new amsterdam and new expectations

I had this idea that I’d be somewhere in the middle of a green, luscious wonderland. I was fixated on taking a boat to work every morning, peeling cassava in my backyard with my aunties, eating everything right off the tree, throwing back in my hammock until the sun came down, and helping people live healthier lives in the meantime. That was the dream, right?

But that’s not the Peace Corps story I’m here to tell. This week, I’m in New Amsterdam to get a feel for my new home before I make the big move in April.

New Amsterdam is located on the eastern coast of Guyana with a population of about 33,000. This is where everyone along the Berbice have all of their fun and get everything they need.

There are 3 main roads–Waterside, Backdam , and Main Street–with other intervening narrow streets in between. The market is massive and it has every fruit, vegetable, and meat you could possibly think of. It’s open everyday from 6am to 4pm, with the exception of Wednesday when the market closes at noon. But even then, there are grocery stores and shops and stands and restaurants and plenty of people out on the road at all hours of the day to keep you busy.

I live in a beautiful blue, wooden house with a fun family of seven that I love so much already. My home has running water, electricity, wifi, a washing machine, and is conveniently located in front of an ice cream shop (yesterday, they served banana).

Instead of waking up to roosters crowing and cows mooing, I’m woken up by a moving city and Becky, our rude flightless parrot. Mornings are busy with breakfast, bathing, and mama bustling tired little booties out the door by 8am. So much of this routine reminds me of life back home.

In a lot of ways, New Amsterdam is unlike many towns in Guyana. I have friends in other areas where all you can see is bush, where buildings are much smaller and more spread out, where fruits and vegetables are not as abundant, and where people travel by ATVS because roads are rougher and places are harder to reach. But even so, New Amsterdam faces its own set of struggles–many that I see in the hospitals I’ll be working at.

In my experiences living in large cities it’s hard for people to get out of a restless routine and make the simple things matter again. Things like health and happiness. I see it all the time in the US. There’s also social and sanitation issues to consider, but we’ll get into that just now. Although New Amsterdam isn’t a big place (it only takes about 10 minutes for me to walk from one end to the other), it has what every big city has: big buildings that cut into natural things and busy streets that don’t slow down for anyone. I’ve always struggled to thrive in places like this and I wasn’t sure if that was going to work for me.

I was really afraid of how large my community is and the challenges I’d face trying to help it (let alone living in it) but one moment, one person, one thing at a time. I’ve already stretched my social capacity from talking to 5 people in a day to 50 so I’d say I’m getting there. Just 32,950 more people to go.

Sitting out on the veranda tonight, I started to realize that even though this is not the experience I thought I’d be having in the Peace Corps, it’s still going to be good and I’m still going to do well here. Why? Well, because I’m here for a reason and I refuse to let it unfold any other way.

Welcome to New Amsterdam.

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Love always,
Melanie

ready as I’ll ever be.

Just a few days ago, the other GUY 30 volunteers and I received out site assignment. For the next two years, I will be living in New Amsterdam in Region 6. It’s one of the largest cities on the coast of Guyana with about 33,000 people currently living there. Let’s just keep in mind that Guyana has a population of just 750,000.

I will be working at the New Amsterdam Regional Hospital, which has the capacity to hold about 300 patients at a time. My primary assignment will be to assist the kitchen staff with healthy food initiatives and help develop new patient appropriate meals. Other projects will fall into place as time goes by, but my main focus will be to see forth the nutritional objectives for maternal and child health.This is the part where most of us jump up and down with excitement, but I also think it’s normal to feel unqualified and worried at a time like this, right? Things like “Wow, they’re going to see right through me. How did I get here?!” and “Big city, small person. Not good.” have been running through my mind all weekend. 

Since moving to Guyana, I have been praying for faith to trust God’s plan and protection over me–faith to trust I’m enough to be here–and I guess as the weeks have flown by, I’ve felt uneasy and a little unsure of it all.

After I got home from training today, the last things I wanted to do was sit and anticipate what the next two years (or even the next week) were going to be like. I was desperate to stretch out the hours of the day so I asked my little host siblings and their friends next door if they wanted to walk with me through town. Nico (my 8 year old little host brother) led the pack across the street and to my surprise, brought us to the ocean.

Staring out into the sea as the sun began setting behind us, it was like finding hidden treasure. The breeze felt cool against my skin and my soul, and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I didn’t know the ocean was so near to my house, and in a way, I guess I didn’t realize how near Christ was either.


Being given a great opportunity doesn’t make me any less human. I didn’t suddenly become immune to hardship, anxiety, or fear. But I was reminded today that I’ve been given bravery despite those thoughts that try to cripple my potential, courage to stand tall before anything that’s bigger than me, and strength in every place I am weak.

