Category Archives: Pre-service

Pre-service, also called Pre-Service Training (PST), is the period of time after arriving in country but before being sworn in as a volunteer.

Adios! (An early termination)

A few more ETs in the past month. ET meaning early termination. That’s what happens when a PCVs decides to resign.

Basically, one decides (a) that being in Nepal for two years isn’t worth sacrificing something else, like, let’s say, graduate school, work, cheese burgers, microbrew, comfort, et cetera, or (b) that they cannot stand fronting as a developmental volunteer when they seem themselves as pawns of the State Department.

After making her decision to ET, she sits on her patio and debriefs her flatmate.

After making her decision to ET, she sits on her patio and debriefs her flatmate.

The N/191s (the 191st group to come to Nepal) are about to COS come the first week of November. They came to Nepal as a group of 38 (I think) education volunteers: science, English, and math teachers. At present, there are 24 volunteers left. My group arrived with 56 volunteers, and now we’re down to 50.

Three people left during training, and three people left shortly thereafter. Usually more people leave during training. So, for a while, we thought quite foolishly that all of us could come together when it came time for our COS. The N/193s came with 22 people (I think) and are now just nine.

Case in example: Jason Blank. He is someone that I have never met. Andrew told me about him. Andrew is another N/194 English Language Teacher Trainer (ELTT).

Andrew had been a PCV in Uzbekistan for a year until September 11, 2002, when Peace Corps pulled out the volunteers when it became apparent that the US military was going to use Uzbekistan as a launching point for military action. He reapplied and decided to go ‘back out’ to Nepal.

Back to Jason Blank. This is the story of Jason Blank’s Peace Corps experience as told to me by Andrew. Anyhow, Jason Blank had studied Russian (both the language and the culture) in college, but yet he’d never been there or even been on a plane before flying to the Peace Corps staging event.

Andrew sat next to him on the plane, Jason Blank’s second time on a plane and first flight over an ocean. Jason Blank was tense and was rocking a bit in his chair as the plane took off. Andrew could see that Jason Blank was having a tough time taking everything in that was happening.

When the plane touched down in Tashkent, Jason Blank took out his guitar and began singing Russian folk songs to the children in Russian. They’d only been in Uzbekistan for a matter of hours before Jason Blank switched over into a Russian-only mode.

Jason Blank was in a group that, as a whole, had no exposure to Russian (or Uzbek, the other language). And Jason Blank stopped speaking English on touchdown in Tashkent.

During briefings and seminars, he only answered questions (asked in English, of course, since no other PCVs at this point spoke Russian) in Russian, which caused some discord with the other trainees, volunteers, and especially program staff. The first few nights in Tashkent when all the new volunteers went out for dinner, Jason Blank would only speak Russian even though he was around the other volunteers who knew no Russian.

All this had happened within 36 hours of arriving in Uzbekistan. When the Peace Corps medical officer asked Jason Blank, in English, Jason, are you having problems you’d like to talk about? Jason Blank answered enthusiastically, Nyet!

After only four days in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Jason Blank was ‘medically separated,’ meaning a Peace Corps medical officer decided that Jason was not physically and/or psychologically fit to serve. The medical officer had sat down with the training officers and warned him, If you don’t speak English right now we’re going to send you home. OK?

Jason Blank refused, politely and in Russian of course, and he was on the next plane home. This is what is called a ‘wack-o-vac’ in Peace Corps lingo. Jason Blank went nuts, or so Andrew told me.

There weren’t any such immediate ET with, well, odd circumstances. A woman left after about a month as her mother had become ill, or so I’m told. But there were two other ETs during training, both of whom I was friends with.

We saw them struggling, at least for a time, with the decision to go home. They had to make two tough decisions and bear the consequences, a decision that I considered more than once (but not many more times than once).

But I’ve decided over and over again that staying in Nepal is what I want to do, and as long as I’m not suffering that decision, I’ll stay. I had left the United States and the people I loved and cared about for reasons far from selfless, though perhaps somewhat naively so.

Those folks who ET‘d decided to come to Nepal and then decided to leave—two tough decisions.

Jason Blank took the easy way out. He let the decision fall out of his hands, in a passive-aggressive sort of way: “If you don’t speak English right now we’re going to send you home. OK?” Wherever you are Jason Blank, I salute you: nos drovia!

There is more to say. Back during training, I escorted a sick friend to Kathmandu, sort of like a human courier. Medical had thought she’d contracted malaria or Japanese Encephalitis and so they deemed it necessary for someone to accompany her. Luckily she had a minor viral infection that caused photosensitivity, a common symptom in more serious illnesses.

The old bus park in Narayanghat was a big mess, and a big muddy mess when it rained.

