Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The End.

October 24, 2012

                In life there are hundreds of beginnings and endings, many of which meld into one another. For me my Peace Corps story has come to an end and I am beginning the next book ok my life. I can hardly believe that as of this Friday I will have been back in the states for a month. So much has happened and so much has been going on that time flies by at the speed of sound. Life can take us in so many fabulous directions and more often than not we cannot predict where life is going to lead us, the people we are going to meet on the way, or the things that happen to us. The best laid plans can go astray and all things happen for a reason, even when we can’t understand why at the time. These two statements are probably the most important lessons I learned while in the Peace Corps.

                I never thought that I would be one of the volunteers that came home early. I never dreamed that I was going to get injured or be working at a zoo for my service.  I never imagined that I would meet so many amazing and fabulous people along the way. I never understood how much a person can change in a years time. I went into the Peace Corps to change my life. Of course I also wanted to help others and work on development and culture exchange, but I can also admit that there was some selfishness involved. My life needed to change and I needed some new perspective. Peace Corps was my calling as well as my answer. I remember the day I just knew that joining Peace Corps was the right choice for me; there was no more doubt or question in my mind. I don’t know if I somehow got a glance at my future or if I understood a message sent from above, but I knew that I needed to join Peace Corps. I have learned to listen to that little voice when it speaks to me; I don’t know if it’s my gut talking, my sub conscious, God, or some other cosmic happening I do not understand. I have learned to go with my instincts and have learned to trust my own judgment. I have come to not only to understand but to also accept that all things, the big ones, small ones, and the in-between; all happen for a reason.  Our lives can change on a dime. Someone we randomly meet might be catalyst for the next part of our lives, because after all nothing is actually random. An event might change us forever and get us where we need to go even though we had no idea. This is what happened to me at Munda Wanga. I think I was supposed to go there for so many reasons and the only way to get me there was getting in a bad car accident.

                Looking back now at my Peace Corps experience, I cannot help but feel anything but to have been blessed to have been able to do it and to have gone to Zambia. It changed my life in so many ways, the majority of them completely unexpected. Was it easy? No. Was it painless? No. Did it open my heart and spirit to a whole new world of understanding and acceptance? Hell yes. Would I recommend it someone else? Yes, but with advisories. Would I do it again? That is the toughest question for me. There is a part of me that wants to say yes, because it was so great and I loved my work and the incredible people I met, but at the same time I know the “shit show” Peace Corps it’s self can become. What I went though medically was horrific, I cannot deny that, but it was the callousness and hostility that I experienced when leaving that makes me never want to put myself in that position again. I will never for the life of me understand why they made it so difficult and stressful for me to bring my cat home with me.  I have no doubt that someday I will work overseas again with either an NGO or as a volunteer with some other organization or on my own. The work I accomplished and the people I met along the journey is what made my Peace Corps experience unforgettable and amazing.

                My life is at a turning point right now. I am picking up the pieces that I left behind and now am also adding all the new pieces I have acquired in the last 14 months and I am rebuilding my life as well as myself.  There are some days I feel as if I am on a great precipice, and I know that there is always that possibility of falling to my doom, but rather than ever fearing that again I focus on the unstoppable wind blowing toward me. I know my wings are strong and my mind is sharp and capable of anything and I know that I am going to soar. Life as a funny way of knocking us down sometimes but as long as we find the updraft or look to the good and positive we can always find our way back up. This may be the end of my Peace Corps journey but it is only the beginning of the rest of my life. I can never ever regret being in the Peace Corps or going to Zambia I can only ever be thankful for all I leaned and began to understand along the way. While this is the end of Smiles and Spirit in Zambia it is not the end of blogging for me. I am starting a new one! You can now find my continuing story, adventures, and miss steps on To all the followers and readers out there of my blog, Thank You! I hope that this blog helped to fulfill some part of your life or was helpful in some way. It’s amazing how we can form so many connections in the world now days. If anyone is interested please come and follow my new blog and continuing life story.  Love you all, Tammy

