Author Archives: Brett Brawerman

About Brett Brawerman

My personal blog tracking my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Eastern Europe. The views expressed on this blog are my own and not those of the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government.

A (brutally honest) Open Letter to my Community

 

Dear Lăpușna:

 

You may never come across this, but my vocalized gratitude didn’t quite cover the incalculable impact you had on me. You may never fully comprehend the mission of Peace Corps nor understand the motives that drive an American towards the life of an International volunteer, but you are the core of my most prized “possession”.

Two years ago, I would’ve said: Hey, my name is Brett! I’m from America and I enjoy traveling simply and obsessing over sports. I love cooking and eating delicious food and having long conversations with people of all kinds.

Soon my service will conclude, and this time spent in our village within Moldova’s walls will develop into a dear memory. What you do know, is that for twenty-something months I was that American boy teaching your children about Health via my imperfect Romanian; often the focal point of gossip – an outcome of that. You witnessed me fluctuating between illnesses and hiccupping following my vodka face-off losses to the myriad of 80-something-year old “Babas”.

Let me tell you what you didn’t know. A secret. The thing you didn’t see that could have burned a hole through me.

Bear with me, as this isn’t easy to say; but it’s the sole reason behind our shared, unmitigated success. The meager idea of coming to a developed country to assist an at-risk population fermented and installed this feeling of shamefaced pomposity. Superiority. I had to dislodge myself from this intimate and internal brute. Despite having forced this terrible feeling deep down, I arrived having already subscribed to this mentality of “I am right and let me teach you what is right”. In order to give us a fighting chance at growing together, an internal attack had to be launched to annihilate this masked sentiment.

So I explored and learned. First, let me be forthright. This wasn’t the same Peace Corps Kennedy started and the “hippy” friend of our parents took part in. My Internet connection (amongst other luxuries) was great; albeit a powerful sneeze could knock out power for a few days. I digress. In the summer, I sweat standing still. In the winter, peril of frostbite is very real. Daily. Perennial, is the fact that it will take 3 hours longer than it should to get anywhere. I often concealed my whereabouts when I was floating through the channels of Venice, hiking the outskirts of Turkey, or bathing in Spanish Sangria – but only because I don’t want to rub anything in your face (or let you in on my tendency to frequent the bars).

I was wrong. I had no right to be ashamed of my families’ hard work and my resulting fortune. The elongated processes you utilize – exclusive of convenience – weren’t incorrect just because cutting steps via technology is possible.The way I think, dress, and do isn’t the perfect way and certainly isn’t the only way. I also picked up the conventional wisdom that showering does not have to be a priority and the strong affinity for homemade booze is vindicated. That pungent fuel can swap in as a homemade remedy for… anything. Oh, and I can now curse in Russian – which is pretty cool.

 I yielded to the copious amounts of apologies for the mud-trails that double as streets, the reduced conditions we work and live in, and the lack of indoor plumbing or decent transportation modes. Granted, some of those just plain suck. However, people of Lăpușna, you rewarded me with some things no high-end training, corporate milestone, or amount of luxuries could supply. A few morals, only reachable once I shedthat terrible feeling of superiority that was forced down deep.

 

“REAL” COMPENSATION

You can’t fathom the fact that I work alongside you without a salary. Stipend, shmishmend. We’re just the only ones who get paid enough to be able to talk the talk and walk the walk when it comes to the saying “another day, another dolla’”. It’s the work ethic and honor you display that creates your status, not your income.

You’ve implanted the ability for me to feel unfeigned satisfaction. I’ve never experienced emotion as genuine as yours like the conviviality that stemmed from a Yoga demonstration or the spine-chilling silence that I encountered when I attempted to discuss cultural taboos such as condom use and eating disorders. We all need to feel these things to experience gratitude.

I know countless Moldovans living on less than $3 per day and unable to escape the most prevalent attendance of corruption and the worlds’ highest rates of Tuberculosis. The same people who’s neighbors and loved ones get their forty winks under mud-constructed houses and draw their water by hand can claim more contentment than some inhabitants of the wealthiest American boroughs. The one thing that Moldovans have in spades is the very thing that Americans fight to keep beyond gated neighborhoods and air-conditioned SUV windows: community.

Most importantly, you were led astray if you think money was my chief difficulty. In actuality, it’s starting fresh with nothing in a place with an equal amount of nothing. Working your way in, developing an authentic relationship complete with undivided trust, and doing something incredible together. Then having to say goodbye. That’s going to be the pits. Fortunately, it also illuminated the fact that I have had amazing people back home who have similarly been rallying around me for the last 20+ years. That is just incredible and they will never know my gratefulness. You can attach the impoverished label to a lot of things – but I am richer than I have ever been.

 

THE LINK BETWEEN HUMILITY AND PRESENTATION

To say this experience has been humbling is an understatement so great, it deserves an Oscar nomination if believed. You taught me to succumb to my emotions, and have tested my character, decisions, and perspective. I didn’t fight back the tears. I didn’t swallow my anger. I put it all on the table and you responded by allowing me to see a new perspective on the world we inhabit. A perspective that informs the kinds of values that we as Americans like to champion above reproach in public and tend to shelve in private: selflessness, involvement, volunteerism, compassion for one’s fellow.

Everybody we encounter day by day deserves recognition. It isn’t about the skinniest or the one donning the most expensive brands. Its the one who takes care of the aged dress shoes or the proudly worn hand-me-down sweater. Flashy is the ironed trousers, not the diamond bracelet. Alluring is the clean white shirt, not measured by the identifying mark on the label epitomizing wealth and social standing. The variety or product modeled by people don’t begin to tell the story of their wealth. Through these things, you’ve taught me a vital lesson I will work to not just emulate in the flesh. Nothing I have – abiding to the rigid classifications of stereotypical affluence – is nice, but everything I own can be made beautiful. I will never vacillate from that.

