Packed and ready to go!

It only took five months of packing and unpacking, but I finally did it! I figured out what I am going to bring with me to Madagascar. It was not easy! It is extremely difficult to pack for two years, let alone to live on a completely different continent. And I think I did the best that I can do. I can pack all the things I think I will need, but in reality I haven’t lived there, so I could be terribly off the mark. It’s all hit or miss. So I hope I packed the right things…

Here’s what I’ve packed:

 

Packed in:

  • 30 inch rolling duffel bag
  • Sports bag
  • Carry-on back pack
  • Carry-on small bag

Clothing:

  • 3 pairs of pants
  • 2 professional work pants
  • 2 ankle skirts
  • 2 dresses
  • 3 long sleeve shirts
  • 5 short sleeve shirts
  • 3 tank tops
  • 6 spaghetti straps
  • 2 fleece jackets
  • rain coat
  • 2 footless tights
  • 2 swim suits (1 two-piece, 1 one piece)
  • 3 scarves
  • 2 sweatpants
  • 20 pairs of socks
  • 3 sports bras
  • 6 regular bras
  • All the underwear I own (probably around 40, but it’s still probably not going to be enough)

Shoes:

  • Chaco sandals
  • Hiking shoes
  • Rain boots
  • Black ballet flats
  • Pair of Toms
  • Pair of Haviana sandals

Toiletries:

  • Dry shampoo
  • Anti frizz serum
  • Leave in conditioner
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Baby powder
  • Toothbrushes and toothpastes
  • Baby wipes (for those days when showers are not easy to come by)
  • Deodorant
  • Bobby pins, hair ties, hair bands
  • Sewing kit
  • Nail filing kit
  • Earplugs
  • Some make-up (mascara, eyeliner, cover-up)
  • Razors
  • Dry towel and normal towel
  • Face wash

Electronics:

  • Nalgene water bottle (with solar power top to turn it into a flashlight)
  • 2 headlamps
  • Ipod and USB speakers
  • Solio solar power cell/charger
  • Netbook
  • External hard drive (filled with music, kindle books, and videos)
  • Flash drives (two 16 GBs, one 8 GB)
  • Steripen UV travel water filter
  • Rechargeable AA and AAA batteries and USB charger
  • Small Canon camera, charger, and memory cards
  • Power adapter and converter
  • Kindle
  • Unlocked IPhone for internet access and playing my mp4 videos
  • Financial and regular calculator

Miscellaneous/Hobby/Entertainment items:

  • Compactable sleeping bag
  • Clothespins (to hang photos in my ‘house’ and for laundry)
  • 3×5 cards (for studying Malagasy language)
  • Swiss army knife
  • Crochet and knitting needles
  • Bed sheets
  • Bananagrams
  • Duct tape
  • Foam double sided tape
  • Umbrella
  • Pens (black, blue, some clicky; it’s hard to get really good pens in Mada)
  • Camelback
  • Stationary/note cards
  • Excedrin (seems to be the only thing that works for my headaches)
  • EmergenC
  • Crystal Light drink packets
  • Journal
  • Drawstring bag (will be my purse)
  • Sign Language textbook
  • Lots of pictures

Host Family Gifts:

  • Small photo album with pictures
  • Calendars
  • Disney Vinylmations
  • Toys (mainly bouncy balls, stickers, and temporary tattoos)

 

Mailed to myself (mostly comfort items that will put a smile on my face when I feel down):

  •  Box of toys for the village kids
  • More 3×5 cards
  • More pens
  • Lanyard
  • “Office” sign
  • 2 journals
  • Christmas cards to mail home
  • A “C” initial drawstring bag
  • Picture frame (I just couldn’t part with it)
  • 6 books
  • More duct tape
  • Hand towel
  • Lego calendar (yes you read that right)
  • 2 decks of cards
  • And more pens :)

Peace Corps and the airlines give PCVs 80 pounds to take with us over to Madagascar. I have packed 65 pounds worth of stuff. Not too shabby right? Not at all.

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Bazinga! A Big Bang Theory taping.

Disclaimer: this has nothing to do with Peace Corps or my preparations for departure, but rather my OBSESSION with The Big Bang Theory.

 

“Knock Knock Knock, Penny. Knock Knock Knock, Penny. Knock Knock Knock, Penny.”

