Medically Cleared!!

This just in: The Peace Corps has granted me full medical clearance!

I got the doctor’s signature I was waiting for and that was all I needed. So I am ALMOST ready. As I mentioned earlier, the legal side is still processing my background check. Hopefully that won’t take too much longer.

Everyone please keep those fingers crossed. And eyes crossed.


Last week the folks tracking my medical tasks for the Peace Corps told me that since my physical was performed by a physician’s assistant it needed to be signed by a licensed doctor. Normally not a problem, but it turned out that my primary care doctor who oversees the assistant was on vacation. So, my medical clearance is delayed until that gets done, which now won’t happen until next week.

This morning the legal side of the Peace Corps wrote to tell me that my legal tasks, which includes my background check, is delayed because some agency has not gotten through checking me out. I think I understand it. Older folks, like myself, have much more background to check than those kids they tend to accept, so it will take a bit longer. Still, I’ve had so many background checks in my career you’d think the path would be well worn and easily travelled by now.

Either of these delays could push me out of being accepted in time to leave in April. Very frustrating because I can do nothing to accelerate the process. Patience. Patience. Patience!!

In the meantime I’ve been cleaning up, cleaning out, and setting up my life so that I can move quickly once I get accepted.

I also ran across a BBC show on Netflix called Africa and the first episode focuses on places in Namibia including the Kalahari. If you’d like to see where I’m headed (hopefully) then watch that episode.

Of interest is the first 5 or so minutes where they discuss an area covered by curious rings. The media calls them “Fairy Rings”. No one is quite sure what caused them to form. I hope to see this up close.

“Fairy” Rings in Namibia

Blog, I Must!

Back when I was writing articles about iPhones I had a discipline and a process. Monday I’d find a subject to write about. Tuesday I’d research the subject and produce a general outline for the article. Wednesday I’d flesh out the details. Thursday I’d produce a rough draft and take whatever photos I needed. Friday I’d edit the draft and upload the article and photos for publishing. For five years and with few exceptions, I performed this process weekly regardless of what was going on in my life.

Now, the Peace Corps wants me to blog my experiences before, during and after my tour. Writing iPhone articles was easier because it allowed me to focus on something that wasn’t personal. Blogging, however, is supposed to be personal and social. At least, the type I think I’m supposed to be writing. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but when there are rough spots in my life social is the last thing I want to be, and offering up whatever personal turmoil I may be experiencing to public scrutiny is definitely not something I want to do.

Still, I need to get into the habit of writing regardless of whether or not I feel like it, hence this post and the title. So, if all of this seems a bit forced, well, that’s because it is.

I’ve pretty much completed my Peace Corps tasks. Once I get one more signature and upload a document I should have all my ducks in a row. I then wait to get the official ‘Welcome Aboard’ letter and travel instructions. In the meantime I’ve been readying my house for rental. There’s not a lot that needs to be done, just stuff I should have done but was either too lazy or unfocused to do them. This passed week I ticked off a bunch of things; cleaned out my clothes closet and turned stuff into the Goodwill, touchup painting, first pass at personal document organization and purging, and so on.

That last one is a doozy! It’s amazing how much paper one can accumulate! I’ve filled a 40 gallon trash bag full of shredded paper! And that was just the first pass!

I still have the garage to attack and that promises to be nothing but fun because I’ve found stuff in the attic that the previous owner of my home ‘strategically’ left behind and now I need to figure out how to dispose of it. Stuff like solidified bags of concrete, cans of paint, old blinds and more. The garage needs a good cleaning out anyway. Ah well, it’ll be a good diversion.

By the way, when I had my portrait exhibition back in December at Stardust Video and Coffee I was asked if I’d like to show it again. I knew I’d be too busy and had to declined, but I asked a good friend of mine, Sarah Kantz, if she wanted to take my place and she accepted.

Sarah works in watercolors and her exhibit promises to be something well worth seeing, so please stop by on February first to see her work. I believe she will be showing the entire month too.

Blog Test: Working Out the Process

As I finish up the tasks that hopefully will secure my spot in The Peace Corps, I find I also need to fully work out the process by which I will blog my experiences. While the process of simply writing seems to work well using the iOS Notes app, which let’s me post directly into WordPress, I am unsure about how photos will work. So, this installment will focus on formatting photos into my blog. Let’s hope it works.

