Smithsonian Photo Contest, Photo of the Day on Dec 7, 2011…

This past November, I decided to enter the 9th Annual Smithsonian Photo Contest.  I submitted several photos, not really thinking that any had a chance.  Most were travel pics; some from Canada, others from Argentina, but most were from my trip to Antarctica last year.  I was thrilled to see today online that on Dec 7th, one of my photos was an “Editor Pick,” also known as the “Photo of the Day” (see below).  I wish they sent out an email or something to let me know, but I guess better late than never.  Truth is… I didn’t really think any of my photos had a shot.  I really love taking photos, but I’m just a novice.  And a lot of people have some really awesome cameras, but for the longest time, I just had a simple Canon point-and-shot.  All the photos I entered in the photo contest, including the one that was a “Photo of the Day,” was from my point-and-shot.  I just recently upgraded to a Nikon DSLR, and I’ve already been taking some great pics.  I still have a lot to learn about photography and would love to take some classes, but for now, I’m just ecstatic that someone thought one of my photos was good enough to be a “Photo of the Day.”  I’m crossing my fingers when they announce the winner in a couple of months.

Link to the Photo of the Day.

Mountain and Reflection

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Let’s grab some coffee…

During the last couple of weeks, I’ve been slowly making progress on Peace Corps preparations, as well as other stuff such as holiday parties, Christmas shopping, yadda yadda yadda.

Right after I sent my Acceptance email to the Peace Corps Office, I immediately started scouring the Gambia blogs.  Right away, I found a girl who lives in LA that went to The Gambia for Peace Corps.  She got back to the States in 2010, so Peace Corps is still somewhat fresh on her mind.  I met up with her over coffee (she’s totally cool and very friendly!), and she gave me some of the lowdown on The Gambia.  Some interesting things that I learned are:

  • Because I’m going to be doing ICT (Information Communication Technology) education, I might be living near the capital or at least near a major city, if not in the city.  According to her experience, that’s where a lot of the ICT volunteers were stationed.  I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit, and I have mixed feelings.  I want to be in the possible comforts of electricity and urban living, but I also want to live away from the busy cities and more in the rural areas.  When I think Peace Corps, I think “completely remote,” and I want to experience that.  We’ll see how I feel in July.  I might be resenting that comment.
  • I don’t need to buy myself a portable UV water filter.  I was really nervous about the possibility of having no easy access to drinkable water, but the girl calmed my nerves by telling me that drinking and running water will be available, just maybe not in your house, but there is usually a faucet in the area that you get water from.  I guess I’m somewhat comforted.
  • I will be taking bucket showers for the next 2 years of my life.  Yes, I’ll need to relearn how to bathe using 1 bucket of water, or else I’ll have to go back and forth to fetch water in order to take a bath.  Maybe I should bring some bathing salts or oils with me?  Good idea?  No?  No…
  • I should bring myself some toilet paper, just in case.  The bathroom is most likely going to be a hole in the ground somewhere.  Enough said.
  • Some things I should bring with me or have shipped over: bug spray (lots of it and with 35% DEET; not bug lotion because in the heat/humidity, lotions get sticky on your skin and are very annoying); lots of Claritin and anti-itch creams/medications (oh yay!); good quality kitchen pan and knife (the ones you buy in The Gambia aren’t as great quality and ALWAYS break on you); bed sheets and some towels; Clif Bars or Power Bars (sometimes, you just need some instant food that’s familiar to your senses); combination locks (bring several of them).
  • Don’t eat with your host family too often, at least at first.  When you first move in, keep your boundaries high and don’t open up too quickly.  It’s easier to have your boundaries high in the beginning, and then lower them, than the opposite.  They get used to it if you’re too friendly and they start thinking that they can hang out in your room and start borrowing your things, which is a big NO-NO (I guess for safety reasons).
  • It’s fine to bring my camera and a few other small electronics, but don’t make it known publicly or don’t make it easily visible.  Also, bring lots of locks.
  • Don’t be afraid to say NO to people in your community, even if you feel bad about it.
  • Don’t let someone hold your camera to take a picture of you.  Odds are, they’ll break it.  AND, if you take a picture, then the locals will want to look at your camera to see the picture (since they know that cameras have a LCD screen to view the pictures).  And they’ll do it again, and again, and again.  So go back to the previous lesson, and don’t be afraid to say No.

