Snail Mail from Cassandra Ernst

Do you like a good story? Here are some snail mail from Cassandra Ernst that give you some insight into her thoughts, her heart, and her very soul.

Could You Survive a Moroccan Meal?

Food is life. And it is especially life in the Moroccan home. Scroll through photos of some notable food and be sure to take the quiz at the bottom to see if you can survive a Moroccan Meal.

My Host Baba's Stand at the Weekly Souk

One of my favorite meals: Fish Tagine -- you get all the courses with the salad and "dessert" (aka fruit).

A great dinner of tomatoes and eggs. And bread, of course.

Dealer's Choice: Communal Water or Poms at the Cafe.

The first course at the wedding.

Couscous Friday!!!

Glorious Donuts that we eat every Sunday. It's a treat I hate to miss.

Could you Survive a Moroccan Meal?

1. How much food do you eat?

A: You're saying safi (stop) as you eagerly stuff your face full of food.
B: You say safi (stop)  as soon as you sit down at the table.

2. What about the communal water glass?

A. You started gulping the lma (water) down on the first day.
B. You still sneak into your room every fifteen minutes to take a sip from your secret water bottle.

3. How are you liking your triangle of food?

A: You conspicuously eye the delicious-looking potato across the plate in hopes that your Host Mama will slide it your way.
B: You low-key toss every vegetable that gets pushed to your side into somebody else's triangle.

4. Are you a meat-eater?

A. You have to stop yourself from diving into the meat first.
B. You pray that your Host Mama serves you the smallest piece or you've declined from eating meat all together.

5. When eating lamb, do you . . .

A: Grab the closest bone in order to suck out the marrow.
B. Cut off the fat and hide it under your plate, so the family doesn't notice.

6. What's your preferred utensil?

A: Bread, of course! Unless it's Couscous Friday, then you're rolling perfect balls in your right hand.
B. The first word you learned in Darija was m3qa (spoon).

7. What is your relationship with bread?

A. More please. You eat half a loaf at every meal, including dinner and kaskrut (tea).
B. You stoutly ignore the wedge of bread sitting beside you at every meal.

8. Kaskrut?

A. You skip it whenever possible.
B. You Host Mama wants you to eat THREE slices of cake? And millawee (fried bread goodness)?! You are happy to!!!

9. How do you like your atay?

A. Three blocks of sugar please.
B. lqHawa (coffee) only, please. Black.

10. You're meeting your friends at 1:00 p.m. It's 12:50 and your Host Family just realized that you're leaving and are insisting you eat lunch first. Do you . . .

A. Sit down for the full three-course lunch. Your friends will understand Moroccan Standard Time.
B. Decline lunch, even as your Host Mama is shoving handfuls of apples in your hands.

11. Are you excited for Friday?

A. Always! Couscous Friday is the greatest tradition invented!
B. Never! All you want to do is curl up in a ball and never move again after being forced-fed so much Couscous.

Mostly As: Congratulations! You have integrated into the Moroccan Food Culture. Way to embrace your inner food lover. Your Host Mama is the happiest woman in  town. Expect to gain 15 pounds

Mostly Bs: You have a long way to go until you truly integrate in Morocco. But don't worry, your Host Mama will make it her number one goal to ensure you're well fed, whether you want it or not. Expect to gain 15 pounds.

Post your results below!

Turkish Toilets, Wedding Crashers, and Home Sweet Home

My host family's Turkish Toilet.

My host family's Turkish Toilet.

It is just before 5:30 a.m. After pro-actively filling my flush bucket with water, I squat down and brace myself against the wall, wrapping my left arm under my leg for extra support. My stomach grumbles in sweet anticipation and just as my business slides out, the morning call to prayer sounds. This seems incredibly sacrilegious, yet strangely fitting, I think to myself as I quickly finish and scrub up.

And so my life as a Peace Corps Trainee begins.

After spending a week in the lap of luxury, I was more than ready for the three hour journey by bus and Grand Taxi to my new home. Although not so ready to have my bags bungie cord tied into the back of Grand Taxi -- none of our CBT group had believed our LCF when she told us that all seven of us and our bags could fit in two Grand Taxis, but somehow, the drivers made it work.

After riding through miles (kilometers?) of rolling farm sides and foothills, along with a sprinkle of small communities, we arrived to our new home. Despite the lovely hand-drawn map our LCF created, I couldn't quite picture the one road community, but as soon as we arrived, I knew that this town was not the Morocco of Rabat.

View at the outskirts of my new town for the next two months

View at the outskirts of my new town for the next two months

We were in town for less than ten minutes when the country authorities showed up to record our passport information. The police love us here, by the way. One day I'll take the time to explain the unique relationship between Moroccan authorities and Peace Corps volunteers, as I understand. But I truly felt like a delegate with our police escort from the airport to our training hub. To be clear-and to protect myself from the PC Overloards-we are not delegates and are the only US organization in Morocco that is not connected to the Embassy. Peace Corps is independent from all other US government organizations and fun fact from the United States Ambassador of Morocco himself--so if it's wrong, that's on him--besides the military, we are the largest group of Americans in the MENA (Middle East, North Africa) region. How truly humbling is that? But I digress, once we're placed at our permanent site, we will be on first name basis with the local authorities in our town, who will be keeping tabs on us and will call us if we leave the site without letting them know first. It's sounds a bit disconcerting at first glance, but there is something strangely comforting to know that somebody's job description actually states that they must look out for me, personally.