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Beginning Again:)

October 18, 2012

                How quickly time is speeding up now that I am back in the states! It has been over a week since my last blog posting and I have no idea where that week has gone. Granted things have been crazy busy for me here what with getting my life put back together, but still I cannot believe how time can fly. In so many ways I feel as if I have only been gone for a few weeks since my life has picked right back up. I don’t know if this is because I have done this so many times before or if I am simply in the right place at the right time and all is working out for me. Things at home couldn’t be better. It is so nice living in a place where you feel completely secure and safe. I have slept better in the last few weeks than I have since leaving for Zambia. Galahad, my cat, is doing fabulous and has made friends with my sister’s two cats as well as my mom’s two dogs. He is not afraid to roam the house and LOVES his aunt Pam (I am actually a little jealous here because he now sleeps with her instead of me). I am working on getting my health, aka my back problems under control, and while it is slow going I am seeing some improvement. Job wise I am still searching and will hopefully find something soon. In the mean time however I have plenty of other things going on to keep me busy.

                As for missing Zambia, it honestly hasn’t hit yet. I have been expecting it to but it hasn’t come. While I have so many fabulous memories to look back on and there are many people I miss, I can’t say that I miss being there, at least not yet. I don’t know if it’s because I am finally getting the medical care and attention I need, or if it’s because I am around my family and good friends again, of if it is because I feel safe, or if it was just time for me to leave Zambia and to come home. There is no question as to whether or not I am starting a new book of my life right now. While I can only be thankful for my Peace Corps experience and for my time in Zambia I am also very much looking forward to moving on and beginning this next part of my life. For the first time in many years Minnesota is home again. I am looking at a major career change from working with animals to working with people (although I will always be an animal trainer and now a writer).  I am hoping that this next part of my life includes, and yes to sound oh so cliché, finding my soul mate who I am sure is an amazing man. As for now however I am content and happy with being around my wonderful friends and family who make my life so full of joy. I am also reveling having so many options for going out, learning, food choices, and having my wheels back under me. Now that I have discovered my own personal strength and my faith I know that everything will work out exactly as it is supposed to; as long as I stay true to myself, listen to the whispered words in the wind, and follow my heart I know that I cannot go wrong.

                For today I sign off and face the adventures that are coming my way. One of the things I am working on right now is a new blog site for this next phase of my life so stay tuned, it’s on it’s way. Love, Tammy

Monday, October 8, 2012

Picking up the Pieces

October 8, 2012

                I have been in a whirl wind for the past three weeks. The sleepless nights, stress, and change of environment has all caught up with me at last and I am sick. Not too sick but I caught a nasty cold and it is wearing on me that’s for sure. I thought that when I got home I would crawl into bed and catch up on sleep for a week. Well that just didn’t happen. In the past week I have been in clean up and catch up mode. I didn’t realize how many things needed to be done or how much it was all going to cost, luckily I lived frugally while in Zambia and was able to save a little extra money to come home with and that has helped out greatly.

                I got my new room and place all sorted out and my belongings unpacked which was actually a lot of fun! I unpacked things, like my souvenirs from when I work at Disney, which had been in storage for years. I also got all my books out and being me everything is neat and organized; what can I say it’s who I am. It’s so nice having everything at my finger tips and in one place. It has been years and years since all of my possessions have been in one place and accessible to me. Even though I thought I had left everything organized it has not been as easy as I anticipated picking up the pieces and putting my life back together.

                While in many ways I feel as if I were only gone for a few days and nothing much has changed that is simply not true. While my friendships are still there, I know how to get from here to there, few new songs seem to be streaming out if the radio; the changes are all around me and hidden in the small things. Such as my mom not only moving into a new house (where I am currently living), but also getting a new wonderful dog. Other people have moved or changed careers, and I have changed. I am not the same girl as the one who left 14 long months ago. I look at the world differently now and have so much gratefulness for everything. I am more outgoing and friendly and I find myself connecting to others easier. I am calmer and more patient and I know how to really stand up for myself now when I need to. The changes within me change the way I interact with the world.

