vacance muri Amerika!

I recently took a vacation to the first world, my motherland, AMERICA. And as many of you know, this vacation came right after one of the biggest emotional dips of my service: the one year mark. And so, it was a necessary vacation. To be completely honest, I needed a break from Rwanda, and more importantly, I needed to hug my family and friends, who happen to be the number 1 on the mental list of things I miss. Number 2 is food. Number 3, which I discovered while in America (hadn’t thought about it much in Rwanda), is convenience.

Once I landed at O’Hare in Chicago, my traveling was just beginning. I traveled all over America, 4 states in all (Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Idaho). I slept on my own comfy mattress, couches, blow up mattresses, plane seats, and guest room mattresses, all provided by my many hostesses. Here’s a shout out to you all: my sister Erin and her husband Jason, Karissa, Kirstie, Uncle Max and Aunt Patty, Lisa, Dale and Karen Andrews, and of course my own parents. There were also some friends who went wayyy outta their way to see me for just a few hours, so thanks to both Amys, Kathleen, and Laura.

All in all, I spent my time visiting almost every single relative I have, all of my closest friends, working Goal 3 (giving talks at THN, Collins, and the GV), and EATING. I ate quite a bit, to the extent that, on Christmas Eve when I proclaimed at 8 PM that I thought I was full (I had been eating since I woke), the entire room hushed and people exclaimed, “REALLY?! NOW you’re full?!” and then 30 minutes later, I ate a cupcake. I gained 15 pounds in America, which is slightly obnoxious, but I have no shame or regrets. I lost 20 pounds in Rwanda this last year, so I knew I’d lose it again, what with the diet I have.

My favorite moments weren’t really about what I was doing, but rather, who I was doing it with. I went shopping, I ate at restaurants, I went to a concert, I went to a Pacer game, I traveled, but all with my sister, my friends and family, my younger brother, to see my older brother as a new father, and to meet my new nephew. I felt like the whole month was full of greetings and then, the inevitable goodbye. Also, just being in America was nice – walking the streets of Chicago, no one cared about me. I wasn’t something to be looked at, so it was nice just being one of a hundred on a city block. The convenience that exists in America is AWESOME. I bought delicious microwavable meals at Trader Joes and then, after a few minutes in a microwave I was eating it. I could count on the electricity always working and shower water being hot. That’s so cool. So damn cool. It was nice going into a clothing shop, knowing that each item was new and soft and in many stores, of good quality. I touched a lot of fabric, adored a lot of scarves.

Most of my time in America was happy, but there were some moments where I was like, “Really, America?! REALLY?!” The first being Sandy Hook – obvious, for all of America was shocked and spent weeks in mourning, our flag at half-staff. I got interested, but tried not to get too engrossed in the conversations about mental illness and gun control that covered news programs. Speaking of news, 24/7 news programs are overwhelming. They’re exhausting. TV in general is exhausting. I spent two days watching TV, being lazy, and quite frankly, I couldn’t take it anymore. The Target Christmas commercial freaked me out so much that I had to switch channels when it came up. Something that REALLY freaked me out was seeing cheerleaders, some as young as 7 or 8 walking around a mall, decked out in makeup and in outfits that should only pass for swimsuits. The Rwandan in me came out as I thought, “These girls look like prostitutes.” I was reassured that the thought wasn’t that insane, as my girlfriends also felt uncomfortable seeing the young girls dressed like that. These thoughts make me feel like a hypocrite, as a feminist (Women should be able to wear what they want! Express yourself!), but I think there is truth in saying that if you want your daughter to be smart, funny, cute, and clever, you have your parental priorities mixed up when dressing her up like a lap dancer. The last things that shocked me were slightly funny: everyone seemed to have an iPad – I saw them all over airports and in coffee shops. And new coke machines. The ones that you use a touch screen to indicate which beverage you want and then it comes out. INSANE. SERIOUSLY. I stood in front of that machine for like 30 seconds at Noodles in Chicago, amazed.

So now I’m back in Rwanda. I was nervous about coming back because, to be completely honest, I didn’t really miss Rwanda much while I was in America. I was very absorbed in what I was doing, which was being with the people that are most important to me and eating everything in sight. I had a short freak out, which may have been jetlag induced, one of my first days back in country, but I think I’m doing okay now.

