For the past few months, the majority of my group has been counting down the days to our COS Conference. Now that the conference is over, I am sure everyone is like me and thinking, "Has it really been two years, already?" We have a saying in Peace Corps: "The days are long, but the weeks are fast." Nothing could be more true. The days here can be long, hot and extremely boring. If you're homesick or have no power (or both!), then the days are that much worse. During my service, I have had plenty of days like these and I would think to myself, "What am I doing here?" These were the days that I usually counted down the minutes until it was 9:00 so I could go to bed without feeling super lame. However, these days would pass by, eventually, and before I knew it, it would be the weekend - my bad day a distant memory.
COS conference was great because we all kind of forgot about our "bad days" - I feel like we all focused more on the fun/funny times we have had here. COS was also great because we had it at Jinja Nile Resort. The rooms were huge, great showers, nice pool, delicious food and there was a fancy pants conference room that made us all feel important. Tuesday was a travel day, so a lot of us left our sites early in the morning so we could spend the day by the pool. Of course I wanted to take full advantage of a free pool day, so I left my house at 7:15am.
On Tuesday night we did the lottery for picking leave dates. We used Excel to do random number generation in order to be as fair as possible. Yours truly got number one! There were a few murmurs of, "of course!" I guess people think that I am lucky with things like that. Maggie, who I am traveling with after COS, got number four in the lottery. So, it really did work out in our favor. We are leaving in March, which is the first batch of dates, and we are ecstatic. We could hardly contain our excitement at the conference because we were expecting to leave late April. Our flights are already booked - we will be going to Cape Town for a nice beach vacation, and then heading home. Mark your calendars - I will be landing at LAX on April 7th. Home.For.Good!!
The rest of COS conference was a mix of things: paperwork (lots!), information about "after Peace Corps," resume building and feedback to Peace Corps. Peace Corps also brought out posters that we had made during staging in Philadelphia. In small groups, we had made posters with our "aspirations" and our "anxieties." They were funny to see again - a lot of us were scared of getting sick. I think it's safe to say we all got sick at one point, but we survived!
Peace Corps also brought out letters that we had written to ourselves at the end of training, right before we moved to site. I had actually forgotten about these, and it was awesome to read mine. Some people shared bits and pieces of their letters, and here were two of the memorable ones:
Max: All he wrote was, "Keepsakes are for people with bad memories."
Mark: He gave himself 5,000 shillings of airtime and wrote that if he was still together with his girlfriend, then to give her a call. (Yes, after two years he is still with his girlfriend. Long distance is possible in the Peace Corps).
Now for tidbits of my letter. I wrote, "Do you know what you're doing after Peace Corps? Probably not. And you're probably so sick of people asking you that." Ha! I know myself so well. I also wrote, "If it's COS - Congrats! If not, no big deal." Lastly, Bethany and I added something a little extra to our envelopes. We included our evaluation forms for our SES (Self Exploration Study) Project we had to do during training. Let me just say, I don't think there could be a worse evaluation.
During training we were supposed to partner up and come up with a possible secondary project we could do at site. Then you had to make a thirty minute presentation. This was honestly one of the more tedious parts of training, and most of us thought the assignment was pointless. The instructions weren't clear and it's hard to think of a project (especially logistics!) when you're brand new to country and you don't even know what's going on. Nevertheless, we all did the project that felt like busy work. Bethany and I decided to propose a "mural painting" project. We thought it would be fun to have a school participate in painting a mural - I know I did this in Elementary School, and I'm sure a lot of you did as well.
We did our presentation, and even had an activity for everyone to do. Peace Corps, however, was not impressed. Our evaluation forms were not even completely filled out. They hated our presentation so much, they didn't even bother to evaluate us. There were 22 items to be graded, but PC only filled out 3 - the rest were left blank. The grading scale was: "1" - Below standards, "2" - Meets standards, and "3" - Above standards. Here were my points:
Professional Dress: 1. I am actually going to give this one to Peace Corps. It rained that day, so I wore my Converse. They were super muddy when I presented. I could have brought a pair of flats to wear. But the rest of me was presentable...
Audible Voice: 1.6. I object to this, I am pretty loud. Maybe I have a mumbling problem I am not aware of.
Eye Contact: 1. Erroneous.
Personally, I think these marks are a little harsh. While our presentation wasn't award worthy, it was not bad. I remember being pissed when I got this evaluation and even a little embarrassed. I still maintain that the muddy Converse was just the end of us...Ugandans are all about dressing smart. Here were the comments we received at the end of the form. These are the best part. I am typing verbatim, so excuse the typos.
- Unless you did not get enough time to prepare, you did not have much to present.
- Your presentation lucked substance and you seem to be gambling with facts.
- I don't think you put much thought in your research together as a team. You did not say much. Your co-facilitator talked most of the time. If there was time, I would have liked this presentation repeated in an organized manner.
- The presentation was superficial. It seems you did not use well the time given to you to prepare. You dressed inappropriate for the presentation.
My comments were more or less the same. Weirdly enough, I did not get the "inappropriate" dress comment. I'll include a photo of my evaluation at the end. As mortifying as this evaluation was at the time, now I find it hilarious. Also goes to show that this evaluation really had absolutely no bearing on my Peace Corps service, nor on Bethany's. I think we both had successful secondary projects - Bethany even painted THREE world maps at various schools (with students). As we know, I'm not very artistic so I didn't attempt to do such a project. Moral of the story - bad evaluations aren't necessarily the end of the world.
I cannot believe I only have two more months left at site. My neighbors were extremely sad when I told them that I was leaving in March. Sauya almost looked like she was going to cry and Stephen said, "Noooooooooo, you were supposed to leave in April. You tell them to let you extend for some time." It made me realize that it's going to be extremely hard to say goodbye, as excited as I am to go home.
I apologize, by the way, if there are more spelling or grammatical errors than usual in this post. Also, the formatting might be weird...sorry! My old MacBook officially bit it, so I had to type this on my iPad. Also, no idea how to add comments to photos from the iPad. There are a few photos from Ethiopia, a few from COS (pool, hotel room and conference room), the evaluation forms and what my old MacBook screen did when it died.