Tag Archives: peace corps

The Whole Cheesy Story, Part 4

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First read Parts 1, 2, and 3.

Finally, the end of the “how we met” saga!

When we last left off in my long, drawn out love story, Zach and I had finally said the big “L word”, and the next day I got on a plane to start my two years of Peace Corps service.  I went off to Tanzania to learn Swahili, live in a village, and do my best to contribute something, and he stayed in Ohio, working on his degree.  We left our relationship undefined and I had no idea what would happen.  I honestly expected him to forget about me and find a new girl who wasn’t an ocean away.  But he didn’t.  And the trouble was, I couldn’t forget about him either.  I did my best to adopt a “whatever happens, happens” attitude to the situation and focus on the present.  But I couldn’t stop dreaming about the future, imagining us ending up together.  Every time I got an email or a letter or a super-expensive phone call from Zach I would smile all day.  I had never wanted to be in a long-distance relationship while in the Peace Corps, as I imagined missing someone would make it even harder than it already was to be so far from home.  Well, even though our relationship was unofficial, missing him was still incredibly hard.

My Tanzanian life

So, when my bestie got engaged and told me I had to come back to be MOH in her wedding, I was unbelievably psyched!  Not only would I get to be in her wedding and eat American food I’d been missing, I’d get to see Zach!  So I booked a round trip flight home.  I’d been away for nine months and despite the ups and downs of Peace Corps life, I had every intention of sticking it out and returning for 17 more months.  In the weeks leading up to my return, I couldn’t concentrate on anything besides counting the days and wondering if Zach and I would still have the same chemistry.

Boy did we.  The sparks flew so intensely during that whirlwind two weeks.   The morning after the wedding, I suddenly found myself sitting in a Tim Hortons, hours before my return flight, sobbing that I didn’t want to go back.  Thus began the most difficult decision I have ever had to make.  I was an emotional wreck, and Zach was amazing.  He never once asked me to stay.  He told me that all he wanted was for me to be happy.  After a few gut-wrenching hours, crying conversations with my family and best friend (yes, I called her the day after her wedding, I’m horrible), and general stress over the prospect of ruining my whole life plan, I realized that I just couldn’t leave again.

I swallowed my pride and I quit the Peace Corps for a guy.  Honestly, there were other reasons why I wasn’t super happy in Tanzania, but Zach was definitely the biggest one.  If I hadn’t met him, or if I had never come home for the wedding, I’m sure I would have stuck it out for the whole two years.  Like I said, this was the hardest decision I ever made.  Life was all of a sudden full of uncertainty, and I was plagued with guilt and feelings of failure for quitting.  To this day, I still feel badly for leaving.  I never, ever envisioned myself becoming the kind of person who would give up her life plan for a romance.  But, Zach was the first guy I was ever with who I was willing to do that for, and maybe that’s how I knew it was right.  Looking back, I don’t regret any of my Peace Corps service, and I don’t regret my decision to quit either.

Anyway, all of a sudden I had the man of my dreams, no job, no plan, and a scarily insecure feeling about the future.  “What should we do now?” I asked Zach.  “Let’s drive to California.” he said.  So we did.  And the rest is (recent) history.

Pacific Beach, San Diego, a week after I quit the Peace Corps

Did anyone else make an impulsive/irresponsible-seeming/risky/life-changing decision for love?  How did it work out?

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The Whole Cheesy Story, Part 3

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First read Part 1 and Part 2

Sorry, this story is dragging on forever!  I haven’t had enough time for blogging what with the huge transition of moving back to the USA, finding a job and a place to live, etc.  Excuses, excuses, I know.

Where I last left off, Zach and I had had a wonderful first date and really connected.  I was hope hope hoping that we’d hang out again.  Well, sure enough, the next day (Valentine’s Day, in fact), he texted me “Happy Valentine’s Day,” and we made plans to hang out that very night, after we both got done working.  I even dragged my BFF and her now-husband, then-boyfriend out to the bar to be wing(wo)men so it wouldn’t be too Valentine’s-ey with just Zach and I.  What a good friend, right?  In short, we had another amazing night!

Still one of my favorite pictures of us from the early days.

