1/12/2015

Peace Corps: Itinerary

Peace Corps PCV
When I received my initial Peace Corps nomination, for Vanuatu, I went on a knowledge spree. I read just about everything I could get my hands on about the country. I went down a Wikipedia rabbit hole so deep that I eventually ended up at Kevin Bacon. I subscribed to daily updates about the country on Google News. As much as I tried not to, I started to fall in love with the country.

So, in September, when this 'relationship' fell through, I was rather heart broken. Sure, I had Zambia as my rebound, and yes, it had only ever been long distance. But I adored Vanuatu. I had told so many people that I was going there. I had learned so much about it. Yet, in a single phone call, it was all over.

My Peace Corps Recruiter had warned me not to fall in love, but look at her...
Peace Corps Volunteer Vanuatu
She's so beautiful!
Yet, I had to try and move on. My new assignment was fish farming in Zambia, and I had my hesitations. Not about being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa or the aquaculture program, but about getting my heart set on another country that I wasn't going to end up serving in. Zambia looked like an amazing place, but I didn't want to get too invested, in case things didn't work out again.

So yes, I did change my Google News subscriptions from Vanuatu to Zambia, but other than that, I really didn't take much stock in learning about the country, beyond the Peace Corps Zambia Welcome Book. In some instances, I even avoided such information. Apparently, there is a sizable falconry community there, but I did not broach the subject with any of the Master Falconers I was learning from. This went on for over three months until, at long last, I received my Final Medical Clearance.

Then, I went on a data deluge. The tribal and migratory history of the country/region is fascinating. The exact record of what all occurred can only be pieced together through linguistics and other anthropological studies, but it paints an amazing picture of the rich and diverse history of the tribes that make up Zambia.
Peace Corps Volunteer Zambia
This is why I'm not currently studying a tribal language. I have to wait until my first week of training/until I get assigned my post to know which of these 13 language groups I'll need to be focusing on. As of today, though, I can say with certainty when that is going to occur.

Greetings Everett:
The Staging Unit is looking forward to your arrival in Philadelphia, PA on February 9, 2015 for the Zambia staging event. Please read this email and the attachments carefully, as the information here will answer many of the questions you have regarding your final steps prior to departing for Zambia.
Your staging event will be a brief, yet intense orientation to the Peace Corps and the general demands of being a healthy, safe, and effective Volunteer. Since our time at staging is limited, you should come prepared by reading your Welcome Book, Volunteer Handbook, and the attached Peace Corps’ Approach to Safety and Security. Your attendance at all sessions is mandatory.
Please note that as a Trainee and Volunteer overseas, you will be expected to act and dress in keeping with your status as a professional and guest. At staging, business casual attire is required.
STAGING DATES: February 9, 2015 - February 10, 2015
REGISTRATION: 12:00 PM on February 9, 2015
STAGING HOTEL: Sonesta Hotel Philadelphia
1800 Market Street 19103
(215) 561-7500
http://www.sonesta.com/philadelphia
SCHEDULE:
February 9, 2015
12:00 PM: Registration
2:00 - 4:25 PM: Who We Are, What You Expect, What's Next
4:25 - 4:45 PM: Break
4:45 - 7:00 PM: What We Expect, Closing
February 10, 2015
2:00 AM: Check out of hotel
2:30 AM: Bus arrives for loading and departure to the airport
INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT ITINERARY:
10 FEB 15 - TUESDAY
AIR UNITED AIRLINES FLT:7226 UNITED ECONOMY LUNCH
NEW YORK JFK-JOHANNESBURG OPERATED BY SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS
LV NEW YORK JFK 1040A EQP: AIRBUS A340-300
DEPART: TERMINAL 4 15HR 00MIN
11 FEB 15 - WEDNESDAY
AR JOHANNESBURG 840A NON-STOP
AIR SOUTH AFRICAN FLT:62 ECONOMY LUNCH
LV JOHANNESBURG 1030A EQP: BOEING 737-800
DEPART: TERMINAL B 02HR 00MIN
AR LUSAKA 1230P NON-STOP

Find out how to join the Peace Corps!

Source: Teouma Bay Shikanda


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12/24/2014

Peace Corps: Medical Clearance

Peace Corps USA
It's been nearly a year and a half since I decided to join the Peace Corps. The application process has been one of the most grueling and stressful experiences of my life. It makes the bureaucratic hoops I had to jump through to study abroad at Tohoku University, in Japan, look like grand archways I simply strolled under.