Before we even made it inside our LCF's home, Moroccans gathered around us to meet their new guests. As we settled around the cushioned seats, more and more Moroccans made their way inside. Each time we would stand up and say: "S-salam or Salam 3alaykum (Peace be upon you)" the response of which is: "Wa 3alaykum s-salem (and peace be upon you)." From there, they would ask Labas or Bikhir - both of which mean "good?" And we would reply back with "Labas, l Hamdullah." The women would grasp hands and lean in for cheek kisses on both sides, while the men would shake hands. It was at this moment that everything began to seem real. Before this, it was a vacation with a bunch of strangers and some really cool Moroccans. But now we were surrounded by our families in a little town with about four or five streets of houses. This was real life. My life.

What had I gotten myself into?

As I carried my much too heavy bags down the street, while simultaneously trying to grab my other bag from my new host sister who is about twenty years older than me, I wondered how far we'd have to walk before arriving to our home. Not far, apparently, it was less than a block away - like all the homes in the town. Inside, I met my new host Mama and Baba - who are about my grandmother's age - and was ushered into my new room. I smiled largely and exclaimed one of the only two words I knew in Darija -- "Zween, Shurkan." It's beautiful, thank-you. "Shurkan Bezaf" Thank you, a lot. Soon, I was surrounded by my new family -- my host mama and baba and three host sisters, along with my new best friend: a barely toddling, perfectly fat little baby boy whose walking gave me the first word I learned in town - tmsh-sha. Which means to walk. Although I'm suppose to know the word for "go," I always tend to forget it, so I always say: "I walk to class", or "May I walk to the Cafe?", or "I would like to walk to the souk with you on Sunday?" All of these sentences I've almost successfully used - and that's with less than two weeks of learning, so I'm basically a native speaker.

I barely settled in before dinner was served. We had been training for this moment during each dinner at the hotel with the LCFs, so I felt prepared. Although the full chicken in the center of the shared plate looked appetizing, I stuck to the outside of the plate, eating the vegetables first. For each bite, I pulled off a piece of warm bread with my right hand and dipped it in the juice before using it to pick up the vegetables, pinching each bite closed with my thumb and two fingers. My host mama placed a towel on my lap in anticipation for the mess that I would inevitably make, but I chowed down on that meal with barely a crumb falling to the wayside. "Kol. Kol." she would urge me as I slowly ate my food. "Eat. Eat." "Sufi," I said when I didn't feel like I could eat anymore. Finished. They all looked at me expectantly. "Kol." I took a few more bites. "Kol." "Sufi, Shbt. l-Hammdullah. "I'm finished. I'm full. Thanks be to God." This seemed to please her and she took the main meal away to place out dessert. Dessert here is fruit and I am obsessed with their green grapes. I wish fruit was the only "dessert" they had, but during tea time - which I have between one and two times a day, depending on my class schedule - we are fed sugar-filled mint tea or "atay", which I adore, and little Moroccan shortbread cookies covered in powdered sugar, along with more bread with oil, butter, and jam to spread across it. And taking just one cookie and drinking just one cup is not acceptable -- not that I would be able to stop at just one if I could -- suffice to say, I need to come up with a sustainable exercise plan.

It only took three days on site to find myself at a Moroccan wedding. Although I have heard that they often start at night, this particular wedding (as many weddings in rural areas) started late in the afternoon and only lasted for a few hours. One of the girls in our CBT group was invited by her host mother, while the rest of us basically invited ourselves in the most Moroccan way possible. I did feel a little bad, however, as all the children at the wedding spent most of the time crowded around our table, urging us to dance. Additionally, since we didn't know about the wedding until the day of, we arrived having already eaten lunch and therefore could not fully enjoy the food presented to us. The first course was three full chickens for the eight of us at the table. I glanced at one of the tables of women near us and saw that the ladies at that table had somehow managed to eat it all.

 

We thought that we would be receiving "dessert" next, as was customary at mealtimes, and was surprised when the waiter lifted the tray to a second meat dish. At this point, one of the girls in our CBT site widened her eyes at the idea of having to eat more. Of course, at that moment the videographer came over to our table and filmed her reaction. Now when the bride watches her wedding video, she's going to think the Americans hated the food. I am here to say that there was bezaf food and I adored every bite.

During mealtime, we spotted the bride in white with jewels in her hair. After we finished eating, music began and her husband came to take her away. This is probably the point that I should mention that the three men in our CBT group were the only males at the wedding, save the boys who kept running into the tent in twos and threes, only to be shooed out again. They also happened to be the best dancers of the group, as they moved to the music in their seats, barely able to contain themselves from bursting out of the chair. Of course, there's always one lady at the wedding that wants to break all forms of protocol. While some of the woman were dancing to the music at the time, we all knew that it would be incredibly inappropriate for the male crashers to get up and dance. We were already drawing enough attention to ourselves, as the rag-tag group of Americans, as it was. This lady, however, was urging us all to get up--men included--and dance. She even had the audacity to point towards me and one of my male colleagues and urge us to dance together.

Definitely scandalous.