The old bus park in Narayanghat was a big mess, and a big muddy mess when it rained.

The 24-hour period from when we left Gaidankot to Bharatpur (where the airport is) and then arriving in Kathmandu and getting to the Peace Corps medical office was rough. When I got back to Gaidankot the next day, someone had asked me about how everything had gone. I said, Well, I have a new best friend.

That was the first major illness for her but not by any means the last. She remained sick for the duration of training and even when we went to post. Her post was in nearby Narayanghat (nearby to our training site).

After having a hard time at her school and deciding that teaching wasn’t something she was really interested in doing. (She told me once, I just don’t like children, Scott.) and numerous trips to Kathmandu on medical hold, she decided to ET.

It was a sad occasion because she had been such a good friend. She had been one of the people who had lived near to me in training and so our first experiences in Nepal had been, to some extent, similar. I wrote a haiku for her before she left, but I’ve misplaced it. I hope that if she reads this that she’ll post it online so I can have a laugh at it.

I saw her off at the Bharatpur airport, the same place where our friendship had began, oddly enough. We’d come full circle in some ways, as she was sick again and going to Kathmandu. Except this time, she wouldn’t be coming back.

How I got here: An explanation

There’s a photo I have where I’m walking out across the tarmac towards the plane that was to be first leg in a long trip to Nepal on February 17, 2002. Just before I boarded the plane, I stopped and waved to Nikkie inside the terminal, who was taking the photo.

That plane didn’t take me anywhere. Just as I had stored my bag, sat, and buckled myself in did the pilot announce, with an air of uncertainty to his voice, that the flight had been canceled.

I managed to leave Amarillo after a visiting with each airline in the airport—a buffet of options—and made a few unscheduled stops before I arrived in San Francisco a few hours later than planned.

When I walked into the conference room at the Radisson Miyako (the predeparture meeting point for our Peace Corps/Nepal group) I was greeted by a well rehearsed, Hello Scott from Amarillo! The room was divided into two uses: half for people and half for luggage.

The sight of piles of luggage overwhelmed the presence of these madmen who, oddly enough, were already calling me by name. I sat in the back, feeling somewhat victorious, knowing that I had managed to get this far and, for good measure, packed much lighter than everyone else.

The last night in America was good, just what we needed to render us completely unprepared for Nepal. As our hotel was in Japantown of San Francisco there was little surprise that we had sushi as our last meal.

Afterwards, we (‘we’ being a random group of seven or eight of us that had ended up in the same restaurant) found a bar to crowd, though it wasn’t smoky enough for my liking.

Moser (we came to discover that his name meant ‘socks’ in Nepali) had a Wallick Cocktail per my suggestion (a gin triple sec martini and generally terrible recipe) and said it was too sweet, which it was, but the glass was empty before long.

I had found that Wallick cocktail in the Mr. Boston bartender’s reference book while I was working as a bartender at the Loophole bar in Denton, Texas, and no matter how excited I could get about it, the drink never did much for me.

A few hours later we were over the Pacific. It had been quite an ordeal to get that far as a group. We numbered 56 and it was a Boy Scout-esque situation, lots of milling around, unsure of when we supposed to be where, who was leading, et cetera.

Before we left the hotel, the organizers divided us into groups of seven, each with a leader. We might as well have been wearing khaki shirts and green shorts with those green socks with the red trim. I happened to be a leader, or rather it happened to me.

It took two chartered buses to move all of us and all our luggage. (To my disappointment, I found that Andrew, a RPCV who had been evacuated from Uzbekistan, packed lighter than I did.) The situation escalated to absurdity as we orchestrated a full-scale invasion of the airport.

The logistics of moving 56 people with approximately three to four bags of 104 lbs per person in a timely manner was a bit too much for any one person to organize.

In a Musharraf-like ascent to power, I perched myself on a concrete pillar and began barking orders for this group to go there, these people take luggage tags and string (the string was used to denote Peace Corps luggage), and generally behaving like Mussolini.

Once again, as many times in youth and college, I was a mockery of the alpha male. But before I could let myself be too impressed with the enormity of what was happening, we were on our way, watching movies and deciding chicken or beef.

It didn’t take long to decide neither and renounce meat as a part of my diet in Nepal. We’d been in Kathmandu for just a couple days before we’d had our first meal of daal bhaat tarkari. This is the standard meal of most of Nepal.

It’s a plate of boiled rice with a bowl of lentils, pressured cooked into a spicy soup that is poured over rice. Alongside those two items comes to tarkari, which can be pretty much any number of various curried vegetables. Tarkari is Nepali for vegetable.

You mix it all up with you hand and thrust it into you mouth. It’s delicious.