Living so close to Los Angeles, I take advantage of the opportunity to see any taping of a show when I can. However, typically, the reality shows are the ones I am able to get tickets for: Price is Right, Dancing With the Stars, America’s Got Talent, and So You Think You Can Dance. About a month ago, I randomly stumbled across a site where you could reserve tickets to see a taping of the most popular comedies on air. The Big Bang Theory is one of my favorite shows of all time. How I understand the punch lines to jokes with words I don’t even know is beyond me. But I am hooked on this show like a monkey loves bananas. So when I realized this site was releasing tickets to a taping of The Big Bang Theory the next day, I was online refreshing the page until they were released.

I have to say, that it was one of the best television show tapings I have been too, and I have been to my fair share. Not only was the whole waiting and check-in process easier, but overall, the Warner Bros. staff treat their audience with so much more respect than expected. What television show provides their audience with pizza and water for dinner in the middle of the taping? What television show has seating where you can actually SEE the set? Four words, The Big Bang Theory. It’s a shame you can only go to one taping a year—they put you on a list, or I would try to be there as many episodes as I could get tickets for.

Overall, the experience was great. One of my best friends and I arrived at the studio two hours before the arrival time on the ticket. My past experience of attending television tapings has taught me never to arrive when the tickets say because you will not get in. And it was a good think we did. Caroline and I were given numbers 38 and 39, which sounds amazing when I normally am 140 at a taping of DWTS. However, with VIP tickets and guaranteed tickets, they only let in a little less than 50 people out of the 120 that were waiting in line.

We were escorted through Gate 3 and walked across the studio lot to Stage 25 where TBBT is taped. Might I add, I got to see the building where Pretty Little Liars was filmed. Yes the show is on filming hiatus right now, but as a HUGE Pretty Little Liars fan, I got really excited when I walked by the building that housed the PLL set. Anyways, the way the filming works is the staff shows the audience the prior yet-to-be-aired episode of The Big Bang Theory to the one that they would be filming just to give us a background on what has happened. And then the filming begins. A 30 minute episode takes on average 4 hours to film with prep, scene shoots, and pickups (slight changes in the dialogue that are recorded or a tidbit of a scene that needs to be reshot because of poor audio, etc). It sounds like a long time to sit in a chair, but in reality, it goes by so fast. Between the audience director’s entertainment and the actual filming itself, time flew by.

Overall, the cast was amazing and hilarious in person. Jim Parsons toyed with the audience when he messed up a line and we “ooooo’d” him. Kaley Cuoco came up to the audience and personally thanked us for our patience and making it the show it is today. She also had to embarrass her dad a little, but I guess that’s normal. She even waved to Caroline and I when we were walking out to the car. Kunal Nayyar (Koothrappali) even made it a point to roll down his window on the way out of the studio and say thank you for being such a great audience.

The episode I watched taped airs this Thursday, so make sure you tune in. Maybe you will hear my laugh (just kidding highly unlikely with the 200 person audience). But still, I can’t wait to see which pickups they used and how it meshes together. And one last thought, next time you need to solve an argument, use Rock. Paper. Scissors. Lizard. Spock. It’s truly the only professional way to come to an agreement.

39 days.

It’s a little weird and overwhelming to go through your things from the last 22 years of your life and clean everything out. Especially when you don’t realize how much stuff you really own and have accumulated over the years. Every week since July, when I accepted the offer to be a volunteer, I try to tackle one part of my room. In weeks past, I didn’t really think about it, but today was something different. My phone alerted me to new emails, so I took a break from cleaning the bookcase to check it out. It was from the Madagascar Peace Corps desk requesting us to fill out a Homestay questionnaire, giving us new volunteers an updated packing list, and informing us of discounts PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) can get. Although my travel info was not included, I found out that my fellow incoming volunteers and I will be staying one night in Johannesburg, South Africa before proceeding to our final destination, the training center in Mantasaoa, Madagascar. Can you talk about exciting!

So I thought about it, I’m leaving in 39 days! Well that’s if Staging doesn’t get moved to different dates. 39 days. That’s just over a month to finish cleaning and boxing up my stuff. Just over a month to finish my pre-departure checklist (I’m probably way too over-organized). Just over a month to say goodbye to friends and family for nearly 3 years. Yikes!

So rather than relaxing and watching television shows and reading books, like what I’ve been doing since I quit my job at Disney in November, maybe I should start getting serious about the things I need to complete before I leave. So less Pinterest and Instagram, and more packing, organizing, and cleaning. Cheers to that.

