Friday, April 03, 2009


I'm paralyzed. That's how I feel at least. Let me explain.

Post Peace Corps, and now with a year of life back in the states under my belt, I have an extremely wide angle world view. The world is freaking huge, and it contains a lot of people from a lot of different cultures. A lot (and I mean a whole effing lot) of those people are suffering from an enormously wide range of difficulties. This includes the child dying of malaria in west africa, to the poppy farmer in Afghanistan whose crops we just crushed with supplies for our soldiers, to the CEO who's trying not to let his corporation collapse under economic downfall, to the mom down the street who is just trying to get her kids to school on time when her car fails. All of these problems are of utmost concern to those people at that moment. Empirically, yes, some may be more life or death than others, but relative to the person, they are all equally important.

I have a small, finite, amount of time to spend on this planet. For whatever reason, I have a deep desire to help, to do good, and to connect with people. It is what gets me out of bed in the morning. Whether I am carrying school books and supplies to a girl in a rural African village, or just helping someone find the right computer and avoid buying more than they need, I perform these duties with the same sincerity, empathy, and honesty. The expression of genuine gratitude I receive in payment is the same from all these people. It creates in me the same wonderful feeling of connectedness, no matter how profound or mundane the help I just offered may seem. It's all wonderful, all these problems are important, and all these people just want honest help.

This is where I become paralyzed. Where do I even begin? How do I decide what small portion of this world receives the time I have to give? And, how much of that time should I be keeping for myself? I can't even default to the selfish "what makes me happy" answer as I genuinely get the same satisfaction from helping an old man make his email work as I did helping a child carry water back to his family from the well.

The result, because I am pulled in all these directions is that I am just standing still. I cannot make myself look for employment or volunteer opportunities. I can barely even work on my own little creative personal projects. There is so much out there that I can do that I am rendered incapable of action at the thought of closing off one part to pursue another.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Only in America...

Only in America can we elevate retail to the level that it has it's own holiday. Let's face it, if it isn't already, that's what "Black Friday" is becoming. Wow. Just, wow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Proud to be an American...again.

There's no denying that things are different here in the states now compared to when I left. Turns out two years is a decent chunk of time. Especially here in Vermont, the push for local sustainability and social responsibility is impressive, if not inspiring. The eagerness with which the people around me discuss major topics surprises me, and the intelligence with which they discuss them excites me.

The icing on the cake, though, is our new President Elect, Barack Obama. I intentionally did not follow the spectator sport that was our election coverage. When I did, it only served to stress me out, regardless of who it was leaning toward. On November 4th I stayed at home and played video games as I decided that watching the coverage in no way enriched my evening. I figured I'd find out who won in the morning and would be able to handle the news with a few degrees more sanity for having gotten a good night's sleep.

So 11 o'clock rolls around and I turn off Resident Evil 4 for a brief moment and there it is! The election has been called for Obama. I breathed a sigh of relief and resumed greeting my friend Djimi who had just showed up for a visit.

Now that all of this is over I can say, with no uncertainty, that I have never felt more inspired, more confident, more optimistic, and more proud to be an American than watching Obama's victory speach. Obama is thoughtful, intelligent, and eloquent. When he explains the current state of things, and how he hopes to improve them, I can actually follow him instead of getting lost in rhetoric and vague statements of ideals. With Obama, he tells you flatly what steps he will take. You feel informed, as if he cares about whether or not you feel involved. Other candidates never made me feel like I knew what their plan was. A decision between something clear yet mutable and something unknown but "unwavering" is not a decision.

I think I can best sum up how I feel about the election with this: Obama makes me want to become involved with the Peace Corps again. Not from a sense of "I need to show the world Americans are not all evil" this time, but from a genuine desire to represent my country.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

An observation

Nothing is ever as good as it was.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Further musings.

So an interesting thing happened to me the other day. I found myself at a pub surrounded by newly graduated veterinarians. Now the reason this is interesting to me is because for as long as I can remember, my plan was to go to vet school. Somewhere along the way I got sick of school and decided I'd rather join the peace corps after college instead. I don't really know how it happened but it did. Meanwhile, my best friend went on to vet school and was one of these new doctors.

It was very strange to sit there and listen to people who were discussing all the trials and tribulations of vet school, and finding a job afterward, and paying student loans, etc. Basically they were exactly where I would be today (well okay a year from today) if I had stuck to the plan. It's kind of like life was giving me a glimpse of an alternate timeline where I had not joined the peace corps. You know what my conclusion was? No thanks.

I'm saying that the modern American lifestyle is bad per se (especially since these are all quite open minded world aware people) (well ok there are lots of problems with it but I'll bite my tongue for now), but it's not for me. I find myself thinking, as I listen to their stories, "where's the adventure, the excitement of the unknown?" There are no tales of harrowing public transportation, or bargaining for a half an hour over fifty cents on some trinket. There's no spontaneous trips to the next big city, let alone a spur of the moment border hopping (Canada doesn't count). It baffles me that people not only aren't curious about that left fork they never take, but actively try to pretend it's not even there.

The other baffling part is that I would think this lack of adventure signifies a desire for calm. And that's what people will tell you. They just want a moment to themselves. But here's the catch...give them a moment to themselves and see what happens. Now, I don't just mean a moment free of obligations. They weasel enough of those into the day as it is. I mean a moment where all they have is themselves. We westerners have gotten so good at always staying just busy enough that we never have to just stop and reflect. And even if we run out of little things we can think of that we have to do, we fill our leisure time with any number of activities that more or less passively occupy our brains.

