Friday, May 23, 2008

ET Phone Home

So since my last update, I decided this whole Peace Corps thing wasn’t worth it and decided to ET. No, it has nothing to do with the super-creepy alien movie, ET in Peace Corps talk is Early Termination: resigning/quitting. There were several reasons why I made this decision, and so I would like to explain it all as well as I can in this update, mostly because I’m tired of explaining it all over and over again to everybody. We in the USA tend to have this romantic vision of Africa: the landscape, the animals, the tribal culture, etc. However, during my 3 months in Zambia, I came to realize the reality there. Some people might be mad or disappointed, and that’s ok with me, because I know I made the right decision. Hopefully this long explanation will help them at least see where I’m coming from. Oh and do keep in mind that the disclaimer up at the top right, hehehe.

Animal Cruelty
One of the major reasons that caused me to ET was animal cruelty. Upon arriving, it was an almost immediate realization by myself and all the other volunteers in my intake group that Zambia is full of starving dogs. I’d been to 3rd world countries before, Mexico and Costa Rica, and have seen plenty of mangly-looking stray dogs in each. It’s also understandable that the dogs in Zambia would have the appearance of a fur-covered skeleton: if people can hardly feed themselves and their kids, how could they feed their dogs? After a few weeks, however, I was subjected to hearing, and seeing, these starving dogs being beaten, often with sticks or rocks. This would happen about once each week, nothing too excessive, but it still bothered me. Upon arriving in the village, however, the dog beatings became an every day and every night thing; every day I saw a villager either peg a dog with a rock or crack a dog over the back with a stick. One morning, just after waking up, I was chatting with one of the guys that always seemed to be around me. While chatting, a dog walked by us, about 10 feet away. Without pausing his sentence, he picks up a stick (and a pretty big one at that) and hurls it at the dog, striking it in the ribs and causing it to yelp loudly several times as it sprinted away. I immediately shot the man the most intense and angry look I think I could possibly get my face to appear, which I didn’t really do consciously, because for awhile I thought about pouncing on the guy and beating him with the same stick, repeatedly. On my last night in the village I had another altercation with one of my neighbors, a 23 year old guy who was an over-the-top religious Jehovah’s Witness whose conversation topics were 90% religious. He’s actually very successful in school as far as tests are concerned, speaks good English, and is in grade 11, which is further than the vast majority of Zambians ever get in their education (keep in mind that age in Zambia has nothing to do with what grade you’re in). He’s also one of the people I’d seen throw rocks at a dog. While I was cooking soup for my dinner, he and another young guy were chatting with me, when the (arguably) mangiest dog in Zambia walks up to the circle to check out what we were doing. Luckily it wasn’t beaten, instead it was shooed away by the other guy, who said, "That dog is still alive?" to which my Jehovah-Boy replied, "That dog deserves to die." I snapped back, "How could you say that? How dare you? You call yourself a Christian, and yet you say something horrible like that. It’s a living thing, and God created it. How could you call yourself a Christian and say something like that?" At first, he and his buddy giggled, but they stopped after I said, "You are laughing, but I am not; I’m very serious." He tried to make an excuse for himself by telling a story when he was a boy and was chased by a few dogs. I pointed out that, just as everyone else in this world, at some point in his life he must have been done wrong by another person, and he admitted he had, so I asked if he now hated all people. After he replied, "No," I pointed out that therefore he shouldn’t hate all dogs either. I started going off about how the entire country of Zambia prides itself as a "Christian nation" yet they treat animals horribly and with absolutely no respect. More excuses were made by Jehovah-Boy, and each time I had a great counterpoint to it; I felt like a lawyer, or some great debater, however I was probably too harsh in my criticism of him, because I pretty much called him a bad Christian. This notion sunk in after his buddy said, "Ah, Mr. Phiri, I think he has heard your point" (Phiri means Hill in Chinsenga and Chichewa languages, and happens to be one of the most popular names in Eastern Province, so that’s what they called me). Luckily the next morning I left with my bike to ride 68 km to visit my girlfriend, Kerry.

