Thursday, July 4, 2013

New Address!

Hey everyone!  We officially got sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers on Wednesday!!!!  YAYYY!!!!  We're finally real people!

I'm headed down to my permanent site in Lethem, Guyana tomorrow morning, which means.... drum roll please...

NEW ADDRESS!!!!!!!!!!

That's right, I have a new address for all of those wonderful, heartfelt letters I know you've been dying to send me.

My new address is:

163 Crescent Road
Lethem, Region 9
South America

That South America part is HUGELY important.  Apparently the post office doesn't know where Guyana is any more than the rest of us do and they frequently send our mail to Africa.  Don't let this happen to you!  Remember to write South America in the address!!!!

Love you all!  I'll try to write a real post for your reading pleasure in the not too distant future.  


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Host Family #1

Now that I'm almost through with training and about to meet my in service host family, I guess I can tell you about my current family for training!

Here's my house:

As I mentioned before, I live with my host mom and dad, Orlene and Rex, and my host brothers, Jake and Jude.  I absolutely love these people.  They take exceptional care of me and obviously want nothing more than for me to be safe and happy in Guyana.  I still torment my little brother endlessly and he finds it funnier than ever.  His favorite game currently is grabbing my hands, walking himself up my legs, and flipping over.  I may have taught him

This is Jude:

Jake, my other little brother, just found out he scored high enough on his grade 6 exams to make it into high school, which was really exciting.  I'm super duper proud of him.

Here's a pic of Jake and his cousin Michelle trying to learn to shuffle like me.  It was humorous.

So that's my family.

I'll walk you through a normal day living and training in the hinterland of Guyana, too...

Wake up around 5 or 6 am, take a bucket bath, have your breakfast and tea
Walk 30 minutes down mud/sand roads to the training site or pick up point
Do the training thing for a few hours or go teach at the local school
Walk home.
Hand wash some laundry if you still have day light
Have some dinner and more tea.  Do the dishes with a remarkably small amount of water
Take your second bucket bath of the day, watch the news and hang with family for an hour or so
Tuck yourself in with your mosquito net around 8pm, write in your journal, read a bit, and call it a night.

Throw in some wandering the village and helping harvest oranges in one of the family orange groves on the weekends, and there you have it... the life of a peace corps trainee. lol.

Honestly, I couldn't be happier.

Monday, June 17, 2013


I finally have internet but I have absolutely no idea where to begin with this blog post...

Umm... training is going great and it's almost finished!  Craziness.   Only 2 more weeks until I'm officially a volunteer!  We're in our 8th week of training so far, which has been a mixture of safety, medical, culture, and teaching specific classes.  It's a lot of sitting and listening, but I've learned a lot and, for me, it's totally worth it.

Last week was challenge week for us which entailed hosting a couple teacher training sessions at my school.  (I could write a whole post about the schools here.  SOOO different.  No walls.  Chalkboards and posters dividing classrooms.  Insanity.)  It went way better than I expected, so that was fun.

We've been working two days a week in our practicum schools and I've been LOVING it.  I mostly teach Spanish and do some small group remedial reading instruction.  The irony of moving to South America and teaching them to speak Spanish is not lost on me.  I think it's hilarious.

For the big news, I got my site assignment on Friday!!!!  I'm officially going to be living in Lethem down south in the savannah.  It's more developed than my current training site, but I think it's going to be fun.  I'm going to be living with a 53 year old caterer/baker, so that's going to be absolutely delicious.  I've heard she's an absolutely amazing person.  They're sending out for site visits later this week, so I'lll tell you all about it then.  I'll also update my address for you all.

I know there's a ton more I should tell you about, but words are hard tonight.  lol.

If there's something you want to hear about, though, drop me a question in the comments.  I'd love to fill you in!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

30 seconds of internet. And GO!

So yeah, craziness trying to get internet these days, but I've got some for then next couple minutes.  I'm living in the hinterland with little to no cell service, so, obviously, I'm not getting much in the way of internet.

I'm loving Guyana so far.  My host family for training is fantastic.  I've got two little host brothers, Jacob and Justin, who are 11 and 4, respectively.  I'm ridiculously obnoxious to the little one, but he loves it.  We all get along splendidly.