Since arriving, I had my Mid-Service Medical Exam and Mid-Service Conference in Musanze. I am back in my village now, having been greeted by children on the road as I was moto-ing in, co-workers, students, compound mates, my chapatti makin’ friend, Jen, and a multitude of people at my market who remembered my name.

I’m looking forward to the new year, the final 10 months of my service, and now I share with you my goals for year 2:

1)      Teach 20 hours/week of English

2)      Start GLOW club

3)      Encourage a male teacher to start BE club

4)      Send students to Kigali Marathon, GLOW and BE Camps

5)      Work GLOW camp

6)      Send ICT teacher to a Tech Training

7)      Teach Judges

8)      Give sexual harassment, diversity, and queer issues training to Ed 4 (IST) and Ed 5 (PST)

9)      Encourage collaboration between different PCV groups and programming ideas, by way of GAD

10)   Send cards home for birthdays

11)   Meditate

12)   Exercise

13)   Cook a meal for compound once a month

14)   Make beautiful jewelry

15)   Write ‘Why I am still here’ lists

16)   Spend more time at school

17)   Plan awesome Close of Service trip with Ella and Jen

18)   Write in journal

19)   Design quilt

20)   DO: Akagare, Gisenyi, Gorillas, Climb Volcano, Visit more PCVs, Host Dad

7 thoughts on “vacance muri Amerika!

  1. Marissa

    Sarah! Loved reading this one as well. I did look back at your blogs about the application process – very helpful, but I guess until I actually go through it myself, all of my little questions will sit and stew.

    After reading this, I am wondering how you were able to go home for a whole month? Is that standard for everyone who has completed a year?

    Also, what advice would you give regarding the essay questions in the application?
    As far as volunteering experience, is it imperative to have tons of volunteer experience prior to your interview with a recruiter – or is that something you can do after the interview and it will still count?
    What are some medical issues, that you are aware of, that have prevented people from being accepted?

    So many questions! Hope you can help. And I hope your last year goes amazingly!


    1. Marissa

      Ok – to save you the time/work, I did find a list of medical conditions on the peace corps website that either defer the application process or typically inhibit invitation to volunteers.

    2. sepplin Post author

      Hey Marissa,

      Each PCV receives 2 vacations days per month of service, so in total, that’s 48 days. How you use your vacation time depends on the country and job you have. Most PCVs can only use 2 weeks worth at a time, but if you’re an education volunteer, you have a limited amount of time in which you can use your vacation days (as you work based on a school calendar). I used 29 of my days while in America, and was able to do so because I communicated to PC Rwanda that I already used 10 for Zanzibar and plan to only use about 7 more for Uganda sometime this year. Basically, I used vacation days that I haven’t earned yet, which is approved based on the circumstances of your service.

      With the essay questions, just be honest. Edit, revise, maybe have a friend read them over to get a second opinion.

      When your information gets sent to Placement, they ask for an updated resume, so continue to do volunteer work when you’re in the application process.

      Thanks for the well wishes! Sarah

      On 1/9/13, sepplin's peace corps experience.

  2. Karen Andrews

    Sarah – it was absolutely our pleasure to have you visit for a few days – wasn’t it fun? Dale says that you are a very special girl and gonna be a “real catch” for some guy – that “they don’t make ’em like that anymore!” He’s so funny – I just thought I’d share that with you! I do agree with him – you are a special woman! God bless you and stay safe! Karen Andrews

    1. sepplin Post author


      It was super fun! Thanks, also, for letting me eat all those apple chips and tortillas and salsa! So YUMMY. Haha! Dale cracks me up! Thanks for that – my future hubby is gonna know how many Rwandan proposals I passed up to get to him! :-)


      On 1/9/13, sepplin's peace corps experience.

  3. gladguts

    Mini-me! I’m so sorry I didn’t get to see you while you were back (I moved from Chicago to Indy apparently right before you arrived), but it was so enjoyable to read about your experiences! I totally forgot what it felt like in Korea to be stared at all the time until I read your post – you’re totally right, it’s lovely blending in!

    Stay strong, and know that we all think you’re the utmost incredible woman for everything you’re doing in Rwanda. Seriously, so much respect.

    I love you and I miss you and I can’t wait to see you when you’re back next year!

    Much love,

    1. sepplin Post author


      I wish I had seen you too! We’ll have so much to talk about when we reunite – it’s gonna be epic (I’m talking margarita night and dancin’ with a gnome epic)!

      GnomeLovvve, Sarah

      On 1/9/13, sepplin's peace corps experience.


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