Add it to my bucket list…

Well, cruises may not be my thing, but traveling still certainly is! In my last blog I talked about all the reasons I didn’t really like cruise life, but I’d be lying if I said at least some parts of it weren’t amazing. Would I rather travel by plane than boat? Yes. Would I prefer to spend an extended amount time in one place than hop around to a bunch of places? Most definitely. But we still got to see some pretty incredible things while docked in Mexico.

Our first stop was the dock outside of Progresso. We were traveling by bus for 2 1/2 hours to reach Chichen Itza – one of the greatest Mayan sites on the Yucatan peninsula. The tour had some pretty mixed reviews: Long bus ride, bland lunch, questionable bathroom on board the bus…if only those people had traveled in Ethiopia! It felt like we were on a luxury trip : )

This is the first time we’ve left the United States since we flew back from Ethiopia via SE Asia in November of 2014, so needless to say, it was about time. But what struck us the most is how similar traveling feels, almost no matter where you are. Take this photo for instance…

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I took it in Mexico, but it could just as easily have found its way on my blog back when I was living in Ethiopia. Life doesn’t always seem so different.

That said, the history from one place to another is what really makes cities and countries stand out. I’ve been to the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela, the temples of Angkor in Cambodia, the San Antonio Missions, the archaeological site of Pompei, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame (all UNESCO World Heritage Sites) and it’s these incredible structures (and the stories they tell) that I value most about my time traveling.

I’m lucky enough to now be able to add Chichen Itza to my list, with its gargantuan splendor. But despite the overwhelming immensity, I was struck most by the precise detailing that still survived.

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Each of the figures or animals, still so intricate. Though not all of the structures have gone unscathed. Take, for instance, the main structure for which Chichen Itza is known. That temple has undergone an amazing face lift to transform it back into its former splendor, however, sides of it remain as it was found, a solemn reminder of what can happen to our history if we don’t take care to preserve it.

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Home is wherever I’m with you

I’ve been in Texas two months now and once again I’m making a home in an unfamiliar place. I’ve got an apartment, a job, and I’m making new acquaintances. I’ve spent the last six weeks decorating my home, the last five weeks working, and the last four studying for my teaching certificate – which is paying off, I’m now Highly Qualified to teach ESL here.

One thing I’m not doing is traveling. And after years of constantly moving about, it feels weird to be stationary. I traveled down to Glen Rose in February to spend my birthday at Dinosaur Valley State Park, I shopped in Dallas, and I, of course, now live in Fort Worth, but that’s as far as my exploits have taken me.

And you know what? It’s not so bad. Yes, I wake up most mornings just itching to hop a plane and head somewhere new – I’ll probably always have that impulse. But I have to admit, I don’t hate having a home. And not just one I can carry on my back! Here’s my confessional time: I’m a nester. I like to nest. And I’ve found inordinate joy decorating my apartment and knowing I won’t have to leave it any time soon.

And any time I really crave having an adventure just around the corner, I remind myself that getting into my car each day and seeing if it still runs is an adventure! My Caddy leaks oil, has coolant issues, and was recently hit in a hit-and-run. But you know what, she’s mine, and I love having the freedom to drive again.

Any time I find myself craving exotic foods, I remind myself that I live in DFW! There are restaurants everywhere, serving every kind of food imaginable! And better yet, I don’t have to go to a restaurant to have cultural foods – I can simply make it myself! Because for the first time in two-and-a-half-years, I have a well-stocked kitchen and fridge.

And finally, I’m not spending my days stuck in a dead-end job I hate. I’m working toward a goal…a goal that will get me where I want to be – back abroad. I’m currently working as a substitute teacher and I recently enrolled in an alternative certification program here in Texas. I spend my current free-time studying for tests to certify me to teach ESL, Special Education, and Early Childhood through Grade 6. By the end of the 2015-2016 school year (during which I hope to be a full-time, paid, probationary teacher), I’ll be a fully-certified teacher.

Which means I’m looking at a long-term return abroad starting fall 2016. And in the meantime, haven’t you heard? Teachers get summers off : ) So I’m already making a list of places to visit stateside this summer. And then who knows where Chandler and I will head off to in 2016…

SE Asia through Ethiopia goggles

I’ve done a fair amount of research for my SE Asia trip. I’ve read the Lonely Planet Guidebook for each of the countries I’m traveling to, my boyfriend did the same and then we compared notes, we looked up activity prices, travel routes, hotels, and restaurant options. And all I could think was: Damn, everything looks so nice!

