Friday, November 13, 2015



is the only thing I can feel. The evil of humans knows no bounds tonight. There is nothing I or anyone can do to combat the capacity for terror and yet, I feel the tug to try deep within me. I often feel that I can lead by example and do everything I can to right the wrongs within my reach, but this amount of pain is so far beyond the grasp of any compassionate human. All we can do is watch, be aware, keep them in our thoughts and hearts. Our minds heavy in the hopes that theirs will be at least slightly lighter, though we know it is impossible. It is with our best intentions that we move on and try to continue to live in the world with the knowledge of this fearful potential, and maybe we can hold the door open a little longer for the next person to cross its path, smile at a perfect stranger, share the brunt of a large load to carry, put an arm around a shoulder that needs it, let someone into "your" lane on the freeway, do something good in the seemingly futile attempt to outweigh the bad. All you can do is your best. I will remind myself as the tears will surely fall tonight.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Going Home

It's been a rough day. I got messages from family last night that my grandma's leukemia had progressed and she had also developed an infection. The doctors didn't think she would be able to recover from it and possibly had a week. Then I got the call less than 12 hours later that she was gone. 

Peace Corps grants emergency leave for immediate family only and since my assignment was only to be 3 months, I didn't qualify for regular leave either. I'll have to "early terminate", which means quitting. It was an obvious decision because my family will always be the most important thing in my life, but it was a difficult one because I truly love it here. Rwanda is beautiful and its people are strong and determined to create a better life. However, if I think about looking back on this experience, I would feel a million times worse about not being there for my family and to remember my darling grandma together than I would about leaving a 3 month job. I also can't imagine being here, so alone, going through this. One of my favorite authors says in one of his books, "Pain shared, my brother, is pain not doubled but halved. No man is an island." -Neil Gaiman

Nancy Lee (Lantz) White was the strongest, most caring woman I've ever known. She cared deeply and fiercely for her family and had a way of making each and every one of us feel uniquely special. She was a constant that kept our family together. I'll never forget her beautiful singing voice, her love for Tom Selleck, her patience as she taught me how to make her famous Christmas bonbons, and countless sleepovers, making forts, and eating popcorn and peanut butter cups. The relationship she had with my grandpa has always been and still is my idealized version of love. The way he looked at her and claimed that everything she cooked was the best thing he had ever tasted. The way they put each other on a pedestal. The way they slow danced in the kitchen just because. A love that will never be duplicated, only aspired to. 

It's hard to be here while my family is so far, but I'll be getting on a plane tomorrow afternoon and I'll be in San Diego on Wednesday afternoon. The services will be in Indiana, where my grandparents are from, so I'll be heading there as soon as possible. Please keep my family in your thoughts. 

I love you, my darlin' grandma.

Monday, August 10, 2015

First Full Day

Full of food, new friends, new places, new people.

The place we're staying is really nice and feels like summer camp. Bunk beds and lines for the showers, cooking together, and playing board games. (Hot water showers!)There are 12 of us starting out together. We found out the real reason we're here. Apparently about 25 volunteers left Rwanda at the same time, either by "administrative separation" (kicked out) or "early termination" (quit). We're filling the gap until the end of the school year before the next group of education volunteers come in September.

We took a driving tour of Kigali yesterday and saw some really nice buildings and landscaping and walked through a market. I've never seen so many flies in one place but the variety of fruits and vegetables looked great! Then we went to a small grocery store at night and bought some pasta and vegetables to cook. The selection there was not great, but it's do-able. It's only 3 months. (Reminder to self.)

We're starting intensive language courses today. (4 hours starting at 8am.) YIKES! But I'm looking forward to it. Although, they've told us we can pretty much manage in English in most places and it's worked so far.

The money is about 7.22 Rwandan Francs to 1 US dollar, which means I'll never be able to calculate it in my head and will instead just pretend it's Monopoly money and say "take what you need" haha.

Okay gotta go to class. Just wanted to check in and tell you I survived day 1 of 90.


Oh p.s. no dogs! It's a cultural/history-related thing, but they don't have strays and hardly any pet dogs! My butt will be safe for a few months.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

On the Road Again

"Goin' places I've never been
Seein' things that I may never see again
And I can't wait to get on the road again."

Present: I'm sitting at a table in the Amsterdam airport, charging my electronics, facing the moving walkway and almost every passerby is speaking a different language. I arrived at 5am local time and nothing was open, the terminal was so calm and eerily serene. My connecting flight wasn't listed on the board yet since I arrived close to 5 hours prior so I grabbed a seat so I could check in with the family. I was sitting alone in a peaceful area and started quietly sending messages to Mom, Dad, and Carly when I heard gagging and retching nearby. A man was vomiting in the trashcan near me. I love traveling.