And so, here’s to New Amsterdam and the next two years of the Peace Corps ahead of me. I’m ready.

Love always, Melanie

hello from guyana!

So far I’ve endured the bus and speed boat journey to Georgetown (the capital of Guyana), I’ve met with the Ministry of Public Health, I’ve become friends with a few merchants at the market, I’ve shadowed midwives at the health center in my township, I’ve proposed a few project ideas related to child nutrition and cooking, and I’ve observed a day at the nursery. But for the most part, this is what my days in Guyana have looked like:

In the morning, I am woken up around 6am to an alarm clock of birds singing, dogs barking, roosters crowing, cars honking, babies crying, and peas cooking. Once I’ve had a moment to really get up, I crawl out of my mosquito net and start boiling my water for coffee. Most people in Guyana drink “tea” which could be Milo, Ovaltine, or actual tea if you say “tea bag”. I was fortunately placed in a home where coffee is an important part of their day because having coffee withdrawals is one less thing I have to worry about. 

For breakfast, I usually eat “Chana” (seasoned chickpeas), toast, a boiled egg, or whatever I’m having for lunch. It doesn’t take me long to get ready in the morning, but I like being able to talk with my host mom in the kitchen or watch the news with my host dad before heading to training.

At about 8am, I walk out to the main road and wait for a hired car (kind of like a taxi) to pick me up. From where I live, it’s about a 15 minute drive to the training site, which costs me about $140GD one way (about 75 cents). I love these drives. Not only do I get a perfect breeze and a beautiful sunrise, but I get to listen to different music everyday that varies from Caribbean jams to Celine Dion. It’s a perfect way to start my day.

Pre-Service Training (PST) runs from 8:30am until about 4:00pm. Some days we’re done earlier and some days (unfortunately) we get done much later. Everyday is different, but the people are all the same and they’re pretty great. I feel very fortunate to learn and work beside incredibly hilarious, inspiring human beings.

I like to hang out by the sea wall or go on a walk before I go home. Let me just say, I couldn’t have been matched with a better host family. I live with two young parents in their 30s with two wild children. Once I get home, I take a cold shower and gaff (which means “to chat or talk) with my host mom before we start cooking dinner. It’s no surprise that this is my favorite part of the day , but I’ll save that for another post.

Around 6 or 7, my host dad comes home from work at his barber shop and we eat. Our evenings are never the same–we’ll watch a movie, play cards, go to a Chinii (Creolese word for Chinese) restaurant, or sometimes get Rum Raisin ice cream down the street.

For the rest of the night, I’m usually out on my hammock in the veranda (the front porch) to relax. The cool air does my body and soul some good after a long day. When the kids settle down, my host mom will join me and we’ll gaff the night away (sometimes with rum and cake) until we become weary.

By 9 or 10, I’m ready to crawl back under my mosquito net and wait until it all begins again the next morning.

Guyana is more beautiful than I imagined. Everything is green and lush and so full of life. Like any country, it has its problems and everyday I learn about their needs. However, I’ve only been here a month so I’m still trying to figure out a normal life in Guyana. I will say though, I’m clapping Roti like I’ve been here forever… so there’s that.



Love always, Melanie

a peek into the process.

Dear Potential Peace Corps Applicants (or anyone applying for anything),

Some days you’re going to feel really excited and confident about the journey ahead, but then other days you’re going to feel really stressed and anxious about the possibility of it all being wrong. 80% of the time, you’ll probably question if what you’re doing is the right thing, but don’t let time or difficult circumstances distract you from achieving your dreams. Stay committed to your cause.

Your reason for applying in the first place is not limited by any organization. So if it takes you on a different path, it’ll still get you to where you’re going. But if you’re left to endure the Peace Corps process, then I hope my insight will help you feel a little more normal and encourage you to hang on.

DURING THE WAIT: 
Once you’ve been invited to serve in the Peace Corps (pending legal/medical clearance), the wait isn’t over. It’s definitely a small victory of sorts, but honey, you’ve got a lot of expenses and appointments and emails and visits to CVS, Walmart, REI, and Target ahead of you. My advice? Take every doctor’s visit, every bill, every panic filled moment one at a time. Soon five months will become five days.

ORGANIZE SMORGANIZE: I’ve never been an organized person. I’m the kind of gal who fills the first week of her brand new planner with punctuality and productivity, but for the rest of the year, those sad little squares remain blank. However with the amount of paper work, medical appointments, and deadlines involved in joining the Peace Corps… I had to become one. If you like to make lists and your brain is tightly organized all the time, then you’re already ahead of the game. If you’re not, well, you’re about to learn.