                The catching up has to do with everything from a new cell phone (my very first iPhone), to computer programs, to emails, banking, and everything else. There seems to be something wrong with either the computer or electrical system on my car and that needs to get looked at. I just had a dental appointment today and yes lucky my wisdom teeth need to come out. I started seeing my moms amazing chiropractor and he is helping me with some of my back issues. I have multiple doctors’ appointments coming up in the next couple of weeks. Not to mention I am feeling more human after getting my hair cut, waxing done, my ears candled, a pedicure, and a facial. I no longer feel dirty and like I have been living in Africa for the last 14 months. Now once my cold goes away, my acne outburst clears up, and I get caught up on my sleep I think that I might just feel attractive againJ

                Now if only I had a job lined up life would be fantasticJ I am sure that will come though and I have faith that everything will work it’s self out. Love, Tammy

Friday, October 5, 2012

Cats on a Plane

October 4, 2012

                International immigration and travel is difficult enough for people let alone for animals. When I joined the Peace Corps the one thing I said I wasn’t going to do was get a pet because I know myself well enough that if I got one I would get attached and I would want to take it home when I left. I am also a responsible person who never abandons an animal after taking it in, again it’s just who I am. As chance would have it I did have an amazing cat, or perhaps I should say kitten fall into my life. He of course wormed his way into my heart and I was powerless to stop him. It was a surprise for me on many levels because I was never a cat person. For those of you who have followed my blog you have all heard about Galahad over the past months. I think that he and I both desperately needed one another and we entered one another’s lives at the perfect time. Despite never wanting to get any kind of an animal while in Zambia I have to say that finding Galahad was one of the best things to happen to me; he kept me calm, gave me love and affection when otherwise else I was all alone, and he gave me courage.

                I knew that bringing him home was going to be an adventure. Luckily being a volunteer at a zoo gave me access to many veterinarians; all of whom helped me to make sure that Galahad received all of the proper vaccinations, tick and fee medication, dewormers, and nutrition as well. Galahad was a very well taken care of cat with who was able to received great medical care, good and plenty of food (Everyone in Zambia considered him on the chunky side, but now that I am back in the states he looks tiny), as well as an ocean of love and affection.  When I first approached PETVET Clinic in Lusaka about getting the export paperwork started they were awesome about it and made the process very easy. I was also lucky to have had all my paperwork in order and ready to go. One of the things that I was shocked by, but not surprised, was how much the Zambian export permit cost. Galahad’s export permit was $250 USD, his plane ticket on the other hand was only $200. I am really glad that the US didn’t have an expensive import permit as well.  

                As for booking him on the fight that was another story. It would have been a simple and easy process with KLM and DELTA but I wasn’t the one booking my flight that would be Peace Corps. Due to them not booking my flight until the last minute I was having all kinds of troubles confirming Galahads. Fortunately due to my mom’s helps and that my friend Dina’s I was able to get him booked right in the cabin with me. I know that it probably sounds a little crazy and all but I was much calmer and much more relaxed knowing that he was with me and safe, rather than being put down in cargo.

                Now that we are home he is adjusting to his new surroundings very well. I was a little worried because I have moved in with my mom and my sister and between the two of them they have 2 dogs and 2 cats. Galahad had never even seen a dog before meeting my mom’s two and had never really been around cats; he grew up around baby monkeys, owls, and duikers. He was very shy the first few days but has really started coming out of his shell and has started playing and having fun with his new roomies.

                Over all I cannot say how impressed I have been with him. He was never complained once about anything despite how unpleasant some things were such as vet visits and having to stay in a crate for 27 hours. His bravery, sweetness, and kindness has won everyone’s hearts from my family to fight attendants and fellow passengers, as well as the other animals here at my mom’s house. I don’t know how I was so lucky to find such an amazing cat, but I will never take him for granted and ill love him the rest of my life. Again it’s good to be home, Love, Tammy

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

There's No Place Like Home:)

October 2, 2012

                It feels so amazing to be home! I actually forgot how wonderful it is, most of the time, to be around friends and family. I am still totally messed up on time and am going through a major readjustment process but over all I am thrilled to be back, especially after such a stressful ending in Zambia.

