thank you!

As of the beginning of this month, the building renovations project was fully funded on Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) website! Our goal of $3,000 was met thanks to personal friends and family, supportive individuals and larger organizations. Crowdsourcing is a risky endeavor, especially when you have a large group of community members who don’t completely understand that if the full amount isn’t raised, we don’t receive any of it. But I’m so humbled and thankful for the support of individuals, who donated, shared or encouraged. It really means a lot.

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The majority of the building structure ($6,000+) was funded by the cooperative itself – from loan and service fee funds. This allowed us to start building the basic structure in February, so we could have it finished before the next rainy season started in the fall. The fundraised grant money we have recently received will be used to purchase material to improve security and functionality of the space. For example, a few days ago we purchased sturdy roofing (to fight against the heavy rain), doors, windows and locks/keys.

Watch a video showing the many community members who worked hard creating this space here. On this day, all cooperative members were invited to finish the top of the structure.

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A trip to the river…to do anything

After brushing my teeth, washing my hair, washing my body, using the restroom, drinking water, and doing laundry I feel the urge to write this post – more specially, feel the urge to vent about not having water. But there really isn’t much to vent about – no water, that’s it.

Limited water access continues to be an issue in Timor-Leste. In 2011, WHO and UNICEF found water access was 69% and 39% for sanitation of the population. I would assume these figures have increased over the last 7 years – but I can’t find any real sources saying so.

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Laundry day

But these figures could also be decreasing. Since last October, the 302 people, plus me, who live in my community haven’t had access to clean water. I’m not sure if this is a common problem with water systems here in Timor, but it is a good example of the NGO dependency and project unsustainability here. According to the community, the pipes connecting the water source and spouts in the community were installed in 2007 by Plan International. A local Water Management Group was supposedly created and given the responsibility of maintenance. Since the pipes have run dry, there has been no sign of this group and therefore no real development or confirmed problem.

The rainy season here is heavy and consistent. So until about April we were scrapping by with rain collection – a creative hose and gutter contraption and many, many buckets. This system still required laundry to be done at the river and depended on the weather.

The local river during dry season

The dry season hit hard and fast. In anticipation for this, a few weeks ago I wrote letters explaining the situation and asking for help and delivered them to various NGOS. With a big election and not much information available, reaching out to the government for help seems intimidating and unreachable. The letters seem to have been unsuccessful – so I’ll soon try new tactics.

You may have heard of the drought in Cape Town, South Africa – requiring residents to limit their water use to maximum of 13.2 gallons per day. 13.2 gallons per day?! I would kill for that – but I know that isn’t fair. These limitations would be difficult in a western-styled house. And there is something seemingly okay with it if everyone has the same limitations. But a drought isn’t the issue in my community’s case, and neighboring communities on both sides do not have a problem. You can only imagine my internal frustration when walking by leaking waterspouts just down the road.

This is a full shower (minus washing my hair or any time for mind-blowing thoughts).

So you’re wondering how we live? The river – a godsend. And to think there are communities in Timor who don’t have water access or a nearby river! Luckily the river is a short walk from my house, but definitely isn’t missing a steep climb. So all the water required to complete the tasks listed at the beginning of this post all come from this river. This is my shower process: take a jerrycan, a gayun (I don’t know what to call this is English, but it is like a small bucket with a handle to pour water in the bathroom or while showering), and shampoo 2n1. Wash my hair at the river, fill the jerrycan, carry it back to the house, and use this water to wash my body.

This isn’t particularly comfortable or convenient for me. But doesn’t come close to the amount of discomfort and inconvenient my host family and other community members must experience (even if they wouldn’t identify it as that). Because in addition to the list mentioned above, they have to fetch water for cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, flushing the toilet, and maintaining their children.

But in other but related news, I got to take a bath during vacation.

a girls’ weekend – Camp GLOW

Feel like I am forever starting these blog posts off with an apology for being late. I do feel a bit guilty about it, but also I don’t. It is difficult to write about everyday life, but sometimes everyday life is difficult, so I should celebrate and commemorate the good days.

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volunteers and participants – Camp GLOW Aileu 2018

Back in March, 26 young women participated in the first Aileu Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). These young women came from 8 different communities in the district of Aileu, accompanied by 8 volunteers who organized and implemented the camp.

Inspired by the worldwide GLOW curriculum and local needs assessments, the camp focused on gender equality, female health and menstruation hygiene, future planning and creative thinking. It asked participants to step out of their comfort level, create new supportive relationships, and reflect on their own experiences and beliefs. It also pushed volunteers to work effectively as facilitators, and in my case, ice-breaker game enthusiasts.

