We’re Going on an Adventure


I remember having a conversation with my father a couple years ago.  I told him that I felt lucky. It was hard not to. As a millennial, our expectations for job security, pensions, and well paying jobs are lower than that of our parents.  Yet here I was with a federal job…that I loved. It was more than I ever anticipated.  

My father latched on to the use of the word “lucky.”  He talked instead about the concept of sacrifice. Giving up todays’ comforts for future security.  As he watched me over the years, that is what he saw me doing. I went to Peace Corps Morocco and gave up all comforts.  I went to New York to start a career despite not knowing anyone there (aside from the beautiful woman who joined me).

The thing is, I always perceived these “sacrifices” as adventures.  I’ve always been curious about the world–and I want to see how different places work and and how the people there live.  The sacrifices were obvious, but always overshadowed by the opportunity to explore somewhere new. That’s what brought my family to North Dakota for 40 days and 40 nights.  Adventure. And the sacrifices that come with it.

So I guess it’s time to announce our new adventure.  I have accepted a promotion. On November 8th, Sofia, Henry, and I will be moving into our new house in Colorado Springs.  It will be my 12th move in the last eight years:

November 2011: Greeley, CO to Fort Collins, CO
September 2012: Fort Collins, CO to Greeley, CO
January 2013: Greeley, CO to Bouderham, Morocco
April 2013: Bouderham, Morocco to Bhalil, Morocco
February 2014: Bhalil, Morocco to Greeley, CO
May 2014: Greeley, CO to Wappingers Falls, NY
April 2015: Wappingers Falls, NY to Beacon, NY
March 2016: Beacon, NY to Beacon, NY (across town)
November 2016: Beacon, NY to Greeley, CO
January 2017: Greeley, CO to Fort Collins, CO
November 2017: Fort Collins, CO to Greeley, CO
November 2019: Greeley, CO to Colorado Springs, CO

I can feel the familiar mixture of excitement and anticipation.  When I moved from New York to Colorado, I was doing the exact same job.  Now, for the first time in a long time, I will be in a new place and starting a new job.  Half of me wants to just get started. The other half of me looks around at all that needs to be packed up and thinks that four weeks isn’t enough time.

But the reality is, we are going on a new adventure.  If Peace Corps taught me anything, it is that adventures are endlessly more worthwhile when you can share them with someone that you love.  That person has now been my wife for more than four years–and she shares my sense of adventure. I hope we can instill a reasonable level of adventure in our son as well.  

Time to start packing.

on Dragging my Family to the Middle of Nowhere, USA


My wife, my son, and I departed our house in Colorado on August 6th.  It’s been seven weeks since then…and we still have a couple days until we are home.  I miss my dogs. I miss my family. I miss my bed. I miss my kitchen. I miss the standard routine.  But I also know that going on adventures and taking risks is part of what makes me feel strong as a person.  It’s part of what keeps my marriage strong. And I hope like Hell that it encourages a sense of adventure in my son.  I may miss my old life, but I am so happy that we came.  

Our adventure started off with some fun.  We planned a two week vacation to the Pacific Northwest.  Many of Sofia’s friends gather every year at some big AirBNB.  We hang out all weekend and catch up. This was our second time going.  We were first among everyone present to have a kid. So Henry got to be the center of attention.  Sofia and I got to relax and catch up with everybody. We may not have gotten enough sleep, but it was a great weekend.

We followed the trip up by heading up to Seattle for a few days.  We celebrated our four year anniversary. We hung out and continued to fall in love with a city we hope to end up in one day.  It’s always amazing to go. But it is hard as well–it always reminds us how much the culture of the Pacific Northwest agrees with us.  Don’t get me wrong–I have always considered Colorado to be adopted sibling to the Pacific Northwest. But to be around close friends as people get married and have kids sounds amazing.  It’s a hard thing to find as an adult.

After all this, we would normally head back home.  Instead, we packed the car back up and made our way to Williston, North Dakota.  If you’ve heard of it, it’s probably because you read that one article that went viral about how the oil boom got so out of control here that they were flying strippers in on weekends from Vegas.  Yeah. That city. That’s where I brought my young wife and 8-month old son.

For six weeks.

Was it the right decision?  I’ll probably never be able to answer that question.  Sofia and I have always tried to maintain an attitude that adventures are good for the mind.  Going out of your comfort zone and routine is good for the soul. On a personal level, that is why I said yes to this assignment.  The professional level was even more clear cut. I want to enter management. Showing that I am willing to take on a hardship position that no one else is willing to bodes well for my resume and future interviews.

We arrived in Williston with that philosophical mindset.  We were quickly hit by the reality. A one bedroom hotel room which made Henry’s naps a bit of an adventure.  A town that had so little to do that a real coffee shop was impossible to find. Waitresses who heard my wife say “milk allergy” and rolled their eyes.  And literally nothing to do for a hundred miles in every direction.

It was easy to see the difficulty in everything.  It took us time to find the good. We found a way to watch TV shows on the laptop while Henry slept.  We found a semi-decent coffee shop stowed away inside a bookstore. We found a couple restaurants that accommodate milk allergies and patronize them a little too often.  And weekend trips to far away places–like Regina (the first time any of us had been in Canada) or Sidney, MT (It was the only microbrewery for 100 miles).