I walk a lot. When I have something I need to think out I walk even more. When I am stressed, unsettled or deeply troubled I head to the beach and walk a lot there. Such was the case this morning. The beach I go to is Playalinda, near Kennedy Space Center and inside the Merrit Island Wildlife Preserve.

Please stifled your giggles, quiet your chuckles and purge your mind of the image of me cavorting, sans clothing, in the rising morning tide. For those of you who are unaware of the rumors concerning Playalinda, I shall elucidate. Rumor has it that Playalinda a beach for nudists. The bare truth is that the five or so miles of pristine beach is NOT home to naked sun worshippers, well, not four and a half miles of it anyway. If you do feel the need to be totally free you need to go to the last half mile of beach. There the park rangers turn a gratefully blind eye those who insist on sunbathing bare. On the rest of the beach you’ll find fisher folk, families, surfers, and other beachgoers all attired in normal beachwear.

Now, as I was saying: I had a lot on my mind this morning, and I hadn’t been to the beach in quite some time, so I set out to walk the sands and enjoy the morning sun.

Will I find bare sand and bare bodies, or just bare sand?

I usually park in Lot 1 and did so this morning (the naked folks hang out at lot 11 through 13). I choose this lot because of its closeness to NASA, about a mile south. There the public beach ends and NASA property begins and the walk to that border is usually a nice one.

Ahhhh! Nothing on the beach but surf and sand, or so I thought.

Making my way towards NASA proved harder than I hoped. Hundreds, maybe thousands of Man-o-Wars had washed ashore. I couldn’t walk in the waves like I normally do because these creatures were still being left on the beach with each wave and, as I understand it, the sting of the creatures are painful.

Interesting thing about Man-o-Wars, most people mistake them for jellyfish, but they are not. In fact, they are not one creature at all, but a symbiotic colony of animals, called siphonophores, that are so interdependent on each other that they seem as one.

That blue bladder is a gas bag topped with a sail, that’s how it moves about. The dark blue mass are the tentacles. Normally they just float about, catching breezes and eating small fish and making little man-o-wars.

Because there were so many of those darned man-o-wars I couldn’t enjoy my walk and had to cut it short. I’ll have to hit the beach again soon.

Hopefully the photos posted properly. If not I’ll have to keep working on the blogging process.

Well, I just found out the hoots won’t post to a blog directly from Notes. Bummer!

Pin Cushion: Medical Tasks Nearly Done!

When I first applied to join the Peace Corps I had thought it would be similar to the experience I had when I joined the Air Force some 40 odd years ago. We were in the midst of the Viet Nam War and military recruitment and the processing of those recruits was about as efficient a system as you can imagine. They somehow managed to take thousands kids front all walks of life, filter them into careers, train them, then set them loose on equipment and in operations that costs millions of dollars and where real lives were dependent on that training.

Imagine a series of conveyors with kids lined up on them. They are poked, prodded, scanned, tested, fitted, and felt. After each test the kid was steered to another conveyor for more poking and prodding until he or she gets dumped into a bucket which is then carted off to some training facility. Nothing warm and fuzzy about such a system and many young men and women didn’t make the cut. So, if you found yourself at your first duty assignment you could claim a certain amount of pride for having survived all of that poking and prodding and conveying.

The Peace Corps has no such system. There is no recruitment center were volunteers line up to get poked and prodded. Instead, you are given several long lists of tasks to complete and it is entirely up to you to get it done, and done on time. If you see how the Peace Corps operates then you’d see why this makes sense.

Whereas the military is more interested in the number bodies in can find to fill in where the need is greatest, the Peace Corps is more interested in the quality of its volunteers. The military surrounds you, cradles you, and holds your hand through its system and hope that you are up to the tasks it sets for you at the far end. The Peace Corps does not have that luxury. It needs to make sure that the people it sends out into the field can operate with little support, or even direction. A volunteer may get dropped into a spot days away from any medical or technical support, and he or she must be willing and able to not only survive, but integrate into the local culture and work on, and hopefully complete an assigned task. So, if you can’t complete a list of todos where everything you need is a phone call and a ten minute drive away, how can you possibly be of help out in the wilds?

Still, when you first look at the list of things you need to get done you wonder how in the hell can you do it? Some tasks are about stuff you may not be able to pronounce much less have an idea how to complete it. Luckily for me I’ve had some experience in this department. On the legal side, fingerprinting, background check info and so on I’ve done many times in my career. All easy peasy.

The medical tasks were a different story.

