Feelings about the Peace Corps evacuation in Burkina Faso

As some of you may or may not know, The Peace Corps Burkina Faso program was closed on September 3rd 2017 due to security concerns and the volunteers were evacuated.

You can read the official statement here:

https://www.peacecorps.gov/news/library/peace-corps-burkina-faso-volunteers-evacuated-safely/

I served in Burkina Faso from June 2011-August 2013 as an education volunteer in the village of Lèba.

According to the Peace Corps website, over 2075 volunteers have served from 1966-1987, and 1995-2017. President Thomas Sankara was assassinated in 1987, and there was an 8 year recess when Peace Corps was asked to leave by the government.

As a returned peace corps volunteer (RPCV), I am in almost what seems like a state of mourning. A program that I spent two years and three months of my life is now over. Indefinitely. A group of volunteers that swore in less than two weeks before has now left after just getting to site.

I (fortunately and unfortunately) have no personal experience with evacuation as a PCV, however I have spoken with several volunteers who have been previously evacuated.

In my training class we had 3 former evacuees from Peace Corps Niger. I had the greatest respect for them and looked up to them all during training. They described the evacuation process as being traumatic, having only hours to pack their things and travel to their consolidation points. Some of them never got their things back.

In April 2012, a Coup D’état happened overnight in Mali, the president was kidnapped, and the volunteers were evacuated soon after. I met several of them during my service in Burkina, as it was an easy transfer for them as Jula and French are also spoken in Burkina. One of those Mali volunteers told me that they generally decide to evacuate volunteers is when they cannot physically get to volunteers, or they are unable to transfer money into their bank accounts because the government is shut down.

I was extremely fortunate during my service that we were never consolidated. There was a point where there was an attack on a chemical plant in Algeria where I was asked should things get bad if I wanted to leave the country or my site voluntarily, and I said no, and would leave only if the circumstances and my safety truly depended on it. There is something called “interrupted service” where for circumstances beyond the volunteer’s control happens, and they are able to leave Peace Corps something akin to an “honorable discharge”

Since I left Burkina, things have gotten worse

in 2014, there was an uprising where citizens tried to prevent then President Blaise Compaore from changing the constitution to eliminate term limits. The parliament building was burned to the ground and Colonel Isaac Zida became interim president.

In 2015, the RSP (presidential police) staged a mutiny and held the then president Michel Kafando hostage. This coup ultimately failed and they were able to have elections.

In January 2016 there was a terrorist attack at the Cappucino restaurant and Splendid Hotel. I used to go to Cappucino in Ouagadougou when I was a volunteer.

In August 2017 there was a similar terrorist attack at a Turkish restaurant on the same street.

It breaks my heart that because of terrorists deliberately targeting foreigners, and also apparently Peace Corps volunteers, that the volunteers had to be evacuated and the program ended.

It breaks my heart to see all of the fantastic work done by the Peace Corps Burkina Faso American staff, host country national staff, volunteers, and counterparts come to a standstill. One of the most powerful diplomatic tools we have: cultural exchange, is no longer available to us.

It breaks my heart to see a president who wishes to slash the budget of such a meaningful program promoting world friendship and building bridges between Americans and other countries in need.

To the Burkinabé people, I wish you the following (in Mooré):

Wend na ko-d fo panga (May God give you strength)

Wend na sonsg fo noogo (May God give you good things)

Wend na ko-d fo noglem (May God give you love)

May it be one day that Peace Corps can return to your wonderful country and continue to cultivate change.

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A Brief Update. On to the next thing…

So it’s been a while since I updated.

What’s new? I got married.

#youreagoodmanmaxgoldstein

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So that happened. My husband and I had a wonderful wedding surrounded by family, friends, and fellow Peace Corps volunteers. Everything worked out and my planning genes seemed to kick in.

So what’s next, well, I’m starting a PhD at UC Irvine in about three weeks. I will be commuting back and forth from San Jose to Irvine, taking classes part of the week, and then spending the rest of the week at home in San Jose (For this quarter anyway).

It will be a challenge, but at least I won’t be 8000 miles and several flights away and we will be in the same time zone. I know that it will not be as hard as when we were living in Baltimore and San Jose apart, across three different time zones with not particularly compatible work and sleep schedules.

I have hope.