We looked at the Host Mama that was at the table with us. She had an amused look on her face and gave us a mock stern look before shaking her head and urging us to stay seated. We really wanted to dance and it didn't help that the lady kept motioning for us to get out on the floor or that our new little girl fan club continued to surround our table and beg us to dance with them while giggling and occasionally saying a few English phrases (Hello, how are you? What is your name? Their English skills directly correspond with my Darjia skills, so we made a pretty fine match). After a few confusing exchanges about whether or not the women in our group had permission to dance--apparently this Host Mama had been assigned as our chaperone in order to ensure that we didn't make a fool of ourselves--the women of our CBT group got up to dance with the girls. At this point, the three of us were basically the queen of every schoolgirl and town and like celebrities, all of the teenage girls wanted a selfie with the Americans, which was quite a strange experience for me.

Preparing for the bride's henna

Preparing for the bride's henna

When the bride returned with her husband for the second time, she was wearing a green dress. The women of the wedding escorted them inside, burning incense as they did and loudly exclaiming as they surrounded her and swayed to the music, their arms out-stretched in front of them as they motioned their hands towards their chests. They continued to burn incense as she and her husband sat in the high chairs of honor and painted henna on her hands. After the henna was complete, the bride and groom left. We were served tea (I can't begin to describe how much tea I drink in a day) and a bag full of cookies. The bride returned for a third and final time--this time in red--in order to exchange rings and throw out sweet candy. I later learned that this candy was to be eaten by single women who hoped to find a groom. So, now I have that expectation hanging over my head. The wedding was over, or so we thought. Two of us ladies from the CBT site were brought back to the wedding tent in order to witness some men and women with hand drums, crying out and singing in Tamazight. The bride, like most of the people in our small town, was of Amazigh heritage. This very strong culture--whose name literally means the Free People--was reflected as part of the wedding. I was also happy to return as I was actually able to speak to the bride for a moment and wish her well in her marriage.

As I reflect back on the wedding and the journey that is to come, I can't help to swell up in joyful anticipation. I've committed to celebrating with the people of Morocco for two years and celebrate we will. Through food, traditions, and new friendships and families, I am so eager to soak up every moment that I can.

Salem Morocco. Smiti Cassandra. Mtshrfin.

What is one of the biggest life changes you've undergone?

Floating Through Posh Corps

I'm languidly floating in our hotel's pool when a fellow Peace Corps Trainee swims over to me. "How are you liking everything so far?" he asks.

 

"It's been nice," I say. "But I'm ready to get away from this place." I laugh when I realize the ridiculousness of my statement. At the time, we were three days into our training at Peace Corps Morocco, but it already felt like three weeks. It only took a day with Wi-Fi (or wee-fee, as it's called here) to realize how Morocco has gotten its "Posh Corps" reputation. PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) and the LCFs (Language and Culture Facilitators), along with the rest of the Peace Corps staff have been living the life with ice-cream and sushi shops, a oceanside view, and most importantly, Western-style toilets with more toilet paper than any American could desire.

At any other time, staying there with 100 of my new closest American friends would be the dream. However, I had been waiting to go to Morocco now for nearly two years and I was ready to jump into our service. The Peace Corps Country Director has assured us how important it is to ease into our service, but my old nemesis Guilt enjoys creeping into my mind. Here I was vacationing on the government's dime. Of course, I was already on the job. We were spending over eight hours a day preparing to arrive at our CBT (community-based training) sites. This consisted of administrative work, basic safety and security information and what to do in an emergency, the beginning of language and cultural understanding, and bezaf shots. Between blood tests and immunizations, I've been stabbed with a needle more times in the last six months than I have in the six years previous.

One of the things that I especially appreciated about this first week was that our training was done almost entirely by in-country Moroccan staff. The Peace Corps Morocco staff consists of over 40 full-time staff members, along with the Language and Culture Facilitators (LCFs) who are in charge of teaching us the language and cultural norms of the country. These LCFs--most of whom are in their 20s and 30s--are our lifelines at our community-based training sites and are just as eager to learn about us as we are to learn about them. I love that from the moment we stepped off the plane we were already practicing the 2nd and 3rd goals of Peace Corps.

At the recommendation of previous Peace Corps stajs (or incoming PCV group), our training time before going to the CBT sites increased to eight days. This has allowed our staj to have a SDL (self-directed learning) day. Most people would refer to this as a day off. However, Peace Corps has stressed that even on our "breaks," we still have a responsibility to learn how to better integrate into the communities around us. I joined most of our staj in getting a group together to go to Rabat. Though some members of our staj chose to take the bus to get there, our group of five snagged a Grand Taxi.

Grand Taxis are one of the main modes of transportation between cities in Morocco. They are old white sedans with only one window handle per car that gets passed along to passengers if they want to roll their window down and an engine that sputters every time it goes up the hill. There is a set price per person in Grand Taxis and taxi drivers will wait until all six seats are full before leaving. If you don't want to wait for a full taxi, or have a lot of luggage, you are expected to pay for any empty seats.If you're wondering how six passengers fit into a sedan, be prepared to cram four people in the back seat and two up front with the driver. So if you're traveling by Grand Taxi, expect to get VERY close to your neighbors.

Rabat is a great transition city between the States and Morocco. It is the seat of many government buildings and is considered to be very cosmopolitan. We rode on the Metro tram while there and it was beautifully designed and immaculate. As Rabat is on the coast, the city has a nice breeze that keeps you comfortable even with the heat of the sun. Our time in Rabat mainly consisted of walking the winding streets of the Medina and eating our weight in delicious food.

