Feb 022014

It’s been 9 months since I left Albania, 8 months since I left South Africa. It’s been a long time, but this blog is due for an update, and some reflections on what happened.

When I returned home, things were surprisingly similar to when I left. Even with the two trips home for Thanksgiving while I served, progress in a Developed Country is of a different nature than where I came from. I got used to being up close and personal to the daily changes in my projects. They became my life and my “reason” for giving up the luxuries of home. It’s an interesting thing, that New England sense of obligation, ego, and guilt. On some level I truly believed that I was the dam, saving others from the flood. “No I’m just doing my part”, “What’s wrong with caring?”… I meant it when I made these comments. On a certain level though, I was acting on a drive even now I can’t fully explain. A sense of guilt. A desire for things to “make sense”. It was never about proving anything to anyone, or admiration for that matter… it was about quieting that inner voice that admonishes us for winning the birth lottery. After all, how is it fair that our parents pay for our college education, while other families can’t even provide their children with safety from local militias?

When I first returned from rural Thailand, western luxuries actually angered me. I remember pacing in Ballston Mall, as I nearly screamed into my phone how wrong everything was to my father. My initial drive to “fix” the situation, has died down though. The drive to work internationally and help those in need is just as present as ever, but perhaps that sense of guilt, obligation… and over-inflated ego are just now passing.

I realize now that I’ve spent much of my life being stressed and angry with myself. There are probably any number of reasons for this, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. While that ceaseless drive to be better propelled me forward to where I am today, it has also worn on me immensely. When I was placed just outside of Albania’s capital, many fellow PCVs envied my living situation. Me being who I am though, took it as yet another reason to do everything in my power to materially improve the country before I left. This sense of obligation ran so deep that I suffered from bouts of extreme loneliness. Every PCV faces this, perhaps what was unique about my situation was how I have no one to blame for it but myself. I was so caught up in my sense of guilt over the inequity in life, so demanding of myself, that I actually nearly universally kicked back every chance at a relationship. I suppose on a certain level I was furious with how inadequate we all are at tackling the problems that face our world, and it left me on edge all the time.

As I enjoy relaxing music in perfect ambient temperatures, all of those negative emotions are finally melting away. I supposed I do regret having wasted so much time being angry about the world’s state of affairs. Despite being told constantly that anger doesn’t help, I steamed internally. I was going to fix things. I was going to do it right. I wouldn’t be like them (those people not working hard enough). At some point it became more about me then it did about those that I was supposed to be helping. At one point in Byrell, I even hit a kid in the head. Not particularly hard, but considering how much meditation I was doing, you’d think I’d just let that pass. My stress level was so high though, that when he threw firecrackers at our giant group of Americans, I snapped. While this child was by no means a saint, my anger was really just founded in the stress I had built up over the years. That stress has followed me everywhere I went. Running from country to country never changed it, and never could.

So now what?

It’s great to finally have moved past some emotional baggage built up over the years, but questions remain as to what I do with my life. Of course these questions always remain. I still have nightmares sometimes of the little Thai girl who tugged at my shirt in a museum in Bangkok. I naively thought she was just a playful girl and made faces and tried to speak broken Thai to her. That roughly 8 year old girl was a sex slave. Her “pimp” was nearby and was eyeing me, and eventually asked if “I liked”. Minutes after I had left the museum, a friend of mine explained that the girl wasn’t dressed “normally” and I pieced things together. The rage that I felt after that experience mixed with those New England feelings of self-hatred to make a volatile combination. I would become an expert in International Development and “fix” it. Working in the field for years changes you though… My time in Albania has provided me with concrete foundation to maybe, just maybe making a difference. I’m faced with a question I never expected though. Do I still want to do International Development?

Now that I’m finally making decisions with a head not wrapped up with a sense of obligation, I’m able to think clearly and ask if I really want to put myself through the suffering I endured in Albania. The answer? I will never put myself through that kind of emotional hell-storm again. My suffering actually was only tangentially related to the fact that I was in Albania though. I’m the one that decided to be so distant with people. So yes, I still want to do International Development. I still want to find a safe home for girls like that first girl that woke me up so many years ago. I still want to put those that seek to use others for personal gain in prison. I still want to provide a dignified life to the men and women around the world. I just won’t be so damn miserable while I do it. If I see a way to use my skills and make a difference, I’ll take it. In the meantime, I’m happy to be alive, to be safe, and to be comfortable. I wonder how many other New Englander’s have yet to attain these simple joys?