I’m bummed out that I am leaving a job that I enjoy at the public health department but I am excited to learn so much more about public health and have a chance to learn more about qualitative research and methods, and learn more leadership skills and job flexibility down the road.

On to the next adventure!

My Second Half-Marathon. An honest review of the Rock n Roll SF Half 2017

Hi Everyone,

It’s been a while since I blogged.

Long story short. Got a job in the Bay Area, California, moved to the Bay Area, applied to grad school, starting in the fall, getting married in June.

That’s a lot.

Anyway,

The Fiance and I did a half-marathon this past weekend.

Rock and Roll sf tomorrow…eeep! #teamslowaf #rockandrollSF #runningbuddies

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This was my first Rock and Roll race. I wanted to do a half marathon in the spring so that I could keep motivated and keep running since I moved. It was very hard to train without a training group. I trained with Charm City Run for my last half marathon and I always had someone to run with at our practices. The only running groups I have found here run before 5:30 in the morning on weekdays, which does not work for me.

Anyway, the race

Race Expo:

Very well organized. The staff there is really helpful and was able to answer our questions about the shuttle pickup and what time we needed to be where.

Race Day:

Walked about a mile from our hotel to City Plaza to get our shuttle at 5 in the morning. There were many buses to board and they took us to Golden Gate Park at the starting line. Race started at 6:15 am. Due to noise restrictions it was very hard to hear the announcer, but corral 14! #TeamSlowAF, creeped up to the finish line and we started without being announced.

The highlights of the course by far were the views and the bands. Especially the Air Force band on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. The last few miles were really tough as you go uphill and then downhill into city hall. Luckily there were some drag queens in the last few miles cheering us on which was exactly what I needed.

For not being as well trained as my last half, I still ran under 3 hours, and my official time was 2:59:25. I also had to stop and use the bathroom over near Crissy Field and I did not stop my watch, so I was probably a few minutes faster than the other time.

I am so incredibly proud of my Fiance, Max! This was his first Half and he survived!

We did it! Hard course but very happy! #teamslowaf. Max's first half! #brooksrunning #goldengatebridge #thosehillstho

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The Pros:

This was my first Rock ‘n’ Roll Race and I was very impressed with how organized they were and the army of school buses to take us to the starting line. It was a great chance to run on the Golden Gate Bridge, and they were well stocked with medical tents, port-o-potties, and water throughout the course. Brooks Running was the main sponsor, and the race shirt and medals were great.

The Cons:

This race starts very early, which means if you are coming in from out of town, you will need a place to stay to get to the starting line on time which you may have to budget for. This is also a very difficult course. You will probably not get a Personal Best unless you actively train on the course or on comparable hills. I thought the Baltimore Half Marathon was hilly, but it has nothing on San Francisco.

So in short, I would love to sign up for another Rock ‘n’ Roll race in a different city. I’m not sure if I would do San Francisco again, but it’s a wonderful way to see the city and get some exercise.

My first Half Marathon

Well, I did it. I completed my first Half Marathon! EEEP.

T-2 days and counting #halfmarathontraining #charmcityrun #baltrunfest #runbaltimore #teamslowAF

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I started training with a group at my local running store in July. I have not been sharing a lot of what has been going on in my life right now but long story short:

BF got job in California, Sara resigned from her job and stayed in Maryland and got  a part-time job with a community organization, Sara met up with BF in Chicago, BF proposed, and Sara is getting married sometime this summer.

I said yes in Chicago!

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In short, running has kept me sane. Being on the job market is stressful, trying to figure out when you are going to move is stressful, applying to grad school is stressful, wedding planning is stressful. Knowing that I will see my group on Tuesdays and Saturdays makes me really happy. Also, even though I was by far the slowest person in the group, everyone was always really nice and positive. Even yesterday during the half marathon, I had some of my training mates see me and cheer me on which was great.

I trained for 14 weeks and they had us running in the heat. The first time I hit 13.1 miles in a training run I shed a tear. I never thought I would be able to run that far. Ever. Before I started the training program I had only run about 6.5 miles at a time.

The day of the half marathon I got there really early to see the Marathon start. In Baltimore the half and the full start in different places.

My goals were the following

  1. Finish the half marathon
  2. finish in under 3 hours
  3. get a personal record

Finishing was my number one priority.

The first mile is always tough for me because I need to get settled and find my legs. Our coach warned us that miles 3-6 from Patterson Park to Clifton Park were tough, and they were.