 

TIME IS A FLAWED DETERMINANT

You taught me that time is a disingenuous measure of success and a sinister cause of stress. Life is short. Days are long. Sitting around a table, jacketed with plates of food, for hours isn’t a sign of having nothing else to do but a symbol of delight within each other’s company.

You made me question everything. Love will come, why does it need to happen at a certain age? We have personal goals. Why are they packaged with an age-bound deadline? You have somewhere to be, but will it be more exciting than listening to the wisdom of the retired local who chatted you up at the corner cafe? No chance. Unless it’s life or death, time is flexible because it is continuous – that’s why it is actually measured sunrise after sunset. We should live in the moment, because if we don’t take advantage of it, why should 5 years from now be important? Of course this is up to debate.

This anamoly of a rule permitted me to see exactly what kind of man I am, and the kind of man I need to continue to be. I’m cool with trading the possibility of my 90’s for more guarunteed fun now. Like these tattoos that make me happy for at least the next 10-20 years, I will continue to make decisions that make me happy now instead of avoid situations that could be less awesome in the future. I’ll take a slightly abbreviated life full of merrmient over a lengthy life of survival beset with regrets.

Oh, and the best lesson of all: a nap isnt counterproductive.

 

PEOPLE ARE AWESOME

Gone, was my tendency to lounge naked or enjoy a clandestine… anything. I finally became comfortable being uncomfortable when I bid adieu to my privacy. You knew my every move, but you also became cognitive of the days I needed to be convinced to stay. This exposed me in a way I never would have and taught me to wear my heart on my sleeve. My future wife thanks you.

Living the dichotomy that is Peace Corps Volunteer and World Traveler trained my eyes to see that each person has a unique role in making this world go round. In the same light, everybody has their own problems and everybody has something to offer. I have learned how to manufacture wine, feel content inside a minimalistic lifestyle, and battle a falsified and regurgitated response. Despite it’s ambiguous value, I’ve come to appreciate when someone utters the powerful phrase: “I don’t know”. It’s easy to shape figures to come off as smart; it takes courage to admit you don’t have the answer. No matter where we are, or where we were born – we all dream of our potential and should righteously dream big! No matter where we come from or what we have accomplished, it’s okay to be unsure!

 

And so..

I now find myself merely weeks away from boarding a plane bound for the USA and I am absolutely terrified. There is no way to encapsulate this experience within a line on a resume or a snapshot in a photo album. And I will never try. I’m mentally preparing myself for the fact that most will never fully comprehend how significant this shared experience was to me. The smells, sounds, or truths associated with it are mine and mine alone.

If someone asks me who I am, I’ll reply: Hey, my name is Brett! I’m from America and I enjoy traveling simply and obsessing over sports. I love cooking and eating delicious food and having long conversations with people of all kinds. You haven’t completely changed me (and you failed in your conquest to marry me off, suckas). My perspective on the world has been revised, yes, but my identity didn’t undergo major refurbishment.

Instead, just promise you’ll take these things away from our time together. You speak of your dreams to live in America one day or do things the American way. These are listened to devoid of shame, because the United States is an incredible and diverse nation with ample opportunities and brilliant citizens. Just know, as is true with any other culture, don’t submit to the perfunctory conviction. I may have been your teacher and volunteer for two years, but you were the authority. You had the power of the outcome, and I couldn’t be more proud of you.

I won’t agree with every norm or rule, like the gender roles that dominate the Moldovan household or the insolence that meets homosexuality. But, you have a lot to teach the world! I love that you clap every time a plane lands safely and congratulate me when I shower (or put on 5 pounds..). I love that you observe each and every holiday and tradition, regardless of if it disrupts the workweek and predetermined routine. Things like living with parents, salvaging used items, and taking photos of oneself have brewed inseparable stigmas. Pigeonholding them with words such as „loser”, „Creepy”, or „pitiful” is common practice, which truly sucks. You make it known that photo worthy moments aren’t realized to dispel “loser” notions, they are to tangibly capture superb moments. You make it known that a stigma doesn’t always have to play true. So, keep doing what you are doing.

As for me, I’m proud to be an American and I’m proud of my espoused Moldova. Every relationship, recipe, and road that I take a stab at will be brushed with a Moldovan sprinkle. So let me be clear, despite the shortcomings you kept apologizing for, I had the time of my life.

 

 

With love and adulatory admiration,

Your “rich” American,

Brett

 

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* Disclaimer: this letter does not reflect the opinion of every Peace Corps volunteer. Every PCV has a completely different experience, regardless of location.

 

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Wonderful Medium

 Two-and-one is the count. I swipe at the boiling sweat from my brow and take a breath to realize the momentus occasion. Intense lights, sounds, and smells. My outstretched hand outfitted by the aged leather, I wait for the blistering delivery from Mr. Sandy Koufax himself.

A knock on the door.

120 days, but who is counting. As I was scribing a piece about timing and emotional state – I realized something; if I’m having baseball daydreams while hunkered down in the outhouse… maybe it’s time to go.

I’ve written for a while now, reflecting on sensations and attainments. The protacted days and weeks are the framework of my whimpers, but the vanishing months fuel delight. Its quite surreal to think back to the beginning. A few sentences jotted down on an index card being recited in front of the people who showed up to celebrate the first day of school. And now. Now, I find myself in this emotional utopia. I’m in no rush to leave – but I couldnt be more excited to go home. I subsisted through the Prologue of my non-fiction, and am living out the body. My reunion with family, friends, American restaurant chains, and SportsCenter are pending – and they will all pair nicely with a Microbrew. I’m just not yet quite ready to get on a plane.