Cheers All,


Mar 312013

I apologize for the long period of time this blog has been abandoned. Bereft of the chronicles of my Peace Corps journey, it has languished. There is a good reason for this though. Sometime around the time of the last article following the Outdoor Ambassadors Summer Camp, my journey became a job. I don’t mean this in a negative way, it is simply a statement of fact. Albania lost it’s sheen and just happened to be where I was living. I advanced far enough in the language to get around, have long conversations, and really only was rarely confused as to what the heck was going on from a linguistic standpoint. From a cultural standpoint, I still scratch my head at times. That being said though, these moments of confusion are quite different now than they were. It is no longer a series of “Huh?” moments, now I occasionally find myself just saying “When?”. What do I mean by that?

Before I dive into that, let me circle back as to why I am writing this article now. I have been in Albania for over two years now. Yes, it has been that long. I am knee deep in organizing my final Outdoor Ambassadors event, a Youth Leadership Conference, as well as wrapping up my work at Protik. You can check out both projects at http://www.outdoorambassadors.org and http://www.protik.org respectively. Protik has come a LONG way. I’ve seen this IT Innovation center grow up from birth. There have been problems… numerous problems. From contractors running cables that were two inches instead of ten feet, to fire-hazard prone electrical wiring, and other issues (that are resolved now), I have learned quite a bit about large projects in the developing world, USAID, USAID contractors, and of course, myself.

I’ve learned something fairly substantial in my time at Protik and as President of Outdoor Ambassadors. I am a leader.

This may sound egotistical, simplistic, perhaps even naive. I make the statement for a simple reason though. To pursue projects and passions that utilize this skill.

I was not always a leader. In fact, in my Organizational Management and Theory class at George Mason, the professor directly asked the leaders to stand up. I did not. I felt inferior somehow, that I didn’t have the confidence, the skills, the know-how to really mobilize people toward a stated goal. Perhaps I did not at the time, however Peace Corps has changed that for me. I am now ready to not only opine about how the world “should” be, I’m ready to lead people in making it that way.

When I return to the US, I will be finishing my Masters degree for a few months. After that… I am unsure of where I will go, or what I will do. I know what I am capable of now though. I am ready to lead an NGO, an international development project, or perhaps just a food drive. I don’t care about esteem, I care about results.

Whatever it ends up being that I lead, I will do it knowing that I CAN make this world a better place. I can do it by organizing people, encouraging them, leveling with them and above all, letting my never-flinching realism and honesty pervade what I do. I was already well aware that doing the “right” thing is not always easy to discern. I had no idea how knowingly taking the path of least resistance, leads to consequences that ripple through a society. One poor decision has massive impact in a small country like Albania. Perspective is everything, and if you sacrifice your morals to make an individual happy, if you start to see only trees, and no forest, only bad things will result.

OK, so back to Albania. What do I mean by “When?”

How has confusion on what people are doing, become an inquiry into when some unnamed event will occur?

Simply put, I am asking When will Albania’s youth reach critical mass. A group of people large enough, and motivated enough to start to make the real changes that THEY want from this country. What I want doesn’t matter, I’m leaving. From my perspective the primary issue holding back people in any country, is their inability to effectively organize. Albania is no exception. It is NOT because of a lack of social skills here, it is an inherent disbelief that things can be better than they are.

If you are an Albanian and you are reading this, hear me when I say, that this is utter and complete bullshit. Excuse my language, but sometimes we need a wake-up call. The problems this country faces are complex to be sure, and change will be slow, but change will come. The only question is “When?” and perhaps, “Will you be leading it?”

I don’t know the answer to these questions. Change will come though. I sincerely hope that Albania reads a bit of history when it comes to social developments, and sees the non-violent path laid down by people like Mahatma Gandhi. I’m well aware of the fact that India’s problems are completely different from Albania’s, but his insistence on utilizing non-violent methods to enact social and legal changes, are highly pertinent to Albania. Albania, if you don’t like how things are, change them.

I’ve witnessed six Outdoor Ambassadors groups gather together and raise funds for a Youth Leadership Conference almost entirely with Albanian funds. Countless children and adults said this was impossible. No Albanian would ever care about helping. We’ve proven them all wrong Albania. If you didn’t believe it was possible this time, learn from what others have achieved, and lead next time.

Children are the future of this country, and the adults know it. They believe in you, and as do I. You don’t need my help, or the help of any volunteer to get a project done. You just need inspiration. A lot of the time this is all we Peace Corps Volunteers are, inspiration in an emotional distraught, shower needing package. Find the inspiration in yourself though. Believe in you and not just your family, but in your community. Do that, and you can achieve anything.

