Wet hot American autumn

Sometimes they say, “no news is good news.”

In this case, the long delay in posting new blog material can be attributed to my recent visit back home. For the past 6 weeks, I have been reconnecting with my family, my friends, and eating my way through the beautiful areas of California that mean so much to me. This time back home is built into my third year extension and it has come at such a welcomed stage of my service. If you’ve been following my journey from the beginning, you’ll know that I have not returned to the U.S. at all during the last 2 and a half years. So this homecoming was an extra special treat for me and a very valuable chance to see this pocket of the world through a new lens.

Digging my toes into the ocean in San Diego

Digging my toes into the ocean in San Diego

As you can imagine, many things in America have changed during my time abroad and I came back to a country with some exciting new developments. I had a bit of a learning curve when it came to things such as chip readers at cash registers, the expansion and prevalence of sharing services such as Uber and Airbnb, and delicious poke bowls. Technology has continued to advance exponentially and it seems that all our devices are even more connected than before. Driving on the freeway was exhilarating, and then there was traffic and I remembered why I didn’t miss driving. In the weeks before my return, I had imagined an America with an all-encompassing national WiFi bubble, but I instead had to settle for lightning fast WiFi in almost every establishment and home. Bummer, right?

Being in America after spending so much time abroad gave me a new perspective on many aspects of life there. The way we manage our time, use our food and water resources, interact with each other, and entertain ourselves were just some of the things that stood out to me. I was expecting to feel more like a foreigner in America, but I quickly slipped back into some of the same habits and mindsets of my previous life. Being placed back into American culture was much easier and far less shocking than I thought it would be. Conveniences were abounding and I tried not to take a paved highway or an In-N-Out hamburger for granted.

First taste of In-N-Out since leaving the US in 2014

First taste of In-N-Out since leaving the US in 2014

Leading up to my return to America, I was at times apprehensive about the thought of impending reunions with friends and family. Being isolated in Madagascar and undertaking this strange journey practically on my own, I would often think about life back home as being on pause. I kept telling myself that I’d be away for a couple of years, come back, and pick up these relationships right where I left off. However self-centered and illogical that was, the reality of people growing and continuing to develop was beautiful to see in person. Friends getting married, moving into tasteful living arrangements (read: not a dingy cheap college apartment), and building lives around great careers. Family members continuing to travel and share moments together. I felt an elevated sense of pride in sharing these new lives with my loved ones, even for a brief time, and a renewed optimism for the direction of all of our life paths.

With old friends, and some new ones, at a tailgate for San Diego State's homecoming football game

With old friends, and some new ones, at a tailgate for San Diego State’s homecoming football game

So being back in America was great and I’m happy to report that I saw all the people I wanted to see, went to all the places that I wanted to go to, and ate all the food that I had been missing for the last few years. I even had some experiences above and far beyond what I originally anticipated. For anyone who indulged me by sitting through my rambling stories about Madagascar, thank you for listening. While I learned a lot about myself and my own culture, I hope I was able to share even a small part of my experience in Madagascar with others.

As I return to working on the big red island for another 10 months, I’ll hold these new memories and laughs of the past 6 weeks in America very close to me. Until we meet again…

Family brunch

Family brunch

Breakfast selfie with my dad

Breakfast selfie with my dad

My dog, Buster, is still fumbling through the world at 15 years old!

My dog, Buster, is still fumbling through the world at 15 years old!

My mind stepped out

Some days, my mind, it wanders
Carries me away, just briefly
Times of past and familiar places
Come rushing back to greet me

I’m in the streets of Florence now
Making my way to Franco’s place
The Duomo cleans up nicely
I drink coffee at the local pace

Tormented by thoughts of pizza
I can taste the tomatoes and cheese
Nights on the bridge with wine and friends
The guitarist’s tune picked up in the breeze

Another thought, I’m in the future
White noise and a beer in my hand
I lean in to answer your question
Which version of my story can you stand?

Do you want the whole thing?
Or are you asking to be nice?
What justice is served to shorten it to
“I taught English and I ate rice”?

Some days, my mind, it wanders
And I float away without remorse
A distraction from the here and now
Bittersweet to be caught in that force

It’s all been leading up to this

“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid” -Basil King

In many ways, I knew this day was eventually coming. But it has come with such a swiftness that it leaves me amazed with how prepared I have become. As I write, my time in the comfort of my family, friends, familiar settings, and comfortable habits is wrapping up. Early in the morning, I’ll be headed to the airport to begin my long journey toward Madagascar.

I’ve packed my bags.

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I’ve said farewell to almost all of my family and friends.

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I’ve prepared my personal life to the best of my abilities.

The only thing left to do is to get on the plane and just go. Take all the courage I can muster, combine it with the love and support from everyone rallying for me, mix in a little common sense, and thrive in this experience.

I’ll take this space to publicly and repeatedly offer my heartfelt and sincere gratitude to every single person who has supported me through this experience so far. I’ve said it to many already, but it’s so amazing to know that I have such a fantastic and loyal group of friends and family that supports me and reminds me that what I am about to do is right. The times when I’ve been anxious, stressed, confused, scared, and even excited and obsessed with my preparations, having their support has helped me pull through some of those deep emotions. So I thank each of them and I can’t wait to share this experience as much as possible.

In the coming weeks, my access to Internet will probably be pretty spotty or even nonexistent. I don’t know exactly when I’ll be able to get everyone updated after landing in Madagascar, but I promise to do so as soon as possible. Communication routines, much like almost everything else in Peace Corps, will just have to be part of the adjustment process.

With that, I’ll leave you with these thoughts on the eve of my departure:

“It’s not goodbye. It’s just ‘see you later.'”

“Onward”

 

Bon voyage in San Diego!

As my time with friends and family in San Diego draws to a close, it’s been hard to think about packing up my life here and moving on to the next chapter. The actual task of packing up my apartment is daunting on its own, but now I’ll be throwing in all my last-minute farewells and cranking up the emotional levels to maximum potential. But to help mitigate some of that, I spent some time hanging out with friends at a little “bon voyage” social event that I organized at Stone Brewery in Liberty Station. It was a picture-perfect San Diego afternoon, the drinks and food were phenomenal (certainly something I’ll miss terribly in Madagascar), and I really appreciated the effort that some of my friends made to come and join us. Here’s some photos from the day:

My best friend from high school, Katelyn, and her boyfriend, Scott

My best friend from high school, Katelyn, and her boyfriend, Scott

My roommate, Bobby

My roommate, Bobby

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With my dad

With my dad

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Friends from college, to put it simply

Friends from college, to put it simply

In other updates, I have also received all of my staging information and international flight itinerary! The plan is to meet up with the rest of the folks in my staging group on June 9 in Philadelphia, have a day of orientation, than fly our of New York City on the morning of June 10. We have a 15 hour flight from NYC to Johannesburg, South Africa, then it’s just a quick 3 hour flight over to Madagascar. It’s really exciting to know more about my travel plans, but it also just means that we are getting that much closer to the actual departure. Still so much to do to prepare!