Saturday, August 9, 2008

On to a new blog

Enough of this; time to move on. Join us on our REAL adventure. We apologize for any confusion.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Visa update

We got our visas while we were in DC! It took less than 24 hours. That was a load off our minds. Now we're visiting Keith's grandmother in Virginia and we're set to fly out of DC on Wednesday morning.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

On our way (take 2)

Our passports arrived in the mail yesterday!! Now we're just hoping they haven't arrived too late for us to apply for visas to Taiwan. We're optimistic, and looking forward to a trip to Virginia tomorrow to see Keith's grandparents. I believe our Peace Corps chapter is officially closed. I hope. Now we say goodbye to Norfolk and Roger and Cindy, with much gratitude for their generosity and tolerance.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Peace Corps, Peace Corps, Peace Corps!

One more point about PC. We've been gone from them for two weeks now, and we still don't have our passports back. We're ready to go to Taiwan instead, but we need to get visas and we need passports to get the visas. We have tickets, so we get our passports soon or, what? The tickets are just more money down the PC drain? I dunno, but I don't wanna find out.

Oh, and I talked with a guy in PC's travel agency the same day PC said we were out; he said he'd send our passports right out. I called back a week later to find out they were never sent. Just so you know, if you're joining the Peace Corps and something goes wrong, there is a chance for it to go really wrong.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bad, evil, naughty Peace Corps!

This's not a post for family and friends, not that you can't read it, but it's more for people researching Peace Corps. Marie and I noticed (when we were researching the Peace Corps) that there wasn't much material to be found that didn't like the Peace Corps. I guess that implies good things about it, but it doesn't tell the whole story, either. I'm not trying to be mean, and I don't think I'm that bitter (we have a better deal to go to Taiwan now, anyway), but this's what happened.

There are several points I'd like potential Peace Corps volunteers to know about that we learned the hard way.

One: it takes months for PC to process and place you as a volunteer, but if you're going as a married couple, that process will take years, I'm not kidding. We started applying in June or July of 2006 and we were interviewed in October or so, where we were told that we couldn't possibly be placed until early 2008. Those are not typos. We weren't actually accepted until May of 2008. Almost two full years after starting the application process.

Two: you'd better answer all the questions on the online application right or it'll come back to haunt you. I don't know why (forgot, scared, dunno), but I answered a question wrong on the medical history and when PC found out, they stopped the whole process dead, which felt like a train derailing because we were two weeks from leaving. We had only the things we were taking to Armenia: no cars, no jobs, no place to live.

Three: don't think that because your doctor filled out three or four pages of medical clearance forms and you've submitted to a credit check and an F.B.I. background check that PC trusts you now. After all that they discovered I didn't answer a medical question right, and any trust just went away. They call that kinda thing "non-disclosure" and they used it as the reason for keeping myself and my wife from joining the Peace Corps.

Four: don't assume that because you've spent two years applying, and thousands of dollars of your own money on tests and vaccinations, and you've sold everything you owned, and quit your job, and you're two weeks from leaving that PC owes you anything. If they find a reason, they will drop you like hot metal. That's where we are. No apologies that mean anything. No support or medical insurance or readjustment fee. You're just out.

Five: if you have a run-in with a nurse or secretary in the PC medical office named Barbara Brogan, demand to talk to someone else. She's either burned out, overworked, evil, or stupid. Compared to the other PC people we've dealt with in two years, and the doctor from the medical office I talked with, she's an unprofessional, inept, selfish person who won't try and help. If anything, she'll make an effort to make your situation come out as badly as possible.

Six: just because you've got a one- or two-year deferment to join the Peace Corps that you've been led to believe can be lifted quickly with a little new information, don't assume that it can't get worse. For my mistake with the medical form, we were given a one-year deferment. We were told this was standard pending a full, current checkup. We appealed the deferment because we'd been waiting to go for two years, and we'd been two weeks from leaving; we didn't have anywhere else to go. After the appeal we were dismissed from consideration completely, largely thanks to Ms. Brogan. It was kinda like appealing a one-year prison sentence and getting five years instead.

Seven: if you do get stopped for some non-disclosure, don't assume that because you've been told you can provide more information or appeal the decision, that they've forgotten about the original mistake. After discovering my non-disclosure, we went through two months of providing health records and getting a me a checkup and waiting, only to be told we were being dismissed for non-disclosure, which they could've told us in the first place and saved us months of time and hundreds of dollars, but strangely, they didn't.