The atmosphere was infectious. there were many election themed signs and even Boh-dration stations, stocked with Natty Boh Beer.

Towards the end of the race around mile 11, my friends Robin and Jon met me, and Robin even ran with me for about a mile. That pushed me through even though my calves were burning and my feet were hurting.

The hardest thing about the Baltimore Running Festival was that the finish line is back between Oriole Park and M and T Bank Stadium, so you keep running and running, and think you see the finish line, and you don’t. I kept looking at my watch and just kept running.

When I looked down at my watch, I was shocked I got all three goals! This experience was amazing and I can’t wait to sign up and train for my next one. I can’t believe I did this!

Some thoughts on Job Searching

So, long story short, I left my previous job for personal reasons and I am currently searching for a new one. I’m not going into the details because people can search me and find this blog but I made an informed decision with no regrets.

That being said, there are a few tips and tricks that I have learned that may be helpful to other job seekers.

Disclaimer: I am not a job counselor but these are some things I have picked up over the past few years that may be helpful.

1. Network at every opportunity you can. Networking is really really important. When I was searching for jobs this time last year, the two jobs I got offers from were jobs that I was personally recommended for, and not published yet online. Have business cards in your bag and update your LinkedIn. You never know when you will meet someone that will help you find a job.

2. Create a spreadsheet with your jobs applied to, date interviewed and need for follow up. This helps you keep track of jobs and when you should follow up. I have applied to over 60 jobs at this point and it can sometimes be difficult to keep them all straight.

3. Create a document with all necessary job application information. This includes your references, former work information, etc, so you are not constantly looking up emails or phone numbers for references.

4. Ask references in person or via email first before putting their names down and send them a copy of the job description.

5. Conduct Informational Interviews (by phone or in person). This is probably one of the most important things you can do. This is how I got my most recent job. My supervisor was a professor of one of my classes and I did an informational interview with her. She did not have a position with her research group but held on to me until she did. Also, someone you interview with may be able to get you in touch with someone else who may help you. They may do an email introduction or just drop a name. These interviews are generally set up by email and can be by phone or in person.

A sample email may go like this,

Dear John Smith, 

My name is <insert name here> and I would like to talk to you about potential job openings with your company. <List degree and qualifications> I got your name from <insert name here>. <List availability>. I have enclosed my Resume/CV for your perusal.

Thank you in advance

Sincerely,

<your name>

For example, I had a phone interview with the head of a branch of a state health department, and I got her name from the program manager at the university where she works as an adjunct faculty. She got me in touch with a local public health officer in a county I wanted to work in. That local public health officer met with me for an informational interview. That local public health officer sent emails to other people she thought it would be good for me to be in touch with and I set up interviews with them. She also forwarded job opportunities to me that were at the state and county levels.

If someone knows you, they may be more likely to hire you than a random person who applied to the job.

When you speak to the interviewer, be able to describe yourself in a minute or less, sell yourself and tout your impressive qualities. Remember to thank the interviewer for their time.

6. Do some homework before the informational or job interview. What does this company do? What does this person do? Do they have similar research interests? what should they be addressed by? Where did they get their degree? etc. Look them up on LinkedIn. The internet is great for this!

7. Send a “thank you” email. If you do have an informational or job interview in person or by phone thanking the person for their time and effort. It may seem silly, but it is always a good idea.

8. Do not be afraid to follow-up. Once you have had a job or informational interview, feel free to be a little annoying and check in after a few weeks. Sometimes the person you are interviewing with has more things on their plate than hiring people and may need a reminder.

9. Realize that the hiring process is complicated and it is a two way street. Many jobs have HR requirements and paperwork that has to go through. Because of that process, it may be easier to hire someone from within the organization than to add someone new to the system.  I had an experience where we interviewed someone for an open position at my last job. She had a second interview with my supervisor, and did not hear back for a few weeks. I found out later that the position would no longer exist and would not be filled by anyone. Also, the person in charge of hiring you may have other duties that take priority.

10. Hiring depends on Funding. If you are working in a university/academic setting, they may rely on grants to fund positions. They may wait until they receive the grant money to post a position, and then they need to hire someone relatively quickly. They also might list a position and then eliminate it because funding was cut for that project.