 

While there, I learned one of the most important phrases for a shopping girl like me: "sh7al" or "How Much?" Unfortunately, I only know how to count to ten, so the shopkeepers' replies did me little good. We first entered the Medina as shopkeepers were just beginning to set up for the day. It was idyllic to be able to truly soak in each little area of the place before it became a bustling madhouse. When we returned that afternoon after exploring the rest of the city, the place was markedly different. The morning primarily consisted of locals, but in the afternoon, you could see many shopkeepers competing for the attention of tourists. To be honest, I was happy to be able to escape into the inner Medina, where we were able to walk the cobblestone paths admiring the incredible colors and designs of Moroccan-style doors.

 

While in the outer Medina, our group attracted the attention of one man who kept wanting us to follow him to his "shop." Judging by the words he kept muttering under his breath, we're fairly certain he was trying to sell us drugs. For a good hour, we would tell him "La, Shukran" no thank-you, and he would disappear, only to show up again fifteen minutes later urging us to follow him. We would say La and he would get angry at us. Eventually, he called us all Imitation Americans - possibly the worst insult he knew in English - and disappeared for good.

 

Other than the lone trailer, however, the people of Rabat were amazing. I tried my hand at bartering, but with my limited funds, I was unwilling to buy anything until I understood fair prices. All of the waiters we met were charming, kind, and willing to humor us with the three phrases of Darija we currently knew. My favorite person we met in Rabat operated an orange juice stand at the edge of the Medina. With a mix of Darija and French--neither of which I know--along with a sprinkling of English words, he entertained us with his knowledge of America and pop culture. He let us know how worried he has been about the guns in America and how in Morocco they didn't have that problem so we would be much safer. The man instantly remembered the guy in our group who had spent a few weeks in Rabat two years before, calling him "his American friend" while calling us ladies, "flowers." In any other country, I would find an invitation to a stranger's home weird, but it fit perfectly with the Moroccan mode of hospitality when he told us we should all return to Rabat tomorrow to admire the view of the city from his roof. (Don't worry Mom, we declined.) While drinking the best-squeezed orange juice on either side of the Atlantic, he explained the printed pictures of his favorite Americans, including Albert Einstein and Mark Zuckerberg and let us know of the great love he had for Facebook. He really admired Mark Zuckerberg, but didn't know why the facebook guru chose not to marry an American.

The concept of Americans coming from all ethnic backgrounds is something that many foreigners have a difficult time grasping. Over the past few years, Peace Corps has made a concentrated effort to diversify the volunteer pool through both age and ethnicity. This is very evident in our current Peace Corps staj. Of the 109 trainees, there are almost twenty Black PCVs alone. This does not account for the wide range of other multi-cultural PCVs and PCVs of color. In my CBT group, we have two second-generation Americans - one Pakistani-American and one Indian-American - one first generation American from Kenya, one person with a strong Scottish heritage, one person who grew up in rural America, and me - half-Black, half-White, and all love. Although Peace Corps has a long way to go before they truly reflect the multi-faceted American people, I am very grateful of the efforts that they have made so far and that I will have the opportunity to support these efforts in the years to come. As I begin my journey as a Peace Corps volunteer, I get a little thrill knowing that each of my fellow Peace Corps trainees has a unique story of what it means to be an American and each of us will have the opportunity to share our story with the people of Morocco.

As I begin my journey, what aspects of the Moroccan culture do you hope to learn more about?

Going There. Doing That. Already Got the T-Shirt.

Today marks my official first day as a Peace Corps Volunteer trainee. To say that I'm absolutely thrilled would be a gross understatement. This time tomorrow -- well, this time tomorrow, I'll be flying over the Atlantic ocean, hopefully sleeping away any jet lag -- BUT this time tomorrow and another four hours and I'll be stepping on Moroccan land.
The most important part, though, is I got the t-shirt:

 

Every Peace Corps Volunteer Staging is different, but if you want a little idea of what to expect, here's some fast tips:

  • The Peace Corps staging event for Morocco currently takes place in Philadelphia. They want you there by noon for registration. If you're on the west coast of the country (think Indiana, west), there's a good chance that you'll need to fly in the previous day to get there on time. Travel information is communicated about three weeks before staging. Basically, Peace Corps will instruct you to call SATO (contractor Peace Corps uses for travel) and they will set up and pay for your flight. If your flight charges for luggage, Peace Corps will also reimburse your luggage costs, so long as it is in limit for their luggage requirements (two checked bags, under 50 pounds). Be aware that this reimbursement won't occur until you're in country, so plan accordingly. I was lucky and got to fly Southwest, two free checked bags, y'all and free ritz bits cheese crackers. But then I was unlucky in that I forgot to check in, so I was forced to the back of the race and ended up between two men. This was not conducive to my plan to sleep for three and a half hours straight.
     
  • The registration process itself is super easy. You just have to fill out a pre-survey, sign in, receive some documents, and get your student loan information filled out and signed. So long as everything is smooth, it should only take you about ten minutes. Student loans are tricky - so do your research before making any decisions - but I finally consolidated all of my loans - except for my Perkins, as they have their own "perks" - and updated to an income-based repayment plan. Which means that I make so little, that I'll be paying $0 a month. This is primarily helpful because of the Public Servant Loan Forgiveness - by making 120 qualifying payments (or ten years) on loans, I can have the remaining balance forgiven. In order to qualify for the most payments, bring all the necessary forms with you to be signed and mailed.
     