White Guy in Africa
Though I was prepared for it, being a white person in Zambia is tough. Unlike some of the other countries in Africa that get more attention from tourists (ie. Tanzania) or that have higher populations of white people living there (ie. South Africa), most Zambians, especially those that don’t live in Lusaka, very rarely see white people. They not only are fascinated by the color of our skin, but also in everything we do. Consequently, they stare. People walking down the street, as I would pass them, would stop whatever they were doing to watch me walk by. Peace Corps said that the best way to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of being stared at is to greet them in the local language, but sometimes even this wouldn’t work, and they wouldn’t even reply, just continue to stare. The kids had a similar approach, though more enthusiastic. Apparently the first thing Zambians learn to say in English is "How are you?" though the vast majority of Zambian children have no idea what it means, they just know to say it to say to white people. As you’re walking by or riding by on a bike, once you are spotted by children they start screaming so that everyone can hear: "MUZUNGU! MUZUNGU!" (translates to "White person! White person!"). Then they all sprint over to stare, sometimes with jaws dropped, and to say "How are you?" Replying to this is futile though, because they don’t really know what they are saying. A typical dialogue goes like this:
ZamKid: "How are you?"
Me: "I’m good how are you?"
ZamKid: "How are you?"
Me: "Bwino, muli bwanji?" (translation: "Good, how are you?")
ZamKid: "How are you?"
You get the point.

There is also the fact that since I stood out so much, especially in the village, combined with the fact that I’m from a far-off land, I had almost no privacy. This may have been partially due to my housing situation also, but more on that later. Everywhere I would go, the people in my village and the other villages nearby knew who I was, even if I’d never met them or even seen them before. According to other volunteers, the villagers also know all of your business and gossip about the local volunteer is hot info. And though apparently it only lasts for a few weeks, they love to parade the new volunteers around, like some sort of status symbol: "Look at me, I’m friends with the white guy." It’s like being a celebrity. It wasn’t a very big deal, but it was always a bit weird, and at times very uncomfortable.

Like I said, Peace Corps made sure I was fully prepared for all of this. At the start, and for a good two months afterwards, despite the staring and the fact that I couldn’t help but be noticed by everyone, it didn’t bother me too much, and was kind of funny. However, as things started to pile up and I became more and more unhappy, it became more and more of an issue.

A related topic to being white in Zambia is dealing with begging. Especially after training was over, I was constantly being asked by people to give them money and/or things. On my way to language and tech class, children would ask me to buy them Jiggies (the African version of Cheetohs, which come in many different flavors). I would go to the town, and people would beg me for money. Even on my 68 km bike ride to visit Kerry, I was begged several times. Here’s another typical dialogue that happened to me multiple times:
Zambian: "Muli bwanji?" ("How are you?")
Me: "Ndili bwino, kaya inu?" ("I’m good, how about you?")
Zambian: "Ndili bwino, zicomo. Patsani ndalama." ("I’m good, thanks. Give me money.")
Me: Ayi, ndine wodzipoleka, sindipatsa ndalama." ("No, I’m a volunteer, I don’t give money")
In my village, I wasn’t begged for money. Instead, I made the mistake of needing to set out my solar charger on the roof of my temporary house, because the night before I had to charge my cell phone. All that day, and the days afterwards, I had to deal with people asking me to use it, asking me to borrow it, asking me to give it to them, and eventually there were even a few that demanded that I give it to them.

There is a reason for this begging. All over Africa, missionaries and some non-profit organizations from Europe and the USA arrive and start giving money, food, and/or constructing buildings. Most of these people are white, thus Zambians are used to associating white people (and in a way all Westerners, though whites in particular) with free money. Peace Corps and a few non-profit organizations don’t give money, so when the villages that accept Peace Corps volunteers find out that fact, the people tend to be disappointed.