What followed after this was us quickly becoming inseparable.  We hung out every chance we got, he met my friends, I met his friends.  The whole time, however, the specter of Africa was looming on the horizon.  Zach even asked me if I wanted to be his girlfriend and make our relationship official, but I said no because I didn’t want to “start something that had to end so soon.”  But of course, official or unofficial, it had already started.

Our first ziplining adventure!

As my departure date got closer and closer, I found myself getting less and less excited about leaving for the Peace Corps.  I knew Zach and my attempts to keep things relaxed were failing when BFF called me out on being in love with him.  “If I were you, I wouldn’t go,” she even said once.  But I HAD to go, this was the Peace Corps, this had been my dream for years!  I knew that if I gave it up I might never forgive myself, no matter what happened.

And so, on June 13, 2009, only four short months after our first date, I found myself gathered in Zach’s embrace, both of us sobbing.  It was the hardest goodbye I’ve ever said.  As I stood there crying, wondering how I was ever going to get up the courage to leave, all of a sudden I knew I had to be honest.  “I love you,” I blubbered, for the first time ever.  “I love you too,” he said.

And the next morning, I got on a plane.

Photo Favorite: Tattoo Idea

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I took this picture in Maasai Mara National Park, Kenya, in 2007.  The camera was a crappy point and shoot but I think to this day it’s one of the best pictures I’ve ever taken, compositionally.  This Acacia was the only tree in the middle of the enormous plain.  In my time in Africa I’ve seen plenty of Acacias (I had one right behind my house in Tanzania and have some cool pictures of it too) but I still think they’re the coolest trees in the world.

So, getting a tattoo is on my Thirty by 30 list.  I’ve been set on the location (shoulder-blade) and the words in my envisioned tattoo for a long time, but I keep waffling on the picture.  Lately I’ve been thinking that an Acacia tree would be perfect!  It could have color, meaning, and even be based on this picture that I took!  Including the road would be awesome and meaningful too.  Plus, it’s African-themed without being obvious (my first idea was an outline of the continent of Africa) and fits perfectly with the words I want:  “Tupo pamoja” meaning “We are together” in Swahili.

What do you think?????

Missing My Love

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In Swahili there’s no word for “miss” as in “I miss you.”  It’s a language distinctly lacking in words to describe emotions, and “miss” is one of the words that just isn’t there.  This made it so hard to explain my feelings to Tanzanians when I was there, because a lot of the time I was consumed with the loneliness of missing my friends and family.  I thought of Zach every single night as I fell asleep and often dreamed about him.  The missing was a constant ache despite how much I tried to ignore it.  I realized that the loneliness of KNOWING there’s a perfect person out there for you and not being with him is worse than the loneliness of just being single.  And you can’t tell people how much you miss the guy you’re in love with back home because their language has no words to describe it!

Fast forward a year and a half.  We haven’t spent even a week apart since I got back from Africa.  Now, Zach is working on construction project that is 2 HOURS AWAY from home.  It sucks!!!  We keep hoping that he’ll be offered a job closer to home, but so far no such luck.  This puts us in quite a pickle.  If he wants to come home at night he basically loses half the day’s money in gas costs.  Argh!  So he’s been camping out, sleeping in his truck in 100-degree desert heat most nights and just coming home once a week.

I miss him!!!!!  I can’t believe how lucky I am to have a partner who will endure such annoying circumstances to make our dreams a reality.  But I’m just so used to being with him that the world seems duller when he’s not around.  I can’t believe how much I miss him when he’s just gone for a few days at a time.  It’s crazy.  All I do when he’s gone is eat ice cream and watch Grey’s Anatomy, lol.  Regressing to the sad, single girl life.  Ultimately, though, it helps me realize how blessed I am to have a person I never want to be without.  Being able to miss someone like this is extraordinary.  It’s kind of a gift.

New Series: Photo Favorites

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I was racking my brain for inspiration today and I thought of a cool, easy, post series idea.  I love looking through my old photos because so many of them tell great stories, are super silly, or just bring back good memories.  So every once in awhile I’ll just post a photo I’ve taken, tell you the where/when/why, and maybe say a few more words.  Hopefully this will also encourage me to take more pictures so that I have continuous fodder for this series!