  • After registration, you have some downtime. Maaaake friends. I still have anxiety around meeting peers. But do it anyways, because these people are going to be your family. In my particular Staj (what PC Morocco calls their groups) there are 109 family members--way bigger than most country's cohorts--but the more the merrier!
  • Then comes five hours of Peace Corps training. I was expecting powerpoints, but we had none. So that was a nice surprise. Although, I do love me a nicely laid out powerpoint -- not as much as the perfect Excel file mind you (remind me to post a version of my Excel packing list. It makes my heart joyfully palpate just thinking about it.) The training primarily consisted of ice-breakers (you'd think for as long as I have been working with young people, I would have gotten used to ice-breakers, but they're still just as awkward as ever), core expectations (know them, love them, and maybe even make a skit about them), and basic safety and security issues. We also went over our aspirations and anxieties about going to Morocco and some logistics about how to prepare for tomorrow. It was a straight-forward, well put-together training that allowed for a lot of interaction. The only real thing I would have changed is that it would have been nice to have one of our facilitators have been to Morocco, for those Morocco-specific questions. But we will get plenty of that over the next few weeks, so I'm not very concerned.
     
  • Peace Corps gives you plenty of walking around money for staging and to get you to Morocco. The best thing to do is to save most of it, as you will love that extra cash once you're in country.

    I bought a steak.
     
  • Tomorrow will come with its own set of rules, but we plan to hop on a bus at noon for a 8:30 p.m. flight in New York. Our bags will get yarn, as per Peace Corps tradition, and we will finally be handed our passports when we're on the bus and can no longer escape. Not that I'd ever want to . . .

How did you sleep the night before a life-changing day?

Still Waiting for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (Peace Corps Medical Journey Part II)

I forgot to retrieve my teeth. Yes, the bottom teeth had to be crushed into little pieces in order to be removed. But the top ones came out whole. I should have asked if I could take them with me. It would be a long shot, for sure. But the Tooth Fairy could have paid me a visit and left $800 under my pillow.

Or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in my bed. I'm not picky.

At least I will have a nice bit of frequent flier miles saved up after these medical escapades, which will come in handy if I need to pay a visit home. But this story of loss isn't meant to focus on my pocketbook. Rather, some beautiful bones that are a precious part of me. Those strong and sturdy wisdom teeth. They knew all . . . except how to grow in properly.

And so, if you're like me and waited until you were in your twenties or beyond to remove those pesky things. If you would have been happy with The Wisdom residing in your mouth for the rest of your life then this story is for you.

I scheduled my appointment on a Monday.

This isn't the best day of the week to get your wisdom teeth removed. However, it was schedule it for that Monday or wait another two weeks. I had deadlines to fulfill, so I made the choice to only take two days off. If I didn't plan on using anesthesia, I certainly didn't need more than two days to recover.

People thought I was crazy to do it awake. I felt like it was crazy to spend upwards of $400 extra just to take a little nap. I try not to get too preachy (that's a lie), but if we're being real, I think it's easy to sleep away moments of our life that we're afraid will be painful. For me, I hate that emotional pain. But bring on the physical, because it only hurts for a moment before becoming a dull memory! 

Seriously, unless you have major anxiety when it comes to doctors or dentists, I would suggest doing it awake. It's an interesting surgery and it gives you some control and knowledge of the situation. And for those of you who just get anxiety of the unknown. Here's a nice snippet of what to expect when you're expected to get all four wisdom teeth out.

My Oral Surgeon (OS moving forward) was really great. I came into the office with one of my favorite meditation tracks for breathing so by the time he walked in, I was already feeling very calm. Nonetheless, he answered all of my questions and was certain to let me know the usual risks for wisdom teeth removal. (At this point, I was tempted to ask why we insist on removing the things when the risks associated seem to outweigh the benefits). For me, the biggest risk involved was the crown that sat adjacent to my impacted tooth. Those things cost about $250 to replace, so it was a pretty expensive risk in my book. Thankfully, when the time came, my OS took extra care to ensure it was not knocked off.

After going over the risks with me, he shot up my face with Novocaine. It was eight shots. If you can get through this part, you can make it through the surgery. It takes all of four minutes to do it all and some of the shots instantly make your face tingle. For me, I felt as if some of the liquid from the shots was sprayed on my lips and gums. And a few minutes after he finished, my heart began racing like crazy. I had to do some slow and deep breathing to calm my anxious body down. After my OS finished with the shots, he left for fifteen minutes to ensure that they took hold.

I should probably point out that my OS had an assistant. It's pretty cool to watch them work together because my OS would whisper a word and the assistant would get him the right tool in seconds. It was a sweet dance.

Before they dived into slicing my mouth open, my OS let me know that at any time I could tell him to stop and he would. And then it began. He worked fast and got my first tooth out within two minutes. At this point, I was still in eyes closed mode. So I could feel the pressure of the instruments probing me, but it wasn't painful. I knew the moment he pulled the tooth out. I looked up to see bloody tooth number one. It wasn't nearly as big as I thought it would be.

I had assumed that he would have pulled out my second top tooth, since those were the easy ones. Instead, he went right for my bottom impacted tooth. This one took a little longer. He warned me that it would be difficult. It took my OS around ten minutes to get through this tooth. Again, I could tell that he was cutting into me and I could hear as he was cutting into the tooth as he tried to extract it. However, it wasn't painful at all. Just this weird pressure that I don't quite have a word for. This tooth was out within ten minutes. Then he took some string and sewed up the wound before putting some gauze on my right side. The stitches fall out on their own after a few days. After this, he made quick work of the third tooth on top, before telling me to brace myself for the problem child. My impacted tooth was pressed right up against my very expensive crown. I told him to feel free to take as much time as possible.