As mentioned in previous posts, after hearing nothing for nearly six months, my nomination was changed from the South Pacific to the Sub-Saharan. I'll be working with the Rural Aquaculture Promotion as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia. I was and still am very excited about the assignment, but man, the paperwork, since...
Peace Corps Volunteer Invitation
This was just the beginning.
Once I accepted my formal invitation, the flood gates opened: passport, visa, updated resume, final transcripts, aspiration statement, press releases, a dozen digital documents/forms, two e-learning video classes, and the biggest doozy of them all, final medical clearance. I accepted my invitation on the 15th of September, and I completed all of my tasks before I flipped my calendar to October... with the sole exception of the latter. I was not medically cleared until this past Friday, the 19th of December.

The medical application process was a mind-numbing game of telephone between my physician, me, the Peace Corps Nurse, and the Peace Corps physician, in exactly that order. If the PC physician had a question, they didn't just call my doctor, even when invited to. They ask the nurse who in turn asked me, who in turn had to make another appointment to see my doctor. This is of course after waiting over a month for the PC physician to finally raise such a question.

Preferably, Peace Corps Invitees receive final medical clearance 60 days prior to their scheduled departure time. When I called, sort of worried that I was again, again waiting for a response from my PC physician, the lady on the other end reassured me that most of the other invitees in my class weren't medically cleared yet either. That was with 55 days to go!

Five days later, I finally got the all clear. I was like a kid on Christmas.
At the beginning of the new year, I should be getting flight information about staging and departure, currently scheduled for February 9th. Below are some useful charts from the Peace Corps Wiki on medical restrictions that can delay, limit, and/or inhibit your ability to serve, if you're looking to become a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Medical Delay Peace Corps Volunteer
Medical conditions that could limit your placement.
Medical Restrictions Peace Corps Volunteer
Medical conditions that could limit your placement.
Medical Unsupported Peace Corps Volunteer
Medical conditions that could not be supported.
Find out how to join the Peace Corps!


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12/10/2014

Swim, Bike, Chi

Manning Raptors
In the spring, I competed in a triathlon with my girlfriend, Savannah, and since I'm no longer sailing to the Caribbean, I created a trifecta of hobbies to bide my time, this fall, until I leave for Zambia, as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Swim

Last summer, I discovered marathon swims. They were added to the Summer Olympics in 2008. It's been my goal, ever since, to complete one. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I went to the pool. Each Wednesday, I would add an addition 1km, so the morning prior to the most gluttonous day of the year, Thanksgiving, I swam for a total of three hours and twenty-five minutes, 200 laps, 400 lengths, 10 kilometers, 6 miles: a marathon swim.
Olympic Marathon Swim
After every 2km, I would stop, take a drink, and flip the cup over. 

Bike

I'm going to be biking over 20 miles a day, in Zambia, so I figured I might as well start getting prepared for that reality. I was averaging around 12 miles a day, between swimming and tai chi (see below), but that wasn't quite enough. As I started getting into falconry, the opportunity presented itself for me to volunteer at The Center for Birds of Prey. It's ten miles north of my house, so on Tuesday's and Thursday's, I now commute a little over 32 miles. Atop that, I'm also learning how to handle and work with raptors: hawks, falcons, kestrels, kites, osprey, eagles, owls, and vultures.
Lanner Saker Hybrid
Manning a raptor, Lanner/Saker Falcon Hybrid

Chi

If you want to keep busy, stay in shape, and not hate yourself, when you're older than 40, I have a few simple words of advice: Do what the old people do. Swimming, biking, and volunteering at The Center, there are a few other twenty-somethings, but by and large, my peers are all old and grey. The same can be said for my final hobby, tai chi. It builds strength, increases balance and reflexes, reduces stress, teaches practical martial arts, and most importantly, it's low impact. I've been going to classes every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and I can now do the Yang Style 24 Form.

Find out how to join the Peace Corps!
If you're looking to learn how to hitchhike, check out my book- The Hitchhiker's Guide to: Earth.


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11/16/2014

Why Explore Space?

In 1970, a volunteer nurse in Zambia wrote to the associate director of NASA, asking how, with so much poverty, starvation, and strife, in the world, they could be spending billions of dollars on space exploration. This past week, nearly half a century later, man put a lander on a comet, for the first time.