Zambia’s dependence on foreigners seems to have penetrated all aspects of society. The Zambian government has made laws that cater to what countries like ours want. For instance, due to the United States’ War on Drugs, Zambia has an absurdly strict drug policy, even though alcoholism is rampant there (you can take a morning walk at 9am and you’ll meet people stumbling around drunk, talking to themselves). In Zambia, even the tiniest amount of marijuana will land you in prison for about 20 years, and since they have no legal recognition of "personal use" they’ll get you on charges of drug trafficking. The reason, according to this Canadian guy (I can’t remember his name, but he works in Zambia for some non-profit organization) the US government won’t give money to developing countries that don’t have strict drug laws. Similarly, pornography is also highly illegal in Zambia. However, the Zambian legal definition of "pornography" is very vague, so technically if the cops were to find a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in your bag, they might call it pornography and haul you off to jail. Though we didn’t have any information as to why, my fellow volunteers and I have a theory that if Zambia didn’t have such laws against "pornography"then Christian organizations wouldn’t give money either.

Because of all this, I came to the conclusion that although it’s done with the best of intentions, the giving and giving that we do for Zambia is keeping them from getting anywhere. Zambia has all the natural resources they need to become a powerful and rich nation, but due to mismanagement by their government and reliance on more powerful countries, they probably will never reach that potential. There is a belief popular amongst the Rastafarians that if white people truly want to help, the best thing we can do for Africa is to never go there and to leave Africa alone, because eventually Africa will fix itself. They see our cameras and Ipods and nice clothes and all of our luxuries, which fuels their inferiority complex (more on that later). I heard of this thought just before going to Zambia, and though it’s not the happiest thought, after living there for 3 months I must admit that I think there is a lot of truth in it.

My Village
Perhaps the deal breaker for me was the village I was posted in. Just before 2nd Site Visit we were all given a packet full of information on the village we’d be posted in. 2nd Site Visit is when we visited our villages for the first time (as opposed to 1st Site Visit when we visited a different volunteer’s village, which took place after being in Zambia for a week). This packet made me very excited because the village seemed perfect: only 6km from the main road (paved!), only 12km from the town of Petauke, a very enthusiastic village that had a huge turnout at the meetings with the Peace Corps people, and as close as could possibly be to Kerry. The only negative stated in the packet was that the house and everything else hadn’t been built yet. As part of the communities’ agreement with Peace Corps to have a volunteer live in their area, they must agree to build the volunteer a house (mud brick with grass thatched roof), a latrine/outhouse/chimbudzi (also mud brick with grass thatched roof, with a hole for... you know what), a bathing shelter (grass woven walls), and a mphala (or insaka, the grass thatched roof and open walled structure, a typical African structure). The information in the packet was typed up in early February, weeks before we even arrived in Zambia, and assured me that everything would be completed by the time I arrived for my site visit, which took place in early April. A couple of days later we were driven out for site visit. I was paired with Eric and hosted by Lashaya, a volunteer near the town of Sinda (the town nearest to Kerry). When we arrived in my village, we hopped out of the Land Cruiser and I wondered which of the houses was mine, but I was a bit concerned because they were all pretty close together and there was a large hole in the ground next to a lone bathing shelter that was surrounded by thorny little shrubs. Just then, Clement, a Zambian who works for Peace Corps in Eastern Province, told me that my house will be built right underneath where the Land Cruiser was parked. I was immediately very disappointed. The villagers helped carry our bags into an empty house that was on the family compound of my neighbor, who coincidentally was caring for his eldest son that was dying of malaria (though never proven, the 3 of us assumed it was his house before he got sick). Over the next few days my disappointment was lightened because the villagers started clearing away the thorny shrubs (we helped), started on the mphala, and did the measurements and layout of the house, and promised me that everything, including a bonus fence around everything, would be finished by the time I would be posted. Just after the house layout was finished, Clement showed up to pick us up, and he said that the village prided itself on being the hardest working village in the area and he was certain that everything would be completed by posting. I left happy, they promised me, after all; however a bit of doubt always remained.