Past: Spending 3 months at home on "summer vacation" was so amazing and just what I needed. I loved every second I spent with my niece and nephew, my sister, parents, and friends and I felt as though I recharged my American batteries. I was lucky enough to be able to take a trip up to Seattle to visit one of my best friends, go on a beautiful camping/road trip up the coast, and visit my darlin' grandma, uncle, and aunt for a couple days. It flew by and as I was packing last night (just a few hours before it was time to leave for the airport- you know how I do) I felt as though I had just unpacked my giant backpack only to fill it back up with guesses as to what I'll need for the next few months. I feel so extremely fortunate to have such supportive family and friends and I can never thank my mom enough for all the food and love and being the place I can always come home to. And my sister for letting me borrow her car and letting me spend the night at least once a week so I could wake up to the cutest little voice saying "Chowsea!" I had a mini "see you later" party this week and was again so happily surprised by all the school supplies my friends bought me to donate. My heart (and bags) are so very full.

Future: I'll arrive in Kigali, Rwanda around 7pm on Sunday August 9th and I'll spend a week there for training. Then I'll head to my site and teach in a high school for 3 months. This experience will surely be very very different from Ecuador and although that makes me unexplainably nervous (because I'm a natural worry wart), it's also really exciting! I can't wait to not only experience a new culture and way of life, but also to challenge myself in an even more unknown environment than the last one I found myself in. I've been told I probably won't have electricity or running water and very limited access to internet and teaching resources. I'm ready.

Distant future: No, I still don't know what I'm going to do when I get back. =)

I'll do my best to update this when I can, but who knows?! I'll definitely keep writing even if it means with pen and paper and worst case scenario, I'll type everything in here in November.

When I say thank you for your support, those words really aren't enough to express how much it means to me. When you say I'm brave, it's because I know you have my back. When you say you're proud of me, you keep me going. I embrace challenges because I know that you'll love me whether I succeed or not. I only hope I make you feel the same.

Sending all my love,

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Brasil and California

There aren't a lot of places that I've visited where I've immediately thought, "I could live here". Ecuador wasn't even one of them until I was already there doing it. When I arrived in Sao Paulo, it didn't inspire that thought either. But Rio de Janeiro... siggghhhh... I can't think about that city without feeling a certain longing, a tug on my heart, a wistful nostalgia.

The beaches are incredibly beautiful and filled with people who are somehow impossibly even more beautiful. The food is amazing. The nightlife is outrageous. The people are warm and inviting and seem to be forever laughing. I kind of want to live there. But I can't figure out what the heck I would actually do there... besides stare at hot people on the beach.

So that's basically what I did for 2 weeks plus visited an island off the coast and another coastal town where I went to a cachaca factory tour and some waterfalls with a natural waterslide, which was AWESOME. Also went to Iguazu Falls, which are gigantic, incredible waterfalls that border Argentina and Paraguay. Partied often and much into the wee hours of the morning, dancing terribly to samba and drinking caipirinhas. So maybe I just fell in love with the vacation life in Rio... only one way to find out, I guess. ;)

I've been back in the US for 11 days now and I still can't get over:
  • how late the sun sets. (I'm always asking what time it is between the hours of 6-8pm and then reacting with incredulity.)
  • the price of alcohol. (How can anyone afford to get drunk here?! Oh right, people have jobs.)
  • impatience. (Where are you all going and why can't you take your time getting there?? Oh right, you have a job. But South Americans have jobs and they're not all exasperated and hustle bustle.)
  • throwing toilet paper in the toilet. (I walk into a bathroom and immediately scan it for the trashcan then have to consciously remind myself not to throw the TP in it.)
  • trained pets. (Amazing.)
And more things I can't think of right now.

However, I'm extremely happy to be home! Spending a lot of time with my niece and nephew and they make me so very happy and keep me laughing. I've applied to a couple jobs so we'll see what happens. Had my first phone interview this morning in a long time and was so nervous I kept forgetting to breathe and thinking I was gonna puke but I think it went well. I'll update this with news when I have it.

Until then, if you're still reading, thank you. If not, that's okay. This is a good way for me to keep track of my adventures. Hoping for some more soon. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Colombia and Sao Paulo

I wake up on my own at 6 or 7am now. I drink coffee at the kitchen window and watch monkeys and giant prehistoric looking birds steal fruit from the trees. I have my hands in the dirt for 4 or 5 hours and then I help cook lunch for a big Japanese-Brazilian family. I take a nap in the afternoon, sometimes in the hammock, and then spend the evening reading a book, going to a family function, or browsing the internet, daydreaming about home. On weekends I explore the city. I have a farmers tan, a perpetually sore back, and mosquito bites on every part of my body (including my eyebrows and the palm of my hand!) despite bathing myself in repellant every couple hours. I eat all organic and vegetarian, I sleep to the sound of thousands of frogs and crickets, and I think I must be living someone else's life. I think that's the beauty of this experience, walking a mile in someone else's moccasins or in my case, squatting for hours, pulling weeds in someone else's work boots.

