Green, rolling hills, vast canopies of trees, huge white columns in front of an old red-brick building, winding country lanes and signs commemorating an important Civil War battlefield? From my Yankee perspective, you can hardly get more classically Southern than that.
That lovely building is Green Hall, FEMA Corps's administrative center and one of our dorms. (It doubles as a computer lab, which is where I am now--wi-fi is supposedly here someplace, but I'm beginning to think it's just a myth.) It's also the centerpiece of the entire campus on which we'll reside for the next month, which is absolutely beautiful. It has huge, steep, grassy hills that you can run up and down on, and flatlands that are perfect for Ultimate Frisbee. There are all kinds of attractions on-campus, including a pool that I sampled earlier today, a gym, basketball courts and a great musty chapel with fantastic stained-glass windows (labeled on our map as "Auditorium"). There are also fire ants and at least one enormous red wasp, which buzzed me on my way back from assembly this morning, but you gotta take the bad with the good.
I do mean morning, by the way. Wakeup yesterday was 6:20; I drew the short straw. Right now we're in twenty-one temporary teams, organized into three master units: Summit, Ocean and Bayou. (Bayou has a sort of modified Gator Chomp as its distinctive hand signal, while we Summiters make a pyramid above our heads. Ocean has yet to come up with a hand gesture.) I'm in Summit III, which I've dubbed "Crater Lake", and we eat at 7 AM with the rest of the Summiters. (At least according to me, Summit I is "Pike's Peak", II is "Mt. Ranier", IV "Mt. St. Helens" and then I ran out of American mountains I know offhand. Maybe "Yellowstone"; it counts.) It's surprisingly not horrendous, because we go to bed so early. Weekday curfew is 11 PM, which means being in your rooms, lights out. It's certainly something to be surrounded by people with a work ethic--my roommate Dustin was up and running, literally, at six A.M. sharp.
Today was a day of tests. I got a drug test, a shot for tetanus, a TB test, various paperwork-related indignities and played every game in the team-building handbook. If anyone divines the secret of "You can bring apples, but not oranges" and "watermelons, but not carrots" and "not strawberries", let me know. I still haven't figured the bastard out. Speaking of cussing, you're not allowed to; it is verboten when you're in uniform, so the team leaders have cracked down on it now. Various creative outlets for indignation have resulted, including "Curses!" "Dash it all!" "Son of a!" and the use of 'Americorps', 'Corps' and 'FEMA' in place of your regularly scheduled expletives. So that's happening.
What else can I tell you? Physical Training (PT) starts on Friday at 6 AM, so there's that. We'll do as many push-ups and sit-ups as we can in a minute, then run 1.5 miles. You can't fail the test because there's no objective baseline; the point is more to establish a personal baseline so that you can improve over time. I'm already in pretty decent shape body-wise, my jeans feel loose and I've been doing nightly push-ups, but there's no getting around my lack of cardiovascular fitness. I can only hope that sporadic biking will be enough; at least the test will be early tomorrow, before the Vicksburg heat and mugginess hits.
Other tidbits: we're moving to Anniston, Alabama in a month for ten straight days of intensive FEMA training... we'll get a personal computer and a Blackberry for on-the-job use, because it's the federal government and Blackberries are mandatory... when getting uniforms today, the equipment guy didn't believe I wore a "Small-Small" (waist, length) pant size and made me try on the "Small, Regular", which went down to the balls of my feet. What kind of giants do they normally get, I'd like to know... also got a pair of steel-toed boots today, which I will get to keep after FEMA. Thanks to Mythbusters, I now know they won't sever my toes... the team-building game where everyone tries to fit on one increasingly small piece of tarpaulin is devilishly hard; my team made it down to about three square feet and then couldn't manage it for more than 12 seconds with eight people... a surprising number of people have tattoos. At least half of the people here are inked up in some way, it feels like... this week's food is catered, but starting Saturday we're fending for ourselves. I'm attaching myself to a chef and trading him my cooking duties in return for his cleanup duties, because I would probably poison everyone.
It being 10:24, I'm going to sign off here, read a little more of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and head to bed. 6:20 tomorrow, hello world!
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