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It was a jam-packed 3 days. Activities included: zumba, journaling (and journal decorating), watching Timorese-produced videos about consent, domestic violence and taking nude photos, watching captioned American films (Mulan and Moana), friendship bracelet making and budgeting making, a in-depth session of female health, a water balloon fight and more.

Each volunteer brought 3-5 young women from their communities. It was very cool for all of us to see these young women, many host-sisters, in a new environment completely focused on them. For example, Maria, a 15 year old I live with, was an awesome mixture of shocked, shy, and excited when she was invited to be the first to fix her plate. It was also great to meet the young women who have positively impacted the lives of my fellow volunteers. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – teenage girls are the best population in Timor.

Of course there is much to improve and learn from, and we are lucky enough to have volunteers interested in continuing the camp in future years. Camp GLOW is a special thing that happens in many countries and it feels good to bring Timor-Leste into a worldwide Peace Corps conversation. And at the end of the day, participants had a good time, and that’s all we really wanted.

 

 

You’re my best shot

One principle that I find incredibly important in all service and volunteer work, whether that be in a local food bank or as a Peace Corps volunteer in Timor-Leste, is that it has to be done in true alignment with the priorities of target communities. In other words, I cannot try to implement a project just because I think it is a good idea, and vice versa, if my community believes in a project, it is my job to help built their capacity to fulfill this idea. Sometimes this causes temporary headache, but always causes long-term impact.

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Treasurer Leon and I working on computerizing the cooperative’s documents

So last year, when the cooperative (who I work with everyday) asked me to help create a plan for building a new office space, we worked together to create a proposal, building plan and budget. Quickly this project was proving to be a big endeavor. But with the success the cooperative and this community have found in the past and the over $6,000 the cooperative had already raised, it was only fair I gave it my best shot.

And my best shot includes reaching out to my incredible support system back home. So this is my call for donations. If you are inspired to and can, please read about and consider donating to the HIKHMOR cooperative’s building of a new space here: https://www.peacecorps.gov/donate/projects/security-and-productivity-renovation-of-savings-and-loans-cooperative-pp-18-481-001/ Please ignore the “$50” and “$100” button, and give as much as you’d like.

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Many members of the cooperative and I in front of the older office space.

I’ve had the privilege and luck of receiving this group and community’s hospitality and working with them. But that isn’t why I’m asking for your financial support. It is because they are incredibly hardworking, dedicated, and community built. When I explained to them the PCPP (Peace Corps Partnership Program, the crowd funding donation system), that it would be many individuals donating to make the total, they couldn’t be more excited. Rather than receiving a large donation from an NGO that would want to control the project, the cooperative was enthralled with the idea of a community helping another community.

If you aren’t convinced, I have two more incentives!

First, I’ll randomly select 15 people who donate to receive a card made by me and signed by the cooperative. So be sure to include your address (although I can’t guarantee it will make it). Everyone will of course receive some sort of thank you.

Second, and this one is important, it is tax deductible! Of course! In the current political climate, wouldn’t you feel more comfortable having some control over where you taxes are going?

Thanks for stopping by

Last month it finally happened – the day members of my community had been talking about for months, the week I had been going over and over, creating plan Bs and plans Cs in my head about – my mom, Tracy and stepdad, Bret visited Timor-Leste.

They didn’t just visit it, I’d say they got the full explore experience. In case you didn’t follow their updates, here’s a summary: visit a few airports and sit in a few airplane seats, arrive in Timor, venture up into the mountains via public transportation truck and walking to Haley’s site (through a river even), begin a week-long white rice and vegetable diet, shake a lot of hands while smiling and nodding, take about every type of transportation include boat and plane, snorkel and dive in Atauro Island, get stuck on Atauro Island, declare war with mosquitoes, catch up with Haley, and much more. A lot of experiences packed into a little over a week. And I’m pretty lucky to have family excited to experience it all.

After I dropped them off at the airport, I took a nap (I’ll argue it was well deserved, but also, as Mom and Bret discovered, this is simply part of life here), and woke up feeling (queue dramatic music) like it was a dream. I wondered if the brief amalgamation of my life there and life here actually happened.