That is all for now folks. Soon I’ll be flying to Ireland and South Africa again for a month before going back to DC. It’s been a heck of a ride folks. One that I’m honored to have participated in. I hope I’ve been some small help to this country. I know for sure that you’ve changed me in many positive ways. For that I can only say, Thank You.


Dec 192012

What do you want in life?
Maybe you don’t know
That’s OK
What about this…

When you woke up this morning
What did you feel?

Did you breathe deep?
The air rushing into your lungs
Filling you with hope in yourself and others, faith in your tenacity to overcome, and an unquenchable thirst to see what happens next.

Did you sigh?
At a loss for what went wrong, how you gave up, and the undeniable feeling that in the end, nothing ever turns out right.

The answer doesn’t matter.

As long as you have an answer
Be with that answer
Right Now

Now, I’ll ask again
What do you want in life?

Sep 042012

A letter to the past,

I went to Thailand to “get out there”. To see Buddhism, to try volunteering abroad.. and just to do something different. I wound up seeing beauty that literally brought me to tears. This would be followed by despicable acts that no movie or news story can ever truly express. My eyes were opened for the first time then. “I want to help” became, I will give up whatever is required in order to make a difference. This world is worth it. I decided to pay the bill, whatever it worked out to be. No child should ever be sold into slavery, no child thrown in jail for simply being of another nationality fleeing for their life, no one should be able to get away with rape, murder and hateful acts simply because they have money. Some nights I would find myself repressing the urge to just scream NO into the night.

Anger is a powerful emotion. I turned that anger toward what I saw in Thailand, into a purpose for life. Perhaps because of that I have come a long way. I gave up a high paying job and comfort, became comfortable with making a fool of myself, working for purpose instead of pay, learning a new language when I never thought I could, built up my leadership skills, improved my fund-raising skills and made many other personal achievements. Somewhere in all of that “purpose” though, I started to find having fun difficult to do. Taking time for myself has made me feel more and more guilty. My ability to dream has slowly disappeared (or at least to remember them). I haven’t written much poetry, truly loved playing my violin, looked at the stars, or walked through the mountains without thinking of work. It is time for that to change.

I may not have anyone to walk on this new path yet, but for the first time I feel comfortable saying that I am no longer the boy I once was. I am the man I always wanted to be. Thank You Peace Corps. You’ve taught me that not only can I help people, but that it is who I am. I don’t need to explain myself to anyone. It is OK to love life for you, not just other people’s right to it.

Time to watch the sun rise once more and for the first time.



Sep 042012

A lot has happened since my last post. As you’ll see below, I’ve been busy… We successfully raised enough to fund the camp. All of you who donated – THANK YOU. The camp was held from August 26th to the 30th in Erseka Albania. Some pictures of the camp are below. It was a massive push to get everything organized, and it truly was a team effort to pull it off. We had more people wanting to help with the camp then we could accommodate, more students then we could accept, and massive interest. We worked within our resource constraints though and pulled off a camp including the below activities:

  • Get to know you games
  • Trash Wars (Make something awesome out of “trash”)
  • Canoing
  • Rock Climbing
  • Composting Explanation and Demonstration
  • Nutrition, First Aid and CPR
  • How to Pack Your Pack
  • Overnight Hiking (including outdoor games, safe fire building competitions, Tent Setup and cookout)
  • Environmentally Friendly Crafts
  • Fitness 101
  • Photography
  • “Gladiator” Games (fun group activities using “trash”)
  • Meet Erseka Community Activity (Students learned the concept of “Paying it Forward” with volunteering to do small tasks in the community. A lot of hugs and love were flying around the community for this one.)
  • A Scavenger Hunt
  • Plastic Bag Fusing
  • Recycled T-Shirt Crafts
  • Final Going Away Dance

It was a ton of activities packed into a short time-frame, but it all worked out great. Lenae Boykin and Geena Torti made a dream team for pulling off all of the activities. I’m confident that Geena will make OA Camp 2013 a huge success. Thanks to the awesome work of Casey Loving (our secretary) we have also obtained at least a good part of the funding for next years camp also. Now we have to go through the elections process, and I have to find someone to pass the torch of OA onto (gradually).

OA aside, The Protik center I’ve been helping with (http://www.protik.org) as a consultant is now COMPLETE! Furniture and computers are on the way, and soon we’ll be training, innovating and changing IT in Albania. It’s another huge success that I’m proud to be a part of (albeit small). I helped pick out some furniture, computers, and address power / cooling / networking aspects to the building construction as well as (still) doing interviews for System Administrators.