Finally, just remember what the Peace Corps told us: most people self-select themselves out of the application process. They realize it's not for them, it's not a good fit. But MOST people does not mean ALL people. You can be removed from consideration by PC, and if you are, it can be at any point in the process and you won't have any help from PC in the next thing you do.

I realize this might sound pretty grim and irritable, but I think it's mostly just blunt. These things can happen, and they have. I hope that preparing for them can prevent them or at least soften any blows you might take.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The waiting is over

So we've been slapped with a one-year medical deferment by Peace Corps, we've appealed it, and have been awaiting the response. We figure, if the appeal fails, we'll go to teach English in Taiwan for a year, then we'll evaluate whether we still want to serve in PC. On the other hand, if the appeal succeeds and we get medical clearance, but they can't place us before the end of the year, then we can't wait at Mom and Dad's anymore, and we'll go teach English in Taiwan. So we have a Plan B in place.

Finally, last Friday we got our response. Instead of lifting the deferment, they decided to dismiss us completely. Do not pass Go. Do not serve your country.

Apparently, the appeal was a bad idea. We don't really understand how a one-year deferment can be reviewed and result in our being kicked out. But in this process we've learned that our understanding of it doesn't seem to be that relevant. Never mind, also, that this whole thing started because Keith forgot to check two boxes on an online application in 2006.

At least the waiting is over. I've enjoyed getting to know Keith's folks, but I'm looking forward to moving on. If anyone has any advice about teaching English...or living in Asia...or facing your friends and family after your grand plans have been trashed...feel free to send it.

We hope to leave in early August, but of course we still expect to have Internet access.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Oh the places you'll go

With apologies to Dr. Seuss, but this entire experience has been an experience in frustration and humor. I've spent much time embarrassed and guilt ridden that my mistake has prevented us from leaving for the Peace Corps as we planned, and then there are times like this, when we found a giant inflatable eagle painted red, white, and blue in the parking lot of my high school, next to one of the local fireworks stands. Even after many years in Seattle, this's a novelty.

So, there's been several things to lighten my mood for this extended stay in my hometown. They say you can't go home again, but I think that only applies to when you want to go home. When you intended to visit for a week and you were kinda shoved into an extra month (and counting), damn right you're home.

But it's been fun as well. We've done a few classic summer things, like going to the zoo.

Not to sound like an ad for Nebraska but there is one world-class thing here, the zoo in Omaha is huge and very well done (I've been to the zoo in Seattle, but I'd been spoiled by the Henry-Doorly in Omaha). I've been going since I was five or so and there's been something new just about every time.

I've been kicking myself that I didn't get more pictures of animals, but I realized that pictures of animals are like pictures of mountains or sunsets, it doesn't really show the experience.

So I can show you animals like this massive Silverback gorilla, just as an example

but even with a sense of scale (look at the little girl he's staring at)

or a little anthropomorphism (it really felt like this guy watched the crowds like a human would watch a reality show), it just doesn't create the same impression. But we had a good time doing it.

We've done a lot of laying around watching TV or reading. It's made me a little anxious not having a job, but not having to pay Seattle-like rent makes the little money we've saved suddenly seem pretty good. And we've done a few house-sitting jobs for friends of my parents. It's given us a few weeks where we have our own space and things to keep track of and mow. And this time has made me realize that I don't particularly want a yard that I have to water and mow and fertilize, blah, blah, blah. I might suck it up and do it if we find the right house a few years from now, but my resistance to buying a condo is weakening.

This is Murphy. We kept him company for a week or so. Murphy is a 20 pound cat. He is on a diet. I am very glad Murphy slept locked in the laundry room, because I didn't want to wake up missing toes.

But it was fun to have a cat again. Marie really seemed to enjoy that. She didn't like mowing very much, but few people do.

But it's the Fourth of July now. The carnage is getting pretty serious.

This process certainly didn't turn out how I'd planned, but it's been a vacation of a sort, and Marie's been a good sport about being homeless and spending an extra month with her in-laws (what is a good gift for that sort of spousal tolerance?).

Myself, I've had to remember that the weather plays a major part of conversations here. Marie mentioned the yard work; I can't tell if the interest in the weather is influenced by the focus on yards (see nearly any King of the Hill episode), or if it's incidental, but it comes up a lot.