I'm about to join the Peace Corps; I'm about to be a volunteer in Zambia, as well. Yet, I don't share the sentiment of my caretaking predecessor. Now, more than ever, I feel the words of the director, Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, ring true. I'll let him take it from here:

Dear Sister Mary Jucunda:

Your letter was one of many which are reaching me every day, but it has touched me more deeply than all the others because it came so much from the depths of a searching mind and a compassionate heart. I will try to answer your question as best as I possibly can.

First, however, I would like to express my great admiration for you, and for all your many brave sisters, because you are dedicating your lives to the noblest cause of man: help for his fellowmen who are in need.

You asked in your letter how I could suggest the expenditures of billions of dollars for a voyage to Mars, at a time when many children on this Earth are starving to death. I know that you do not expect an answer such as "Oh, I did not know that there are children dying from hunger, but from now on I will desist from any kind of space research until mankind has solved that problem!" In fact, I have known of famined children long before I knew that a voyage to the planet Mars is technically feasible. However, I believe, like many of my friends, that traveling to the Moon and eventually to Mars and to other planets is a venture which we should undertake now, and I even believe that this project, in the long run, will contribute more to the solution of these grave problems we are facing here on Earth than many other potential projects of help which are debated and discussed year after year, and which are so extremely slow in yielding tangible results.

Before trying to describe in more detail how our space program is contributing to the solution of our Earthly problems, I would like to relate briefly a supposedly true story, which may help support the argument. About 400 years ago, there lived a count in a small town in Germany. He was one of the benign counts, and he gave a large part of his income to the poor in his town. This was much appreciated, because poverty was abundant during medieval times, and there were epidemics of the plague which ravaged the country frequently. One day, the count met a strange man. He had a workbench and little laboratory in his house, and he labored hard during the daytime so that he could afford a few hours every evening to work in his laboratory. He ground small lenses from pieces of glass; he mounted the lenses in tubes, and he used these gadgets to look at very small objects. The count was particularly fascinated by the tiny creatures that could be observed with the strong magnification, and which he had never seen before. He invited the man to move with his laboratory to the castle, to become a member of the count's household, and to devote henceforth all his time to the development and perfection of his optical gadgets as a special employee of the count.

The townspeople, however, became angry when they realized that the count was wasting his money, as they thought, on a stunt without purpose. "We are suffering from this plague," they said, "while he is paying that man for a useless hobby!" But the count remained firm. "I give you as much as I can afford," he said, "but I will also support this man and his work, because I know that someday something will come out of it!"

Indeed, something very good came out of this work, and also out of similar work done by others at other places: the microscope. It is well known that the microscope has contributed more than any other invention to the progress of medicine, and that the elimination of the plague and many other contagious diseases from most parts of the world is largely a result of studies which the microscope made possible.

The count, by retaining some of his spending money for research and discovery, contributed far more to the relief of human suffering than he could have contributed by giving all he could possibly spare to his plague-ridden community.

The situation which we are facing today is similar in many respects. The President of the United States is spending about 200 billion dollars in his yearly budget. This money goes to health, education, welfare, urban renewal, highways, transportation, foreign aid, defense, conservation, science, agriculture and many installations inside and outside the country. About 1.6 percent of this national budget was allocated to space exploration this year. The space program includes Project Apollo, and many other smaller projects in space physics, space astronomy, space biology, planetary projects, Earth resources projects, and space engineering. To make this expenditure for the space program possible, the average American taxpayer with 10,000 dollars income per year is paying about 30 tax dollars for space. The rest of his income, 9,970 dollars, remains for his subsistence, his recreation, his savings, his other taxes, and all his other expenditures.

You will probably ask now: "Why don't you take 5 or 3 or 1 dollar out of the 30 space dollars which the average American taxpayer is paying, and send these dollars to the hungry children?" To answer this question, I have to explain briefly how the economy of this country works. The situation is very similar in other countries. The government consists of a number of departments (Interior, Justice, Health, Education and Welfare, Transportation, Defense, and others) and the bureaus (National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and others). All of them prepare their yearly budgets according to their assigned missions, and each of them must defend its budget against extremely severe screening by congressional committees, and against heavy pressure for economy from the Bureau of the Budget and the President. When the funds are finally appropriated by Congress, they can be spent only for the line items specified and approved in the budget.

The budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, naturally, can contain only items directly related to aeronautics and space. If this budget were not approved by Congress, the funds proposed for it would not be available for something else; they would simply not be levied from the taxpayer, unless one of the other budgets had obtained approval for a specific increase which would then absorb the funds not spent for space. You realize from this brief discourse that support for hungry children, or rather a support in addition to what the United States is already contributing to this very worthy cause in the form of foreign aid, can be obtained only if the appropriate department submits a budget line item for this purpose, and if this line item is then approved by Congress.

You may ask now whether I personally would be in favor of such a move by our government. My answer is an emphatic yes. Indeed, I would not mind at all if my annual taxes were increased by a number of dollars for the purpose of feeding hungry children, wherever they may live.

I know that all of my friends feel the same way. However, we could not bring such a program to life merely by desisting from making plans for voyages to Mars. On the contrary, I even believe that by working for the space program I can make some contribution to the relief and eventual solution of such grave problems as poverty and hunger on Earth. Basic to the hunger problem are two functions: the production of food and the distribution of food. Food production by agriculture, cattle ranching, ocean fishing and other large-scale operations is efficient in some parts of the world, but drastically deficient in many others. For example, large areas of land could be utilized far better if efficient methods of watershed control, fertilizer use, weather forecasting, fertility assessment, plantation programming, field selection, planting habits, timing of cultivation, crop survey and harvest planning were applied.

The best tool for the improvement of all these functions, undoubtedly, is the artificial Earth satellite. Circling the globe at a high altitude, it can screen wide areas of land within a short time; it can observe and measure a large variety of factors indicating the status and condition of crops, soil, droughts, rainfall, snow cover, etc., and it can radio this information to ground stations for appropriate use. It has been estimated that even a modest system of Earth satellites equipped with Earth resources, sensors, working within a program for worldwide agricultural improvements, will increase the yearly crops by an equivalent of many billions of dollars.

The distribution of the food to the needy is a completely different problem. The question is not so much one of shipping volume, it is one of international cooperation. The ruler of a small nation may feel very uneasy about the prospect of having large quantities of food shipped into his country by a large nation, simply because he fears that along with the food there may also be an import of influence and foreign power. Efficient relief from hunger, I am afraid, will not come before the boundaries between nations have become less divisive than they are today. I do not believe that space flight will accomplish this miracle over night. However, the space program is certainly among the most promising and powerful agents working in this direction.

Let me only remind you of the recent near-tragedy of Apollo 13. When the time of the crucial reentry of the astronauts approached, the Soviet Union discontinued all Russian radio transmissions in the frequency bands used by the Apollo Project in order to avoid any possible interference, and Russian ships stationed themselves in the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans in case an emergency rescue would become necessary. Had the astronaut capsule touched down near a Russian ship, the Russians would undoubtedly have expended as much care and effort in their rescue as if Russian cosmonauts had returned from a space trip. If Russian space travelers should ever be in a similar emergency situation, Americans would do the same without any doubt.

Higher food production through survey and assessment from orbit, and better food distribution through improved international relations, are only two examples of how profoundly the space program will impact life on Earth. I would like to quote two other examples: stimulation of technological development, and generation of scientific knowledge.

The requirements for high precision and for extreme reliability which must be imposed upon the components of a moon-traveling spacecraft are entirely unprecedented in the history of engineering. The development of systems which meet these severe requirements has provided us a unique opportunity to find new material and methods, to invent better technical systems, to manufacturing procedures, to lengthen the lifetimes of instruments, and even to discover new laws of nature.

All this newly acquired technical knowledge is also available for application to Earth-bound technologies. Every year, about a thousand technical innovations generated in the space program find their ways into our Earthly technology where they lead to better kitchen appliances and farm equipment, better sewing machines and radios, better ships and airplanes, better weather forecasting and storm warning, better communications, better medical instruments, better utensils and tools for everyday life. Presumably, you will ask now why we must develop first a life support system for our moon-traveling astronauts, before we can build a remote-reading sensor system for heart patients. The answer is simple: significant progress in the solutions of technical problems is frequently made not by a direct approach, but by first setting a goal of high challenge which offers a strong motivation for innovative work, which fires the imagination and spurs men to expend their best efforts, and which acts as a catalyst by including chains of other reactions.