I think because the experience didn’t truly fit into one box or the other (or the other) – but that’s life. I knew there were going to be a lot of things that would surprise them, which no longer surprise me (it seems they never did surprise me, but I’m sure they did at some part) – a caged monkey, many farm animals, unbearably full cars, etc. But I didn’t realize there were going to be so many things about me that would surprise them. It might be too far to say I feel exactly the same as I did 18 months ago, but I can’t say I’ve had a personal breakthrough or changed many of my opinions. It is an interesting and lucky opportunity to have changes identified.

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Bret, Mom, Sabin and I in Atauro

My fellow volunteer, Rebecca once pointed out that people always have a way to categorize their lives into boxes: based on relationships with people, based on the location they live, or the job they have. I haven’t really had enough life to figure out what my boxes are. Or rather I haven’t had enough life to have creative boxes; high school, college, Peace Corps – that’s it. So it is fair that my Mom and Bret were surprised by certain things – my non-picky eating or wearing only flip flops – because they’ve had a texting and phone calling involvement in my Peace Corps box and a summer/holidays involvement in my college box. That isn’t to belittle or to say that I haven’t called my Mom for advise in both boxes or don’t look forward to long, chatty lunches or don’t feel immense thankfulness for the support and love I constantly receive. But it is to say that I/we have/am changing. So if I don’t feel productive after this Peace Corps box, at least I’ll try anything on any menu (or food cart).

Anyway – it was a great vacation and I’m so glad I got to share this place and my life here with them. There are perks to having a small Peace Corps cohort, but there is something scary knowing only about 40 people back in America will have any clue into what this box was like – so I’ll take any opportunity to increase this number. Thank you again, Mom and Bret for making the journey, being up for the adventure, and confirming that photos don’t do Timor’s beauty justice. Let’s go to Italy next.

 

Sunday Suli 9: items that I can’t live without and items I wouldn’t mind living with

In preparation of my mom and stepdad visiting me here (!!!), I have been cleaning my room and packing a suitcase with items I won’t need for the next 10 months. A few things surprised me during this process.

First, and most obvious in hindsight, the few things I packed all the way across the world and to my community that I maybe used twice. PSA: you can buy journals anywhere; you don’t need to bring fancy empty ones. Second, the little emotional attachment I have to items nowadays. While I will always hold on tightly to gifts or nice cards, I found myself packing items for their functionality, rather than my memories with them.

So all that got me thinking about what I really need here, which got me thinking about all the things waiting for me back home. Disclaimer: this post is very materialistic and pretty predictable.

Things that make living here easier

Powerbank – By far the most useful thing Peace Corps issued us (okay, the water filter and medical kit are also pretty important). This powerbank trumps all other powerbanks. While it does take a few hours to fully charge, it holds 3-4 full phone charges and has a super bright flashlight useful for finding/scaring mice at night.

Water bottle – Peace Corps Volunteers and college students probably have a few things in common, but one is for certain: always having a water bottle at hand. Another thing for certain, (most) PCV’s tolerance and blind eye for mold in the thread and crevasses of water bottles is significantly higher than it should be.

Headphones – How else are you going to binge watch Scandal while your host family thinks your napping?

Flannel – I didn’t actually come to Timor with this, but rather was lucky to find it in the donation pile in the volunteer lounge. Many of us here sport it. It fits in any already-stuffed backpack, provides some protection from late night mosquitoes (maybe?), and can be worn over and over without needing a wash (most anything can, turns out).

Ziplock bags – Rather than an underwear drawer, I have an underwear ziplock bag. Rather than a toiletry bag, I store my 2n1 shampoo and dried up mascara for a night out on the town in a ziplock bag. Rather than a dry bag, my electronics hide from the rain in; you guessed it, a ziplock bag.

Things that would make living luxury

A down comforter – We sometime chat about what we are going to use our readjustment allowance on, an allowance designed to be used for a down payment on an apartment or other expenses related to establishing yourself back home. Most of us agree on using it to travel, but I’ll be sure to save some for a new, fluffy, white and cool-in-all-the-right-places down comforter.

That’s it.

I roast my own beans – Timorese are coffee connoisseurs

I’m shamefully admitting that I started this blog post over a year ago, then forgot about it, then recently remembered about it, so finished it. 

I recently found the following scrap piece of paper tucked in a journal: on one side are sketches that I did in a tattoo shop lobby minutes before deciding to, yes, get a cup of coffee permanently printed on my skin. On the other side is a pro-and-con list of “doing” the Peace Corps and the number 24 (the age I will be when service ends). While I didn’t originally get the tattoo to represent deciding to do the Peace Corps or rather, deciding to do the Peace Corps in a coffee-country, I must have known there would be some correlation.