Each day I have to force myself to conentrate on living in the moment. It’s so easy to drown in the plans for the future and trap ourselves in the past. Not exclusive of a few deal sweetener’s to throttle motivation, my business club is putting the final touches on their year long project as we are currently painting their peace mural. What they certainly lacked in hustle, they made up for in inventiveness. Few things will bring me as much joy as their growth and maturity, but a groovy thing laced itself in to the process: The whole school is excited and supportive. Instead of micromanaging the volunteers’ projects/activities before he departs, the action of painting directly on the walls of the school (a big deal for Moldovans) is so sponsored, they are even showing us off to the local news next week.

Confessional: the basketball team I formed was not an altruistic motive. Potatoes and bread, the staple of a Moldovan diet, had awarded a soft layer to my exterior. I wanted to stay in shape and communicate through sports. The incredible group of young men continue to push themselves each practice and ask for new fitness demonstrations daily. Damnit, if there energy isn’t contagious. I don’t have the balls or the will to tell them that the drop off of competition is the reason why I look like a Varsity athlete. Its a win-win, really. However, one of my best players and I worked together to score a tryout with a semi-professional team. While the mini-camps will last throughout the summer, this great kid has a chance to earn his way to a University scholarship and on the map of International scouts. Dedication and utter joy shadow his movements these days, which is a victory in and of itself.

While I’m surprised daily by how much I enjoy art projects with my teenage scholars and healthy comptetion with my athletes, the themes that come alive are what resonate delight these days. Recently, we fortuitously provoked a „Banii aduc fericire” discussion. Translation: Money brings happiness. Despite the apparent variables, what came next was astounding. The teenage girls moved to the „true” side of the room, while the boys who speak with vulgarity and often act with crass rejected that money brings happiness. It was a full on discussion, thick with excellent points and germane examples. We eventually came to the conclusion that its a neccessary element of life that doesn’t automatically complement happiness. Let’s call this what it was: an American standing in front of students in a developing country. In a culture that labels itself as poor and America as rich. In a world where technology is just being introduced into production and life-expectancy is finally being protrayed as an elastic goal and not a concrete fact. 

The ability to carry out abstract projects and put our heads together to either discard taboo or underpin a fresh opinion is truly remarkable. We would not have been able to do it if we didn’t perservere all the way through the 2 year service. Trust took time. Instead of talking about balanced diets and self-confidence, we have moved on to combating eating disorders and annihilating stereotypes. What an incredible relationship of trust we have built. Oh and to stall for classes, I’ve installed the classic notebook game of M.A.S.H. (where „random” integers decides your future spouse and outlines your life in the making). Excuse my language, but these kids go ape shit over it. Clapping, jumping, and screaming were all in on the fun. Plus, shoutout to Catălin – the boy who ran the awesome victory lap after finding out  hie future home is Las Vegas. Total power move.

I miss things like classic St. Patricks day celebrations and lounging in front of SportsCenter during Free Agency/March Madness. But hey, we have 40 saints day coming up.. where we take 40 shots of house wine throughout the day. Yeah, yeah of course its re: sacred blood from a different religion than my own.. but still sounds like a party to me! Also, coming up on the loosely-coined agenda are exit conferences, bittersweet changeovers with community partners, and deciding on which grad school I want to attend next year. Sure, I could choose to focus on having people ready to continue my work here or concentrate on the proceedings that come coupled with the switch to the next chapter. I will love my final gardening cycle in Moldova and make sure not to squander my remaining moments. Not with the prodigious citizens who created these memories. Not with the fellow volunteers, an adopted family of resilient and wonderful people with whom we’ve created a synergy beyond compare. I’ve learned a ton and have had the time of my life… I’m just not quite prepared to depart. But, this part of the non-fiction has underscored my future calling and the length is just right.  The pages are turning and the epilogue (for this section, at least) is ready to be written.

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Come Again..?

7/17/2014. July Seventeenth. Jooo-lie seh-ven-teen-eth. No matter how i say it, it fails to give the impression that it’s palpable.

It was a lottery that determines the exact date we will leave the country and conclude our Peace Corps Service. Bizarre. For what has become too long to think outside of, I have been contemplating life in America and its’ quirky partnered readjustment phases. And now, I find myself vehemently rejecting it. It was always so far afield, that I laughed about the possibilities and shrugged off the terrors. Now its imminent. Every single day has been different from the previous; each one possessing its moments of thrill, frustration and empowerment. Every disposition and decision was wrought with provisonal goals and the temporary mindset. I never thought that returning to America/the „first world” could be more overwhelming than leaving it.

Amid the upcoming months and seasons, I’ll have to measure the disparities and douse in the things I might be leaving behind. As with all International humanitarians, I have been indoctrinated with zeal and humor as a core when faced with insidious verdicts. I’ve wrangled with everything under the sun: bacterial infections, Moldovan bed bugs; migraines; multiple bouts of food posioning? Check. Check. Check. Multiple Checks. My new idea of healthy is uninterrupted days without illness. I can’t even conjure up public transportation anymore without the manifest involuntary foreplay from the passenger to the right. Is 300% of the maximum fare, short safety policies, not routine? The biggest delights come in the forms of care packages housing an industrial size package of American delicacies (Twizzlers and peanut butter) and those rarefied occasions that are exclusive of any government document or the words “village” or “stipend”. I swear they stick to my every move like Velcro. 