PACK YOUR SANITY: I’ve packed and re-packed my luggage at least four times. It sounds pretty excessive (because it is), but I am the queen of under-packing. I’ve also had more internal wars with myself in the middle of stores than a normal person should in a year. Now I don’t encourage this kind of behavior, but if you do end up standing in front of the socks section for more than 30 minutes because you can’t decide which pairs are cheaper and better for 90 degree weather, just know you’re not crazy. It happens.

BREATHE, IT’S IMPORTANT: In the days leading up to my departure, I’ve started feeling very unprepared for my service. Some serious fears of failure were sinking in. I mean, what the heck have I been doing these last couple of months?! I’ll tell what I’ve been doing—I’ve been enjoying these last little moments I have with my friends, my family, and my favorite food before it all changes. In a brief moment of panic, a sweet friend of my reminded me that I’ve already been chosen for the Peace Corps. That includes what I don’t know and can’t do. With that said, just breathe. In and out. We’re gonna be fine.

I’m really excited for what you’re about to begin. I think that you’ll learn a lot about yourself and how impactful it is to share it with the world. It’ll be tough, but it’ll be worth it. At least that’s how I see it just days away from my own Peace Corps experience in Guyana.

Good luck!!!

Love always,
Melanie Zimmerman



PEACE CORPS TIMELINE

  • january 2016: I started my Peace Corps application
  • february: The Peace Corps was my little secret during this time.
  • end of march: I finished my application + personal statement.
  • april: I finally told people and panicked a little.
  • may 27th: I was selected to interview to be a Health Volunteer in Guyana.
  • june 8th: MY INTERVIEW!! It was supposed to be a Skype interview, so you can imagine my the horrifying panic I had when it wasn’t working. However, it went well and it was casual. Did I mention it was 90 minutes long? Yea…
  • june 29th: I was officially invited to serve with the Peace Corps (pending medical/legal clearance). If you cry and scream and don’t know what to do with yourself, it’s ok. I did.
  • july & august: medical appointments, vaccinations, writing out to-do lists, online forums/education, and more tedious little things before the peace corps.
  • september: turned in all of my medical documents, visa requirements, and legal kit. But then, the worst part of the waiting began…
  • october: waiting impatiently and anxiously. ANY DAY NOW, PEOPLE!
  • november: ugh, still waiting and still freaking out about my future
  • december: finally received my medical clearance!!! I was a normal person again.
  • january 2017: spend time with friends, family, and my favorite foods while getting ready to depart for staging at the end of the month.

a preface to the peace corps.

If I’m a total stranger to you, let me first introduce myself. My name is Melanie, I’ve recently graduated from the University of Arkansas with a B.S. in Nutrition and I will be moving to Guyana to serve with the Peace Corps.

geography-of-guyana0Guyana, if you didn’t know already, is a small country on the northeastern coast of South America, squeezed between Venezuela, Suriname, and Brazil. If you thought Guyana was in Africa, don’t worry, you’re not the first to think so. On one side there’s the Atlantic Ocean, on the other is the Amazon, and in between there are wild creatures, beautiful people, massive jungles, long rivers, and giant waterfalls that fill the land. For the next 27 months, this is will be my home.

As a Peace Corps Health Volunteer, my work will be focused on promoting community health either in a hospital, health clinic, or school—and perhaps, a mix of them all–to improve preventative care against global diseases. It sounds really vague, but I won’t know exactly where I’ll be staying or what I’ll be doing in Guyana until after my Pre-Service Training. For the first three months, I’ll be staying with a temporary host family and will be learning about safety and security, culture, language, and how to make the most of my two years here. Once PST is complete, I will move to my permanent site and my service will officially begin.

As I reflect on my life up to this moment, I can think of a lot of reasons for why I applied for the Peace Corps, but it ultimately came down to one thing: I wanted to know how the person I’ve become and the things I’ve experienced could help and heal people in need. I didn’t feel at all qualified, but I just wanted to find a way to share the things I have, to give more. In a million ways, God has shown me that living a meaningful life isn’t limited by our circumstances, nor is it limited to the few. It belongs to each of us–rich, poor, and in between–and I hope to spend the rest of my life telling that to as many people as I can.



Soon, I will board my flight to Philadelphia and then to Guyana. I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m in total disbelief, but I’m ready (my suitcases, not so much). I remember when this was just a silly, distant dream of mine and now, it suddenly feels real.

If you’re ever wondering what I’m doing in the Peace Corps, this is going to be the place to find out. This blog will remain what it’s always been (since I’ve had it for years), but there will be a greater focus on my life in Guyana. I feel thankful and honored to share this part of my life with you.

If you wish to receive email updates for when I write from Guyana, please subscribe to my blog. I hope that you’ll find my writing entertaining, comforting, and helpful as this story continues to unfold–stay tuned!

Love always,
Melanie Zimmerman
Peace Corps Health Volunteer
GUY 30

lessons on being human and finding forgiveness.