I only have one problem now. What the heck do I do now? By no means am I the only one that worked on this camp, but raising money for it, planning transport, working out the finances, going to countless meetings, leading discussions, actually doing the camp – looking at IT equipment / furniture issues have been my life for the past few months. Sure I’ve worked on other projects, and I still have other projects going on, but at the moment I’m in a lull.

I should be enjoying the break, relaxing on a beach somewhere without a care in the world or maybe riding a motorcycle off into the sunset (or not… annoying Peace Corps rules)… but instead I’m writing this blog entry wondering if any of this means anything when it’s spent alone in a country where I’m respected by many, but close to few. I came here to learn how to help those in most need, to build my own skill set in Development, and to hopefully make some positive impact on the people of Albania. As of the end of August I have achieved all of my objectives. Which brings me to the second part of my blog entry.

Now What? I think it’s time I reflect, once and for all on how I got here, and move on from there. For that I’m putting something in my Writing Section, as it doesn’t directly relate to development work. Read it if it suits your fancy. If reflections on my past don’t cause you to scream in ecstasy… good for you – you have managed to maintain some level of sanity. I’ll post up again when I know what I’ll be doing work wise over the next few months. In the meantime, I’m going to take some of my own advice and go watch the sunset.


All the best folks,


Jun 182012

After a long period without posting, this may be my last chance for a while. A lot has happened since the end of March, so I won’t try to recall it all. Some high-points include:

  • Outdoor Ambassadors Summer Camp Grant was approved (http://1.usa.gov/JT6oR9) PLEASE HELP. We are ~25% to our goal!
  • I have been working extensively with the USAID Small and Medium Enterprise Development Project, and also AADF (Albanian American Development Fund) to build an Information Technology innovation center in Tirana.
  • My Local Government Unit has hired an Information Technology professional after months of harassment from me to do so. I’ve begun training him in advanced networking and system administration.
  • I’ve begun working with the USAID Partnership and Local Governance Project in both Citizen Participation enhancement and Information Technology assistance. I am hoping to also assist with the transparency aspects of the program.
  • My friends from Group 13 have left the country. You will be missed, but I wish you all the best luck.
  • Group 15 has arrived in the country, and I was able to give a few trainings on technical Albanian vocabulary and IT assistance in the Local Government context.
  • I’ve decided to learn Spanish (and work on remembering Thai) in addition to improving my Albanian
  • I’ve MOVED. After 6 months of searching, I finally found a new apartment. The search for this and the act of moving has consumed far more time then I ever would have imagined. Unfortunately there are a lot of steps involved in getting a new apartment approved by Peace Corps, getting the paperwork signed, getting the furniture in… it was a nightmare to be honest. I’m happy to be done with it.

So why the bullet points? Well the past three months have been a bit rough. A lot of changes occurred in my work and my living situation at the same time. While I certainly have made some achievements, I have felt my productivity being less than normal. Issues such as becoming ill with a neck issue and constantly dealing with apartment issues consumed far too much of my time. The apartment issue is finally resolved though, and hopefully the neck issues will be soon.

So enough of the cold description of what’s been going on… what does it all mean? Well the past few months have taught me a great deal about myself, what I want to do, and how I’m going to get there. As I prepare to leave for a short stint in Thailand, I’ve had some time to put everything that has happened in context. First off, Peace Corps has been instrumental in translating my strong drive to help those in need through development work, into tangible information on how to do it. There are real barriers to success out here (and in any country still developing). Those barriers can seem insurmountable at times. At one point I admit I even almost gave up. I didn’t though. Too much is at stake. That is where the context comes in.  I’ve learned a great deal about governance reform, and the need for IT assistance across the world. Those skills will continue to power me through my Peace Corps Service.

At the end of the day, Albania is far better off than much of the world that Peace Corps works in. When I lived in Nong Khai Thailand I saw people literally sleeping in the dirt all along the main roads. Children were sold into the sex trade before my eyes. Men tried to pawn children off on me as if they were no different than a watch or a lighter. It was sick and it was wrong. So here I am in Albania, learning governance reform, learning how to empower people to improve their lives and hold their government accountable.

Many people have asked what I will do when I return home from Peace Corps, and finish my Masters. I still can’t answer that question, who could? I do know one thing though. I am better equipped now to face those gigantic walls that keep the cycle of poverty spinning in our world, and that I won’t give up chipping away at them. No matter where my career goes, I know know my enemy. I will spend the rest of my days working to defeat it.