Quite sure this will manufacture awe, but I’ve become a teacher. In Moldova. My pastime has matured into stirring up brilliance from middle schoolers. Teachers pets’ and the deer in headlights look flashed by students caught misbehaving have somehow become my vices.

I’ve fully settled into the simplistic life, and that of a nomad. The exemplary customs have programmed my internal almanac and revolve around global excursions. The gentle rolling hills plush with vineyards have been reassuring my strife. In this standard of living, schedules are fixed around the suns’ level of strength; punctuality is an unprecedented attribute.

I’m now dogmatic in new ways, passive in old ways. In the village, Domnul Brett is the popular invitee to all events. Contrary to my unambiguous demeanor, this is in reality the one I’m not worried about. I’m actually quite excited to be a small fish in a big pond again. What does swirl in my mind is the feeling of obligation to defend certain cultures and underscore judgments. I already feel the need to deconstruct why disdain is the chief societal reaction. What battles will I wage war against and what will be flouted? Either way, a sense of direction and meaning imbued by this time will anchor my days.

We’ve all gone through the process of moving on to a new adventure, by means of deracination. Your mind tries to overcome reality and combine a summary of the past with a prologue into the forthcoming. Maybe I’ll resort to digging an outdoor hole toilet next winter. I might inaugurate a shoe-less guiding principle inside my American residence; I’ll sit on the laps of strangers in trains and buses. Or maybe I’ll just be that strange guy, to whom the skyscrapers are stepping stones and the classrooms are comfortable closets. After all, you can take the man out of the village, but how much of the village can we purloin out of the man.

Clueless might I be about the next city I reside in or the next project I undertake, I’m more  engrossed by what affect the instrinsic worth of Peace Corps and Moldova will have on my future. What will be potted and what will seep away? I cringe at the thought of slipping back into a technology-rich culture where an operating system is a conventional way to navigate lifestyles. Yet, I can’t wait to meander the isles of a supermarket and to allow my hygeine to be dictacted only by my own choices.

My future actions and reactions have been shaped by these unscripted, unimaginable years in Moldova. The fact that these lessons stretched into a couple of years doesn’t matter. July 17 will only bring a material end. Because of what has been a formative experience for me, my path is being scripted. Then again, it is being written in pencil. 

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Winter Wonderland Hell

Oh lovely! The singing of the incensed Rooster signifies the time to awake. With an inept roll out of bed, I’ll throw on a third layer of pants. Might as well add some gloves, a scarf, and a hat just to take my morning piss. Don’t worry about the toes, I think to myself. They’re numb anyway. There is no need for a colorful widget on a fancy smartphone to tell me the weather forecast.

It’s fucking cold. 

Since all the pipes have froze, I must bundle up yet again and walk to the well. Thank baby Jesus its’ buried so far into the earth, it hasn’t had a chance to freeze over yet. I’ll fill a bucket, shlup it back to the house and put a pot on the stove to boil. Conservative, must I be, this one vessel will be utilized to brush my teeth, make some coffee, and double-down as a door de-froster. As I learned early on, I take advantage of those 15 minutes the water takes to boil. I run back into bed under the warmth of my decorative carpet (let my host family believe they fooled me into thinking it was a blanket), writhe around for several minutes and self-indulgently mumble the Russian/Moldovan curse words my basketball team screech after every missed basket or pass. Trust me, that happens quite often. Damnigly, I hear the whistle of the kettle and shuffle my frozen blocks to the kitchen. It’s time to start the god damn wonderful day. 

Ah, the walk to school. I’m so happy I don’t have to scrape ice off my rain-resistant winshield and I don’t even regret not investing in that remote control car ignition. Why? My 1.5 mile trudge to school provides this kid with lavish time to rehearse my best darth vader impression through the wool covering my mouth and transform into any Hollywood actor I desire because of my ridicous wardrobe choice – complete with hipster sunglasses. Dont be confused, the presence of sunlight is in short supply, but the blinding whiteness and reflections authorizes the vanity. Nothing but white. As far as I can see. Feeling the cold running through my synapses, I take pride that the heaving snowflakes get stuck in my beard – like a winter grizzly man. Just another day. The arrival at school is only realized once I detach  from the multifaceted battle gear I encrusted myself with. Savoring the 96 seconds I potted to unwind, I switch out my industrial waders for whatever I found that could pass as occupational appropaite. Then comes my favorite part: I get to gently wiggle my face and tremble through the trauma as I free any liquid/mucous/hair that subsequently froze into a light cobweb of icicles. Using my nose like a joystick, it’s kinda like Pacman!

My Moldovan army and I convulse through the lessons and rudiments of the day clad in wool hats, hand-me-down long underwear, and dispositions that would make a monk rambling with questions. I use this gorgeous vacation weather as a threshold to educate about first aid, importance of vitamins and minerals, and mental health (probably via masturbation). Supporting each other with ultra-lengthy hugs and several a tête-à-tête that occur at atomic distances, we ooze merriment whenever the Soare cu dinti (sun with teeth) fleetingly emerges from the opaque sky.

I follow the same conduit back home, and without a magic button or supernatural dial on the wall to grab on to, must decipher some manner of warmth. Next up, the slow process of gathering enough coal and allowing it to heat up, before I can suffocate it with hourly installations of chopped wood – guess who chopped it. In between stuffing machnisms, I figure I should be fixin some adjunct chow. This, being the slim pickings it is, comes down to any vegetable or fruit we had pickled over the summer, or the small quantity of frozen meat we still have left. It’s cool, though, because the daily craving for potatoes/beans is a forged knack I have conquered. The oranges sitting on the counter are feasts to my eyes, solely because they possess color other than white. I hate oranges.