But our original ambitions are unchanged, we expect to have something definitive in the next week; either we get an approval from the Peace Corps and we get a definitive statement that we will leave in the next couple months, or we're going to Taiwan. Either way, the time here is just a part of the adventure, though a more known and predictable adventure.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Blogging the 'Fork

Well, our appeal is in. Two more doctor visits for Keith and a few hundred additional bucks later, our fate is now in the hands of the Peace Corps' Screening Review Board, which meets Wednesdays. They may or may not take up our appeal during the next meeting. So it's one or possibly two more weeks before we get to the next stage of...well, waiting.

But backup plans proceed, and we both have phone interviews next week for teaching overseas.

Meanwhile, we've now been in Norfolk for 6 weeks and I've had a chance to look around. OK, I've had a chance to see it all.

OK, three times. But it's a very friendly place. Everyone waves at you regardless of whether they know you, especially if you're a pedestrian. This took some getting used to, coming from Seattle, but I think I'm getting the hang of it. The other thing people do in Norfolk is yard work. As most of you know, I didn't have a lawn growing up in Arizona, and I've lived in apartments ever since. So this month I mowed a lawn (well, part of one) for the first time. And I'm sure the Neimeyers' grass will recover soon.

The other thing to know about Norfolk (all Gipsons, feel free to skip this part) is that the name of the town has two legitimate pronunciations. It's not a source of conflict here because, as I said, they're just so dang nice. But occasionally you'll hear someone say "Norfork."

Without making a short story longer, suffice to say it was an incorrect clerical assumption by the state of Nebraska that led to the current spelling, and any locals who know better use the latter pronunciation because the town SHOULD have been named for the north fork of the Elkhorn river.

I mention this situation mostly to relate that it was one of the two most popular jokes at the Great American Comedy Festival, held here all last week. Festival organizers are hoping to make it an annual event. We got tickets to the semifinals, which were held in the Johnny Carson theater (named for the town's most famous native), which happens to be at the high school.

And this was the other favorite joke among the comics who were mostly from larger citiies: The theater is a really nice venue...and it's at the high school. Oh yeah, and there's a big bronze panther statue in the lobby.

As you can see, we really have little to complain about. Other than having all our plans trashed and living in our parents' basement. (if you can separate such things) It's been an enjoyable derailment, all things considered.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hiccups you can't fix with peanut butter

This blog is now misnamed. We’re not in Armenia, nor does it look like we’ll be there anytime soon.

About two weeks before we were supposed to leave the country, we hit a roadblock with the Peace Corps. We learned that we had left out some (apparently) very important information from our health forms, and we were being pulled from our staging. PC asked for more paperwork over the next two weeks, then eventually decided we would be “medically deferred” for a year.

It sounds like we can appeal this decision with more paperwork and visits to doctors, but it’s still not clear whether we’ll ever be able to serve. We’re crossing our fingers and eagerly awaiting more forms in the mail.

In the meantime, we’re staying with Keith’s parents. We were visiting them in Nebraska when this all happened and they’ve generously offered to house us until we can figure things out.

One option may be teaching English abroad; we’ve been looking into various programs that might accept us quickly. It’s not volunteer service like PC would have been, but then there might be some sort of contract involved that would prevent another crisis. It’s still a good time for us to try to see some of the world.

As for me, I don’t really know what to do with myself at the moment. I was supposed to be meeting new people, learning another language, and beginning to serve a new community. Instead, I am living in my husband’s parents’ basement without a job.

I’ve never been one for grandiose, fanciful dreams. I generally look at my current situation and figure out a realistic step forward from there. And that’s what I thought applying to PC was. I’m qualified; I have skills to share and a reasonable amount of intelligence. I will have to accept it if it doesn’t happen, but I’ve been at it for almost two years now. Almost every decision Keith and I have made in that time has been with this goal in mind. Our lives are very different from what’d they’d be otherwise, and I really don’t know how to begin again or change directions.

Still, I’m grateful beyond words to Roger and Cindy. They weren’t any more prepared for this than we were, but they’ve made me feel welcome and at home. As for everyone else who gave us your good wishes, support and help, We’ll do our best not to let you down.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Our friends are the best!

Phoenix, AZ---No, we STILL haven't left (the country), but here's a lesson we've already learned about the Peace Corps: No one goes alone.

Even if you plan to sell all your wordly possessions, making this transition from a settled life into the unknown would be impossible without the help of friends and family, sometimes in unexpected ways.