Spaceflight without any doubt is playing exactly this role. The voyage to Mars will certainly not be a direct source of food for the hungry. However, it will lead to so many new technologies and capabilities that the spin-offs from this project alone will be worth many times the cost of its implementation.

Besides the need for new technologies, there is a continuing great need for new basic knowledge in the sciences if we wish to improve the conditions of human life on Earth. We need more knowledge in physics and chemistry, in biology and physiology, and very particularly in medicine to cope with all these problems which threaten man's life: hunger, disease, contamination of food and water, pollution of the environment.

We need more young men and women who choose science as a career and we need better support for those scientists who have the talent and the determination to engage in fruitful research work. Challenging research objectives must be available, and sufficient support for research projects must be provided. Again, the space program with its wonderful opportunities to engage in truly magnificent research studies of moons and planets, of physics and astronomy, of biology and medicine is an almost ideal catalyst which induces the reaction between the motivation for scientific work, opportunities to observe exciting phenomena of nature, and material support needed to carry out the research effort.

Among all the activities which are directed, controlled, and funded by the American government, the space program is certainly the most visible and probably the most debated activity, although it consumes only 1.6 percent of the total national budget, and 3 per mille (less than one-third of 1 percent) of the gross national product. As a stimulant and catalyst for the development of new technologies, and for research in the basic sciences, it is unparalleled by any other activity. In this respect, we may even say that the space program is taking over a function which for three or four thousand years has been the sad prerogative of wars.

How much human suffering can be avoided if nations, instead of competing with their bomb-dropping fleets of airplanes and rockets, compete with their moon-traveling space ships! This competition is full of promise for brilliant victories, but it leaves no room for the bitter fate of the vanquished, which breeds nothing but revenge and new wars.

Although our space program seems to lead us away from our Earth and out toward the moon, the sun, the planets, and the stars, I believe that none of these celestial objects will find as much attention and study by space scientists as our Earth. It will become a better Earth, not only because of all the new technological and scientific knowledge which we will apply to the betterment of life, but also because we are developing a far deeper appreciation of our Earth, of life, and of man.

The photograph which I enclose with this letter shows a view of our Earth as seen from Apollo 8 when it orbited the moon at Christmas, 1968. Of all the many wonderful results of the space program so far, this picture may be the most important one. It opened our eyes to the fact that our Earth is a beautiful and most precious island in an unlimited void, and that there is no other place for us to live but the thin surface layer of our planet, bordered by the bleak nothingness of space. Never before did so many people recognize how limited our Earth really is, and how perilous it would be to tamper with its ecological balance. Ever since this picture was first published, voices have become louder and louder warning of the grave problems that confront man in our times: pollution, hunger, poverty, urban living, food production, water control, overpopulation. It is certainly not by accident that we begin to see the tremendous tasks waiting for us at a time when the young space age has provided us the first good look at our own planet.

Very fortunately though, the space age not only holds out a mirror in which we can see ourselves, it also provides us with the technologies, the challenge, the motivation, and even with the optimism to attack these tasks with confidence. What we learn in our space program, I believe, is fully supporting what Albert Schweitzer had in mind when he said: "I am looking at the future with concern, but with good hope."

My very best wishes will always be with you, and with your children.

Very sincerely yours,

Ernst Stuhlinger

Associate Director for Science

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11/04/2014

Redesign: Living Up to My Degree

I graduated from Clemson University, in August, with a degree in Computer Science and Business. In spite of the former, this site hasn't been updated, functionally or aesthetically, since near its inception, in late 2011.

A few months back, when I was hitchhiking to Pennsylvania, I saw a driver look my site up on his smartphone. The mobile experience was terrible! The interwebs has progressed a lot in the past three years, and the fact that my blog looked like utter rubbish on an iPhone was embarrassing. Google really didn't have any good options (I'm using their Blogger platform), so I decided to build my own.

List of Notable Changes:
  • Fully Responsive: The site looks, works, and feels the same, on desktop, tablet, and phone.
  • Navigation and Search Bar: Can be toggled in and out of view (upper right hand corner).
  • Comment System: Has reverted back to the original system, so some of the more recent comments, using Google+, are no longer visible.
There are some features of the old site that I will miss. Clicking on a post now brings you to another page, as opposed to opening a modal dialogue containing the story. Pop up windows, of any sort, just don't translate well to mobile, though. Also, I've done away with infinite scrolling; there are now seven posts per page. I needed a place to put the ads (that I use to support this site), and the best place, given the template I was working with, seemed to be the footer. 