                I first of all have to say a huge thank you to KIL, Delta, my mom, and my friend Dina. I would not have made it home without all of their help. Peace Corps kept changing my plane ticket home and refused to book the cat with my plane ticket so I was trying to book the cat along with me but when the ticket keeps changing it is very difficult. My plane ticket was not confirmed until about 8 hours before I left. KLM and Delta were amazing to make the last minute cat booking and thanks to my mom and Dina they made it happen. It was very frustrating with Peace Corps and I was very disappointed in them regarding this. I explained multiple times to them how important it was to me to bring my cat home with me. It’s not as if I was even asking them to pay for him, I had the money in hand and had gotten all the paperwork done myself. I just needed them to make sure he was confirmed along with my ticket. After everything I have been through regarding Peace Corps, this is the first thing that really puts a bad taste in my mouth and make me pissed off at the organization and makes me never want to have anything to do with them in the future.

                Galahad and I did however make it home safe and sound. He was an angle on the plane and did amazing. He never cried or made a peep. He was so brave even though I was turning his world inside out and upside down. I can’t imagine that the move was easy for him and he handled it better that I did. I was so tired and exhausted by the time we made it onto the 1st plane. I had not slept for the past 4 nights before flying because I was so anxious and worried about everything. It was also very hard on my back with all the lifting of luggage and being in a place. Thank god for the pain killers I had, they made a huge difference, even if they did make me sick to my stomach.

                By the time I arrived home I was a hot mess and managed to get Galahad settled into his new room and go out to dinner with my mom before collapsing into bed and falling fast asleep. I have spent the last couple days unpacking and getting my new home set up. I have been especially focused on Galahad because not only is he recovering from his travels but he is adjusting to a new country, climate, people, as well as 2 cats and 2 dogs. Again he never ceases to amaze me with his kindness, bravery, and adventurous nature. He is doing so well and is already playing with the other cats and no longer runs in fear from the dogs! I on the other hand am still exhausted and recovering physically from the trip and can’t seem to shake my jet lag completely, but I am sure that I will get there soon.

                So far adjusting to my old life has been very simple. I am not experiencing any culture shock yet and it feels in many ways as if I had just left yesterday. As I begin to reconnect with old friends and pick up the pieces of my life I am finding a serine happiness with it all. My heart is full of love and joy and while Zambia and Munda Wanga will always be a part of my life and in my heart forever, I know that I am on the right path and in the right place right now. More to come…… this tale is still not done, Love, Tammy

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Medical Seperation

September 25, 2012

                 To say that I am a mix and mess of feelings and emotions today is an understatement. I feel like my heart is breaking while at the same time knowing that I made the right decision for me is not an easy combination. Making the decision to medically separate and go home is the hardest decision I have ever made in my life, without question.

                Back in July I started developing a complication with the back injury I received last fall in the car accident. I began to get tingling in my toes and eventually my fingers. It was very subtle at first and then it continued to get more noticeable. I realised that it was a concern and something that I needed to have taken care of. I had no idea however how I was going to leave such a wonderful place as Munda Wanga or Zambia, I had to prepare to get ready to go and had no idea who I could tell. I had to get everything together to get my cat Galahad home with me and I also wanted to finish up my projects at Munda wanga. I am not a person who can leave things unfinished or left behind, and the complication was not life or death.