When posting came around, Jeremy, the PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader) of Eastern Province, told me some bad news at the PC house in Chipata: the village hadn’t finished my house. He said the roof hadn’t even been started and the latrine wasn’t yet finished, and that I’d be staying at the house for an extra week to give them more time. When I finally was posted, I found that they had at least put up the support sticks for the roof, and had tossed bundles of grass on top. The latrine, however, was still merely a hole in the ground, and the mphala looked the exact same as it did when we left the village on 2nd site visit; they hadn’t done any work on either of them. Clement, who dropped me off for posting again, said that, yes, they had slacked off, but since I was there to live they would be "in a panic" to finish it all. The villagers promised that the next day men would arrive to build the latrine and promised that everything would be done in 3 days. Two days later men finally arrived to work on the latrine, but all they did was lay some logs over the big hole and put one level of mud brick around the logs, and then they left, but promised me they’d be back the very next day to finish the foundation, and that it would be finished in 2 days. 2 full days passed, and nobody showed up to do any work, but then a man who works for the school system for all of Petauke District (my main counterpart) decided to arrive and finish the latrine’s foundation. Jehovah-Boy and the guy who always seemed to be around me, along with myself, helped him, and we all finished the foundation and started on the wall. 2 days later the same man who promised me he’d finish the latrine arrived to work on the roof. He turned out to be the most obnoxious man I’d met in Zambia: he spoke in English and was obviously showing off how much English he knew, and WOULD NOT SHUT UP. He talked the entire time he was working on the roof, and though I tried to be polite and humor him, I eventually became very irritated and ignored as much of his babbling as I could. He got about halfway done with the roof before he decided to stop, and the work he did complete was sloppy with a few gaps. I pointed the gaps out and he said, "Ah, it will be ok, I will come before the next rainy season comes and fix them, I promise." The rainy season starts in November, and by this time I realized that a Zambian promise isn’t a promise at all, but total bull. It may be important to note at this time that in Zambian culture, politeness is very important. It’s true, they are extremely polite, which is very pleasant most of the time. The problem is, this politeness means that they will say things just to be polite, not because they mean it. Therefore when a Zambian makes a "promise" you can’t take it seriously, because they’re probably only making that promise to be polite and tell you what you want to hear. Anyways, after the guy decided he was done for the day, he also decided he was done with speaking English for the day, and switched to Chinsenga or Chichewa, I couldn’t tell which one because he was speaking too fast for me to understand anything. At this point I was sick of hearing him so I just looked at him blankly until he finally left. The next day (Sunday) I left to go visit Kerry and returned on Wednesday with my mind 95% sure that I needed to get out of Zambia. I soon became 100% sure as soon as I arrived and saw that NOTHING had been done on the house while I was gone. They obviously didn’t care enough to finish my house, and that’s not very welcoming, despite their politeness.
This was just my village, however. While discussing my frustrations about my housing situation with another volunteer, a girl who had been in Zambia for about a year, I was given a possible reason why. The Nsenga tribe, which is found in Petauke (where I was) and Nyimba Districts, is apparently known for being a bit lazy. Contrast this with the neighboring Chewa tribe, which occupies most of the rest of Eastern Province as well as Malawi and some of Mozambique, that prides itself on hard work. Sinda, the town nearest to Kerry, is on the border of the boundaries of these 2 tribes, and Kerry lives on the Chewa side. When Kerry was posted she already had everything set up, including a fence. I should also mention that, according to the volunteer that was describing the differences between the Chewas and Nsengas, the Chewa tribe looks down on begging, but the Nsengas don’t have a problem with it at all. This, if true, would explain why Kerry has experienced almost no begging whatsoever, yet I was being begged everywhere I went. Then again, it could have been because she’s a woman and I’m a man.

