Reading this week:

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clake
  • 2061: Odyssey Three by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Dolphin Island by Arthur C. Clarke
  • False Economy by Alan Beattie
  • The Philosophy of Andy Warhol by Andy Warhol

Once my background check finally cleared (I have to correct myself every time from thinking of it as my “security clearance”), I could actually begin joining the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is a delightfully government affair, which felt comfortingly familiar. The details of where and when to show up and who to contact for travel arrangements came via email. The first part of becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer is staging, which occurs in Philadelphia. I was to travel by train, which I thought was just quaint. So on February 11th my parents (I had, by this time, moved once more out of my apartment and back into their basement) dropped me off on the train and off I was to Philly.

Upon arrival to Philly and the hotel, it was easy to spot the soon-to-be Peace Corps Trainees (you don’t become a Volunteer, PCV in the parlance, until swear-in, which follows pre-service training, aka PST) (back in the Nuclear Navy, it’s contrary to [C/T] the Submarine Interior Communications Manual [Sub-IC Manual] to speak acronyms [with minor exception], and this is a policy I firmly believe [because I have been brainwashed to believe so] that everyone should adopt): they were the people with too much luggage and looked like they were contemplating a beard. I got my room key and found I already had a roommate, the first fellow trainee I was to meet. Staging was full of the standard get-to-know-you-but-I-probably-won’t-remember-you-right-away-because-there-are-70-of-us conversations, which I always find entertaining if a bit stressful. Luckily we were all issued nametags that we wore pretty consistently, so with some effort I quickly got to know names and faces.

There was a short meeting the first night to make sure we were all alive, and a gentle warning to stay that way. On the first night, as on the next two nights, we all went out for dinner in various groups to meet our new friends and look around Philly while we had the chance. We were all pretty acutely aware that this was our last taste of America for a while, an so diets were pointedly varied. It was also cold in Philly, being February, and I was glad it was going to be my last taste of that.

Staging began in earnest the next day. Staging was comprised of a series of briefs about various aspects of culture and Peace Corps policies, and some stuff about the logistics of getting 70 people to Zambia safely. The one somewhat frustrating part about Staging is that it is fairly vague; the staff are reluctant to answer country-specific questions because, while they are all returned volunteers (RPCVs), Zambia isn’t their particular area of expertise. So while there was a great deal of content about how to deal with living in a new culture generally, there wasn’t anything about Zambia specifically. So by and large the briefs were uneventful, but interspersed with ice-breaker activities.

One thing I learned is that the average age of a Peace Corps Volunteer is 28 1/2. That put me exactly average. Based on my group though, it seems that average comes from a large number of people straight out of college (some with advanced degrees), and a small number of retirees pulling the average up, with a smattering of people in-between (like me). Before staging, I had pondered the likely demographics, so that was good to get that question answered.

Staging came to an end in the wee hours of the 14th. At I think 0200 we were loaded onto a bus and sent off to JFK Airport. Holding staging in Philly, and then bussing us to JFK, is apparently the most cost-effective way of doing things. Since it is about a two hour drive to New York, we all subsequently piled out of the bus at about 0400, and then waited two hours for the airport to open. Like I said, the snuggly warmth of government operations. Eventually though, with the usual various adventures and various grades of coffee one finds in airports, we managed to get all of us loaded on a place headed for Kenneth Kaunda Airport (via Johannesburg). Next stop – Zambia.