For example, Margaret found someone to buy a lot of our household items, then she offered her place for us to stay the night before we left Seattle, THEN she took us to the airport for a very early flight.

Michelle and Karl offered their garage for storing some of the things we couldn't part with for two years, and they hosted a lovely party for us, where we got to see so many of our friends before we took off.

Heather helped me go through a lot of my stuff to get ready for the big sale/giveaway and provided other logistical help...not to mention helping me keep my sanity in that last week in Seattle. She also got us a free night in DC!

The people at Dana's Body-Zone, where I was teaching kickboxing, gave me a terrific sendoff and reminded me how much I'm going to miss the supportive environment there. Not to mention the generous gifts that will come in handy during our road trip later this week!

Dov and Kendra put us up while we were in Tucson this week. They have a 2-year-old and another on the way, but they opened their home and made us feel like we weren't actually vagabonds.

My family is having a barbecue today, so we'll get to spend some time with the James Gang before flying back to Seattle and starting the tour of Keith's family. I hope I haven't left anyone out, but I know we'll have even more people to thank before we get to Armenia.

As we learn just how much we depend on those around us, we hope we can adequately express our gratitude and also offer something in return.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Nothing to Report

I love it when I can use song titles as explanations to my life.

Marie and I are practically living in an empty apartment at this point. There was some concern, mostly mine, I suppose, about getting rid of things with enough time to spare, but it's been done. We managed to sell the couch and chair, not for very much, considering Marie paid eight or nine hundred for that couch, but at this point the relief of having it gone out weighs any feeling of being underpaid. We also ditched a large and wobbly dresser, so I didn't have to throw it out completely. So we're down to a few boxes of clothes and knick nacks that we can take to the Salvation Army or Value Village, and the rest of our stuff. You know that echo you can get in an empty room? That's what we're living with.

And we sold Marie's car! I was beginning to worry. It turned out there's a leak in the steering rack, so again, didn't get as much as I thought we could, but that sense of relief makes up for a lot of money. I describe all this because I'm really feeling like getting rid of nearly everything we've picked up in the years since college is part of the excitement. I don't think the feeling would be so acute right after college. You get rid of bricks and boards and a lamp, relatively speaking, and you can get on a plane. It's strange to divest myself of everything I own to this point. People talk about simplifying their lives and reducing the amount of material things, well, I can tell you, it's exhausting and stressful to have people poking though your stuff, and wondering if you can get rid of it all in time, but there is a great sense of relief and well-being at the end of it. That is, the sense of relief is both large and I enjoy it tremendously.

So we were able to go to a great party last night with a lot of our friends we've made over the years in Seattle, and I was as stress free as I've felt in months. We know where we're going, we know when, and now, approximately everything we own is someone else's problem. So we saw lots of our friends, several of whom I hadn't seen for years. And who are continuing to help us by throwing a party and keeping our stuff and giving us a place to stay our final night in Seattle. And I say this so that anyone considering joining the Peace Corps, who might be thinking you're launching a great personal adventure and you don't need anyone's help, can lose that thought right now. It does feel incredibly personal, even with Marie and I traveling together, like we're alone in a boat a sea, but we're getting a lot of help from a pod of dolphins, which are our friends, and this's a really stupid metaphor.

And a few people asked what we're feeling, so I'll say, it's exhaustion, and an almost giddy delight, and a little fear, but for me it's mostly relief, now. We're doing well in preparation for traveling, the next major hurdle. I'm looking at the pile of stuff that I have on the floor, which is basically all I will have from America for the next two years and I'm thinking two important thoughts: I'm okay with how small this pile is, and I think I can carry it all.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

No we haven't left yet...

Mostly I'd like to create a habit in myself of adding something here every few weeks, and creating something for the people we expect to be very interested (moms, dads, grandparents) in our journeys. And this is something they can read after we've been gone for a while.

At this point, we are well into our selling off stage. We've told most of our friends about the last ten years or so of our lives being up for sale and they have obliged by buying it for cheap. Can I make jokes like that? But I was staggered by the response for my Transformers toys. I can't sell a perfectly good couch for much, but people come out of the woodwork to offer money for old action figures. So thank you to all the grandparents who inadvertently helped fund our PC trip!