Cheers All!
Mar 262012


5K run in Skodër, Albania

After 1-year in Peace Corps, I think I have crossed the threshold of no return. What is that threshold? Some people love me, some people are not so happy with me. How could one not be happy with me? (After all, I am simply amazing right?) Well, my work load has necessitated that I start to do two things differently. First off, I have realized that I can’t do everything. I have to prioritize. This is nothing new for me, I’ve prioritized constantly in my previous positions. It is a new thing for me in Peace Corps though.

Secondly, I have reached a level of language comprehension and speaking ability where I can finally argue with people in Albanian. When I say argue, I don’t mean yell – I can calmly disagree with a statement in Albanian, as I can in English. So what do I argue about? Well, that depends on who I’m speaking with, people have opinions here that aren’t necessarily based on factual evidence. (Of course that NEVER happens in the US) Racial relations and reasons for Albania’s level of development are common topics. There are many well-educated people here, and when I say I argue more often – I do not mean this as a negative. Discussion and dialog are a necessary component to understanding, both mine and theirs. So while arguing with people might make a few enemies, it has also given me a sense of Albanian identity. I am no longer just “The American”, I am Iani (grammar thing).

So self-identity aside, recently I ran 5k for an organization in Skodër called “The Door”. They help special needs, and economically poor Albanians. The run was a lot of fun, and I managed to make it through the whole thing without ever stopping, or slowing from a light jog. Considering I used to weigh 240lbs at one time… I consider that a big achievement. I was beaten by a 74-year old man (shown above) who was sponsored as a runner for “The Door”. Some men would be somewhat put-off by that, I actually am happy that being that healthy is possible. It gives me something to strive for. I had a chance to speak to him as we climbed to the top of a castle in Skodër, and he is a fantastically interesting man. He has run all over the Balkans, and despite numerous hardships in his life – he can’t wait to get up and do another run. I have a lot of respect for you my friend. Ne shqip – kam shumë respekt për ty, shoku im.

I also had a chance to enjoy a pot-luck with lots of great PCV friends. The only sad part of the whole affair is that soon G13 will be leaving Albania. I won’t spend too much time on this topic, because it is painful to think about. I have many close friends in group 13, and I will truly miss them. I truly hope that we meet sometime soon. At no other time have I become closer to a group of people, knowing all along, that they will all have to leave very soon. Put simply, it is very hard.

G15 has recently arrived in-country though, and I look forward to getting to know a whole new group of motivated, compassionate people. Peace Corps truly is “The hardest job you’ll ever love”. When I read that at first, I thought it referred simply to the work… news flash… life is more than work – and Peace Corps is no exception.

Back to work now…

Feb 142012

So I have reached the 11-month mark in my service and I have no idea where the time went. I haven’t been keeping up with the blog for a few months for two completely different reasons. December and January here were cold… very cold. Now February has kicked my work into high gear unlike it has ever been before. I’ll be totally honest with everyone and say I got slightly depressed for a few weeks there in December and January. My apartment has no heat except for a space heater and the constant cold started to make me sick… then a little SAD kicked in (Seasonal Affective Disorder), it was a tough couple of months. I’m not writing this post to complain though, I came out of it fine and hopefully I’ll find some better heating for the next winter. Through the bouts of sickness though, I was able to help a little with organizing a Youth Leadership Conference for 40 Albanian high-school students. With the help of some awesome fellow Outdoor Ambassadors committee members and club leaders, we taught local youth how to lead excursions, how to fund-raise, how to project plan…. and the background information they need surrounding environmental problems here in Albania. With these tools they “graduated” from the 3-day conference, smarter, stronger, and ready to change Albania for the better.

The event was all thanks to the generous support of US donations. I can’t express how thankful I am to those that donated to our Peace Corps Partnership Grant Program. Albania thanks you, Albania’s youth thanks you, and as do I. After the conference finished, I returned to my usual work routine (as if there was a usual work routine in Peace Corps). I came back to work and immediately was off and running by attending a local government meeting on how to implement GIS mapping. I was able to follow most everything people were saying, despite the fact that my office only speaks Albanian for the most part. After that meeting I was off to a local 9-year public school to format / re-install their computer lab, train the IT teacher on how to use some hard disk roll-back and anti-virus software, followed by replying to some NGO correspondence related to Outdoor Ambassadors, ordering jeans to replace the ones I lit on fire with my space heater accidentally, and also working on some email migration for an NGO I work with based in Tirana. I returned home to eat some dinner, respond to more emails, relax with some Xuefei Yang and a beer… then it occurred to me, my work is pretty crazy. Perhaps even interesting to someone besides myself. Maybe that’s a reach…

First off, I should mention that I take notes religiously on things that I have to do. I used to work on extremely complex Linux System Administration / Networking projects that required nothing to be forgotten. When / if I did, catastrophic things tended to happen that impacted millions of people. No I am not kidding about that either. I only mention it so you don’t think that I’m totally crazy for having notes as detailed as this for day-to-day work. OK perhaps I am still crazy, but at least it makes sense to me.