                Last Friday I finally broke the news to the staff at Munda Wanga. I had no idea what I was going to be able to say to make my leaving ok, this place and these people have become my life and my family. And while I do not leave Zambia until Thursday tonight is my last night at Munda Wanga. The staff just threw me the very best going away surprise party a girl could ever ask for. They are the ones who started my tears flowing and now I seem to be having trouble stopping them. One person tonight said that “meeting people is easy, saying goodbye is what is hard and sad”. I don’t think anyone could have said truer words than that.  The kindness and generosity that everyone has shown to me in the last few days makes me so humble and grateful to have been a part of everyone’s lives here. I am a forever changed person and I think that I have changed for the better. I will never be able to forget this place and the people who have made this place home for me.

As I have told everyone here my journey with Peace Corps may be ending on Thursday, but my journey with Munda Wanga and Zambia for that matter has only just begun. Thanks to the wonders of technology I am going to be able to not only stay in touch with everyone, but I will also be able to continue working for Munda Wanga in many ways. I still have new signs to design and finish and fund raising opportunities are endless, not to mention all the other projects I can be a part of from abroad. I have grown roots here and a part of my heart is going to be left here forever and ever.

One of the most important things I have learned in the last year is that everything happens for a reason. We cannot even begin to plan our lives all out; the universe has other ideas for us sometimes. I never expected to end up in a place like Munda Wanga, with fairy enchanted gardens, but I did and I think that I was destined to come here. I may have had to get injured along the way, but that has only given me more character, strength, and courage to get through everything. I will not say that my journey has been easy, but if it were it would not be as satisfying, as interesting, or as rewarding. I have had frustrations and hardships along the way but they have all made me grow in numerous ways and I am better for them.

There are so many things that I am going to miss about Zambia that I cannot even begin to count them. There is not a question as to if I will come back but as to when. While this book, not chapter, but book of my life is about to close I cannot help but be filled with emotion. I am a person with a huge and open heart and anyone, human or animal, that gets inside will never leave. Even when this makes things more difficult and heartbreak is unavoidable, such as leaving people I care about or trying to fly a beloved cat home from Africa (trust me no easy task, more on this at a later date), I would never want to change or be anyone else, this is me, this is who I am, flaws and all. I would rather love than to have never loved at all. I make mistakes I screw up sometimes, but I have never had a problem with love, kindness, or generosity; and if my experience here has taught me anything it is that I have a lot more in me to give and I fully plan on it. I am only just beginning and I have a bright future in front of me, I can feel it every step that I take. While this blog and this story may be close to the end it is not there yet, so stay tuned.

As I prepare to leave Zambia and more importantly Munda Wanga I am filled with nothing but gratefulness for such an amazing experience. I can never regret anything that has happened here and as they say in Bemba, Twalamonana, I will see you in the future!

To all those I have left and behind and will see soon know how much I love you all and can’t wait to see you all; and to all those I am about to leave behind know that you are all in my heat and also loved! I would not be the same without all of you! Love, Tammy

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Misty Morning Sunshine

September 23, 2012

                I got up this morning early as usual and instead of curling back into bed or getting to work on some project or another I decided to take a stroll through the gardens and to enjoy the cool morning air. The gardens were peaceful and serine and watching the sun begin to peak over the beauty of the plants brought a smile to my face. I know that in much too short a time that sun would be baking us as we are in the middle of hot season right now. September and October are two of the hottest months of the year and the driest. The morning as still cool and late nights as well, but the middle of the day is a hot house. Getting to go out this morning however and breathe in the fresh air and embrace the beauty of this place was very calming and spoke to my soul. I sat in the grass and imagined roots growing down from me and twisting their way into the soil. No matter where I am in my life I will always have a part of my heart and soul here at Munda Wanga.

                This weekend I got to share the beauty of the gardens and the wonderful animals with some other Peace Corps Volunteers who came to stay with me for the weekend. We all had a great time splashing around in the pool, cooking great food together (one of the volunteers even baked me a belated birthday cake!), and sipping wine and watching the sun set over the tress. It was such a fun weekend and one that I will not soon forget. As I am anticipating a crazy and stressful week, for reason s that will soon come to light, I was deeply grateful for such a wonderful weekend with amazing people. Love and miss all my amazing friends and family, Tammy