Here’s the first one:

Me and MoMo, one of my Peace Corps besties, during one of our “under-the-mango-tree” Swahili lessons.  Probably still our first month in Tanzania (June or July 2009).  What do you think of my braided hair?  I actually really liked the result, but it took HOURS of sitting still while my host aunt pulled on my head to get it done! ❤ Kibaoni (the name of our homestay village, where we lived with host families during Peace Corps training).

My BFFL

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The best part of my birthday was having my best friend and her hubby visit. They flew in from Ohio on Monday night and stayed until Friday night, hoping for a week of fun in the AZ sun. Well, that didn’t pan out exactly. As luck would have it, the weather was pretty terrible. We had one nice day on Tuesday, then the rest of the week it was a combination of snow, sleet, rain, clouds, etc. depending on what elevation we were at. Yep, that’s right, it SNOWED on my birthday. Big fat flakes actually accumulating on the ground on May 18. Crazy! I tried to look on the bright side and just chalk it up as another birthday “first.” First birthday I’ve ever had with snow falling! Despite the weather, we had a great week. I was off work and acting like I was on vacation myself with lots of good food, drinking, and tour guiding them around northern AZ. We cooked together, played beer pong in the dining room, went to the cowboy bar, jumped in FREEZING Wet Beaver Creek, ate at Criollo, and made S’mores in the fireplace.

The best part though, was just having my best friend there, and having everything feel right between us. The past few years have brought so many changes in our lives and strained our relationship. It’s natural for these years to do that, I know, seeing as the early 20s are when most of us choose the path that we will follow throughout the rest of our lives. Choosing different paths (for her marriage, a career, and a house in Columbus and for me the Peace Corps, moving around a lot, and working just to travel) definitely made things hard for awhile, as we had less in common, found it harder to get together even when I still lived in Columbus, and there was a thin but tangible layer of tension between us.

I was a little nervous that things would still be like that when they visited. But from the moment Zach and I picked them up from the airport it was just like old times. The four of us have made so many awesome memories together over the years (camping, ziplining, whitewater rafting, and many many happy hours) and this trip just continued it. I feel like having the past year (her first year of marriage, my first year back in the US/living with my boyfriend/in a new state) to grow into our adult lives allowed us to become comfortable in our own skins and accept each other’s differences. While growing apart and disagreeing in some ways is inevitable, we still have that special best friend connection of knowing each other better than almost anyone else. We can talk about the hard things and learn from each other’s perspectives. We can still remember our old high school inside jokes and laugh about them long into the night. We can still team up and make fun of our SOs to no end. I could tell that we both have matured in our lives and in our friendship. I love her so much and it was so great to have her here and feel like everything was “just like old times.” Here’s to many more years of adventures together!

Easter/Gross Sensory Memories

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Zach and I started a new tradition today…an Easter picnic!  We drove down the mountain to Sedona after I got off work at 3 and had just enough time to find a nice trailhead, eat a delicious picnic dinner (deviled eggs mmmmm!!!), and go for a short hike among the red rocks.  It was peaceful and lovely.

On to the second half of the post title…we saw a jeep tour vehicle drive by and joked about the company name: “Arizona Safari Company.”  I was like, “Ha, I wonder how many animals they saw on their ‘safari’!”  A moment later the jeep zoomed past us and kicked up a ton of dust from the dirt road, flooding our car with it before I got the sunroof closed.

As soon as I felt the layer of dirt settle over the seats, my forehead, everything, I thought, “Wow, it kinda does feel like Africa now!”  I remembered something my friend Kristie said when we were in Kenya about how her boogers were black from the inside of her nose being constantly coated in dust.  I totally felt that way after that jeep gave us a dust-bath and it did bring me back to Africa in such a quick, sensory way.

So yeah, black boogers and a sweaty layer of dust on your face.  That’s the feeling.