I've already experienced snakes, giant spiders, bats flying around my bedroom at night, and frogs and cockroaches in the kitchen/bathroom/everywhere at night.  And I'm loving every minute.  :)

I won't know where I'm going for sure until June 14, but I'll let y'all know just now (Guyanese for some unknown amount of time in the future.  Just now does NOT mean right now.  Lesson #1)

Got to go!  Much lovessss!!!!!!!  MUAH!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

So you want to send me presents... (yay!)

Several people have asked about sending care packages and such while I'm serving in Guyana.  This is what I know about the mail situation so far (taken directly from my Peace Corps Guyana Welcome Book):

Mail service between the United States and Guyana is fairly reliable. Airmail letters from home usually take two weeks to arrive in Guyana and four to five weeks to arrive in the United States from Guyana. Surface mail may take months. The further a Volunteer’s site is from a large city, the less dependable and frequent the mail service.

During training, my address in Guyana will be:

Tori Schwent, GUY 25
U.S. Peace Corps Guyana 
c/o United States Embassy 
100 Young & Duke Streets, Kingston 
Georgetown, Guyana 
South America 

As for packages, Volunteers are responsible for paying import duties on items mailed to them from outside the country. The customs process for obtaining sent items is often lengthy, although the duty on items is generally minimal. Customs will notify me directly if I have been sent a package. Peace Corps/Guyana cannot help get these packages released from customs. Small padded envelopes are recommended over boxes.  One alternative to shipping packages through regular mail is to 
send items through a service, such as DHL International or Federal Express. Both companies have offices in Georgetown, but their services are expensive. You can have items sent through these companies to the Peace Corps office in Georgetown, but you must provide the street address and phone number. (The street address for the Peace Corps is 33A Barrack Street, Kingston, Georgetown, Guyana. The phone number is 592.225.5073.) 

With that in mind, there's probably not going to be anything time sensitive coming my way, so don't worry too much about using an expensive carrier.  USPS should work just fine.  My address will also change after training, and I'll try to keep you updated as to when that will happen.  I'll try to keep a "wish list" posted in the sidebar of this blog for anyone who wants to send me goodies but has no idea what I may need or want.  :)


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Where the @*$% is Guyana?!?!

Guess what!  It's not in Africa!  I was surprised too.

Guyana is on the northern coast of South America.  Right here:

It's bordered by Venezuela to the west, Brazil to the south, Suriname to the East, and the Atlantic Ocean to the north.  Culturally, it's more caribbean than latino.  Guyana is also the only English speaking country in South America.

Here are some fun facts about Guyana for you:

1) The population of Guyana is about 750,000 people with 90% of the population located within 10-40 miles of the Atlantic Coast (roughly 10% of the total land area)

2) Most Guyanese citizens are either of Indian decent (Indo-guyanese), African decent (Afro-guyanese), or natives, which results in a very diverse culture (and lots of holidays/festivals!)

3) Guyana is one of a handful of countries that celebrate the hindu festival of colors known as Holi or Phagwah.  They all get together and dowse each other with colored powder and water.  It looks like so much fun!

4) The country is divided into 10 regions (more or less like our states) and has 5 distinct geographic areas: the marshy plain along the Atlantic coast, the white sand belt beyond that, the rainforest to the south, the desert savannah in the south west, and the interior lowlands.  Most of the country is still undeveloped and it is not uncommon to require a canoe or boat to reach many of the inland villages.

5) Guyana is predominantly Christian, though about 28% of the population is Hindu.

6) Guyana's independence day, known as Mashramani, reminds me of Mardi Gras.  What do you think?

7) Guyana is home to Jonestown, the site of the largest ever mass suicide, which resulted in the deaths of 900 cult followers.  Ever heard someone say "don't drink the kool-ade?"  This is where is started, folks.

8) Guyana has a wide variety of animal species including at least 8 primate species and several varieties of cockroach, many of which can fly.

9) Guyana is about the size of Idaho, but has half the amount of people.  Honestly, Fort Worth, Texas has a larger population than Guyana.  New York City's population is more than TEN TIMES larger.

10) Guyana means land of many waters and was named for the many rivers that run through it.  Roughly 9% of the country's land area is water.  It has so many rivers that empty into the Atlantic that most of the coastal waters are brown from sediment.  The cleanest water to swim in is in the rivers inland in the country.  There are also several fantastic waterfalls, like this one, Kaiteur Falls: 

So there you have it!  Ten fun facts about my home for the next 27 months!  