11. Do not bring up bad things that happened at your previous position at a job interview. From a former recruiter on the RPCV Jobs facebook group: Tell the interviewer how you can be an asset to their company. Challenges in a previous job may be asked about, but always turn the negative into a positive.

12. If you are looking to relocate, go visit if you can. If you have the financial means to visit an area you wish to relocate to, that can be very helpful. You can get a sense of the commute, neighborhoods and culture.

13. Come in with a set of questions before the interview. These may include, is there health insurance? Do you have other benefits? do employees get bus passes? etc. Also, if you have questions later, feel free to email the hiring person.

14. Come in to the interview with an idea of a salary for your position. the GS government system is a good place to look and varies by location. For example, with a Master’s degree, I am technically a GS-9. I can look up what a GS-9 would make in let’s say, Alaska, and if I were to interview, I would at least have a baseline idea of what that salary should be.

GS Levels are explained well here:

http://govcentral.monster.com/benefits/articles/1757-what-determines-where-you-stand-on-the-gs-scale

GS Levels with tables from the US Government Office of Personnel Management(OPM)

https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/pay-systems/general-schedule/

15. Even rejections can lead to jobs. Someone I know got a cold call from a big tech company in California. The job would have been perfect for him and his dream job. The first interview went well, but the second did not and he got rejected. I told him that at least the recruiter knows who he is and what his qualifications are, and that he might get contacted for another job. A few weeks passed, the recruiter called him back for a job that was not as perfect as the first one, but one that he was still interested in. He did much better with the interview process, and got flown out for an in-person interview.

The point is: even though he got rejected for the first job, he was on the recruiter’s mind for a second job which he ended up getting. Hiring managers would rather deal with people they know, rather than ones that they do not.

That is all I have for now and information I have gleaned from personal experience. I hope this helps people in their job search.

Peace Corps Wedding #3

During my time as an RPCV I have had the pleasure and honor of attending three Peace Corps wedding.

This past weekend I took a few days off of work to catch up with my friend, Beth H, see her in Minnesota and then drive down to Iowa.

The trip there was uneventful. I arrived on time in Minneapolis and Beth picked me up and we went to Surly Brewing company for some beer and appetizers, then we went to a restaurant called City Afrique and had some Foutou (fufu) with palm seed sauce (Sauce Graine), Attieke, and fish. We then drove back to Beth’s house to sleep.

Got my foutou fix!

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The next day was pretty busy. We went for a morning walk and then went to Beth’s grandmother’s dairy farm after running some errands with her Grandmother and exploring Schell’s brewery and seeing the New Ulm Glockenspiel mechanical clock. I got to see the “Milk Parlor” with all the cows and was peppering her uncle Dean with questions all about cows. I asked him how big a baby calf was, and he didn’t know. When Beth showed me where they keep the newborn calves, we noticed a calf that was born about an hour ago. Still had its umbilical cord, the placenta was hanging out of its mother. I said to Beth, “Well that answers my question.” I even got to milk some cows (manually and with the machine) and clean off their udders. The teats get dipped in iodine, and then a chlorohexadine solution, and then wiped off. Then you squeeze the teats by hand to make sure that milk comes out, and then you hook them up to a milking machine. After a busy afternoon at the farm, Beth took me to her parents’ house for a real Minnesota Tater-tot Hot Dish. We then had an epic jam session with her dad, and then went to bed.

Why yes I am milking a cow!

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The next day we got up early and drove about 45 minutes to go strawberry picking. We picked over 60 pounds of strawberries.

Strawberry picking in Minnesota!

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After we got back we loaded up the car and went to Iowa. This was a camping wedding where we were in a state park. It was more like “Glamping” because the campsite had modern toilets and showers, and had a Walmart nearby. When we arrived, we hung out until the rest of the other RPCVs showed up, started setting up our campsite, and then played some Sushi-Go and had dinner.

Peace Corps friends are the best friends! #loveinledges #peacecorpsburkinafaso #g24

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Up to this point, everything was going pretty well.

The next day I was supposed to meet up with my friend Rachael’s parents who lived in nearby Ames. As Beth and I started to drive, we turned onto the main road and the car stalled. After calling our parents and asking for advice, a little while later, the car started back up and we were able to make it. We hung out at Rachael’s parents’ house for a few hours and then left to go to the wedding. We turned the corner and the car stalled again. This time we called AAA to get it towed and we both changed into our wedding clothes. We decided to load up Rachael’s mom’s car with our luggage and I went with Rachael’s mom to the campsite with all of our stuff, unloaded it, and made it to the wedding with a minute or two to spare.