I've found that it really takes a concerted effort for me to just reflect these days. For one thing, I've definitely gotten sucked into the "must occupy every moment" mentality a bit myself. For another, two years in Africa has left me with strong cravings for a large number of activities that I missed (video games, board games, tv, movies, restaurants). It's hard, but now I can at least see myself doing it.

Maybe that's one of the biggest changes I feel I've had since coming back. As a result of my peace corps time, I can now feel like an outside observer to most situations. While the things this reveals are interesting and useful to me, this can also be very lonely. As I found when sitting with the vet school graduates, I felt distinctly separate from them. The path my life is on has come in sight of all of my friends, but it's still a distinct road...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


It's snowing outside. I'm wearing several layers of clothing. I had 3 cups of good coffee this morning...and wasn't afraid of running out and not having any for months. I drank a beer last night that was not Biere Niger. If I want to go somewhere...I can just borrow one of the two cars my family owns. I have no worries that I will be able to post this entry as soon as I finish it.

I haven't conversed in Zarma in weeks. I am bombarded by sensationalist news stories. If I plan to meet with someone and something comes up, I am expected to inform them immediately, even though I don't have a cell phone. I have no idea how much water I have used in the last 24 hours. Though I am constantly reminded how glad people are to have me home, I don't feel like I quite fit in anymore. I am cold.

I don't really know how to explain the way I feel about being home. It's home. It's definitely comfortable in many ways. But it's awkward in others. It's not the same as it was and I don't really know if it's changed, or I've changed, or both. I still don't really know what I'm going to do. I can't really motivate myself to commit to anything right now: job, phone plan, car, anything. It's as if by doing that I'm officially tethered here. I know that's not true. I know that if something came up that could send me back to Africa, I could find a way if that's what I really wanted.

One of the things I think I'm having the hardest time with is reconciling the existence of both here and Niger. I realize now that when I was over there, the United States kind of stopped being a real place. I knew it was there, I remembered that it was a cool place to live with lots of stuff. I heard about it on the news. I talked to people there regularly, but it didn't really exist. Time over there was on hold while I was gone. Now that I'm back I realize that that's not the case. Things have changed. And, I'm faced with the fact that it really is a place. And people really do live like this completely oblivious to the rest of the world. And they're quite happy that way. It's like my head isn't big enough to hold a world view that contains both extremes. I can't bring myself to not expand the picture to still contain Niger, but juxtaposed in my mind, Niger and the US coexisting makes no sense.

So I guess I'm wrestling with that dilemma. At the same time, I'm trying to figure out how to readjust my life here to account for the various things I've learned or habits I've picked up in Niger. I have come to the conclusion that I have entirely too much crap. I have so much stuff in my room that I don't need. At all. In any way. Most of it doesn't even really have any sentimental value.

One of the things that's disturbed me the most is that when I was hanging out in Burlington, just walking down the main shopping drag in Church St., I was amazed at how tangible this deep seated urge to buy was. I could feel it like I feel the force of gravity. Somewhere deep in my unconcious I was driven. I had money in my wallet and it needed to get spent! Where is this coming from? I didn't even really want anything, except to spend money on shit I didn't need. I don't need to buy a Wii, I can play the one at my friends' apartment. But because I really did want one, I was compelled to drift into game store after game store. I resisted, but still had this nagging desire to spend money.

Is the subliminal advertising demon so thoroughly pervasive and effective? Or was I just caught up in the collective unconscious flock? I don't know but it was really frightening. Watching the news is a similarly unsettling experience. I was never aware, I mean really consciously aware, of how sensationalist the news here really is. Now that I've spent 2 yrs completely unexposed to it, it's amazing. The way they put together stories, and choose their words, even the presidential campaigns sound like sporting events. They make every little story seem like a life or death struggle. It's something I hardly ever saw in international news.

I keep saying that the peace corps is the best deprogramming machine the government doesn't realize it's paying for. I think it's very true. Don't get me wrong, I still very much love America. But there are some frightening undercurrents at work that were just not visible until I spent time completely free of them. It is really amazing how much the media influences, if not outright controls, us.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Back In America :/

Well...that's it I guess. I've been in America for about an hour and a half now. I've cried atleast half a dozen times during that. It started when Alex, Djimi, and I parted ways from Alison in Dublin. I don't like this slow peeling away of people. First Kurt in Niger, then Alison. Atleast when the three of us landed here in JFK we said a quick good bye and then quickly left for our respective continuations. None of this drawn out good bye nonsense.

I got half way to the air train that links the terminals and the tears started coming. In saying goodbye to those last traveling companions it really felt like the final connections back to my service had passed. While we were traveling we still felt like PCV's in a way. Well, I did atleast. It could have been any vacation taken during service. But now we've hit stateside and parted ways to go home. And knowing that even if I do see all of them again, it will be in a completely different context with completely different experiences behind us, that chapter of my life is really closed now. There's no more pretending.

Sure I might find my way back to Niger, or atleast West Africa. But it won't be the same. It's time to move life after Peace Corps. Bittersweet as it may be.

(regains his composure and wipes away another wave of tears)(Deep Breath)

By the way, this is not the last post. I have many many back posts that I want to eventually get typed up and posted. Also I still have to fill you in on the rest of my vacation, not to mention my adjustments back to the states. So you can probably expect atleast another month or two of posts. After that...who knows.