Step one: receive some fresh beans from a family member, leave them out to dry, then clean the shells off by doing this amazing flip movement with this basket (that I cannot do as successfully as Maria here).

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Most people in America don’t know Timor-Leste. Those that do probably know it from the bags of coffee on the shelves of Starbucks. It is somewhat disappointing that this country, younger than me (establishing sovereignty in 2002), who experienced decades of highly violent conflict and occupation by Indonesia when information was easily spread by TV and even the Internet, is not something I learned about in school or my parents heard about in the news. But as I continue to meet wonderful people, see beautiful sites and begin to call this country home, I’m happy to know it is known for something as wonderful as coffee (and maybe scuba diving), and not just for the injustices they have endured.

The Portuguese introduced coffee to Timor-Leste in the nineteenth century (along with rats apparently) in attempts of creating coffee export activities. During the Indonesian occupation, whatever industry or organization was established seemed to disintegrate as a result of little investment and the implementation of a government-sanctioned monopoly. During the 1990s, the industry was de-regulated but Co-operativo Café Timor (CCT) entered the scene, becoming a major player who still runs supreme today.

Step 2: Roast the beans – until the neighbors can smell it or it is very black, whichever comes last. 

Currently, coffee remains Timor-Leste’s largest non-oil export and provides a primary source of income to approximately one quarter of Timorese households. But without a formally organized coffee industry association, productivity, quality and therefore incomes are much lower than what the global market for specialty coffee is. Export costs are high, and coffee quality struggles to meet a sustainable level of profit.

Timorese people love their coffee. They are proud of Timorese coffee. I can’t say they are quite at the same coinsurer level as some Portlanders or Seattlates, but they’ll be the first to comment on the shortcomings of Indonesian coffee or even less-fresh Timorese coffee powder. But I’m don’t see how they can taste the difference, because Timorese people also love sugar in their coffee. Lots of sugar. To me, an unbelievable amount of sugar. A caramel macchiato would probably blow their minds. I think this is because, in my experience, home-roasted beans are often burnt, sour and very strong. Separate cups of plain (in their eyes, bitter) coffee are left out for select grandpas, and me.

Step 3: let cool for a bit, pick out the small or rotten looking beans using your fingers or that neat flipping motion mentioned above, depending on your experience with these bamboo baskets.

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People here are shocked to hear that a bag of Timorese coffee in America is sold for $14.99 (almost as shocked to hear I prefer my coffee bitter). This is probably because it is vastly different than the price they are receiving. Most are probably doing the math to figure an American company (Starbucks) only has to sell approximately 9 bags in one year to breakeven on the cost they pay to the farmer (the average coffee producing family earns between $127 and $200 per year).

Step 4 and 5: pound into powder using this metal stick and heavy hallowed-out wood here. Then sift the powder through a tin bowl with small holes (made with nails), replace the still-big pieces into the wood. 

But not all the blame can be placed on Starbucks or other buyers who demand the lowest price; the same aspects that make Timorese coffee specialized and unique make it of less quality and quantity. It is cultivated organically – an accidental result of expensive pesticides and fertilizers rather than for environmental reasons, which incidentally leads to smaller yields and lower quality. Hopefully, as the detached local industry becomes more united, the country and it’s coffee farmers will have more bargaining power.

To read more and references for this post:

Timor-Leste Coffee Industry Association Analysis

Easy Timorese Sell Their Coffee to Starbucks, Starve at Home 

Sunday Suli 8: a success story

In November I officially closed the computer training project I started in May. This project was supported by a Small Project Assistance Grant approved Peace Corps and USAID. After writing a proposal and a pretty extensive curriculum, we were able to buy 4 new laptops, a printer, AVR (automatic voltage regulator, to protect from power surges), a few USBs and mouses, and new practice tables. Each week I taught one course for kids in the community and then two courses for adult members and cooperative leadership. All-in-all, participants ranged from ages 10-45. After a few weeks break, I am getting started again with new curriculum and only teaching twice a week.

When closing the project, I was asked to write a success story:

This success story is about the personal growth of one counterpart through her involvement in our computer-training project and how she represents the community growth made.

Like the majority of participants, July 26th, 2017 was the first time Mana Fernanda had used a computer. This was the first day of training supported by a SPA grant the cooperative and I applied for with hopes of increasing productivity, accuracy and ability to empower cooperative members. Since then, she hasn’t missed an opportunity to learn; attending all available trainings and even sitting in on the kids’ classes. At the age of 40, learning this completely new skill, much of it in a foreign language, has not been an easy feat. But with the same determination used in her farm, hand watering rows upon rows of vegetables, or after the Indonesian occupation, learning to read independently using her children’s school books, Mana Nanda is mastering the double-click, copy and pasting and even typing without looking.