That was some (not all) of the stuff that we chatted about in the hour that we had coffee.  Needless to say, the conversation got me very excited to go to The Gambia and also quelled some of my fears.

The days following that conversation were pretty mundane in terms of Peace Corps stuff.  It started to sink in that I still have a lot to do before my departure.  I have to write an Aspiration State and update my resume (done and done).  I have to apply for a new Peace Corps passport.  I have to do the Visa paperwork.  I want to renew my personal passport since I still want to travel internationally before I head to The Gambia.  I have to get all my finances together.  I have to get a Yellow Fever vaccination.  The list keeps on going.  I’m glad that I have a lot of time to do all this, especially since the Holidays have been more on my mind lately.  On a sad note, one of my good friends left last week to head back to Montreal for the holidays, and he’s not coming back to LA.  He’s moving to London in January.  BUT… that just means I get to visit London now (and maybe a quick hop over to Paris as well) before I depart for The Gambia.  I love having friends that live abroad. 🙂

That’s it for now.  Happy Holidays!  And Hello 2012~!!!

So what’s going on…

Well, I’ll tell you what’s going on… but first, let me backtrack and start from the beginning.  I’m Ryan.  I’m sitting on my couch figuring out how to use WordPress, wearing shorts and a T-shirt (even though it’s December and cold outside), wearing thick socks (because it’s December and cold outside), and drinking some hot tea (again, because it’s December and cold outside).

My story begins 2 years ago back in 2009… December 2009 to be a little more precise, so exactly 2 years ago.  During that time, I wanted a change to happen in my life.  I didn’t know what change I was looking for, and I don’t know why exactly I was feeling that way.  It might have been because of my job, or because of my living situation, or just because I wanted to do something different.  All I knew is that it had to be something big.  To take a leap and do something adventurous.  Daring.  I learned that there were Peace Corps Info Sessions being held around my neighborhood and so I went to a session.  I met Tori, who would later become my Peace Corps recruiter and interviewer.  She did her info session spiel, she showed us a video, and then we had a Q&A session.  After that evening, I was hooked.  I was jung ho!  Hell yeah, I’m gonna do this!  But when?

Fast forward to March 2010, and I was still living in the same apt, going to work at the same company – nothing much had changed.  There was another Peace Corps Info Session, and again, I decided to attend.  Low and behold, it was Tori again!  She didn’t recognize me, and I didn’t really say anything to make her try to remember who I was.  I just wanted her to do her spiel and get me motivated like last time.  She did a great job because I was again very excited to join.  But just like last time, the question that I didn’t know how to answer was “when?”  Eventually, 2010 passed, and I traveled to some very cool places.  The travel bug hit hard, and  I went to Argentina, Antarctica (yep, you read that right!), Costa Rica, and to several big cities throughout the United States.  All this traveling strengthened my resolve to do the Peace Corps even more.

Finally, in 2011, I did it!  A whole year had passed, and in March 2011, I submitted my Peace Corps application.  Two days after submitting, low and behold Tori sends me an email saying that she got my application.  We set up a time to meet for an interview.  Fast forward to May 4th: I was nominated to the Peace Corps for Eastern Europe doing computer education/teaching.  During the summer, I completed all my medical and dental exams.  Fast forward again to October, I was contacted by the Washington DC Peace Corps office and had a phone interview to determine my qualifications.  And finally, on November 30, 2012, I got my placement!  It wasn’t to Eastern Europe, as I had been anticipating though.  I’m heading to Africa, to the West African country of The Gambia, departing in June 2012!

So what’s going on?  I’m going to The Gambia, the Smiling Coast of Africa!