All is said and done, and I can sit at my desk and inhale. Followed by a puff out of emitted pallid steam, my first world aparatus facing me reads „After heavy snowfall, City of Atlanta closed”.

Borderline furious.

A madcap snort and cackle escape my mouth, out of reflex.

You post up on floors of pharamcies and in isles of supermarkets? Solid move. We snuggle opposite the pig pens and bathe in the tepid gas our bean and potato diet produces. Shut down your highways, you say? You’d think our buses and cars are tanks the way they  effortlessly glide over the winter-stricken roads. It was revealed, through conversation with someone all fancy who goes and owns a television, that the day presented an amiable –   -8 degree environment. The 2+ feet of snow acting as a soft jacket to the ground didn’t cause as much as a murmur of disruption to the day’s activities, not to mention a possible thought to a two hour delay or school cancellation.

But have no fear, all you non Eastern Europeans. Not only will I survive, but I will prevail. Moldovans have found a way to think this time of year is actually quite beautiful. In fact, their spirits are raised, not weakened. Oh, and then there is this thing called a soba. It is my personal wall-sized ceramic kiln used to heat up the rooms in which it encompasses. Its so wonderful, it defies a man’s love of affixing his frigid hands to his balmy testicles.

Don’t mind me – I’m just living in luxury over here.

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*This blog was written as a satirical piece and in no way was meant to criticize or offend anyone. If it has… c’mon man, make yourself a drink and laugh at yourself once in a while. I’m just trying to keep my sense of humor to get through these freezing  months. 

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Lost & Found

It is an asinine fabrication to purport that a person being lost is an individual who is damaged or comes packaged with a negative label. Why must the mere state of being lost have to culminate in some kind of failure? Let me tell you what: I am lost. I have vanished into the depths of my essence. In fact, I am incredibly off course in the midst of my paramount zenith. And – if we’re shootin’ straight – I don’t need to be found.

By conventional means, being lost is the main ingredient in the recipe for defeat. Humans are clinically calibrated to believe that if we are “adrift” in life, we are flummoxed and unable to find our way instead of tasting the differing flavors of life. These radioactive designs of accepted wisdom don’t have to be the veracity of our existence. For this guy, being lost is just the pearly white enamel on a sound frame of mind.

We have entered 2014. The numbers represent something that was always on display, but not quite genial to the idea of advent. Personally, it personifies the end of a certain episode of this life, and salutes towards another; it embodies the start of my final semester as a teacher and the home stretch of this Peace Corps service. Boiling inside of me is this insatiable appetite to understand how the world works, to itemize every relationship and to decipher each link to a situation’s upshot. However, in the past two years, I’ve been unhurriedly walking down cobblestone streets in alien cities, I’ve been artlessly gawking out the windows of poorly constructed Moldovan buses and at times I’ve been coercing myself to concentrate on the undemanding and supple breeze hitting my face on a perfect day. These are the times I mislay myself in my undirected thoughts.

My mental verbosity doesn’t stop there. Under the destitute tutelage, I’ve grown to love the aimless days and impromptu largesse. The language I speak at work is no longer foreign and I’ve grown accustomed to the culture and traditions. Surprises that come with living abroad are sporadic these days. Completing the same tasks (such as daily health lessons) and reaping the same benefits (International traveling) can become hackneyed, if one lets them. Yet it seems that rarity can produce accolade and gratitude. The things we stumble upon without looking for them are almost always the ones that permanently etch themselves in our mind’s sandbox. My lessons, for instance: The aim is to talk about healthy weight loss but we miss a step and somehow arrive at media’s effect on our choices. I marvel in my students’ responses. I’m lost in their voices that seemed to have arrived over the last twenty months, their desire to grow and produce an impact. Another example is illustrated by my travels. Instead of being enthralled by the landmarks and matchless scenes, I choose to adopt the eclectic tone of the bustling city, the unknown culture. I tend to forget about the predetermined timetable and focus on appreciating the taxi drivers’ attempt at an English conversation, not be annoyed by his/her insistence on interaction.

There is a reason my family deems me as effusive, my friends stamp me as crazy. The same reason is why the first impressions I churn out manufacture ubiquitous confusion. The tenacity I hold to possess some kind of control over destiny must be restrained. In every sense of the truism, I bypass the most arresting feature of a person or a place, and open a portal that can discharge far too much manifestation. I will never go the intended route, nor will I take away the anticipated message. I may never erase the memory drafted as I sat on the plane on the Marrakech runway. Mechanically figuring out my next move after departing Morocco, my thoughts froze over as my eyes fixated out the window and on the kids sitting on a dirt mound just over the fence at the tail end of the landing strip. Rotating their hips and calculating their ignition, the children were gearing up to run next to the plane as it screamed down the strip for departure; Their smiles gigantic. These emissaries of aspiration, very much like the tri-lingual transportation conductors, separate themselves of their world’s threatening uncertainties, and offer consent to their poignant realities by locating the exuberance available to them.

Seemingly benign in comparison, I look to compartmentalize my own ethics. I would have never imagined that soon I could be starting grad school or working my way into the field of International Development. In my autobiography, I’ve skimmed some chapters and skipped past others altogether. I’m writing these egregious installments as I go. Already swollen with demur, I look to deflect accusation of being “lost” and with an imperious smirk and vanquish that delineate the border between lost and found.