Here goes:
Agenda (as of Feb 13th, 2012) – note names and specifics have been edited for privacy reasons.

This Week:

  • NGO Website Issues (Check with PCV on logo design, fix minor issues raised at last meeting)
  • Contact AKEP for DNS control (for my office)
  • HW for Tutor (write sentences with reflexive) – meet again Thursday, I owe 200 lek
  • T-Shirt Place – Just outside of Tirana – setup day for PCV + co-worker and myself to head out.
  • Respond to NGO in Tirana Email regarding DNS transfer
  • Speak with Counterpart about Hosting Provider – either change to a new provider (with email options) or get it from the current one – as well as cpanel + root access
  • Find Drivers for 1 computer with different motherboard in public school computer lab
  • Find wireless AP price (get receipt + name of place + deliver to School Director)
  • ArcGIS project – Continue AutoCAD → ArcGIS work
  • Visit School in Mezez to fix computers (3-4 visits needed)
  • Grant Search for Outdoor Ambassadors Summer Camp- Waste Management? Others?
  • Blog Article (hey almost able to take this off the list!)
  • ICT Training and Resource Center in Tirana – Speak with PCV again
  • Network Monitoring – compile NTOP for windows gdbm/gd/libpng/zlib
  • Anki up albanian phrases from former tutor
  • Historian project for Municipality – work on website + talk to counterpart about oral history possibilities
  • Takim me Kryetarin dhe Nënkryetarin – kam nevoj te printoj
  • Computer Training plan (for municipality workers)
  • Setup VM Backups copy / External Drive
  • Setup UPS monitoring on Server


  • Install more Win 7 computers and add others to the domain after fixing software installs

When Possible:

  • Kosovo Trip
  • Plan Dad’s Travel Info + Print vacation form
  • Projekta e Mjedisur
  • Recycling Plan Contact Info – Talk to CP about deliverables
  • Tutors Gallery issues in top right corner – re-establish links
  • Buy: Trash Can, small casserole, new wallet
  • Test Windows Backups recovery in VM Environment (make sure it has no network)

So that’s what I’m working on for the next few months. I do a lot of IT work, which makes sense given my background. I have less of an issue with that than I did pre-Peace Corps. That’s all for now.


Dec 262011

Despite previous plans to the contrary, I ended up spending Christmas in Albania. This holiday that we Americans hold so dear, some for religious reasons, others for consumerist reasons… is not widely celebrated here. Some people might find that depressing. Every year we begin the frenzy to pick up gifts for family and friends, essentially as soon as we put down our forks at Thanksgiving dinner. What on earth would a world without this consumerism be like? Simply put, pretty laid back.

I spent my time relaxing with a Peace Corps friend, enjoying a beer and watching some football (European, not American). Later in the evening I had a video conference with my family in the US. It is nothing “special” by American standards, but it drove home one of those basic facts that are so easily forgotten. People are infinitely more important than presents. Of course it was hard to be away from family and friends that I have in the US, but more and more, what I don’t have is less important than what I do in the moment. All of my possessions that would be difficult to quickly replace can now fit in 1 suitcase. I have no shelves full of items picked up over the years, no “BRAND NEW” Televisions, or any of the things that we crave at Christmas time. Perhaps because of that, I am free.

Free to do what? Well, I am free to make plans based on what brings me happiness, instead of what brings me wealth. Most of all, I am free to appreciate the little things that previously I overlooked. As I write this, I am sitting in a warm cafe, eating food that I’ve grown up with. These simple pleasures bring me as much joy as previously an expensive trip away from home could. Life in America makes it easy to forget what we wake up with every day, and complain about what we don’t have.

After a Christmas free of “things”, I will forever prefer quality time with friends and loved ones, to anything else. Wealth comes and goes, but experiences are with you forever.

Take a moment to appreciate the person giving you a present, instead of what they gave you.

That is all.