Leaving Ecuador was so much harder than I ever could have imagined. I cried saying goodbye countless times, I cried in the taxi to the city, I cried on the bus to the border, and I got pretty choked up walking into Colombia, but I resisted the tears, trying to look as badass as possible in a notoriously dangerous place, alone, under the weight of a giant backpack.

Colombia highlights: meeting a really nice Colombian guy in Pasto who took me around to see museums and cool plazas expecting nothing in return, salsa dancing lessons in Cali, the salsa capital of the world, a water park complete with zipline into pool, 5 hour Bogotá bike tour, meeting a big group of crazy Danish people and listening to them sing their original rap song, meeting Carolina's family and going around Medellin with her sister, who was the best tour guide ever, and in general, complete independence.

This has been my first experience travelling totally alone and although it's been awesome, and I've learned a lot about both the places and myself, I've discovered that going solo is not really for me. I think I prefer sharing with someone else, bouncing ideas off of them, reveling in the marvels together, and having someone to turn to when things don't go right, which will inevitably happen. So, who wants to travel with me? My sister says I need a boyfriend. Maybe that's true. I'm accepting applications. Must love travel.

I had originally planned to work another farm in Rio de Janeiro but the more I think about it the more I think I deserve a proper vacation. So I'll be spending 2 weeks on the beach drinking caipirinhas and then I'll go to Iguazu Falls to see one of the natural wonders of the world. I might also visit some islands off the coast. Not a bad plan if you ask me. Just have to get through one more workday and Fridays are the hardest. Wish me luck!

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Beginning of the End

I have two days left in Pujili.

Come Thursday, gone will be the days in which I have to choose which side of the street is less dangerous to walk on- the one with the drunk man catcalling or the one with the barking dog. I'll no longer have to wait in line at the bank while the employee texts on her cell phone instead of helping customers. I won't be stared at by strangers because I look different. I won't wonder if lunch will make me sick. I'll be able to speak my native language, spend time with family and friends, and live in my comfort zone once again.

But gone, too, will be the days in which friends stop by unannounced to bring me food. I will no longer learn something new every day nor have loads of free time. I won't wait in line at the post office desperately hoping my care package has arrived. I won't walk slowly. I won't buy super fresh produce for pennies. I won't be able to hop on a bus and go anywhere in the country. And if I did hop on a bus, I wouldn't hear my name whispered by small children too shy to say hello but nonetheless happy to see me. No one will fall recklessly in love with me without the pretense of the rules of dating. No one will say "claps for Chelsea", followed by tiny people applauding me, just for showing up to my job. I won't be inherently interesting anymore. I'll have to leave all the wonderful people I've met in the last two crazy years.

I have a lot to look forward to, I know. But like I've mentioned before, change makes me cry. There will be a lot of tears in the next few days. They've already started today.

I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention the people who were the most important to me. First, my Peace Corps family- my lil brother, my thunder buddy, Todd, who made me laugh on days I wanted to cry and always had my back no matter what, as long as it was post 10:00am. My favorite couple, Eric and Em for being the most supportive, kind people I've ever met. (#SAGE) My lil sister, Katnip, the fun-loving, adventurous one with the best dance moves you've ever seen, who I can tell anything to and won't judge. My fatty club- Jazzy and Manisha, for always being ready to eat... a lot! And listening to me when I complain. The rest of my omnibus for making trainings much more interesting and for always caring about each other.

My Ecuas- my teachers, Tania, Sixto, Lorena, Segundo, for always taking my opinion into account, for being open-minded, for being patient with the silly gringa, and for being amazing friends. My first host family, who took care of me when I was sick every other day, fed me amazing food, gave me advice, taught me Spanish, and have always really cared about me. My site host family, for teaching me so much, for helping me get projects off the ground, and for making sure the dogs didn't bite me. Mi bichito for making my last couple months amazing.

I can't believe it's really finally coming to an end. It's crazy how you can dream about the day that you're "free" and then when the day comes, you don't really want to escape anymore. I am forever amazed at the human ability to adapt.

As I close this book and begin to write a new one, I'll attempt to continue chronicling my adventures, but I make no promises as I don't know what the internet situation will be like. But I should also thank you, reader, for your silent support throughout this experience. Without you, I'd have been talking to myself.

Lil Cdub signing off.