We harbor illusions of a virtuous destination, of some future self-portrait complete with the people and places we hope to be surrounding us. We will get there, because that is the person we aim to be, no matter how lost we get along the journey. So, in this New Year – Let’s lose ourselves in the delectable tang of the food we eat, not the repute coupled with the restaurant. Let’s not need to find comfort in the fashion brand we boast, but take solace in feeling comfortable in our own skin and content with our choice of purchase. Let’s revel in the efforts put forth by others, quelling the focus on their possible limitation. Let’s permit ourselves to lose our bearings in the face of something dazzling, beyond doubt – even if it breaks loose of encoded route. I, myself, am still lost on those cobblestone avenues around Europe, in those clamorous conversations with my students, and in the ongoing global and personal development around me. I, myself, don’t need to be found.

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Silent Relationships

It was a simple mission. A task that should have harvested little mind. Alternatively, Mission: Haircut was just bizarre enough to pique the curiosity. Donating a personal luxury day, I parked myself in a taxi – a refurbished car that hilariously modeled a 1st generation walkie talkie duck-taped to the dashboard as its AV system – and I headed towards the closest town. To nobody’s surprise, I disembarked to find absolutely no electricity streaming through the miniature city. Without caring to declare an investigation, I found myself sitting in a outdated desk chair in front of a repurposed factory mirror. My head was delicately trimmed with office scizzors assisted only by the day’s overcast radiance and a candle with a rancid fragrance. 

If you stare into its’ austere box-like faces, the calendars’ pages mock you with its short stature but gigantic smybolism. A ticking won’t be heard, but instead the hushed hunger for oblivion inundated those charts of time. Periods of stillness can birth a storm of insecurities that’ll brew in the mind. During those droughts – that first Winter in Moldova or those unhurried eras of doubt – I wanted to spew out counteroffers to glaring issues; I wanted to scream at the indifference, but the words sunk into the heaving space of my heart. The same space was occupied by pride, dominated by anxiety. Are these two years of conscious gambling or just one big throw of the dice?

Those pages have since spun hurriedly. More than three-quarters of them are flipped, now, having arranged themselves on the opposite side of the swivel never to be seen again. Productive mayhem followed what first started as quiet adaptation, and has tore its’ way through those interludes. Finally, after those chaotic months the noise-less calm has returned. Once an enemy, the suppressed clamor now holds a different guise. Its the same silence that once pinned me down with its awkwardness, that wrenched at me like a rough wave’s ruthless undertoe. I needed that cartwheel of achievement and jostle, in this is the year of hegemony. But with control comes a panorama of prospect.

And its not just in my head. They’re roughly audible, those absent whispers of thoughts – amongst the people of Lapusna. It starts with: „is he really staying for the second year?”; „Is…is that a smile on his face?”. Then, it transformed. While receiving fruit and vegatable offerings, I could read the brail on the laminated smiles of the conversations happening around me: „Is his host family feeding him enough?”; „Well, has he found a wife?”. And finally, at the current day the questions are as delicate as a tidal wave: „How is his Russian progressing?”; „How can we trick him into staying forever”?  – I flash a smile, hurl out a popular story in the native tounge, and sidestep the harlmess questions almost as well as professional athletes in the face of performance enhancing drugs.

And as we moved on, we rid of that silence and together took something from it. Recently, I partook in the same „TVC” competition we placed 2nd in last year. The district-wide contest held a new theme (Innovation vs Tradition), but mirrored last-year’s battle of skits and songs performed by youth groups from villages around the Raion. We practiced late into the night each day, and took home the grand prize of superfluicious pride and 6,000 MDL. Echos of my sexy solo dance and role as the „gora” boy can still be heard amongst the students. And to my delight a few days later, we officially closed our park project.

Taking much longer than originally anticipated, I had wondered if my big, puffed up, project was ever going to crop up. The expectations were lofty and the spoken support was fictional. But, that doesn’t mean I was alone. Whereas I searched for the expressed empathy, I found a whole different process of endorsement. The setbacks in our construction not only pissed me off but blighted my whole community. I later found out that the Janitors, Professors who assisted with the planning were bragging about our latent park project as much as I was, and that their motivation would not crumple and fade with the avalanche of pessisms.

Boxes disappearing on a calendar have packaged more memories than I could have ever planned. Culminating from those quiet months were dancing and singing with my colleagues on professor’s day that left my jaw sore from disproportionate laughter. Surprising my clubs’ participants with a night of S’mores – plump with the erudite students of my choice – produced enough light from their smiles to wage war against the dark night. I will never once think I completed these things on my own, as there is nothing the people of Lapusna – my people – cannot do. Together, we are a force to be reckoned with, a force that communicates exclusive of antipathy. The unspoken consesus to reach our potential in the caldenar pages that remain is just too lurid to ignore.

As I enter the transitioning-out phase of my service, I chew on my love for these people. The kids that pool money used for their own after school activities, who have been using public transportation and living an individual life before American children started ordering off the adult menus at restaurants (and we all know that is a bit too early) or the villagers, the most resourceful people I have ever met; they can fix a car, gut a llama, or make electricity out of two recycled copper wires. The fact they can’t afford a butcher or a plumber is seen as a benefit – theres nothing they cant do. They  remember my birthday or when I have a test coming up, but not because of a reminder via social media. The acceptance shown amongst their stoic faces, their wordless gratitude, is enough. The tender compliments settle on my skin, much like a soft breeze in its’ gentle flow. They dissect the silence that used to swell and thicken to a point that I could feel its’ extreme pressure on my chest and shoulders, drowning me in its intensity. 