Everything from the favicon to the logo got a redesign, but I tried to stick with the original spirit of the old site. Also, the color palette was kept nearly identical. Please, let me know if there are any problems with the new site, and feedback (whether positive or negative) is always welcome. Let me know in a comment below!

To another three wonderful years! 

If you're looking to learn how to hitchhike, check out my book- The Hitchhiker's Guide to: Earth.

Source: Anders NorĂ©n


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10/16/2014

Falconry: My First Hunt

Falconry Show
When I was rather young, somewhere in the single digits, I went to Brookgreen Gardens with my parents and grandparents. There was a falconry show there. I think I almost pooped my pants. It was one of the most amazing things I'd ever seen. Fast forward to last fall, I'm 21. Savannah (whom I later hitchhiked to Key West with and raced against in a triathlon) and I were at a renaissance festival. Don't hate. As soon as we got an itinerary for the day's events, there were two things that I had to see 1) Joisting 2) Falconry.

Joisting turned out to be alright. It was a highly staged and theatrical performance, so as an adult, it didn't really live up to my adolescent expectations. After a glass of mead, which wasn't quite as good as my own, we headed off to the falconry show. It also started out very tongue and cheek. A few bad jokes here, a bit of of pandering to the audience there. Then the birds came out. Honestly, if all the show was was a hawk sitting on the stage for 30 minutes, I would have been happy. Just seeing the creatures up close is mesmerizing. But no, there were raptors flying everywhere: crisscrossing overhead, landing on perches, soaring in the air, dive-bombing for food. I was a kid again.

If I were there by myself, I probably would have stayed and watched the show again. I tried talking to one of the apprentices, afterwards, but he was only fourteen and wearing a little, red gnome hat. I couldn't take him seriously. As soon as I got home though, I googled "how to get into falconry." And talk about barriers to entry!

In order to even hold a bird, you have become a licensed apprentice. This requires passing a test, administered by DNR, building an 8'x8'x8' cage called a mew, and the even more difficult task, finding an experienced falconer (general or master) to sponsor you. There are maybe a dozen of them in the entire state. So which came first, the falconer or the egg?
Falconry Association

These roadblocks were too much to handle, at the time. I was a senior at Clemson University living in a tipi, and there was no way it was going to happen, then. But now, with my plans to sail to the caribbean canceled, I have the time... sort of.

Getting into falconry, I'm learning, is not just a passing fancy. Most birds used in the sport are caught, at a year old, in the wild. They're undomesticated; they're raptors. Thus, they rightly don't trust humans. Their handler is, in most cases, the sole exception. They're the only anthropoid the bird can trust, and even then, it's fleeting.

So, in order for me to really get into falconry, train and work with a bird one-on-one, I'd have to be committed to them for at least a year. Given that I'm joining the Peace Corps, in February, and the fact that they'd probably frown upon a Peace Corps Volunteer bring a hawk to Zambia, I can't start working on my apprenticeship, just yet. But I was able to go and see a hunt for the first time.

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that Athena, a two year old red tailed hawk, didn't just soar away, when she was untethered, in the middle of the woods. Yes, she flew to a nearby tree, but she followed us. As we moved through the thicket, shaking the underbrush and vines in nearby foliage, she was there, scanning the limbs and branches for signs of life. Squirrel and rabbit are the main bounty for falconers, in these parts of the country. The game usually gets stuck in the freezer though, for the raptor to later eat. And this brings us to crux of the whole thing. Food.

Food is the corner stone, brick, mortar, and foundation of this entire relationship. Sure, if I'd stopped feeding LitteCat, at the tipi, she would have eventually abscond, but a raptor, they have no loyalty, no care beyond the present state of their stomachs. If Athena had gotten hold of a squirrel and flow to the top of an old oak, she wouldn't have come down when she was called. It's not like a dog, where you can slowly get rid of the treat and they'll still sit. If there isn't food, they'll not coming; if they're not hungry, they're not coming.

Let me just take this moment to say, "NO. Falconers do not starve their birds." An emaciated raptor would make for a terrible hunter, just as a fat one would. I think we, as modern humans, have lost site of the one-to-one correlation that hard work and a meal have, in nature. Most go to the office, read emails, talk by the water cooler, surf the web, and somewhere in there do the thing that is their 'job'. Then, they wait two weeks, open the mail box, open an envelope, drive to the bank, and fill out a deposit slip. Finally, there's a visit to a restaurant or trip to a grocery store, the food is neatly packaged and presented, and then a plastic card is read by magnets.