Each week, participants learn a new skill using 4 laptops and 1 printer. I create curriculum and worksheets that build on each other each week, utilizing real-world applications such as creating budgets, kiosk inventory lists, resumes, cooperative reports to learn word processing and spreadsheet skills. These skills build individual capacity, represented in objectives such as: within 3 months, 6 members of leadership can create a budget or monthly report. As well as organizational capacity, represented in goals such as: create a culture of customer service and improve the quality and transparency of the transaction process.

In addition to these built capacities, I have seen the computer trainings increase participants, like Mana Nanda’s confidence and ability to see themselves as crucial parts of the community and cooperative. After the planned training is complete, I plan to utilize the afternoon hour people are already used to utilizing with me to sit down with each member of leadership and identify ways to utilize their computer skills in their day-to-day responsibilities. This will sustain learning and provide a path for productive work. Mana Nanda works as the Credit Committee Member Elect, she does not always know what this means or what work she should be doing, but is reliable in the office observing or chatting with members during her expected hours. While success will be measured with quantitative objectives, some qualitative successes may serve more worthwhile as Mana Nanda is provided a tool of confidence to create work for herself in order to support the wellbeing of the cooperative.

Sunday Suli 7: Of course, my host family

I was recently asked by Peace Corps to write a story about my host family:

One of my biggest concerns before coming to my site was the host family situation. Was it going to be awkward? Would they like me? Could I still feel independent?

Now, one year in, I have had the privilege of being welcomed, getting to know and becoming family with each person under our roof. And I have answers to each of those questions.

Of course it is awkward sometimes. But it is equally comfortable and natural. Some of the funniest moments are those that began as a little uncomfortable. Like when a frog jumped into my room and on to my bed; I sat in silence for a few moments, not knowing what to do, then found my host sister, Maria and quietly tried to explain what happened. She could not stop laughing while trying to swat the frog out with a broom while I cringed in panic. This is not the only time a critter has made its way into my room, and definitely not the last time my calls for help make the situation laughable.

Of course they like me. With still one year left, conversations of the dreaded day I leave come up often. And I know this is my family, because similar to my family back home, the tears flow easy. My host mom, Ines and I often joke about how we won’t be able to properly say goodbye to each other because we’ll be crying too hard. But I know these relationships will not be forgotten. A few months ago Ines had a baby, and she was given my name; an honor I will always treasure. Sometimes bonding with my other younger host siblings, Adae and Evan is difficult but I treasure the small moments like French braiding Adae’s hair before school and playing cars with Evan until a wheel falls off.

Of course I am still independent. Joining Peace Corps anywhere and entering a new culture requires some release of independence, like not being able to drive a car or eat whatever you would like. But my family encourages me to learn new skills, like planting vegetables and explore the country, like visiting Atauro Island with my host dad, Tome. They are also happy to learn new things from me and about American culture. We’ve studied the world map taped up in the family room, made s’mores, celebrated Mother’s Day and tried chopsticks, bracelet making and origami. I look forward to another year of exchange, love and laughs.

A not-quite-handwritten thank you note

This year’s birthday celebration may be a contender for a Guinness World Record – now going on month 3. It begun with a great September weekend in Dili featuring homemade pumpkin pie (yuuuuum), pool party, mushroom-filled fancy dinner, Burger King hash browns, dancin’ and creative gifts from fellow volunteers.

A few weeks later the party continued with a huge package from America! Our packages are stored in a glass cabinet, so we often check out who is getting the goods, maybe with a twinge of jealous curiosity, but mostly because it is smart to have a good idea of who is going to have snacks in the near future. But this time, I knew I had one on the way and was a little disappointed I didn’t see it in the cabinet. I didn’t expect the big box on top of the cabinet to have my name on it! I opened it immediately, maybe shed a few tears, and was so excited to eat/use all my new goodies.

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Since then, I’ve slowly been taking items to site and celebrate with each snack opened and fresh t-shirt worn. This weekend I took the last batch home, and since I can’t very easily write you all thank you cards, I thought I’d share my gratitude here.