Om Namah Sivaya. One week in an ashram.

“Om Namah Sivaya. It’s 5:30” will always hold a special part of my heart.

The past week, I had the pleasure of spending a week in an ashram in Northern California, more specifically in Grass Valley. For those who don’t know what an ashram is, it is a monastic community of Buddhist individuals, always located off the beaten path. The ashram I visited was located 30 minutes from town (if you can really call that town) on dirt roads that got so confusing, I truly don’t know how people managed without GPSes. The main reason for visiting this ashram was for their yoga courses. They hold weekly workshops and classes and even though I attend yoga classes at least once a week, I wanted to take the Beginners Yoga course to just further my strength and yoga knowledge. And I am very happy with that decision for that fact that I have never been so physically exhausted or sore before in my entire life. Overall, I had an amazing experience, and I would, no I WILL, definitely go again after I am done with Peace Corps. Below are snip-its of journal entries about my experience and the lessons that were taught each day during Satsang. Don’t worry I will explain that below as well.

My daily schedule:

5:30am – Wake up bell

6-8am- Morning Satsang (30 minutes meditation, 1 hour chanting, and 30 minutes lecture)

8-10am- Asana class (a yoga class that focuses on the practice of Sivananda Yoga)

10am- Brunch

11-12pm – Karma Yoga (one hour of selfless service; I was on kitchen duty)

12-1:30pm – Workshop Lecture and Discussion

1:30-4pm – Free time

4-6pm – Asana class

6pm – Dinner

8-10pm – Evening Satsang (same as above)

10:30pm – Lights out

What I have learned about myself:

  • 45 degrees is just way too cold. I need more layers and more socks!
  • Wake up bell is at 0530 and brunch at 10, I need something to eat before then or I could possibly feel light headed.
  • Even though sandals are recommended because they’re easy to take on and off, sandals are not meant for winter weathers and sandals + an iced bridge = no bueno. I speak from experience there.
  • I can survive off a vegan diet, even if I would prefer not to.
  • Anyone who said you can’t read two books in one week is wrong. It is very much possible.
  • I am an animal whisperer. I befriended three cats, a dog, and a llama.
  • I can achieve anything if I put my mind to it, like living in a monastic society for a week.

12/11:

This sort of isolation makes you think about yourself. My first night here when I realized this wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, I almost left. But then I realized, if I was going to leave after living one day in the woods in California where everyone speaks English, how was I going to manage living in Madagascar, where I was going to be the complete outsider? That was not going to be an option. So I woke up this morning with an open mind and besides of the fact where I felt ill for a few hours (I think it was from the shock of new and different food), I feel like I am really adjusting to this “lifestyle.” Yes, there are aspects of this culture that I do not fully agree with or understand, like the praising of an alter during Satsang, but I will still be respectful of their beliefs because after all, I am a guest of THEIR ashram.

12/12:

I find it very impressive that people have been here for years before leaving. Ramma said he’s been here for nearly two and a half years. Me, I’ve only been here for three days and I’m already sore from four hours of asanas everyday, an hour of back paining meditation, and counting down the days until I can get some Taco Bell, or what I’ve really been craving right now is a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin. I know strange. Don’t get me wrong, the food here is great for being mostly vegan, vegetarian if not, but I still miss my norms for food. No milk products, eggs, sugar, caffeine, meat, that’s basically my entire diet. My cabinmate, Sydney, was laughing at me during dinner tonight because I got all excited that I recognized something on the menu, white rice. Man I love my rice.

Swami Padma is one of the sweetest people here. For someone of his stature, it is nice to see him intermingling with not only the volunteer staff but also the guests. He and myself had a twenty minute conversation about Facebook and its benefits. Yes, he has a Facebook! One of the most unsuspecting things ever to me.

12/13:

Muscles ache that I never knew could ache from yoga. My hands, the tips of my feet, my neck. But my back has definitely suffered the most. Plow, Fish, and Leg Lifts get more and more painful each asana due to the repetition. This place is sort of an underestimated boot camp of sorts. And that meditation, you think it would be easy, but you’re just kidding yourself. A minimum of twenty minutes of no moving, absolute silence, in perfect posture—that’s just hard. At minute 8, I can feel sharp pains traveling up the spine of my back. That makes it merely impossible to even focus on your breath or let your mind not drift.