I have felt guilty and frustrated with my failure to forgive, ashamed of a grudge I’ve held, for years. At some point in my life, I decided that it was worst to feel unforgiving than it was to feel unloved; it was a horrible way of living. No one was really set free from the hurt that had taken place on that one night. We all grew a little bent around the horrifying memory that just kept playing over and over again. It was crippling.

Along with other pressing pains in my life, I couldn’t pretend like I was ok with it anymore. I made a choice to stop faking forgiveness and find my way to truly forgiving. It didn’t feel right all the time, but I felt that it was important to be honest about why I was hurting and why I haven’t been very forgiving in the first place. It caused a pretty violent storm in my life (and theirs), but because God’s grace is greater than our hardened hearts, I learned a few things about being human and what finding forgiveness really looks like.

I realized that even when I can’t and I fail to seventy out of seventy times, God still holds the power to forgive anything through the love of Christ. I didn’t have much hope in finding forgiveness before, but I found hope in that.

His love might not rewind or rewrite the past, but His love has the power to undo the wrong and the wicked that’s been done. His love can pardon anything and anyone. His love can make even the worst of things new.

So if you’re struggling to forgive too, this is my prayer for you. I pray against any bitterness that’s trying to poison your heart. I pray that you allow God’s grace to guide you there, to show you how to love yourself and how to love your enemies. I pray that you don’t lose hope. There’s no telling what forgiveness is going to look like, but I know forgiveness is there and we can start finding it at the cross.

For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. It is rare indeed for anyone to die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

Love always,
Melanie

farewell, fayetteville.

I think most of us that come to this town wonder what we ever did to deserve it. It is fun and funky in all the best ways. The food is great, the coffee is even better, and the people are as sweet as those unforgettable blueberry donuts from Rick’s Bakery. I feel that I’ve said bye to the same people at least 7 times in the past month, but it hasn’t changed how hard it’ll be to get in my car and drive through the Ozarks one last time.

I couldn’t come up with a way to sum up these last four years, so I thought I’d just share with you what’s on my mind as I get ready to leave.

I wasn’t sure what this year would bring, but I prayed for joy. I felt like it had escaped me over the years and it went missing somewhere in my wounded, little heart. I didn’t pray with much confidence that it would be given to me, but I asked for it anyway, earnestly and humbly hoping that maybe something would change in my life.

Months went by and I often wonder if joy meant having nothing to complain about or just the absence of suffering all together. I felt lighter this year, happier in a lot of ways, but whatever turmoil I tried to forget about kept spinning inside me.

As summer turned into fall and fall into winter (kind of), my life really slowed down and I really started feeling like my fake idea of joy was starting to fade away. Looking beneath it hurt; going into it, God, even worse. But little did I know, Jesus was returning joy to where it belonged.

Maybe it was the little square of cheesecake I had before I left a Christmas party the other night or the conversation I had with people I wish I became friends with sooner, but as I was driving home it was as if joy had finally taken it’s rightful place in my heart. Only this time, it was anchored by something that couldn’t be removed.

I realized joy comes from the assurance of knowing that we are loved by God.

And God, has He really shown me that this year. I’d be the first to tell you that discovering 1.) that God does in fact love your wretched, broken self and 2.) how much He loves you… is a painfully long journey.

I think sometimes we’re quick to believe that joy can be found somewhere else. Like it exists in a different place other than right here. And while I think traveling is a beautiful thing and can be used for unimaginably good ways, no place “out there” has what you’re looking for. Joy only exists in God’s love. And the journey to find it, my dear friend, is beneath our walls, our pride, and our sin.

God uses everything; the people, the place, and the circumstances you’re living in along the journey inside yourself to help and guide you. That doesn’t always feel ok and you will most likely cry a lot (and probably ask why you ever thought this was a good idea), but by the end of it, you will have joy and you will wonder what you ever did to deserve such love.

I thought about these things as I packed up the rest of my stuff this past week and reflected on the journey I went on with God while living in Fayetteville. I came to this place dead-beaten and burdened by a troubled past, and I can’t believe how God  has used everything around me for my good and His glory. It feels too good to be true, but I never expected this time of my life to end with a song of victory–of redeeming love. It just makes it even harder for me to accept that things are going be different again.

In just a short month I’ll be on my way to South America and serving in the Peace Corps for the next two years (holy freaking cow). The mystery of Guyana intimidates me sometimes, but I will find comfort and confidence knowing the same gracious God that loves me here will love me there. What God has planned for me out there will be good. Definitely not easy, but good.

For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Psalm 117:2

More details about all of that are soon to follow, but until then, I’m going to take my time to say my bittersweet goodbyes and enjoy what time I have left with my loved ones.

Farewell, fayetteville ❤

Love always,
Melanie