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Phynessa's Peace Corps Site
Q & A

Thanks for your Questions!

Megan C, dès que j'ai quitté le café internet, j'ai commencé à réflechir sur ta question.  Je me suis rendue compte que je l'ai mal répondu.  Tu m'as démandé si j'avais peur avant de venir en Afrique, mais j'ai répondu comme si tu m'avais démandé si les autres avaient peur.  Il me semblait que ta question méritait une vraie réponse...
 Quand j'ai quitté Whitwell pour aller à Baylor, j'avais peur.  J'avais peur aussi quand j'ai quitté Baylor pour aller en France.  J'avais peur d'aller à Emory et puis aussi à UTK.  J'avais très peur d'aller à Harvard et, bien sûr, j'avais très peur d'aller en Afrique.  Mais, chaque jour que j'ai peur, je me rappelle de la citation de Georgia O'Keefe:
I have been absolutely terrified
every moment of my life and I have
never let it keep me from doing
a single thing I wanted to do

et je pense que la seule peur qui me pousse le plus, c'est la peur qu'un jour dans l'avenir je pourrai regarder toute la vie que j'ai vécue et penser "j'aurai dû faire ceci..."
Merci beaucoup pour vos questions magnifiques!  Je suis très impressionée par votre français!  Bon travail, les filles!  Malheureusement, comme ma famille et la plupart de mes amis ne parlent pas le français, je vais répondre à vos questions en anglais...
Peace Corps lasts 27 months.  It is two years of service with 3 months of training in the beginning.  I finished training and became an official volunteer in late August, which means that I will be living here in the village where I have just spent a month until September 2004.  That seems so far away, but this past month has flown by, so I expect the next 23 to do the same!
Lilas, when you join the Peace Corps, you can make basically one of three decisions: what you want to do, what language you want to speak, or where you want to go.  If you have your heart set on one of these three choices, you have to be a little flexible about the other two.  I got really lucky because I really wanted to go to Africa, do agricultural work, and speak French.  In other words, I got exactly what I wanted.  That's mainly because most of West Africa speaks French and needs agricultural help!   (Christine is right that bad agricultural practices have left Togo's soil too poor to deal with the ever-growing population.)  In some cases, it is really hard to get what you want in Peace Corps.  For example, lots and lots of recent college graduates want to go to Latin America and teach English or do community building.  Peace Corps has so many requests like that that it has to turn people away.  On the other hand, people usually are a little afraid to go to Africa (as Megan C. guessed), studied Spanish instead of French, and had rather not to agriculture.  That's lucky for me because I got exactly what I wanted!
Jane, I heard about Peace Corps from my 8th Grade English teacher and it seemed like such a great idea!  I didn't start thinking about it seriously, though, until I was a senior in college.  By the time I was half-way through my graduate program, I was sure that it was something I wanted to do.  It is a great experience and I am so glad that I decided to do it!
Mary Helen, I am from near Chattanooga, too!  I grew up on a farm in Whitwell, which is on the other side of Signal Mountaion from GPS.  That's how I became interested in agriculture, Lindsey.  My dad, uncle, and grandfather raised cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens, as well as planted several crops per year.
Betsy, I have studied four languages, but can only claim any semblance of proficiency in French.  When I was at Baylor, we had to study Latin in 8th grade.  I took French from 9th to 11th grade, and took Spanish during my free period in 11th grade.  I lived in France for my senior year through the School Year Abroad program, and then returned to graduate from Baylor in 1997. I took French throughout college at Emory University in Atlanta and at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  I even squeezed in another year of Spanish at UT before graduating in 2000.  Finally, I took a class in translating German to English while I was doing my Masters at Harvard.  I have always loved languages, and one of the things that drew me to Africa when filling out my Peace Corps application was the possibility of learning a language I had never heard of before!  I think language is so important to understanding different culture, and thereby understanding our own culture and ourselves!  (All that being said, you don't have to speak the language of the area where Peace Corps sends you.  Several of the 21 members of my training group had never studied French before arriving in Togo.  I think they are a lot braver than I am!)
I was not actually a language major, despite my great love for languages.  Like Anna, I was interested in international affairs and created an International Relations Major through the College Scholars Program at UT.  I then went to Harvard Divinity to study Religion in International Relations, but quickly decided that I was more interested in Poverty Alleviation studies and changed that to the focus of my Masters of Theological Studies.
Emily and Anne, it is so interesting to hear about the sports and extracurriculars you enjoy.  I myself was never involved in theater because (especially before coming here) I was terrified of speaking in public!  From time to time Togolese schoolkids have theater groups, too.  I doubt they have ever performed Flowers for Algernon, which I loved reading but have never seen as a play.  It is much more common for kids to play soccer than anything else, since it requires so little equipment.  They just mark off four trees as goals and play without a goal-net or shoes.  I played softball, volleyball, basketball, and ran track and am therefore not the best judge, but I think the kids are pretty good!  There aren't really school teams here.  The kids just do pick-up games after school.  They don't really do rock climbing, which is a shame because there is some great bouldering really nearby.  I did a bit of climbing on Sunday, but that was a small unplanned venture after getting lost with three of my friends!  Emily, you are welcome to come climb any time, and, if you'll bring my harness from Whitwell, I'll belay you.
Mary Helen, I am very lucky in that the best internet connection in the country is in the capitol of my region.  It took me about an hour and a half to take ride here to Kara this weekend, but I will normally ride my bike two and a half hours to get here.  (My tire is currently flat, which is why I took taxis this weekend.)  Even though that is not a lot of time to travel for something so important as communication, it is important for us to stay in our village as much as possible in order to get well integrated there.  That is why it will take me months to get this site the way I want it--I feel guilty if I spend more time out of my village than a few days a month!  Lindsey, the villagers love their Peace Corps Volunteer and actually guilt-trip us if we leave for too long!  They are extremely accepting and welcoming, sometimes to the point of being a nuisance!  For example, I had to ask people (gently) to please stop coming to welcome me before 7AM each morning!  As many as five or six people would start showing up at 5:30!
Sarah and Megan G., despite the fact that a lot of training has to do with culture, it would be a lie if I said that it is not quite difficult to deal with some of the cultural differences here.  For one thing, privacy is a pretty foreign concept here, so even if you know the right Kotokoli vocabulary, it is difficult to explain to people that you don't want them peering in your windows at 5:30 to tell you good morning!  I am always challenged to find a balance between Peace Corps' goal of having Volunteers integrate into their communites and Peace Corps' goal of cultural exchange--teaching the villagers how Americans live.

I plan to incorporate several of your questions into the web site.  If you still don't find the response to your question, feel free to e-mail me at!