I was shocked, really. The hotels we looked up were all listed as budget options; they were cheaper than the place we stay when we come in to Addis. But they’re so much nicer! I focused on cheap and mid-range food – and there’s so much more variety! Shocked might actually be an understatement to my real reaction.

During my online research, I stumbled upon this blog – “It’s a Real City!”: Hanoi Through Cambodia Goggles – and I couldn’t stop laughing. The blogger was living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and moved to Hanoi, Vietnam and couldn’t get over how developed it was. People would tell her everything that was still wrong with Hanoi and the only thought that came to her mind was “If you think this is underdeveloped, you should check out Cambodia!”

As for me, I’ve seen photo upon photo of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, and all I could think was: Damn, everything looks so nice! Clearly, after two years in Ethiopia, I’ve developed Ethiopia goggles. I’m viewing the world through a developing nation in East Africa. I’ve spent the last two years pretending a hole in the floor is a bathroom, thinking a cold shower is normal, living in an uninsulated/unheated/uncooled home, and eating the same food week after week – often with bugs in it. And you know what, I’ve gotten used to it.

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I was a tourist

I just spent the last two weeks in Italy with my mom and sister. Despite the fact that I once called that country home, this time, I went as a tourist. It was the first time my mom or Brittany had ever left North America, so it seemed imperative that we spend at least part of our time as tourists. Not to mention that I have spent the last year in a foreign country, trying my hardest to appear as far from a tourist as possible. So it was nice to relax and not care so much for once.

Our first stop in Italy was Rome. It had been three years since I had been in Rome, but it still smelled the same…the subtle scent of water coming from fountains around every corner, the pizzerias just as numerous as the fountains, the salty sweat from tourists unprepared for the heat, the good, the bad. My first thought – God, I missed this place.

Our first day was fairly lazy. We wandered around the city until we could check into our hotel. Our first stop? Piazza Navona – my favourite spot in the city. Granted, I prefer it before 8 am when the tourists are still in their beds, but I love that piazza any time of the day.

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Day two we had a mini trip out of the city. We headed to Tivoli so I could show them my favourite villa – Villa d’Este. The house is beautiful, though similar to many other villas you could find in Italy, but it’s the gardens that set this place apart. The gatto del bagno that I met the last time I was there had disappeared, but I did find my favourite statue.

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Day three was our super tourist day. We did it all – and I mean it all. Campo di Fioria/Piazza Navona/the spot where Julius Caesar was killed aka the Cat Sanctuary/the Pantheon/the Trevi Fountain/Piazza Venezia/the Roman Forum/the Colosseum/Bocca del Varita (if you don’t know what this is, watch Roman Holiday). Sheesh. Quite the day. Quite a bit of walking.

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Day four was shopping, the Spanish Steps, and a picnic in the park. Followed by an adventure to find my favourite restaurant – Gusto. We were successful, and had a great view of Castel Saint Angelo in the process.

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Ready to run

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As I sat on the bus from Jimma to Addis a few days after the New Year, I thought about all the places I’ve traveled to in the seven months I’ve lived in Ethiopia. Fourteen cities in total – not bad. And for this holiday alone I traveled 1,244 km solo just spend a few days with my boyfriend and some friends.

Which got me thinking…how much traveling did I do in America during the 22 years I lived there? Outside of Minnesota, I’ve probably been to a little over a dozen cities (driving through a city doesn’t count, I had to have actually done something there). Meaning, in a year and a half, when I leave Ethiopia, I’ll easily have been to more cities here than in America.

And I can’t wait to do more traveling here in Ethiopia. I hope to visit all of my fellow volunteers in the south as well as head up north to Gondar, Aksum, and Lalibela, and possibly even spend more time exploring the Jimma loop. So why didn’t I travel more back home?

