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Posted October 7, 2015 at 12:49 PM by Paulu

I met a girl this past weekend.

"So what?" you're thinking, already clicking away from this page. What about that could possibly be interesting about that, possibly warrant me sitting down and spending some of my precious time to hack out a braggy blog post about just another typical, twenty-something weekend? We are both of us, after all, typical twenty-somethings. We check all the boxes: white, college-educated, straight.

I guess all that differentiates us from any of a million or so budding romances that began this past weekend is we also happen to be Peace Corps volunteers in Malawi, a small country about the size of Pennsylvania, in sub-Saharan Africa. The by some estimates poorest country in the world.

For those of you who aren't American or are otherwise unfamiliar with the Peace Corps, it is an American government program started in 1961 by President Kennedy on a trip to the University of Michigan, where he urged the gathered students (who had been waiting for hours to see the President speak it's a good story, which all PCVs can recite by heart, and you should Google it) to give one or two years of their lives in the service, helping developing countries. These brief remarks eventually led to the formation of the Peace Corps originally just a vehicle for cultural exchange, but which has since transformed into a program sending college graduates around the world into countries who request them, sharing knowledge and aiding efforts to strengthen local communities through sustainable change at the grassroots level.

Briefly, the process is thus: you fill out a relatively simple application to join PC, after which (assuming you fit the needs of a developing country) you are invited to serve. I was invited to serve in Malawi as an NGO (non-governmental organization) Advisor, but my actual title is "Community Health and HIV/AIDS Project" volunteer.

Health vol will do just fine.

You're given a departure date (staging, in PC vernacular, of which there is a lot. I will apologize in advance about all the acronyms PC makes it hard to forget that the USG pays our stipends with the endless alphabet soup.) and you're thrown into two to three months of constant training with a small group of what we pithily call "government-issued friends". This is your pre-service training (PST), during which you are still simply a trainee, not yet a volunteer. The trainings consist of lessons on local language and culture, technical skills, personal health, and safety and security. It is a slog eight to twelve hour days, six days a week, in a brand new country, living with a host family whose language you barely speak. We didn't lose anyone during PST but if someone had ET'd (early terminated) I hardly would have blamed them. I thought about it myself a few times.

You emerge from PST however many months later exhausted, dirty, and an official PCV. The American Ambassador herself swore us in. I got a piece of paper and everything, which I think I've probably burned as firestarter by this point. Then it's off to site your home for the next two years where the nearest fellow American might be an hour drive away. And only then does the real challenge begin.

The Peace Corps has three goals: aid in sustainable development, teach locals about American culture, and teach Americans about local culture. To that end, and whenever I feel like I want to talk about it, I'll be writing infrequent and irregular blog posts about my service, about the country in which I am serving, and just about life in Africa as the only azungu (read: white person) within a 50km radius.

Oh, and remember earlier where I said PC has three goals? There's a joke among PCVs and RPCVs (returned PCVs) that there are really four goals. The fourth?

Marry a PCV.
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