Well, I kind of mumbled it. My mouth was slightly preoccupied with getting sliced into.

I will admit that there was some brief pain for the last tooth as my OS carved it out. It wasn't pass-out pain -- maybe that feeling of when you unexpectedly scratch yourself on a sharp corner. I think the angle that was used strayed slightly from the bounds of where I was numb. However, it didn't hurt enough to warrant a shout-out. I barely even registered that the pain was there. Besides, by this point, I had become interested in seeing how my OS worked. Obviously, I couldn't tell what was going on in my mouth. However, I could see the tools that were being passed to him and could guess as to what was happening according to the sound of the instruments and the pressure I felt in my mouth. I made a mental note to go on Youtube later and see if there were any videos that showcased Wisdom Teeth removal. (I'm smart enough to know that this is a task to do after, not before, you have your wisdom teeth removed). 

My OS worked a lot slower on the last tooth and I could tell that the angle he was using to cut it out wasn't the simplest. Near the end, when there was a final piece of the tooth hidden near the root, he had me do a second X-Ray to ensure he could cut it out properly.

Finally, though, it was over. He sewed up the other side, added some gauze, and I was a Wisdomless Woman.

My OS had me wait another ten minutes in his office to ensure that bulk of the bleeding had stopped. Then he wrote me a prescription, gave me extra gauze for home, and told me some extra advice for home care.

From the time I sat down in the chair until I left was less than an hour - including the Novocaine setting in, the unexpected X-Ray, and waiting for the bleeding to stop after he was complete. I think my operation was a little longer because of that stubborn final tooth. And my surgery was a bit more difficult because of how impacted my bottom two teeth were. They were growing completely sideways. I say that because it's really easy to feel a lot of anxiety surrounding Wisdom Teeth removal. And despite all the horror stories you hear, I don't think it's nearly as bad as people make it out to be.

I'm on day three of recovery. A snowstorm in Denver at the end of March (I'm looking forward to our April Snowstorm) closed all the schools and gave me the third day to recuperate.

The pain wasn't terrible, mostly annoying. And it was persistent enough that I couldn't do what I wanted to do the first day, which was nap the first three hours off. I took my prescribed hydrocodine twice. Both times I had a terrible headache, so I decided to switch to Advil. The Advil did the job better and helped with some of the swelling. Again, the aftereffects were more of an inconvenience to my life than a debilitating pain that had me writhing on the floor.  To be honest, I was more pained over the fact that for the first two days my mouth would only open wide enough to stick a spoon in it. Not to mention, I finally saw what I would look like with a square jaw. Not pretty. But if I had to pick the worst part about removing my wisdom teeth (other than the bill), it was the fact that I forgot about my leftover lamb curry in the fridge and I don't know how long it will be until I can chew some delicious lamb.

So, don't fear losing those teeth. The Wisdom stays and the pain is only temporary. And if you happen to see the Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson flying around, let him know that he owes me some money.

What was it like when you had your widsom teeth removed?

Medical Costs (Thus Far):
First Dentist Exam: $19
Wisdom Teeth Consultation: $10
Initial Doctor's Appointment: After insurance, $116 - I'm going to have to ensure she codes my next appointment as my yearly check-up
Medical Labs: Insurance, Final Price TBD
Wisdom Teeth Extraction, localized: estimated price $802
Wisdom Teeth Medication: $7

Who Needs Blood? (Peace Corps Medical Journey, Part I)

PCMedical1

I am feeling quite light-headed as I write this. If I had to venture a guess, the fasting until four p.m. coupled with the six vials of blood stolen from me today may have something to do with the overall dizziness. 

Six vials seems excessive, you may be thinking. Well, excessive is key with the Peace Corps. I am well underway with the dreaded Peace Corps medical clearance exam. And if the eyes of my primary care physician were any indicator when I showed her what needed to be done, the Peace Corps makes sure to leave no stone unturned. In the globe and in the case of my physical health.

That being said, be prepared for more than one appointment to finish all of your paperwork. My original plan was to have my physician put in an order in for all of my bloodwork and then I would stroll into her office after it was complete for my physical. Except when I called the scheduler to set this up, she told me I had just had my physical last November so she wasn't sure how to schedule another for me. So I was transferred to my physician's assistant. And I tried to explain to her about the Peace Corps and the necessity to schedule my bloodwork before my appointment. She was even more confused and told me to just bring my paperwork at my appointment to discuss.

And so today I sat in my physician's office with a stack of incomplete papers, and she immediately decided to do what I had wanted to from the start. Schedule all of my bloodwork for today and make a follow-up appointment for the physical. Meeting in person was helpful to better explain what I needed. Good News. Bad News: Meeting in person also means my insurance company is more than likely going to mail me a bill for that 20 minute meeting. And despite the copious amounts of lamb, rice, and bread I consumed an hour ago, I am not near replenished from the blood loss.

Feeling like a vampire's scorned lover is the least of my medical issues right now.

Because Monday morning, I'm preparing to be carved into. After a decade of putting it off, these wisdom teeth are finally going to find a new home. Send up some positive thoughts that I'll still see you on the other side!