We tried something really cool today called Yoga Nedra. Rather than normal Savasana at the end of each yoga posture, we pushed our shoulders toward each other so that there is a sort of crevice between the middle of your shoulder blades and an arch in your back. It’s really hard to explain, but we laid in this posture for 45 minutes. We mentally repeated what the teacher was saying, relaxing each part of our body. It is believed that if you mentally tell yourself to relax, you will actually consciously relax. I really can’t even explain it, but during these 45 minutes, it feels like you’re in REM sleep but still awake because I heard everything that Durga said. I went into the asana feeling exhausted and wanting a nap, and I came out energized and wanting to go for a run up Siva Hill—and for anyone that knows me, knows running and I don’t really get along.

12/14:

I find it funny that I hum the chants that we sing twice a day during Satsang, at 6a and then again at 8p, rather than the mainstream songs I would have sung in Irvine. No Taylor Swift song since I have gotten here…I know! Big shocker right? And while I have cell phone reception if I hike up Siva Hill, what feels like a sixty-five degree incline, I really have not been having the cell phone withdrawal problems that I thought I was going to have. Gives me some hope for Madagascar.

12/15:

Tonight during Satsang, I got to partake in a ritual called Puja. Essentially, it’s the cleaning and clothing of certain deities or important statues in the Hindu religion. There were five in total, and I remember one was Vishnu-devananda, Sivananda, Ganesha, a Sivalingam I think it’s called but from my understanding it’s a rock devoted to Siva, and another one that I cannot remember. They washed each in milk and water and clothed them in orange and yellow clothes. Each was given beads of necklaces and they were showered with rice and rose petals. I was hesitant to actually participate in the ritual because I felt unless you were actually committed and practicing of the religion, you should not just move thought the motions and it would be disrespectful. Swami Padma however wanted everyone to participate regardless of believes because it was a learning experience and he thought everyone benefit positively from the ritual. And I have to admit, overall I did. It’s very touching to see the people handle their Gods with such love and care, sort of like how Christians take pride in our crosses.

And on a side note, one of my friends from my beginner’s workshop is being inducted into the ashram tonight. She will be assigned a spiritual name and chose a mantra. Today her name is April, tomorrow who knows. Stay tuned.

12/16:

She was given the name of Parameshwari or “Divine Mother.” I have gotten to know her over the past few days, and it is so fitting. April is a mother of two and during meals and at free time, she was always talking proudly of them. How it works, is when someone feels they have adopted this lifestyle and it rescinated in their hear, they can be “inducted” into the group of believers of sorts. The Swami gives them a spiritual name and helps them choose their mantra (a mantra is sort of like their motto that they will chant during meditation to help them focus). You are only given your mantra when inducted, and while I probably will never be inducted because I have many discomforts with the religion and practices, I love Om Namah Sivaya as a mantra. Om Namah Sivaya was the mantra of Lord Siva, the destroyer of all evil. It is believed that when chanted, this mantra destroys all negative tendencies, gives harmony, and protects oneself from the effects of bad karma. This is what I woke up to every morning when Ramma made his rounds around property.

So after this week, I like to think of myself as a Christian Buddhist. Christian in my spiritual beliefs, but Buddhist in my behaviors. I will continue to meditate because it allows me to focus and is very calming. I also believe in asana practices because it growths strength and the lessons of Swami Sivananda regarding living life to the fullest, keeping positive thoughts, and Bhakti (or love).

Well that’s all for now; till next time,

Nielsen

Is this really happening?

So the eleven most exciting words popped up on my application status page this morning: “Congratulations! You have been invited to become a Peace Corps Volunteer.” It was January 2010 when I first contemplated joining the Peace Corps and it was March when I submitted my application. To think that I have come almost two years and my dreams are coming true is unreal.

I have been in this waiting stage for so long that I thought “maybe this is never going to happen.” I graduated from college with no management job offers but continued my current supervisor position with Disney while my other classmates took MiT positions. I did not want to make any job commitments with the hopes that I would be accepted into the Corps.

I received an email on Wednesday I had been placed in a program in Francophone Africa and I have to admit, I’m kind of in denial right now. With budget cuts and political turmoil, I’ll be honest, I saw my chances slowly slipping away. But this, this is real. I’m like a little kid in a candy store.

I cannot imagine what the next few months are going to be like for me. Getting everything ready, reading about my country–which I will not know until my packet comes in the mail (I’m hoping that is today)–and enjoying time with friends and family. I can’t wait for what’s in store!