Zambian Inferiority Complex
It was heartbreaking to hear Zambians putting themselves down. On 2nd Site Visit, LaShaya and I were hanging out (I think we actually might have been cooking lunch) and my super-religious Jehovah’s Witness neighbor was talking with 2 other young guys under a nearby tree. They were obviously saying something about us, because they would all look over once in a while. After a few minutes, Jehovah-Boy got up and walked over and said, "We have a question for you," as he and his friends pulled up chairs and sat with us. We told him to go ahead and he asked, "How did we Africans become black?" LaShaya (who is black) and I immediately looked at each other, sensing an awkward conversation. "What do you mean?" asked LaShaya. "Well," replied JehovahBoy, "we know that Adam and Eve were white, so how did we Africans become black?" Rather than turning it into a discussion about evolution (which would have been pointless) I instead stayed on topic and asked him how he knew that Adam and Eve were white and he replied ,"Because I have seen the pictures." LaShaya and I tried to explain to him and his friends that the only reason that the drawings of a white Adam and Eve as well as a white Jesus, Moses, and all the rest of the people in the Bible is because they were drawn by white people, and that since all of those people lived in the Middle East that they were brown or perhaps maybe even black. This was absurd to him, he couldn’t and wouldn’t believe it, because in Zambia, anything related to Christianity is seen as absolute truth. Even the little brainwashing magazines that the Jehovah’s Witnesses disperse are regarded as "God’s word," even by people who aren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses.

After being posted, I had a similar conversation with a local 17 year old guy and his 2 friends. He said that he had been told that Africans were black because God turned them that way because they had turned away from Him. I told him that was a terrible lie. We soon talked about the Biblical characters and what color skin they had. I brought up the point that in Ethiopia, the 2nd nation (after Armenia I believe) that declared Christianity as the national religion, their depictions of the Biblical people were black. These boys were much more open-minded and I think I got through to them, or at least made them think differently. Obviously something is horribly wrong in the messages that people are hearing in church, either by Zambian preachers or foreign missionaries. Either way, the fact that they see themselves as inferior to white people gave even more support, in my mind, to the notion that Africa would be best off if left alone so Africa could fix itself.

These reasons are why I decided that living in Zambia was not going to work for me. It’s widely known that there are many Peace Corps volunteers that spend their 2 years in Zambia absolutely miserable, but remain there out of too much pride and/or fear of facing their friends and family and explaining why they didn’t stay for the full 2 years. After a month and a half, I realized I was very unhappy, and suffered another month and a half because of this same reason and also because of Kerry. Though it was extremely difficult to leave her behind as well as the other friends I had made and become very attached to, I didn’t want to be one of those volunteers. Besides, as I mentioned earlier, Zambia would be better off if all foreigners left and Zambia would therefore have to take care of itself. On that note, maybe I did Zambia a favor?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

I'm Off To My Village

So I’m still here in Chipata at the Peace Corps’ Eastern Provincial house, because my house still hasn’t been finished. The deal with the houses is this: Peace Corps finds a village willing to take in a volunteer, but since each volunteer works with many other villages in the area, PC doesn’t want the houses and latrines and bathing shelters and insakas/mphalas (the open-walled grass-roofed structures) to be built by just the one village that the volunteer lives in but by several other nearby villages. Anyways the villages responsible for building my roof and latrine apparently just hadn’t gotten around to doing anything, so therefore I have a house with no roof and no latrine whatsoever (other than a big hole in the ground with logs over much of it). At least, as of a few days ago, they have started on the roof; the support beams are up. Hopefully by now they’ve started on the latrine too…

Though it might seem strange, village life (to me anyways) is actually better than city life here in Zambia. Sure, in the cities there is electricity and running water, but both can go out at any given time. This is true all over Africa, apparently. A few days ago we spent the entire day with no power AND no water. That means we couldn’t use the toilet (for #2 anyways), we couldn’t wash the dishes, we couldn’t take a shower, we couldn’t use the stove, and the refrigerator became useless. In the villages when you need water you just go down to the borehole or well; when the water goes off here, we all hope that somebody remembered to fill up the water containers while it was still on, or we’re screwed… I guess it’s mostly a matter of not being disappointed about the power and water going out when you’re living in a village. The good thing is that, so far anyways, they both come back on and stay on during the night, so I’ve been able to watch movies, which is awesome!

Tomorrow however, I will finally be posted. After hanging out here at the house for over a week, I’m ready and looking forward to the real Peace Corps experience!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Days Away from the REAL Peace Corps...