Medical Costs (Thus Far):
Eye Exam: $89
First Dentist Exam: $19
Wisdom Teeth Consultation: $10
Initial Doctor's Appointment: Insurance, Final Price TBD
Medical Labs: Insurance, Final Price TBD
Wisdom Teeth Extraction, localized: estimated price $800

The Danger of a Single Story

I think this video speaks for itself. I encourage you to take 20 minutes to watch it. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is on point as to why I have a passion to learn and to share other people's stories. 

Six months from now, I will be joining 55 years of history with over 200,000 other Peace Corps Volunteers who made this same commitment. For me, this is a dream--my dream--come true.

As I reflect on my life, thus far, and the journey to come. This video is especially inspiring. And not to give away the ending, but: "When we reject a single story, we regain a kind of paradise"

Have you ever experienced a time when somebody judged who you are based on preconceived notions? What misconceptions have you had about others?

Discover your Intention for the New Year and Beyond

I hear you calling me out. You think I'm late to the game. It’s February! Everybody knows that January is the time to talk about resolutions. February's the month to act like you haven't already thrown your New Year's resolutions to the wayside. I'm here to tell you the New Year is just beginning. Again.

Welcome to the Lunar New Year.

When I was growing up, I would write New Year’s resolutions’ lists as long as my arm. At the age of 16, 15, 14, I knew that this was the year I would finally change. This was the year I would do every little thing that was holding me back. Of course, there were a couple of problems with my mindset. First, I would say what I wanted to do, but I never took the time to create a roadmap for how I was going to get there. Maybe I did want to speak up more in public, but what small step actions did I plan to take to overcome my anxiety?

Second, and most important, I was setting impossible expectations for myself.

I know a little about impossible expectations. They’re my specialty. I have lived my entire life with the over-whelming call to be perfect at every. thing. I. do. And when I don’t live up to my self-imposed standards, I allow my mind to let me know just how terribly I’ve failed. It has really only been in the last few years that I made the conscientious choice to change the conversation in my head. And to be honest, I’m not nearly perfect at doing so. I could beat myself up about it, but I’m fairly certain that then I’d have to beat myself up about beating myself up about it . . . which is a cycle that’s never fun to step into.

I get way too dizzy.

Resolutions or Intentions?

From my experiences as a Human Perfectionist, I have learned that as inspiring as New Year’s resolutions may seem, ultimately, they are intrinsically flawed. When we begin a new year with unrealistic expectations that we will almost definitely fail, it means that we start the new year telling ourselves: I am not enough.

With intentions, instead of asking what you want to do or change in the coming year, you ask yourself the question: who is it that I want to be? It’s a minor shift in mindset, but a vital one. When you come from a place of doingness, you are viewing who you are in relationship to external factors. Often, you are trying to control situations and people, but there’s really only one thing you have dominion over: yourself. Beingness, at its core, is about revealing who you already are and learning how to love yourself more fully. When you ask yourself the question – “Who do I want to be?” you are committing yourself to looking inward. And when you fully commit to looking within yourself, you often find the small, but powerful voice that has an intention to share with you.

My Intention

My intention for the year called while I was driving. This past Friday, I woke up feeling anxious. When this happens, I pray myself out of bed and spend at least twenty minutes in meditation. Meditation helps to quiet the mind so that the still, small, powerful voice within can be heard. She chose to speak to me on my way to work.

Let Intuition guide you, not insecurity.

Immediately, I knew those words were to be my intention for the year.

Practices to Set Your Intention

Setting an intention for the year, or even the next month, can be a little intimidating if you have never examined your life from a Being perspective. If you’re like me, however—if you have tried and failed with resolutions or if you have the perfectionist tendencies—I would suggest you give intention-setting a try. To help guide you on this journey, I compiled great practices to help you discover and apply your intention.

1.    Listen to Your Inner Self – You Know your Intention
We live in a world of noise and opinions. 24/7 news stations are the perfect indication of this. It’s easy for who we are to be drowned out by the insistent clamoring of who we should be. Not only from the media, but from family, friends, religious leaders, co-workers, acquaintances, strangers on the street – you get the picture. Not only that, but even when we do get some time to our thoughts, we tend to shy away from any notion of inward silence and instead turn on the radio or busy ourselves with watching TV or reading. While these factors are not bad in itself, when we don’t take the deliberate time to be silent, how can we possibly be expected to truly know our inner self? So take time in silence. Take time in silence every day. Consistency is key. Don’t think you can sit down for ten minutes and hear your inner voice. You’ve gotten use to a couple decades or more of consistent noise. And even if you don’t find yourself intimidated by the silence, you have quite a few voices in your head that will remind you of everything else you should be doing right now, should have done yesterday, and need to do tomorrow. Learn how to let those voices pass by without concern and stay focused on the silence. With dedication, you will recognize and hear your inner self.

2.    Be Patient when Discovering your Intention
Unfortunately that inner self I speak of doesn’t play well with deadlines. When you’re first learning to be comfortable in the silence, that voice will be hard to come by. However, even when you have a dedicated practice of invoking silence, your inner self may not feel like speaking up quite when you want. For me, I was ready to set my intention for the year on January 1. After a 2015 year that taught me more than I could imagine, I wanted to walk into 2016 prepared to face what was in store. However, it took time for me to truly embrace my intention. Don’t force the words. Allow them to speak to you when the time is right. Only you know when that is.

