philadelphia : staging

So it begins.

I'm in Philadelphia right now. Seems much too fitting that the city of brotherly love is where my 27 month Peace Corps journey will begin. Like someone way up at headquarters with a penchant for dad jokes just heard Philadelphia's nickname, and was like "GUYS. I have the best idea." Anyway.

Packing before leaving home went pretty typically. In that I started packing around midnight and continued floating around the house like a ghost looking for things to throw into my suitcases until almost five in the morning. The sky was just starting to turn a dusky pink when I finally drifted off a dreamless sleep in my childhood bedroom.

The next day, my parents drove me to Philadelphia where staging would take place, a city that I don't think I've ever been to. It's drenched in history, but in a sterile way. Not like cities like Rome or Paris where the history is so imminently present and tangible, but in a way where it feels more built over, more behind glass. Then again, perhaps not. We haven't seen too much of it. We're only here for two days; most of it is spent inside big meeting room in a hotel near Chinatown.

Standard Peace Corps staging is usually no more than a day, a rapid-fire runthrough of Peace Corps basics and expectations, along with some basic safety and security guidelines, but Burkina Faso is a part of the Let Girls Learn initiative, so our staging lasts an extra day. Let Girls Learn was founded by the Obamas and it focuses on helping young girls have access to education and strengthening communities through this female education. Our extra day includes diversity and gender trainings that are not included in the standard staging. And a free t-shirt. That's important.

The other 63 volunteers that are starting with me are wild mix. The youngest is 19, the oldest is a much older woman that has quickly become one of my top five favorites. There are people that have lived in Togo, Spain, Thailand, Ghana, Senegal, Australia, everywhere. I'm already learning so much from the others and their incredible experiences that we're only starting to scratch the surface of. We're split between three sectors: Community Economic Development (CED), Health, and Education, where I'm working. All three will be implementing and interacting with Let Girls Learn programs.

I'm here with Helen. Beautiful, intelligent Helen that I met five months ago in a Paris hospital by chance. Improbable circumstances. It feels right to be reunited with her after everything. Two tall Parisian women, one with hair the color of night and one with hair the color of the summer sky.

I clutch onto her like a life raft at times. Everyone was very surface level the first day, but that's expected. We all know that in the next two years, everyone here is going to become our adopted family, our best friends, our lovers, our enemies. It's strange going into a first conversation knowing that. We all desperately want to meet everyone and make those meaningful connections, but no one really knows how to jump right in. It'll come with time, I know.

But I'm glad to have had Helen here for this reason, if only to have someone to be truly honest with, and not have to explain last year to. To be able to talk about Quentin and Clement and Paris and leaving and have someone get it, no questions asked. She reminds me of what it felt like to be in French, something I dearly miss. I'll develop other relationships like this--many of them--in the next year, I know, but for the time being, Helen is a relief to have at my side. She's been a relief in my life since day one.

We're leaving tomorrow morning. A morning bus to JFK, a transatlantic flight to Brussels, a layover, then the final flight from Brussels to Ouagadougou, where we'll be for the next week, before starting the three month long Pre-Service Training (PST) in another town. This flight has been anticipated since October and it still doesn't quite feel like it's happening when I'm sitting in an air conditioned hotel room with crisp white sheets in Philadelphia. Still feeling numb to the reality of everything.

Time for one last American meal and one last night out in Philadelphia before officially putting on hold life as I knew it. See you on the other side.