Mom and Bret – You’re right Mom – I did instantly think “geez Mom you got carried away” but you definitely achieved your goal of making me feel loved and special. And individually wrapping stuff?! Nice touch. Coordinating this package couldn’t have been easy, definitely with your busy schedule, thank you again. I can’t wait to share this place with both of you. Those fresh, soft t-shirts are so nice, although they now allow me to wait to do laundry even longer, which results in very wrinkled, tired hands. Maybe when you’re here you can help me get rid of the old ones. Also happy birthday Mom!

Dad – And I’m proud to be your daughter. If hand sanitizer is a representation of your love, know that I’ll be swimming in it for a while. Thanks for all the snacks (some I haven’t ever seen before! I’m fans of those peanut butter and banana chip packets) and sweet card. Hope you’re keeping up on all the new hip spots in Salem and in the music scene – I’m gonna need an update when I get home.

Sydney – I think your note in this birthday card is longer than any message you’ve sent me in the past year, haha. But your collage speaks for itself 😊. I put it right next to my mirror, but I definitely look at it more often than in the mirror (I can feel the grease, don’t need to confirm it lol). It still blows my mind that when I come home you’ll be in your second year of college! And it seems like you are killin’ it your first year! The only regret I can think of from my first year is crying to a professor about an A-, so whenever you’re feeling stressed, remember you’ll probably never be that pathetic.

Payton, McKenzie, Brittany and Kevin – Thank you for your sweet words and most importantly, Instagram comments 😊. I can’t wait to catch up with all of your adventures and accomplishments. I am constantly in awe of the strength and dedication of the women and girls in this country, and don’t think I would be in constant admiration and recognition of them without the experience of growing up surrounded by women of the same sentiment. Here’s to hoping Timor has prepared me for the heat in Waco.

Isabellah and Madi – Holy moly dudes! Good thing I have a year left to think of a way to reciprocate the love and sparkle (nice touch btw) I feel each time I open a card or flip a month on my calendar. Not to mention all the goodies in the package! Know that the Laffy Taffys fueled a very intense hike to the highest spot in Timor. Also, thought you should know another reason banana is the best flavor: they don’t melt and get stuck to the packaging like the other flavs do. I can’t wait to hang out with you guys and literally do anything. I can’t wait to get caught up on all your stories, interesting people you’ve met, any wardrobe or style changes that have been made, etc. You’ll have to meet my fellow volunteers so they can become obsessed with you too. I am so proud of you and would also definitely want you as a sister wife.

Grandma Nancy – Wow, I hope the garden was as delicious as it sounds! Berries aren’t very common here, but there has been a recent push to grow strawberries up in the mountains for a unique source of income. But nothing compares to Oregon-grown berries. It was difficult not being home and hearing of Marty’s passing, but my heart was there. I am reminded of his quiet kindness each time my little host brother pulls out his yellow Hot Wheels car, which, according to all the neighborhood kids, is the best car toy in Timor. Thank you so much for the iTunes gift card – some new music will definitely make my long walks home more enjoyable.

Grampa Jon and Gramma Carla – Being able to hear a person’s voice when reading their handwriting is a pretty cool thing; I felt right at home when opening your card. I recently hiked the tallest peak on the island (Mounth Tatamailau), and was transported to the lake for a bit while walking back down among the smell of pine trees in dry heat. If only I could have ended that long adventure with a dip in chilly water.

Grandpa Mike and Victoria – I am so grateful for your birthday and holiday cards! Knowing my support system extends to so many places is comforting. Sometimes celebrating holidays here is difficult, with different traditions and being so far from home, but finding a card in my mailbox is always cause for a smile. Know that the birthday money is going towards great things, in this year’s case, pizza! 😉

Grama Linda and Papa Dick – Thank you for thinking of me and involving me in exciting moments in Salem! I love the eclipse t-shirt and it is a great conversation starter among volunteers and locals a like. Most volunteers didn’t know Salem was the best place to see the eclipse from, which serves well in my on-going argument that Oregon is the best state in the U.S. 😀 And explaining how it works to locals results in some shocked faces and sometimes interesting stories about what they remember when that happened here a long time ago. You’ll have to tell me all about it when I get back.

Carol, Trish and Peggy – Didn’t think it was possible to feel homesick for the Country office, but opening your card proved it is. Thank you for your lifelong support and following my adventures, even though I’m not very good at posting. I’ve made a goal of posting more this next year – so be on the look out! Can’t wait to see familiar faces in Salem and with all those changes I’ve heard about, I might need some tour guides. 😉

Thank you again for all your support and making me feel special all the way across the Pacific! Also of course, big thanks to the volunteer family here that made me feel right at home!