The meat that comes on Nepali dishes is something else. The chicken was prepared like so: chicken is bought/raised/stolen and is killed, plucked, decapitated, mostly gutted, and then beaten into a mash of bone-meat-gristle-fat-marrow-guts side dish.

The past few days in Kathmandu seem to me now as if they were years ago.

I’m not sure the people I met then are the same people I’m now close friends with. Everything happened so fast. We stepped off the plane in Kathmandu to yet another airport in a line of airports, unaware of how much more wandering was a head of us.

A lot, it turned out.

Bizarro World

I’ve seen this done in way too many other PCV blogs. Due to necessity only will I reproduce an email I sent to my parents. Enjoy.

To: Parents
From: Scott
Subject: Bizarro World
Date: 2002-04-10 10:25 a.m.

Namaskar from Nepal!

Here’s a short update since I have the time to write one. I forget what I’ve mentioned previously. I do much writing to many people. I’ve lost track. Life in Nepal is constantly spiraling out of control, or at least the illusion thereof.

So my new home will be Birganj (also spelt “Birgunj”) as of the 8th (or thereabouts) of May. Look it up on map, it’s probably there. If not just imagine a straight line (somewhat) due south from Kathmandu and when you hit the Nepal/India border—bam!— home sweet home.

Currently I’m here in Birganj looking for a deraa. There is a volunteer from my group who has been placed here as well, along with another volunteer who has been transferred to Birganj from Maoist Central.

Seems that the Maoists might soon be inclined to burn down her school. So the two ladies are living together and I’m thinking of a place by myself. There are two volunteers who live in Birganj and will for another 14 months. They’ve been great by showing us around town. I’ve had it pretty easy, really.

Lentils, or daal, drying in the sun in front of my house.

Lentils, or daal, drying in the sun in front of my house.

Deraas here in Birganj are usually a section of a house where a family lives, meaning you have a separate part of the house with several rooms. I’ll probably have a bedroom, common room, kitchen, patio, and then a toilet of some fashion.

I found a place that was great, except for the kitchen. Scary. I’ve been running errands in Birganj. We’re supposed to visit a few offices to make our presence known (and approved).

This morning we went to the DEO (like a superintendent’s office) and the CDO (like a governor of sorts), both moderately fruitless, but very telling of the next few years.

Life in Birganj, like I’ve said before, is truly a mix of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark with Mad Max: Enter the Thunderdome. I’ll let that run around your imagination.

Adjusting has been difficult and overly enjoyable. Nepali people are patient and talkative. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people on buses and tempos about which fruits they prefer, whether or not tomorrow will be hotter, if bisye milk is better than yak milk, et cetera. They’ll talk to you about anything.

For all who have written, I’ve read your letters dozens of times. (The same with the online posts, which are wonderful.) Life is going to be just fine here, even though Peace Corps life can seem like a meat grinder.

The other PCVs are fine people, and the experiences are life changing. I think I’m joining my colleagues for momos in a few minutes, so I’m going to go.

Suddenly an update

Currently I’m in Kathmandu under interesting circumstances. If I could only sit down and write about all my experiences so far in Nepal, I would have a proper letter. That will have to wait for snail mail.

PST is still underway in distant Narayanghat, but as another trainee fell ill, I found myself on a plane accompanying her to Kathmandu. Some have fallen ill to varying degrees, but I am one of the few who has remained entirely healthy—at least physically speaking (bouts of depthless depression sometimes are trying).

With my host family during PST in Gaidanakot, Nawalparasi, Nepal.

With my host family during PST in Gaidanakot, Nawalparasi, Nepal.

She who is ill had difficulty walking due to weakness and also developed a light sensitivity, causing her to wear a shirt over her head and making it that more difficult to walk, not to mention attracting more attention than usual.

So I ended up (the circumstances are another massive letter) being the one to ‘carry’ her to the Narayanghat (Bharatpur, actually) airport and then to Phora Dubar, the embassy’s (and Peace Corps’) medical HQ. It was tiring.

I had to stay awake with her the night before we departing, administering (in the dark) antibiotics and another mystery drug that’s purpose I never understood. So it’s been a long 24 hours.

But I’m in Kathmandu, the city I love to hate (it’s a terrible city, Jill Chaskes was right). I have met up with a few other PCVs and we’re going bowling tonight.

Tomorrow morning I’m catching a taxi to the Kathmandu airport, and I’ll be on the first plane back to Narayanghat and, alas, PST.

Things are looking up and I am speaking the language quite well. Not to be a braggart, but I am in an advanced class, whatever that’s worth. I spend my days speaking Nepali, which is strange. That means I’ll almost be trilingual. Who’d thunk it?

Well, bowling awaits. And please write. I would love music (tapes), though I’ll be happy with anything.