Viva Las Vegas

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A few weeks ago Zach and I had the privilege of attending an authentic Vegas wedding-chappel wedding.  It was the wedding of a Peace Corps friend of mine and her girlfriend.  They went all out with the Vegas “theme-wedding” idea and had a “Pimps and Hos” wedding.  So this was not only our first Vegas wedding but also our first gay wedding and first wedding where we got to dress in costume.  It was basically just one of those ridiculous situations where we had no choice but to throw caution to the wind and go all out, because when would we have this chance again????

The whole weekend was crazy, as Vegas is supposed to be.  Highlights included: a night-before cocktail party in the “bridal suite” at Hooters Hotel and Casino, walking down the strip and into casinos with our own bottle of wine (cause it’s perfectly legal to BYOB everywhere!), our couchsurfing host bailing on us at the last minute and having to find a seedy motel, stuffing our faces until we literally couldn’t stand up straight at the Circus Circus buffet, wandering the strip watching all the insanity, Zach telling all the Mexicans handing out hooker cards “Quisiera hombre!” then of course, THE WEDDING!!!!

Post face-stuffing. When you pay $13 for lunch you must get your moneys worth. We didnt eat again for 24 hours.

Scandalous!

The wedding took place at the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel.  Half the wedding party dressed as pimps and the other half as hoes, with my friend, the bride, in an awesome white tutu wedding dress and white boots.  The officiant was dressed and acted as Shaft.  It was super funky and fun.  They wrote their own vows and despite it not being your typical, traditional wedding in any way, it was still super heartfelt and very them.  It made me wonder whether the fact that they’re a lesbian couple whose marriage is already not accepted by many people or by their own state government helped them feel enabled to throw out convention for the wedding and just do exactly what they wanted to do.  It was refreshing to watch and was probably the most unique wedding I’ll ever attend.

Of course the best part was that we guests also had to dress up.  In the spirit of embracing the opportunity, Zach and I did some thrifting and went all-out.  I pretty much couldn’t sit down in my dress or walk in my shoes.  I would NEVER EVER EVER have been comfortable wearing this outfit anywhere other than Vegas.  The fact that I had some alcohol in my system and another bottle of wine in my hand also helped.  Zach was gifted his pimp cane and chain by the wedding party since they thankfully had extras.  As for his robe…well that was definitely from the bathrobe section at Savers and is definitely part of a Santa costume.

The shoes stayed off more than on my feet. I thought I was gonna break an ankle when I walked in them.

Pimp-a-licious

We had a ton of fun, although we both still agree that Vegas is a no-more-than-once-a-year place to us.  It’s waaaaay too tacky and materialistic for more often than that.  We definitely had a memorable weekend being there for this wedding though!

Aid vs. Development

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This article from time.com provides a really good example of the unintended negative effects of blind, thoughtless giving to developing countries.  I’ve encountered this issue so much in my time in time in Kenya and Tanzania.  I don’t agree with those who say that all aid should stop, but there is definitely a huge problem with BAD AID in Africa, and a difference between aid and development.  In all of east Africa that I’ve seen, donated western clothing is sold for so much cheaper than locally-made textiles.  This really does undermine local industry and business.  There’s no easy answer to this debate but it is of huge importance to discuss.  What do you think? 

Bad Charity? (All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt!)

by  Nick Wadhams / Nairobi

In the history of foreign aid, it looked pretty harmless: a young Florida businessman decided to collect a million shirts and send them to poor people in Africa. Jason Sadler just wanted to help. He thought he’d start with all the leftover T-shirts from his advertising company, I Wear Your Shirt. But judging by the response Sadler got from a group of foreign aid bloggers, you’d think he wanted to toss squirrels into wood chippers or steal lunch boxes from fourth-graders.

“I have thick skin, I don’t mind, but it’s just the way they responded — it was just, ‘You’re an idiot, here’s another stupid idea, I hope this fails,’ ” Sadler, 27, tells TIME. “It really was offensive because all I’m trying to do is trying to make something good happen and motivate people to get off their butts, get off the couch and do something to help.” (See TIME’s photo-essay “Commerce Comes to the Aid of Haiti.”)

Little did Sadler know he had stumbled into a debate that is raging in the aid world about the best and worst ways to deliver charity, or whether to give at all. He crashed up against a rather simple theory that returned to prominence after aid failures following the 2004 Asian tsunami and 2010 Haiti earthquake: wanting to do something to help is no excuse for not knowing the consequences of what you’re doing. (See a brief history of “We Are the World” and other music for charity.)