3.    Create a Positive Intention
I’m a little guilty of this one, because I have a not in my statement. This is usually a big no-no when creating intentions. But I’m a sucker for alliterations, so when I’m thinking of my intention, I often just focus on the first phrase “Let Intuition Guide You.” This suggestion is especially important, particularly if you believe in the power of the mind. The problem with focusing on the negative means that the negative will come back to you. What do I mean by that? Let’s say you choose the intention “Don’t be a jerk” for the year. Other than the fact that you’re automatically deciding to focus on a negative aspect of yourself, you are also giving your mind a strong case for the word jerk. You may be thinking, “don’t be a jerk,” as you try to be kinder to others, but your subconscious is only focusing on one word: “Jerk. Jerk. Jerk.” Instead, create a positive spin: “Be Compassionate.” It means the same thing, but now your subconscious can instead focus on: “Compassion. Compassion. Compassion.”

4.    Make Your Intention Visual
I have my intention on a post-it note on my computer, so every time I open my computer, I see it. I have it on a poster I created for my office. It’s in my bathroom and it’s written on my ongoing vision board in my mediation space. Make your intention a daily part of your life. Place it in places where you will see it every day – every hour, if possible – this way you can remind your mind what is important to your Beingness. Additionally, when you see those words and you know your actions or thoughts are not aligning with your intention, it allows you the opportunity for realignment.

5.    Be Intentional about Your Intention
Get to know your intention. Seriously. If you have a daily practice of prayer, meditation, or positive affirmation, I would suggest including your intention in that time. Find opportunities to apply it in your life every day. When you are making decisions—I don’t care how small—ask yourself if it reflects your intention. Finally, at least twice a month, do some studying around your intention. This may include discovering articles, books, or classes. Study and apply it to your life. Discovering your intention, speaking it to others, seeing your intention every day – these are all great habits to integrate it into your subconscious. But at some point, you also have to say: how am I going to live this intention in my daily life. And what tools are missing from my life that are stopping me from embracing this intention fully?

One Last Note

Don’t think you have to wait until the New Year to set your intention. Some people choose to do it on their birthdays, or after an inspiring event, maybe it’s just a random Tuesday and you turn inward and hear your intention. Be open to what the universe is showing you and don’t feel like you must wait to set a new course because of a date on the calendar.

What is your intention for the New Year and beyond?

Canyon Words of Wisdom

While in Taos, I decided to take a quick stroll down the Rio Grande Gorge.

Skipping merrily down the canyon.

Skipping merrily down the canyon.

I managed to hike all the way down to the bottom. Unfortunately, I didn’t take into consideration the most important piece of wisdom when it comes to canyons:

“What goes down must come up.” – Cassandra Ernst

I am not amused.

I am not amused.

Has nature shared any great insights with you lately?

Never Trust a Cute Face

In Bali, many temples are dedicated to Hanuman, the Monkey God. As such, monkeys are considered sacred and are staple parts of the Balinese Culture. This is evident through the plays they perform, the statues they venerate, and the temples they’ve built. You see it when you enter the Monkey Forest – a place overrun with tourists, yet also deeply dear to the people of Bali. It was at the Monkey Forest that I made my first primate friend—at a safe distance of course—out of this blatant baboon.

After journeying safely through the Monkey Forest, I was certain that all future primate encounters would be uneventful. After all, I followed the rules: no food, no small objects in hand, no chasing, petting, or grabbing the devious creatures. Who were the monkeys to harass me?

What I didn’t factor in, however, was the delicious smell of my feet. There’s no need to deny it: my feet are downright delectable. Or at least that’s one mischievous monkey believed.

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The Four A’s of Dealing with Disappointment

A couple weeks ago, I received some disappointing news. For reasons, I can only describe as Peace Corps Logic, I was informed of the decision to cancel the Morocco cohort that was to leave in September. I had just sent in my passport the week previously; I had printed off about a dozen trees worth of information in mankind’s biggest binder, and now everything seemed for naught.

I’d given the email a cursory glance on my phone between tasks at work; I quickly left my office to find a quiet place to read it in through – hoping that this email, which stated: “I understand how difficult and disappointing this news is to receive” was some kind of misunderstanding.

Disappointing.

It felt like an understatement at the time. When I make the decision to chase my dreams, I hold on tightly. This situation is no different. Despite all of that, however, I believe it’s important that when disappointment comes your way, you have to use it as a means to open yourself wider to this experience called life. And so, I thought I’d give you a few simple strategies that I find helpful when dealing with disappointment.

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Prepare for Peace Corps Language Immersion with these Simple Tips

I spend two evenings a week English tutoring a young Afghan woman. I absolutely adore working with her. Seriously, I’m only supposed to do it for about 90 minutes, but I easily spend four hours there.

Of course, it helps that she feeds me such delicious food!

Since I’ve been tutoring her, it’s helped me realize many things about myself. More specifically, it’s helped me realize how truly intimidating coming to a country with only the basic knowledge of a language.

I believe it’s safe to say that the language immersion aspect of the Peace Corps experience can seem overwhelming. If I am unable to learn the language, how am I going to function on even the most basic level of my job?

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If the Dead Could Talk

If the dead could talk, what do you think they would say to you? I think they would remind us to make the most of every moment. Don't let those minutes pass you by and never be afraid to embrace your life dream.

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