So that's been entertaining in a ride-the-Whip sorta way, where you come out and you're not sure if the wobbly, spinning sensation means you had fun or not, but I'll take it as fun. It's got a sense of novelty to it. Trying to get rid of nearly everything we own. And trying to guess what we'll need, what we'll want, what we should buy here, what we should plan to buy there is also amusing to a pack-happy person like me. Marie and I are still trying to figure out if Netflix will do an international plan.

If you don't get that (Gran) apologies, but I think there will be a few inside jokes here. I'll try not to get too obscure, but I don't want to read like a bad movie script that has the nemesis explain who he is every time he's on screen just so the people who came in late know who he is. There will be bad writing, but jokes and references for family and friends, I think, are kinda important and makes people feel more connected, even if a few people don't understand everything.

Our friends have been great, offering space to store things and homes for plants and money for cheap Ikea furniture. I'm getting a little worried about getting rid of our cars for a decent price but in time. But one way or another it'll work out. I'm as interested as anyone to see how we pull it off.

And as we plan for our month of vacation, to see family and friends around the country one last time, it's hard not to shake my head and laugh at the irony. Neil will be visiting our grandparents in Montana and Wyoming just a few days ahead of Marie and I getting there. But he has a new job with the State department and has to be back in D.C. by the 10th, and we can't get there before the 7th. So instead of spending time there and driving back to Nebraska together, we'll be just a few days behind him. I think Marie calls that coincidence, but then we'll fly to the east coast to see grandparents, and my mom will be there the week after, when her school gets out.

And while none of this may be pertinent, I'm wondering what people will find interesting or assuring after Marie and I've been in Armenia for three months, or six, or a year.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The first journal of our adventure

This's the beginning of where Marie and Keith will comment on our lives, for the next two years and change, in Armenia with the Peace Corps. I don't know if I (Keith) will be doing most of the writing, tho' I do have a long-standing habit of journaling, but I'll start by thinking I'll be doing a lot of it.

I'll start from what I see as the top: Marie and I found out last Thursday (a week ago now) that the Peace Corps was accepting our application and they wanted to send us to Armenia. I am so going to misspell the country name before this's over.

We were told to be in Philadelphia on the 28th of May for our two or three days of orientation, paperwork, and shots. About the 31st or so, we get on a plane and fly to the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, or Jerevan, where we'll be directed to our training site, a town or city to be named later, where we'll spend three months learning to teach English as a foreign language, getting a crash course in Armenian (which has 38 letters in its alphabet, don't ya know) and generally learning to survive in a completely foreign country.

After those three months we'll be placed in a community, also to be named later, where we'll spend the next two years teaching English, how to teach English, and some other projects as we think them up. I'm hoping I can teach Ultimate Frizbee as a social event, but that might be too much to hope for.

This is the plan as I understand it. Apparently it is all very tentative, dates can still change, and we've heard rumors that even where we're going can change, but Marie and I are moving ahead on the assumption that the plan is what will happen. We are currently trying to pare down ten years of accumulated stuff, into 160 pounds (ahh, about 70 kilograms, yes I worked that out in my head) of luggage that will go with us, and a few boxes of things that are from friends and family that we can't just sell and will keep with gracious and storage-bountiful friends (thank you Michelle and Carl, and Margaret). Then we sell everything else. Whee.

But there is excitement! The more we read in other PC journals (sorry, but I really hate the term blog, it sounds like a frog with a cold) the more we're both excited and terrified. I do not think either of us are exactly looking forward to bucket showers, whatever that entails, but we are very excited to be doing something so radically different and new. Marie is very thrilled to live in a foreign country and I'm thrilled to get rid of all the junk I've somehow collected. I'm more thrilled to run in a foreign country, hopefully hike in a foreign country.

Armenia is a very small country, I keep seeing the description, the size of Maryland. It's just east of Turkey, and while the border to Turkey is technically closed for some complicated political logic, we've seen that other Peace Corps people have gone to Turkey anyway and visited tourist places like Istanbul, so Marie and I are looking forward to some great touristy vacations.

Anyone who's had any contact with us in the last year and change knows that we've been trying to get this in motion for a long time, and now that it's happened we almost don't know what to do with ourselves. So I suppose my brother is right, better to be massively busy trying to get ready, than sitting around having second thoughts. Tho' I really feel like I've had many thoughts about this over this last year and we're still going.

There is still a staggering amount to say, explain, verify, deny, clarify, and obfuscate. But this introduction will have to do for now. To all our family and friends whom I hope to keep up to date on our condition and educate on Armenia and life in a really different place, welcome and thank you for your interest.