I mentioned the poking and prodding done in the military recruitment center. With the Peace Corps you schedule your own poking and prodding appointments, and vaccinations, and x-rays, and so on and provide the info back to them. If they don’t like what they see they kick it back and you talk to your doctor, nurse or whoever is doing to prodding to get things corrected.

I started off with a list of about 18 medical tasks, that expanded to about 30. I’ve had at least 6 vaccinations including Yellow Fever and Typhoid, some of them made a a wee bit sick (low grade fever and body aches for a few days). I’ve given what seems like a half gallon of blood for a variety of tests for stuff like hepatitis (negative), cholesterol (slightly elevated), HIV (negative), and others including a test to see if I’m allergic to the drug they use to treat malaria (I’m not allergic). I’ve had my heart tested, my teeth inspected, and a few tests that were more, ummm, invasive.

After all of that poking and prodding it seems that I am a healthy guy, more so now that I’m immunized against damn near everything but a meteor strike. I have one more task to do, I see that doctor this week and he should be happy to sign off on the task. Score!

So, the Peace Corps should feel good about dropping me off in the middle of some place days away from a doctor, a phone, or a Mikey D’s, it seems I’ll survive.

I should have started writing long ago

Today I was listening to an NPR show. In it a doctor was being interviewed who had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro essentially naked. He did this to prove a point to himself and to others.

He theorized that the human body is far more highly adaptable to external conditions than we give it credit for. He looked at our ancestors, people who not only survived, but prospered in environmental conditions that seem horrendously harsh by our standards today. He reasoned that there must be a forgotten mechanism in our bodies that would allow any of us to, for instance, walk barefoot in snow or on hot sand.

Hold that thought for a moment.

When I was a kid growing up in Baltimore I remember purposefully wearing light jackets in the winter when everyone around me were bundled up with heavy coats, scarfs, earmuffs and whatnot. I did this because I was in tune with my body and only needed what I felt was the appropriate amount of protection from the cold. For instance, I never worn a undershirt because it was too warm. In fact, I don’t wear one even to this day. I believed that if I didn’t allow my body to feel at least some discomfort then it couldn’t adjust to effectively accommodate changes. By allowing this constant adjustment my body was, and perhaps still is able to accept environmental extremes that others find uncomfortable.

I still believe that and will wear only what keeps me from being too uncomfortable, not what keeps me comfortable.

Now, back to the naked mountain climbing doctor. This guy’s theory, which he used himself and a mountain in Africa to validate, is in essence, what my thoughts were some 40 or so years ago. Was I some genius? Hardly. It was just an observation that I made and then I integrated into the way I live. The difference between me and the naked doctor, besides the amount of clothing we wear and the fact that he’s a Phd and I’m not, is that he wrote it down so that others could benefit. I was a kid and had no such foresight. I’m a lot (emphasis on ‘a lot’) older and augurably wiser now, so I’ll put into writing more of these observations as I go.

What brought all of this to mind was another incident, one that just occurred and prompted me to write this blog entry. I was reading a book called Dairy of The Way by Ira Learner (thanks Marcia). The book is about how three Asian budo masters, one a master of Aikido, another a Chi Kung master, and the third a master of Tai Chi Chuan, approach their mastery of Tao (the Way).

I’m not looking to become a master or even a student of Asian philosophy, but I do try to learn as much about cultures and ideas as I can, and this book, published in 1976, offers some interesting perspectives. (Again, ideas from 40 or so years ago. This could be some kind of kismet at work.)

While reading through an interview with Yukiso Yamamoto, the Aikido master, I was struck by something he said.

“Through teaching others we find out how little we know.”

Hold on to that thought for a moment.

When I got married nearly 40 years ago I believed I had a fairly good handle on how the world worked. I was 21 and like most kids, I was too naive to know what I didn’t know about the world. It was my children, Toby and Sarah, who opened my eyes to my true ignorance. Watching them grow, teaching them what little I knew of the world, discovering things together was both humbling and exhilarating. Much of what I am today I owe to my kids, because they’ve taught me more than they’ll ever know.

So, as I prepare for Namibia, I do so feeling confident in my uncertainty about what the experience will bring, but I am certain that it will stress me and force me to adapt, which I believe I’m fully capable of doing. I believe I will grow. I believe I will teach and through that teaching, learn.

So, the lesson here is that I should have written down my thoughts, no matter how trivial they seem. As I said in my previous blog, much of this could get boring fast, but hang in there with me. I think this is gonna be one helluva adventure.