I pass through our freshly constructed park, and stroll through the hallways of school. Looking left to narrate inside jokes with the highschoolers created at basketball practice or the competition rehearsals, I need to slow down so the panting 3rd and 4th graders can get their daily high-gives; I’m getting standing ovations from my middle schoolers when I return to school after a few days of sick leave. I come from a culture that is so fixated on fnancial fitness, but Moldova has taught me that a free gesture can leave one feeling rich. So yes, with just over 7 months remaining of this electric ride, I submit the people and processes of moldova require a real relationship. My union with this country and my bond with this village is full of protacted procedures.  However, once you can muster the adroit endurance, and zig-zag through the snags, these relationships provide a soaring, celestial reward. Everything that has filled my calendar has, at one way or another, gone awry. But, everything I have done has been so worth the hastle and temporary misery they caused, as they consistently end with a wonderful surprise and even churns out a side-splitting story. Just like that damn haircut.

 

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Dancing Eyes

I have recently returned from another trip, one that saw me take the future-foreshadowing GRE, and unwind in the streets of Amsterdam and Copenhagen. While it has been a lengthy period since my last entry, too many things have transpired. I don’t wish to write about my whereabouts, but rather to depict the one fundamental bond that cements these things in my memories: the dancing eyes.

I’ve rode through the deserts of Israel; I have bused through the streets of South Africa; I’ve hiked the beaches of Turkey, and have stepped foot in so many more exceptional nations.  When I tell people about my travels, of course the expeditions and adventures are the first thing to come to mind, but it is the peeps and the glares stamped on the peoples’ faces that draw the connection, that make the world full of parallels. The fact is, I am no expert. I could write a book on this – as for I have used it to make gut choices, gain a competitive advantage, define my apathy, invite women into intimacy, get away with embellishment, complete an interview, amongst many others. I don’t think I’ll ever understand every pair of expressive eyes, but I am learning as I go, allowing my mounting allure to guide me through the alleyways and interactions.

You may be wondering, why is this element so deep-rooted in my soul. I am now in my dreamlike 17th month in my Peace Corps service, each 30-day period replete with reflection, dissapointment, surprise, and bliss. I force myself to not just go through the motions of a day, but to swim in the depths of every circumstance and to float in the anonymity of every decision. And I have found that I don’t need to probe every startling sight or dubious occurance, as the answer is already present in the eyes of the partakers. A glance reinforced by an extra-strength handshake, a look that screams of vulnerability or glistens of honesty, a sublime smile that cannot possibly be forged. These are the non-verbal thank yous, the exchanges of acknowledgement and respect, the glimpses of hope, and the silent bawling for assistance. The language or location doesnt matter, our eyes are the permeable magnifying glasses into our soul with no safeguard available.

What kind of people do you call interesting? Ones that have worked their way up the ranks of a large company and earned a surplus of prosperity – Sure. Folks who qualify as world travelers and adrenaline junkies – Absolutely. However, the people who can fit their entire lives into two midzied suitcases, laborers who refuse to chase their dreams due to the obsession of security and routine have – in my opinion – own the eyes that radiate the most brutish, untamed stories. While shuffling through this Continent, including my own Moldova, I gave up the itineraries and atlas’ and relied solely on the silent publications embossed on the peoples’ faces. The expressions will uncover the story no guidebook or practiced nomad could tell you – all you have to do is look hard enough.

I think back to the robotic, aloof expressions of the dancing 7 year old girl sucking down a cigarette in Bosnia, her pimp of a Father watching from a few feet away. I recall the agony and grit of the Springboek players’ clenched jaws under the blazing sun on their CapeTown rugby pitch. I muse over the boy wriggling through the outdoor patios of Greek restaurants with an open palm, or the anamoly faced by the teenager selling drugs on a busy Senegal street. Their bogus smiles are as malleable as cheap plastic, a counterfeit story taking priority over their hopes and dreams. They are hard to view, but equally as difficult to forget. It’s the subliminal responses that reaches our gut and have us donate the change in our pocket or succumb to an aggressive defense mechanism. This story doesn’t vacillate all that much from our elderly loved ones giving way to old age or familiar contacts rippling through the story of heartbreak. Tired eyes, surrounding themselves with distinguished rings of experience resembling an authentic worn leather; Eyes inflamed with unshed tears, as sodden and distant as a souvenir snow globe; Programmed eyes showing the same pattern shake after shake, the same changing picture blink after blink. Often, we see these eyes and look away. Sometimes we mutely interrogate as to why they were present or why they ignite guilt within ourselves. Always, we adapt and counteract these lightless voids that rips a dagger of fear through our chests. Why? Our own taciturn screams in protest when trying to accept the reassurance of another belief, as it tends to even our smallest sources of doubt. Those eyes see just one escape, just as the blood from our hearts escape the same matching artery. Emotions swirl about in perfect unison and the blankness, as if they are trying to hollow out a mountain, pierces my heart with its dormancy.

Legends divulged by our eyes don’t always have to be grim to remain sketched in our minds. These same travels have rewarded me with splendid CouchSurfing relationships, fresh outlooks on my fight against xenophobia, and enough laughs to turn a beer belly into washboard abs (I wish). When I enter the home of a foreign host, our eyeballs work swiftly as we size each other up with equal candor and affability. Pristine stares portray raw interest and soothing reception. When I returned to my village, the eyes of those in my after school Emerging Leaders club were exploding with excitement. Their youthful, energetic peeks announced – without a word spoken – their impressive fundraising success while I was absent. It’s like enjoying an amazing picture book, when we read eyes of people in high respect, or ones whose company we cherish. The audacious and brilliant façade of a prodigy is irreplaceable. The daily presence of light in their eyes is used to assuage the despair. I wish we could all be comfortable in the presence of quiet. Animated and happy gazes can provoke such happiness – you know: the ones that make us think life is a circus and each act is more exciting than the previous. Even my students, whose loquacious eyes are too busy trying to mitigate the situation and find tactical advantage to listen to me, uproot laughter out of nowhere. On the day we celebrated Teacher’s Day, one of my wonderful 8th graders found me with a glazed and comprehensive guise painted on her face. At the moment she held out her floral offering, her eyes were decoding me as she recited how thankful she was for my courage. These are eyes that surrender trust, that can see through to the back of your head, through your spine and through all the bullshit we sometimes hide behind. This is why this element has become my guide. The dialect, the background, the color of the face they are stamped on doesn’t matter – it is the eyes that make us fall in love amongst vulnerability or take off when falsehood is detected. 