So our training officially ended yesterday at like 12:30 when we officially swore in. It's weird to be in front of a computer (especially one that has a dial up internet connection) since it's like the 3rd time I've been on one since arriving in Zambia. I'm about to check my email, and hopefully it'll work on this one, since it's the PC house in Eastern district and not in some internet cafe in Lusaka, which for some reason don't allow me to get on my email account. Anyways it's been a long day and I'm tired. You all don't even realize how good the US transportation system really is. Zambia has like 5 or 6 paved roads in the whole country, and outside of the capital they have so many potholes... Anyways yeah I'll end here and add another update in the next few days.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

An Update From Ryan's Mom, Laura

Here is a picture of Ryan with his Peace Corps Rural Educational Development (RED) team from Eastern Province.  I encourage you to read the "Rob in Zambia" blog, the man in the middle in the red shirt, to learn more about this program.  

Ryan and the new RED team members went on a site visit to Eastern Province during training to learn about their new jobs from the current RED members. 
On April 25th, Ryan will be promoted from Peace Corps Trainee (PCT) to Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV).  This will be a busy week because prior to the ceremony, all the PCT have to pass several final exams on language, cultural and technical aspects of their assigned job.  Once tests are passed,  the host families are invited for a cultural exchange day.  A huge ceremony will take place on April 25th with Zambian government officials.  The TV station will cover the event.  Ryan is having a traditional African outfit made (note the women are pictured in traditional skirts).  It should be an exciting week and we at home in the USA are very proud of Ryan and his fellow Trainees!

Ryan will move to his village the last week in April.  His address for the next two years will be: Ryan Hill/ PCV
P.O. Box 560059
Petauke, Zambia

You can address it to Reverend Ryan Hill/ PCV and put "God Bless You" and Air Mail on any packages.  His village is two hours from the capital of the Eastern Province, Petauke. Transportation is an adventure in itself so I'm not sure what "2 hours" means.  He will be posted 30 kilometers from the nearest PCV and Kerry is 70K away.  This means Ryan will have to hitch a ride with his bike to visit.  (Send him hard candy or magazines to use for bartering.)

You can also reach Ryan on Facebook.  He can read and send messages on his cell phone.  (He lives without electricity, running water, etc. but he has a solar charged cell phone!)  Joe V, your Facebook message was worth $1million to Ryan!  Getting to a computer to update his blog and email is difficult.  Ryan will have to do this from the Peace Corps house or an Internet Cafe in Petauke.  You can call him with a calling card or by using SKYPE; he is 9 hours later.  You can also SMS him on SKYPE, but this costs and only works when his cell is on.  I put his phone number under comments on his blog with the good-bye party pictures. 

Ryan will be the first PCV in his village.   When Ryan went to meet his village a couple of weeks ago, they didn't believe he was coming until he arrived.  Thus, Ryan helped clear a field and measured for his hut!  He is very welcomed and will be working with the local herbalist/ "medicine man / Voodoo Dr." to educate the villagers.  It will be an adventure!  Ryan is keeping a journal and drawing.  

Hopefully, Ryan will be able to post at the end of April!    Thanks for keeping up with him. 
Laura, Ryan's mom

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I'm Here!

So, I finally got internet access and figured I'd update you people. Things are great here. The people are very friendly, the food is great, the landscape is beautiful, and the sky... incredible. I can see every star in the sky and the moon seems even brighter here. Plus sunrises and sunsets are more colorful than any I'd ever seen. The only real challenge seems to be the bike. I won't complain too much (my fellow PC people have heard enough of it HAHA) but put it this way, I've been reminded of how much I didn't like bikes even as a kid. Anyways yeah, things are awesome!

And I've pretty much summed it all up with that. I'm paying for time so I'll end this now. Later.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

See Ya in 2 Years

So I leave San Diego for Washington DC in about 9 hours and 30 minutes, and the past week has gone by WAY too fast. The last few months seemed to drag on, but suddenly it was time to make my Gig Harbor/Seattle visit, and time started flying by. There was tons of paperwork I had to get done as well as last second shopping and, of course, packing up all my stuff. I was supposed to hang out with a lot of people that I never got the chance to, and to them I'm sorry. However, I did have a little party for members of my family, my closest friends from high school, Steve and Joe, and their families. I also ate a lot the last, well, 2 weeks, stuffing my face with my favorites, mainly mexican food, pizza, sushi, and for my last dinner in SD I had thai food at my favorite thai restaurant. My mom and I finally got the whole packing situation figured out about 45 minutes ago, and figured I'd write this to say goodbye to all those I had meant to but ran out of time. Apparently I won't be able to have internet access during my training portion, which ends (I think) on April 5th, so this will be my last blog entry until then. BUT make sure to write me letters! My mailing address is on the right side.