A raptor feels the sensation of hunger, works its tail feathers off chasing its prey, and then soothes it's appetite with that animal's flesh, right then and there. If the bird is not hungry, it does not hunt. It doesn't need to. So part of falconry, a rather large part actually, is weight management. Birds of prey are no different than humans.
Fat Man Marathon
He would never be able to chase down an antelope.
This point is driven home by the fact that, if conditions were so bad, the raptor could literally just fly away! Only master falconers can imprint on a chick, so by and large, the only thing keeping them there is this willing partnership. Athena was out there to hunt, and we were there to help.

Roughly 80% of all raptors die in their first year of life (RaptorInstitute.org), and a large part of that is due to inexperience. Since falconers only take birds during their inaugural year, it gives the youngsters a chance to improve. So even though Athena went 0-3, on our hunt, she still got fed, unlike her unkept counterparts.

The experience of being able to see her quest for food, though unsuccessfully, was grand. Hopefully, I'll be able to make it out on a few more hunts, a little closer to home. These birds are amazing creatures, and it is incredible to watch them work symbiotically with humans, as they have for over 4,000 years... when they feel like it, that is.

If you're looking to learn how to hitchhike, check out my book- The Hitchhiker's Guide to: Earth.

Source: Royal Faires SC Falconry Association Perez Hilton


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10/07/2014

Passport Photos

Passport Photos
How much do you think the above photos should cost? Nine 2"x2" standard ID photos. $5? $10? Try $65, plus tax.

Passport photos are one of those parts of traveling abroad that should be inexpensive, but they're not. The Peace Corps requires me to send in two copies, the Zambian Embassy requires me to send in an additional two, and I also need an additional five spare sets, when I land. I've had these sorts of photos taken at drug stores, the post office, and even a little kiosk in a Parisian metro station. The former though, is by far the worst, and somehow, I always seem to forget that fact.

I went up to the CVS at the top of my street:

Do you all do passport photos?
"Yep, we do," responded the overweight sales clerk as she pulled out a decrepit old Kodak point and shoot.
How much does it cost?
"Thirteen bucks for two copies."

Now I'm just going to interrupt here to point out that it is 39¢ to print a standard, 3.5"x5" photograph, at this same location, using the same machines. So the only real difference here is the that this lady is going to ask me to stand against a wall, push a button with her chubby finger, and then put an SD card into the same machine that prints regular photos. So in the age of selfies and SnapChat, I'm paying $12.61 for someone to take my picture.

Alright, and what if I want four photos?
There was a rather long pause as she struggled with the mental arithmetic, "Twenty-six dollars."
So there isn't any kind of discount? You'll have already take the photograph.
"It don't work that way."

I then sit down at their do-it-yourself kiosks. On the far right is an ID photos option. The icon shows nine photos on a page.

How much does this cost?
"Oh, I don't know, but you don't want to do that."
Why not?
"It don't work right."
So you're telling me that your product doesn't work?
"Nah, it's just it ain't good."
Other than you taking the photo and me taking the photo, what's the difference?
"I, ah.. I don't know. Most people come back and have us do it because it don't work right."
What!

I went across the street to their duopolistic cohort, Wallgreen's, and they only wanted to charge me $55.

If I was in a rush or if I was a technological luddite, I might accept this fate and pay the exorbitant cost for her fat fingers to hit a button, but I didn't. I know how to use image editing software, so even if the kiosk just "don't work right," I could make a 3.5"x5" image that has two 2"x2" photos on it. Then come back and print it out. There's an even easier way to do it, though, that's less tech savvy. You could get nine wallet size photos, which are 2.5"x2.5". The key is to make sure the original photo is a little zoomed out, to accommodate for the half inch of cropping required. Use a straight edge, make a few cuts, and you're good to go.

It costs $4, including tax.

The State Department has a useful tool for cropping your own photos, before you bring them to the kiosk: http://travel.state.gov/content/dam/passports/FIG_cropper.swf

Also, if you're a member of AAA or have a good post office in your area, they'll do them for free.

If you're interested in becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer, checkout my post on how to join the Peace Corps.



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