Monday, April 1, 2013

The cliche application timeline post

In true Peace Corps applicant/volunteer tradition, here is my application timeline.  It's a bit different from what any new applicants will experience.  I applied on the old system, in the mist of the change to the new system, so it's a hodge-podge, learn as you go, communication challenged approach to becoming a PCV.

Feb. 28, 2012 - Submitted my application online.  It took me about a week to get all the information together, and over the following month all of my absolutely amazing references submitted their portions.

March 7, 2012 - Heard from my recruiter for the first time.  She sent me some forms for further information and asked me to send her more information about certain skill sets.

March 21, 2012 - Received my legal clearance packet.  I was living in South Korea, so it took an inordinate amount of time to get to me.  I had it sent back with my fingerprints and everything within a week.  Getting fingerprinted in Korea was a bit of a challenge.  I went to the local police station armed with some very basic Korean, found out I had to go to the headquarters a few miles away (thanks to a deputy's very kind wife translating via cell phone for me), and got a deputy to escort me in his squad car to the other side of town, translate for me, and drive me back home.  I'm happy to report that is the ONLY time I was ever escorted in a Korean squad car.  haha.

April 19, 2012 -  Had my video interview with my recruiter.  There were some technical difficulties, but we got it sorted.  If any of you are trying to connect to WebEx from a mac, you may have to use Safari.

May 1, 2012 -  Received my nomination for Central/South America, March 2013, in Primary Education/Teacher Training.  Did a happy dance.

May 5, 2012 -  Received my medical information packet.

May 2012 -  Got all my medical stuff done.  All in all it took three appointments US Dental and three visits to Seoul National University Hospital's International Clinic over five separate trip to Seoul.  There are some other posts further back in the blog if you want more information about getting your medical exams done in South Korea.  I had it back in the mail by the first week of June.

June through October 2012 - Absolutely nothing.  Nothing at all.  Most frustrating months of the whole process.  I did move back to the US and have all of my sad farewells to keep me occupied, at least.

October 24, 2012 - Dentally cleared.  Medically cleared about 30 minutes later.  Did another happy dance thinking I was within a couple weeks of an invite.  I wasn't.  It was still a good day.

December 3, 2012 - Asked to submit an updated resume and availability date.  Done and done.

December 16, 2012 - Received an email with a whole mess of questions to answer from placement.  They wanted to know everything.  Had my motivations changed, how will I cope with stress/cultural differences/altering aspects of my personality, can I ride a bike, how flexible and I geographically.  Oh, and they subtly slipped in that list that my departure date and location have changed.  No indication of when or where I'd be leaving but my nomination was officially irrelevant.  I spent the next two weeks freaking out about whether or not I should continue to study Spanish or switch to another.  Started frantically studying French as well "just in case."  I feel so sorry for my family who had to live with that.

December 28, 2012 - Finally, FINALLY got my invitation!  Guyana, April 30, Community Education Promoter.  Happy dance doesn't really cover it.  After googling Guyana and learning that it's in South America and not Africa, I jumped around screaming, ran into mom and dad's room and jumped on their bed, waking them up, still screaming, ran back to my room to grab my world map (GREAT Christmas present), ran BACK to mom and dad's room to show them where I'd be, read every bit of information sent to me... twice..., screamed some more, attacked facebook, read everything again... You get the idea

January through March, 2013 - Sent yet another resume and aspiration statement to my Guyana country director, applied for my new passport and visa, got a yellow fever vaccine, found fellow Guy 25 group members on facebook, got an amazing amount of friend requests from the Guy 24 group already down there, answered some surveys from the Guyana regarding my training, location and host family preferences, etc, filled out all of my paperwork on the new Onbording portal that replaced all of the paperwork I received in my big blue packet, and had my phone interview with one of the trainers in the Guyana office.

April 1, 2013 - contacted by staging and booked my flight to Philly through SATO Travel.

Come April 30, I'll be on my way to Philly for a day and a half and on May 2, I'll be in Guyana to start my 2-3 months of training and the next 27 months of my life in the jungle!  Bring on the monkeys!