of establishing my own camp captivated me. An idea as quick as lightning struck, I wanted an all-girls science camp. Even though I was only one month into service, I noticed Georgian youth are not engaged in STEM much. Sure, they take chemistry classes in school but most of it is based on theory with no practical training. Why would anyway want to pursue a STEM career if all the fun is taken out of it while it is being introduced?
I went home that day and just researched fun, engaging, educational experiments that I could conduct in Georgia. I came across NASA’s website and noticed a few things. I began researching organizations that I could partner with to host this camp. Most importantly, I started thinking of other Peace Corps Volunteers I could engage with that have a strong STEM background. I know that one of my friends, Amanda, is a chemical engineer. She had worked for about a decade as one before Peace Corps. I gave her a phone call. She was in.  I have “Technology” experience with working for IT companies before Peace Corps, but I was a human resources professional by trade and not an engineer. She would bring the “E” part of STEM.
The next week or so, we started talking about how the camp would look like. I gave her a call one night and I proclaimed, “I know what I want to call the camp, it will be ‘METS’.” Over the phone, along with another friend, Ainsley, they said, “It sounds cheesy.” They weren’t into it. I tried convincing them that “METS” was perfect because it meant, “Me too” in Georgian and it was STEM backwards.
My e-mail to my friends indicating I wanted to start a camp called METS 🙂
Lo and behold, the very next day, my former sitemate and friend, Jill, shared another Peace Corps Volunteer’s Facebook post with me. Would you like to guess what that post was? It was a camp that BJ started and it was called “METS.” Yes, the very name I had come up with. Also, it was a science camp. How could I come with this idea and someone else had implemented it? Blessing in disguise? Great minds think alike? I needed to know more. So, I messaged him and later that night, we had a long phone meeting.
He was happy that I shared the same passion. BJ was an engineer and a lawyer. Therefore, he had expertise in implementing a STEM-themed camp (read about the original camp here). I was excited how many of our ideas were the same! He, too, also looked at the NASA website. It turns out that his camp was only at his site. It was just a day camp and not an over-nighter like the other Peace Corps supported camps. No one was able to help him implement his and he thought that his day camp would not be sustained when he left. He was happy that he could pass it on and I was happy that I didn’t have to start completely from scratch. It made sense that moving forward, I would work with BJ to take it over for the following year. At that time, I had also told him that Amanda was in and she wanted to work with me on this. From that moment forward, we had three Peace Corps volunteers dedicated to starting a week-long, overnight STEM-themed camp.
BJ’s METS summer camp at his site in 2016
However, I do want to point out that BJ had a slightly different vision that I originally did. Initially, I wanted an all-girls STEM Camp. BJ delivered a co-ed camp and thought that it was more important to have both genders. I was hesitant at first. Retrospectively, I think it is because I had my American lenses in which our American society inactively discourages females to participate in STEM-related activities. However, in Georgia, both genders are desperately needed in STEM professional fields. Secondly, the school system here awards compliances and discourages loud behaviors. At first, I did not see this. But now, after a  year of service, I agree with BJ wholeheartedly. As a true feminist, I want equality for both genders. Since boys are not excepted to do as well in school as girls, they deserve to be just as encouraged to attend our STEM-themed camp.  Although this article is not about Georgia, I feel that a lot that was written in here could describe the Georgian school system if you want to read more about gender equality in schools.
To help ensure that the group work would be divided equally, BJ implemented “engineering roles” that was inspired by NASA.  He separated the students into groups of four and each student had a specific role that would rotate each day. Each of the four roles (Project Engineer, Test Engineer, Developmental Engineer, and Facilities Engineer) would help ensure that no kid would get too excited and do all the work. Since the roles rotate, each student had a chance to be each type of engineer by the end of camp. We decided that keeping the camp co-ed and keeping the roles should continue for the next camp.
We also decided that it would be best to have two separate summer camps. BJ was in the cohort ahead of Amanda and me. Therefore, his service was ending in June/July of 2017. The first camp would be held in June so that BJ could “teach us the ropes” before he completed his service. The second camp would be in July or August so that Amanda and I could teach the new Peace Corps Volunteers how to do the camp. Creating a timeline was a great first step on how to launch his initial project into a full-fledged overnight camp. However, we still had more work to do.
Amanda (right) and I (left) showing off our METS swag at the August Camp in Kobuleti 2017.
For the next few months, Amanda, BJ, and I worked hard to secure a partnering organization to do a camp with. In Peace Corps, sustainability is key as I mentioned earlier in this post.  Therefore, we wanted to work with Georgian partners to launch the camp. BJ had started a working relationship with San Diego State University in Tbilisi. Therefore, we wanted to continue that relationship with San Diego State University at the minimum. The students at San Diego State University would be our camp counselors and the partnering organization would help run the camp logistically.
Our first camp was held in June, in Telavi, a city in Eastern Georgia. We had 24 students ranging from 13-17 years old. We also had 6 counselors- five from San Diego State University and one from our partnering organization, Students for Energy Efficiency. The camp was funded through Small Projects Assistance (SPA) by USAID. The kids were very active and truly enjoyed working on all the experiments that we did.
I’m explaining the safety rules and procedures at camp 🙂 Safety First!
 Sessions were first divided into two parts. The first part was the lecture in which they learned safety and the scientific theories behind the experiment. The second part of the lecture is when they tested the theories through practical experiments.
The campers built “air conditioning” units from a bucket, water, a water bottle, and a wall fan. A handy experiment indeed!
Needless to say, the children were much more excited to complete the experiments than to listen to the lectures. Their eyes would just lit up anytime we were about to start conducting the experiments.
BJ demonstrating how to read the thermometer that we just built
At the end of the June camp, one of the community member’s daughter stopped by to check-out the camp. To welcome her, one of our campers should her the model bridge she built from different types of noodles and a hot glue gun. It was amazing to see our camper describe all the scientific theoretical concepts and how they relate to our everyday lives. She basically summarized the entire camp to our guest. That was an amazing moment to witness because it was a glimpse into how successful our camp was.
Me (left) along with two out of the three G17 Peace Corps Volunteers, Rose (center) and Olivia (right).
At the end of August, Amanda and I along with three other G17 Peace Corps Volunteers hosted the second METS Camp in Kobuleti. It was filled with meaningful discussions about how to pursue STEM careers as adults. Even though I am not an engineer, I was able to provide career insight to those wanting to pursue computer science and computer engineering. I had worked in IT companies and have personally recruited computer engineers. The students truly appreciated listening to some real-world experience.
Atka, the third G17 (center wearing the lab coat), demonstrating the lung experiment that is made up of water bottles, balloons, and cotton.