Sadler has never visited Africa or worked on a foreign aid project. To his critics, his pitch seemed naive with its exhortation, “Share the wealth, share your shirts — we’re going to change the world.” Millions of Africans who have no trouble getting shirts, and who never asked Sadler for a handout, might object to the idea that giving them more clothes will change the world. Stung from watching people donate old, useless stuff after the tsunami and earthquake, aid workers bristled. “I’m sorry to be so unkind to someone who has good intentions, but you don’t get a get-home-free card just for having good intentions. You have to do things that make sense,” says William Easterly, an author and New York University economics professor who is a leading critic of bad aid. “If a surgeon is about to operate on me, I’m not all that interested in whether he has good intentions. I hope he doesn’t have evil intentions, but I’m much more interested in whether he knows what he’s doing. People have a double standard about aid.”

But why gang up on a guy who just wants to help clothe people in Africa? First, because it’s not that hard to get shirts in Africa. Flooding the market with free goods could bankrupt the people who already sell them. Donating clothing is a sensitive topic in Africa because many countries’ textile industries collapsed under the weight of secondhand-clothing imports that were introduced in the 1970s and ’80s. “First you have destroyed these villages’ ability to be industrious and produce cotton products, and then you’re saying, ‘Can I give you a T-shirt?’ and celebrating about it?” says James Shikwati, director of the Nairobi-based Inter Region Economic Network, a think tank. “It’s really like offering poison coated with sugar.” (See a video of the Haitian schools supported by Ben Stiller.)

People looking to help the poor often think so-called goods-in-kind donations are a way to help, Easterly says. They’re certainly an easy way to inspire potential donors. There was the boy in Grand Rapids, Mich., who collected 10,000 teddy bears for Haiti’s earthquake victims. Soles4Souls.com is sending shoes. The list goes on: old soap from hotel rooms, underwear, baby formula, even Spam (the pork product, not junk e-mail). “Years — decades — of calm, reasoned discussion do not seem to have worked,” an aid worker who blogs under the name Tales from the Hood told TIME by e-mail. “People are still collecting shoes, socks, underwear … T-shirts … somehow under the delusion that it is helpful. Sometimes loud shouting down is the only thing that gets heard.” Then there’s the matter of cost. Money spent shipping teddy bears to kids might be better spent providing for more pressing needs. The same goes for T-shirts.

Sadler says he never planned to dump a million shirts on the market at once. With his two partners, HELP International and WaterIsLife.com, he wanted to send a few thousand shirts at a time to orphanages in Kenya and Uganda that asked for them. Widows would sell the shirts and make a little money. “We’re looking at bringing in several thousand shirts and it being a yearlong process of distribution,” says Ken Surritte, founder of WaterIsLife.com. “The goal is not to hurt the economy in these areas but to be an asset and to be a blessing to these people that otherwise wouldn’t have jobs.”

Sadler has proven flexible: he says he is listening to his critics and no longer plans to send the shirts to Africa. He says he will find another way to use the T-shirts he collects, possibly for disaster relief, giving them to homeless shelters or using them to create other goods. He says any profits would then “go back to the company’s goal of helping foster sustainability.” And judging by the response on the Web, he’s getting a lot of donations. “I’ve since listened to a lot of these people,” he says. “I want to change this thing into something that’s better, that’s more helpful and that listens to the people that have the experience that I don’t have.”

There are some critics who argue that all foreign aid — whether from individuals or nonprofits or governments — is keeping Africa back. A vast body of research shows that foreign aid has done little to spur economic growth in Africa — and may have actually slowed it down. “The long-term solution is not aid. It may seem cruel that aid should stop, but really it should,” says Rasna Warah, a Kenyan newspaper columnist and editor of the anthology Missionaries, Mercenaries and Misfits, a call to arms against aid. “Africa is the greatest dumping ground on the planet. Everything is dumped here. The sad part is that African governments don’t say no — in fact, they say, ‘Please send us more.’ They’re abdicating responsibility for their own citizens.”