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From there to here

As the holiday season approaches, I’ve thought a lot about my experiences over this last year and the events in my life that have gotten me to where I’m currently at…

Two years ago, in December 2010, I had what I thought was one of the worst days of my life. I came home to find my roommates sitting at our dining room table – they told me we needed to talk. The following hour I was given a myriad of reasons why I was a terrible roommate and why they thought it best we not live together the following year. I remember walking away from that conversation feeling a little dejected, yes, but mostly angry. Who did they think they were? Calling me out on my faults without recognizing that they had plenty of their own. And what fueled the fire was that some of their accusations were downright silly, things that shouldn’t even matter or didn’t make sense. I was too upset to focus on their legitimate complaints.

I spent the night at a friend’s and left for Christmas break the following day, taking great pains to avoid seeing either roommate. It was over that break that I decided to apply to the Peace Corps. It was something I had first heard about at the beginning of college and it sounded like such an interesting concept. Living abroad for two years in a developing nation while serving in whatever capacity they needed.

I had spent the previous summer living and studying in Rome and I can very easily say that I had wanderlust. I didn’t want to graduate college, get stuck in a job, and never get out. And that fight with my roommates is what pushed me over the edge. I remember thinking at the time that I had no idea what I was going to do come August 1st. My lease would officially be over at the house, and while I could always move in with other roommates, I would no longer be going to college, and I didn’t know what I’d be sticking around for. So I thought about what I wanted most, and I realized I needed an escape – a fresh start. I applied to the Peace Corps a few days later.

Over the following months, certain people in my life belittled my decision and told me I didn’t have what it takes to be a Peace Corps Volunteer – that I’d never actually go through with it. Which, of course, only fueled my desire to leave and be the best volunteer ever, if only to prove them wrong.

Well, August 1st came and I still hadn’t heard a definite answer from Peace Corps, so I packed up my stuff and moved in with my grandparents. I told them and everyone else that it was temporary. I was going to find some part-time work, just to keep me busy, until I received the letter informing me where I’d be spending the next two years of my life. Only that letter took longer than I thought to arrive.

Months passed, and I was even put on medical hold for three months following my Lasik eye surgery. All the while I told everyone that what I was doing was merely temporary. I was going to live abroad. I was going to change the world. I was going to join Peace Corps. And I said it to so many people, so many times, that there came a time when I realized I couldn’t take it back.

During the year between graduation and moving to Ethiopia, I found a job I loved in a field that I was incredibly passionate about – publishing. But then April 2012 came around and I got the letter: Ethiopia. And I told everyone that it was a big decision, and I needed to think about it, but deep down I knew my decision had already been made. This is what I had been talking about for the last year and a half. If this wasn’t what I had been waiting for, why was I working three part-time jobs and commuting 45 minutes to work twice a day?

I accepted. And I gave my jobs my two-week notice a few days later. I spent all of May getting prepared. I made dozens of trips to REI – a place I had never even heard of before receiving my Peace Corps nomination, but by the time I left, most of the employees knew me by name. I went to Target day after day, always convinced that if I bought just one more thing I would feel prepared. That somehow buying that one additional item would prove that I could do this, that I could be a Peace Corps Volunteer.

And then the time came to leave, to say goodbye to everyone and everything I had ever known. Some goodbyes were harder than others, there was the unexpected realization that most of my friendships would fall to the periphery, and their lives would move on without me. And at that time, I felt like I was making a huge mistake. But I pushed through those feelings because it was too late, and I had already made my decision. So I got on the flight from Minneapolis to Washington D.C. not knowing what the hell I was thinking.

I got to baggage claim in D.C. and the first thing I saw was my friend Nicole. She was wearing a darling little dress and all I could think was yes, this was all worth it because I got a free flight out to see one of my closest friends. It was only afterward that I realized I could have just paid for the flight myself instead of signing up for 27 months of isolation. But that’s not what I focused on. I focused on having the best 24 hours I could with a friend I was going to have to say goodbye to for over two years.

And I did have the best 24 hours. In fact, those hours were so great that by the time we said goodbye and she got in her car to drive away, I felt utterly alone. But then, something incredible happened. I walked back into the hotel’s lobby and ran into a group of volunteers. They were going to lunch, and just like that, would I like to join them? I instantly felt at ease with this group of strangers – something that is very uncommon for me. I called home that night to tell my family that I had found my people. Others, just like me, who were giving up all they had ever known to seek adventures in Ethiopia.

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