In a world where politicians do not believe in climate change, we need more STEM education than ever in our lives. I hope that both camps I helped conduct inspire at least one child to pursue a degree in STEM. So many of our world problems could be solved using Science, Technology, Engineering or Math 🙂

Thoughts in the Midst of Darkness. Literally.

This is my second blog post that I have written in darkness. However, this time, in complete darkness. The only thing illuminating this room is my laptop screen, which is powered by my reserve battery. I am sitting on my bed with a pillow propped up to support my back. Yet, even with my laptop turned on, I still cannot properly see my toes. It is really dark in here. As you may guess, I currently do not have any electricity. I have not had electricity for a few hours now, which, is not uncommon in most places of the world.

Since I have no electricity, I have no internet and no power. My electricity supports the internet modem (obviously). I will post this when the Internet returns. As for the water, I do not have city water (aka running water) 24 hours a day. In the afternoon, the city water stops and I use a pump, powered by electricity, to give me water. Thus, no electricity means no water, no electronics (except for this laptop), and no internet.

I did finally remember that I have a candle and definitely took advantage of it.

Whenever there is a bad storm, the power goes out. It does not surprise me or even frustrate me. Sometimes I think it is funny and sometimes I place internal bets on how long it will last. However, what always happens is reflection. The running theory is that when you have no distractions or modern conveniences- again, except for this laptop- there is a lot of room for reflection. Here is what I think I have learned with only 9 months of service left…

1) I do not miss or depend on modern conveniences as much as I thought I would. I do not own any of the following in my home: a dryer, TV, microwave, an enclosed shower, attached indoor toilet, or even a sofa. The thing I miss the most is ironically the sofa. Soviet-style dining room chairs are not the most comfortable and neither is a 40-year-old mattress. Sometimes, I just want a sofa. However, my life does not feel any less complete with any of the abovementioned absent in my life. Sure, they made my life easier, but I don’t actually truly crave them. It is more like a fond memory, something I kinda miss. However, it is something I can live without.

So many homes in Georgia have these Soviet-Union chairs. Our home does as well. 


2) Working on something I love sometimes does not feel like work. I do not think I put in 40 hours in the office, realistically I put in close to 32-35. However, I do believe I work more than 40 hours a week easily if I include my secondary projects. I go home and I work on activities and committees that I have cofounded with my Peace Corps friends. It is hard work, but it has meaning. I may not see the impact or have instant gratification, but I believe in the work I do. Therefore, it does not feel like a chore. I truly enjoy doing it in my free time. That is an odd concept, volunteering to do work on my free time without any expectations of receiving anything in return.

One of my major projects was to co-found METS Camp: a STEM-themed summer camp


3) I’ve become more creative and innovative with little resources. I have literally conducted workshops out of upcycled paper and nothing else. In the U.S, when we think of a professional training, we thinking conference rooms, snacks, notebooks, whiteboards, you name it. As long as I have some sort of roof in bad weather, I’m good to go. I don’t even need a functioning restroom with running water to host an event for dozens of people. Excepting to have all those resources and conveniences would be a very diva-like move indeed.

I have learned to ask more meaningful questions to see how we can teach and train without any visual aids. During DREAM Camp, we had break-out sessions. Since they were occurring concurrently, we only had one projector. For fairness and sustainability, we decided that the three concurrent breakout sessions would require ZERO resources except for chairs and maybe some sheets of paper. Even with few resources, the sessions were meaningful and successful.

Some of the campers at DREAM Camp after our Breakout Session


4) I’ve grown to become a more patient person. When projects do not go smoothly, and they never do, I ride out the bumpy wave. I have grown to be more patient with the unexpected turbulence. However, I am not immune to having bad days. For example, yesterday, I was a bit of miss cranky pants. We were buying supplies for our composting grant and the merchants were less than helpful. Things were not delivered on time, ATMs decided not dispense cash, and credit card readers decided to become illiterate. After an hour of walking around the city figuring things out, I thought to myself, “why can’t things just work in this country sometimes?”

It was ironic because this bad attitude was only 24 hours after I had presented on a panel. On this panel, I said, “You can’t change your situation or people, but you can change your attitude.” So basically, I had to take my own advice or be a hypocrite. It was not easy. However, I have noticed that I have become better at practicing patience.

5) Gratefulness is a feeling that encompasses me the most. Maybe I count my blessings to keep me sane, or maybe the difficulties have pointed out the beautiful things in life. I don’t know why, but I feel grateful most days now. Life is not easy in the Peace Corps and I think when little miracles happen they seem really big. When people show up to a meeting on time, I feel like I moved heaven and earth. When my youth take my advice seriously, I feel like I actually made a difference. In the United States, little miracles are easy to ignore because they do not take so much effort to achieve. Feeling all the feels makes me feel in a sense happier. Peace Corps has been rewarding and I seriously hope that general feeling does not go away.