It wasn’t easy by any sense.  But we survived. With the wanderlust/adventurelust out of our system, the comfort of home is calling.  We are ready to set up a playpen for Henry (who is now nine months?!?!). We get to once again be in a place with culture and things to do.  But, most importantly, we get to be in the comfort of our own home. I am looking forward to that more than anything.  

I know it won’t  be long before we are gripped again by the thought of adventure.  That is simply who we are–that is how we want to live. But, for now, the comfort of home is calling.

Preparing for the Slow Season

April 7, 2013

The past ten day have changed my attitude and approach to Peace Corps and living in Morocco.  As I adjust to living on my own, the changes are abundant.  The biggest change is my daily patronization of the local cyber café only a few blocks from my house. Suddenly, I am now seen and known by most of the men in this city.  This café is one of the biggest (and had great coffee and internet), so there are always a couple dozen men here (women who frequent cafes are regarded as prostitutes, so you will rarely see a woman at a nice café).

The thing is, coming to this café has changed my life in other ways.  The ability to access the internet has allowed me to access any movie or TV show that I want.  I am now slowly working on a Bucket List goal of seeing every single movie on “1001 Movies to See Before You Die.”  With about a movie a day and 680 days of Peace Corps left, I honestly think I can get through about half the list.  At the same time, I am also watching new TV shows (currently Joan of Arcadia, next is Community) and reading several new books (I’m finishing “The Good Earth” before reading the “Matched” series so I can talk with my mom about it).

These two simple changes in my life—plus a constant source of coffee—have made life so much better.  Before, my life was little more than “Time for Work” and “Free time.”  Now I have a better understanding of how to dedicate my free time.  Having constants in life is very important.  I realized that back in The States last year.  I’m glad I figured it out quickly here.

The only part of my daily schedule I haven’t quite figured out is work.  I made it to final site at the end of the semester.  I thought this meant that a lot of students would come to me to try to solidify their English skills.  It does not.  They need to prepare for the English Exam.  What I teach is not the same as what the schools teach.  Here, more importance is placed on “past perfect” or “Present participial.”  I have to admit, I couldn’t care less about the functions of language.  My focus is about getting the nouns, verbs, adjectives, and grammar straight so they can have meaningful conversations (or writings) in English.

So now I’m comfortable in site, with a strange feeling.  I will have little work to do over the next three months (aside from integrating into my community).  School is about to end and the summer kills most activities around here.  Since I am finally comfortable here, I am coming up with plenty of ideas about how to engage the youth.  The thing is, using these ideas now would be a waste.  I need to develop these ideas and put them in my back pocket for September—when everything picks back up.

In the meantime, we have trainings.  We just finished a three day training that took place at my house.  It was fantastic.  Going around with eight other volunteers in my site gave me much more confidence here.  I now know where to buy a few more items because others wanted to cook very specific meals.  At the same time, it is always relaxing to spend time “acting like an American”….meaning not being hyper-vigilant every moment in the day.

We have two more of these events in the month ahead—including a ten day training at a resort-like hotel in Marrakesh.  I’m excited to have these trainings as the slow season starts—but I can’t help but wonder what the rest of summer will look like.  I’m doing everything in my power to pack it with random events—like a trip to Spain and possibly a concert.  If I can make it through the summer of nothingness, I can make it through two years.

The Mental Stress of Service

“The far darker side is the mental effects. For all intents and purposes, you will feel more alone than you have ever been, felt, or dreamt of being in your entire life. Sure, you will be a ‘member of your community,’ insofar as a 20-something foreigner with a very limited knowledge of their language and even less understanding of their cultural norms can integrate into a community which is physically and emotionally homogeneous. Let me say again: You Will Cry. You will cry, you will want to curl up in your empty bed and scream for the ‘simple’ things in life. You will want somebody to hold you, to just wrap their arms around you and pull you into them. There will be days when you feel like you are empty inside, there will be days when you feel like going nuclear and destroying anything you can get your hands on, including your neighbors, students, colleagues, and yourself.”

–Shawn (http://shawngrund.blogspot.com/2011/05/dark-side-of-peace-corps.html)

I’m starting to find that having a host family was a way to force us as volunteers into a routine.  In the week since I got my own place, my routine has broken down in a few places.  On top of that, I no longer have a reason to bottle up my emotions.  This weeks has had some of the highest highs and the lowest lows of my service thus far.  It’s hard to predict what will happen tomorrow–or this evening–and that makes everything either really entertaining or really annoying.

Like yesterday.  I had a difficult day in class and was supposed to follow it up with a second class.  As I walked to my Youth Center, however, I realized that would not be the case.  Instead, there were two armed guards at the two entrances   The governor for the region was inside, giving a speech to the educators of the regions.  I waited in an office nearby and ended up meeting with several of the educators afterwards.  Take my word for it: every day takes a severe turn from what you expected.  This is why all former volunteers tell you not to have any expectations.