 

The wedding was in Ledges State Park on a sunny hot Saturday. The wedding was very hippie-boho chic and they served Breakfast for dinner. I thoroughly enjoyed dancing and spending time with the rest of the wedding attendees from my training class. Beth arrived during the reception with a supposedly fixed car.

The next morning we packed up and left. As soon as we got on to the entrance ramp to the highway, Beth’s car died a third time. We called AAA to get it towed, and were picked up relatively quickly (compared to the day before) by an Americorps volunteer who worked for the towing company. We waited for a rental place to open after we called to reserve a car and got a rental car and drove back to Minnesota. We stopped again at Beth’s parents and grandmother’s house and then drove back to her house.

Snapchat-6261705625184774372 (1)It is remarkable to note that both of us stayed calm the whole time. Like RPCVs, we were thinking about, where do we want to go next? What is our next step? Both of us wished that we had brought more books to read and things to do while we waited. We also did not have good network coverage while we were camping, so that was also difficult. It did not end up being the relaxing calm vacation I wanted, but at least I’ve got some good stories. I think if it was not for my Peace Corps Experience, I would not have had the grace under pressure that I had during the stress, and this will give me many memories for the months to come.

 

 

Review of Garmin Forerunner 230

I bit the bullet and purchased a Garmin Forerunner 230.

IMG_20160505_095332I went to the store and was going to get the 15 or the 25 but was upsold to the 230.

I may end up doing a half marathon training in the fall and I want to have a watch that is capable of tracking activities.

What it does

  • Smart notifications from your phone when connected to bluetooth
  • Measure running, biking, and indoor activities
  • Activity tracker/step counter
  • Can measure heart rate with added heart rate monitor (I did not get it)

What I want from it

  • Accurate, reliable running tracking
  • Good battery life

First impressions:

Love the color, fairly easy to set up and use with Garmin connect. Tried to get it to sync to runkeeper. It sort of works. I am also logging workouts on their website. Weather seems to be an iffy sync. Update: weather syncs but location function on phone must be connected. Not a touchscreen, but that isn’t a big deal.

People complain that the screen is dim. I don’t really have a problem with that. I kind of like it.

First run: 15 minutes easy for BWC 5k training. 5/5/15

Really easy to use. Synced immediately to satellites (or so I thought)*. Beeped when I hit one mile. Reported a pace of 10:18 per mile which I don’t really believe. I thought, the fastest mile pace I have previously run was 11:48. I am curious to see how my next run goes

Second run: Said I was running 7:35 minute miles, which for me is physically impossible at this point.

*Turns out the GPS was not connected and it was counting arm cycles/steps. Going to try it again with the GPS on the next run

First Indoor Run

10:03 pace, which is fast for me

First outdoor run with GPS connected

12:59 pace, which is pretty consistent

Hill workout 5/16/2016

IMG_20160516_194622

(Garmin interface on the right, Runkeeper interface on the left). I am still using both.

We did hills and it synced pretty well and followed the GPS with a somewhat accurate pace.

Easy to sync to Runkeeper, although it shows up as private and I have to log in and make it public which can be a pain sometimes. You can connect to garmin connect which automatically uploads your activities

The Garmin interface looks slick but clunky, it may take a little bit of getting used to

Other notes:

Activity Tracker will record steps if I am knitting. That is a little weird

The Bottom Line

It does everything it says it does with a non-touchscreen interface. It’s not the Apple watch, but if you wanted an Apple watch, you would get an Apple watch. It also connects to training programs and a whole bunch of apps on the Garmin IQ app store. Essentially the only barrier in my mind is the price. 

It’s a great thing to motivate you to move, tracks your steps,  and tracks your running. The Bluetooth syncing to the phone is convenient for meetings syncing your phone notifications. Battery life is about 9 days when intermittently connected with bluetooth and GPS. It doesn’t have a heart rate monitor or a touchscreen included but that’s not super important to me

I got the watch at a discount* so I got it for about $50 less than the retail price. I’m not sure if I would get it for its retail price of $250.

*from my BWC training (10%) and a $25 store credit (our running store gives you $25 for every 250 you spend)