PS: I love you guys.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Infamous Seattle Adventure

I just got back last night from my 5 day vacation in Washington state. I went to visit my grandpa, Sandy B, my uncle, and his "friend" Julie, and also to meet up with 3 of the people that will be in Zambia with me on our Peace Corps adventure (Kerry, Rachel, and Derek). Hanging out with my family members was cool, largely consisting of getting together for meals and talks about travelling and Peace Corps stuff. Nothing too cazy though, right? Right.

On Saturday I was to meet up with my new PC friends. I printed out a map and directions from mapquest, which said the trip from Gig Harbor to the Ethiopian restaurant in Seattle would take about an hour. Our set meeting time was 7pm, and I left my grandpa's house at 5:45, to give me enough time to find the place, since I'm not familiar with Seattle. I'm not sure how mapquest comes up with their arrival time estimates, but I got there in 45 minutes, and so I listened to the cd I'd burned specifically for that drive until Rachel and her sister showed up. Within 10 minutes Kerry arrived with her friend Julia, and soon afterwards Derek arrived with his friends, and we had dinner. I honestly feared that it would be a somewhat awkward situation, but any awkwardness was short-lived, probably due to the fact that we'd already gotten familiar with each other through facebook and emails. The food was good too; I'd say it was similar to Indian food as far as the taste. After eating, Kerry suggested we go out, and we all agreed. Derek and his friends knew of the place Kerry was thinking of (some bar in the Fremont area of Seattle) and off they went, while Kerry, Rachel and her sister jumped in Julia's car, who I followed. Julia was VERY hard to follow: changing lanes just before a right turn, realizing she'd gone the wrong way, etc. Anyways finally we'd arrived at the bar, and I parked my grandpa's escalade on the street. Inside the bar, we played Kings (everybody has different names and rules). It was fun, and got more fun as the game went on... go figure. After we'd gotten loosened up from our drinks, the 4 of us talked about our upcoming trip, the fears we had, the fact that we'd all gotten tired of answering the same questions that others had been asking us, things to expect, and more. I decided to cut myself off at that point, since I was going to have to drive back down to Gig Harbor. However, Kerry said that if I wanted, I could keep drinking and that I could sleep on the futon in the basement of her mom's house. I asked if the car would be ok, and Julia (Kerry's friend) was like "yeah you're fine, I leave my car here overnight all the time." After a while, Rachel and her sister took a cab home, and I went with Kerry and Julia to another bar, where we again met up with Derek and his buddy, until we had to leave due to it closing. So Derek and his friend left and Kerry and I went back to her house where we ate some leftover mussaman curry and pizza (awesome!) and then I went to the basement to pass out.

I woke up at like 11:30 the next day and Kerry and I went to the local farmers' market in Ballard with her mom. After putting some food in my stomach, along with some apple cider that was GREAT, Kerry's mom drove us to where I'd parked my grandpa's car. Unfortunately, there was a farmers' market there too, right where the escalade had been. After finding out which company had towed it, Kerry's mom was nice enough to drive me to the place and figure things out. My grandpa had to email them a permission letter for me to pick it up, and a photocopy of his drivers' liscence. There was a delay, however, so we went to lunch (perhaps out of sympathy for me, Kerry's mom paid for my chicken sandwich) before returning to get the car. It set me back about $160 but it wasn't as bad as the last time I'd been towed, which was about a year ago just before a Modest Mouse concert that cost me like $280. However, it added to the entire event, and caused me to write about the night in full detail. Anyways, thanks again to Kerry and her mom for being so helpful and nice to somebody they had pretty much just met! They even took a picture of me at the towing place....