The lonely part is terrifying.  I can visualize my best case scenario and worst case scenario back home….and I wouldn’t be as lonely as I am here.  I have friends nearby, yes, but my daily life is in this town.  This town where I don’t honestly understand 95% of what is being said.  Where I’m having trouble starting my work.  Where social interaction is important and it’s hard to be included if you are an outsider.  It’s all very frustrating.  In the end, I force myself to do things everyday.  Leave my apartment at least twice a day–at least one of those times should be long.  I force myself to buy something–something small so I have some interactions.

The thing is–it’s okay from there.  All you have to do is go out.  People who know you, want to talk to you.  People who don’t know you stare, and sometimes try to talk to you (in French .   But it gets you out of your head.  That’s the most important thing.  This has been a difficult week–and I think it will only get harder.  And better at the same time.  Only time will tell.

100 Days Into My Peace Corps Experience


100 Days In

100 Days Down.  700 to go.  The past week has changed everything for me.  It started with Spring Camp.  That gave me the first experience of interacting with kids in Bhalil.  Once camp concluded, I got to work on some of the most important aspects of my time here.  First, getting a house of my own.  As of yesterday, I have the key to my very own beautiful apartment.  I will be spending the week ahead furnishing it and moving in.  Secondly, I am filling my schedule with classes.  I already have three English Classes scheduled in the week ahead.  I am likely to get a couple more over the next couple days.  Most of them will be reoccurring.  This will be the core of my service.  All of my projects will branch out from the kids that I teach.

Starting to be successful is changing a lot.  There have also be recent changes back in America.  It has all brought me to a strange understanding.  I now know what I am doing in Morocco.  I now know the full extent of the sacrifice I made by leaving America.  The combination is strange.  On the up side, my feet are planted firmly in Morocco and my service will benefit from that.  On the down side, there is no going back to the way things used to be.  I knew Peace Corps would change my life.  But what surprises me is how it changed me.

The emotional roller coaster that was 100 days of homestay is over.  It made me realize how many emotions can be active at the same time.  There was one point when I almost exhausted my vocabulary for emotions and honestly felt all of them simultaneously.  It is exhausting.  However, considering I was an anxious wreck only six months ago, this is a great change for me.

The other aspect is Love.  I have come to realize the true meaning of love here.  In all forms.  I have never truly understood how much I love my family…because I have never had to miss them this much.  It is a great thing to realize.  The same happens for friends.  I coming to realize who I was close to because they were around…and who is honestly a good friend (and how I can be a better friend).  As for romantic love, that is a whole other can of worms.

I am ready for the second 100 days.  I know that I do not know what they hold.  That is clear.  I barely understand what tomorrow holds.  But that is part of the beauty of Morocco and Peace Corps.  You never know what is going to happen…but is usually turns out for the best.

Like being ushered into a random house and given cake, peanuts, and tea.

Morocco is awesome.

The Fishbowl Effect

Sad T-Rex

Sad T-Rex (Photo credit: iJammin)

There’s a pain that comes with Peace Corps service.  At least it accompanies the first 100 days of service.  I can’t pretend that it won’t also be a part of the next 700 days, but it will be less intense.  It’s something that Peace Corps warned us about.  When they told us about it, I didn’t understand.  How could I?  Now I’ve been through it.  Now I understand.  Now…how do I explain it?

Peace Corps’ description: You are always “on.”  In the Peace Corps manual, you will find a list of Core Expectations.  I have number five circled: “Recognize that you are responsible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your personal conduct and professional performance.”  Add that on top of the reality that you are the only American in town, and you’ve got yourself quite the fish bowl.

This hit me hard today.  I wanted to do some writing.  I needed some inspiration, so I looked through some old pictures.  The pictures stabbed me with memories.  Beautiful memories of a time that feels so long ago.  Whenever I get like this, I like to go for a walk.  It clears my head.  But I can’t go for a walk.  My host family will ask where I am going.  I’ll tell them I want to walk.  They’ll tell me it’s not safe with all the dogs out at night.

How do you deal with this?  My host family has a puppy.  I thought I would love it.  The thing is, that little dog reminds me of my two dogs—who died within two months of each other right before I left for the Peace Corps.  But I can’t be sad.  I can sneak into my room—because that comes across as antisocial.  And I can’t cry.  Having someone ask questions would only complicate the situation.

But…I move into my own apartment in 13 days or so.  That’s the small light at the end of the tunnel.  It’ll be nice to have a whole apartment rather than a small room.  It’ll be great to control my diet.  It’ll be nice to not be expected home at a certain hour.  Most of all, I can go for walks whenever I want.  It’s this beginning part—these first 100 days of service that have worn on me.

I know there’s a part of me that will always be “on.”  That part of me will either learn to adjust or sigh a long awaited sigh of relief when I finally hit American soil in 2015.  That’s such a strange thought.  The idea of being here two years is realistic now.  The thought of returning home is so…surreal.  All the food.  The flat sidewalks.  Movie theaters.  Strong Internet.  Not having trouble understanding someone in a basic conversation.

I feel like I’m in a constant state of over-alertness.

I need a vacation.