I probably didn’t need to travel through almost 20 countries to dissect this affirmation, but it has made me fall in love with people and it has made sure I wear my heart of my sleeve, chase the rare passions in life.  Now I see it in my own eyes, the two round objects, which have swelled to fit the mass of experience and become quite fervid. These facial objects are keen to succumbing to the tears that are prepared to surge through to the exterior. The love and exigent circumstances I have been a part of have made me an incredibly emotional man, and I have to believe its’ obvious through my visage. Over the last month, my eyes were squinted from stress and ignorant of the big picture. All over the world – I’ve been able to see – eyes will continue to dance to our personal beat, and that’s pretty damn cool. I could drown in the dark shadows, I could soar in the golden beams. This is why I took that dreaded GRE, and this is why I am traveling as much as possible; I know this is what I will be devoting the rest of my life to. The dancing eyes of people around the world, have told me the story of life: There is no shame in gleaming weakness and magnifying passion. We don’t need strengths to be strong.  

 

(P.S. Check out the updated sections above – photos of my travels and projects in Moldova)

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The Crescendo of Knowing

Has the crescendo of comprehension hit its peak? Has the hunger for solitude subsided? The academic year has commenced and acted as a trite chaperone. The „first bell” tradition is still as exceptional as ever, a community wide enterprise I will forever relish. Students and families alike flock to the school, outfitted in their wardrobe’s best to rejoice and watch the not-so-symbolic first bell be rung by a chosen youngster attending their very first day and a selected young adult beginning their very last year of school. In my second year, I understood the speeches, I knew what was coming next. Things don’t have to be spelled out for me in belittling fashion. The same insouciance had permitted me to be exposed to the ugly underbelly  – things will move with an impressive lethargy and while the programmed first day of school has happened, it’ll take some time before things actually get moving. And you know, that is okay.

 

I have always had this mental map soaked into my brain. An atlas standing in as a blueprint for my success, a chart for my activities. This map was impossible to discharge from my psyche. It’s humorous that the process of letting go of it begins just as I am actually able to fully comprehend the world around me.We sit in the same meetings but with a whole new swagger; a zeal that represented  jumping through the Moldovan hoops that are broken processes and corrupt attitudes. Experience is a wonderful thing; a souvenir that underscores the tutorial of not sinking into the quicksand of frustration. Experience is an onerous long road before it pays dividend, but still wonderful. With language no longer being a barrier, and the community mapping being a thing of the past, I know how this works and I plan my days accordingly. I go and take a shot with the mayor to „brainstorm” about future ideas. I bring cookies to the janitors and administraters to rejuvinate the projects’ schedule. After classes, I assist with cleaning and organizing alongside the assistant directors to get the classes and agenda I want and I’ll even incorporate some time to gossip and sift through photos with other teachers whom I will plead for help in the coming months. No reason to hate the game, right? It’s just some heavy persuasion to oil the wheels of progress.

And it works. Our park project is in the last phases of construction. We started with a new crop of 4th graders – kids who are just absolutely adorable and couldnt be more excited to work with the much-rumored about Domnul Brett. I am continuing with the same 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th graders and building off last years curriculum with more in depth and hypersensitive topics. They trust me to talk about Puberty and eating disorders, and we use last year’s information to freefall into thin-skinned themes. I even wiggled my way into 5th-grade Russian as a student. Sitting alongside my favorite class, they think it is hilarious, yet my pride takes a shot when my students are crushing me in grammar lessons and juvenile review games.

One of the strange phenomenon’s as of now is seeing my friends who have completed their 2 years of service transition back into American culture. One of my closest friends, who I had the pleasure of serving with for a year offered astute advice: „While the focus may be on the needs of your community, do something you really want to do”. This year, I have done just that by introducing an „Emerging leaders” club. The best advantage I possess is knowing the students who look to thrive and lead by example. Way back when, I stated a goal to teach people how to think outside of the box and utilize their potential, and I’m going for it. I handpicked 20 students ( I know, I know.. didn’t want to play favorites), and brought them into one core group. Here, we will learn about cultures, business project design, and valuable life skills (while throwing in some English). I’ve also learned the magical ability to say „No”!  I’ve learned to just try – even if failure is the likely outcome. No more what ifs, no more doing things just because I’m here. The looks shot in my direction are not quizzical, but almost affectionate condescension.  Together we make Sage decisions, and together, we cultivate resiliance.

I’ve decided to join in on the indifference that bounds itself to the beginning of the school year.  Things will get done, and my mental map will take form. For now, I know the stuff my students and colleagues must do at home to prepare for inward seasons. Hours upon hours are reserved for preserving tomatoes and peppers for the winter. Days are put aside to pick the grapes for fermenting wine or amass the corn from the fields. I certainly aint going to beat the system, so joining was definitely the right choice. The animals who grew over the past year must now become frozen meat for our winter – in my house, that meant kill the pig! While this kid could paint a gnarly portrayal, I’ll spare you the repugnant particulars. It’s pretty much what you would imagine when primitive people are without basic machinery – just subsitute in a blowtorch. The animals’ forlorn and distrustful eyes would have worked on me had I not been living here for 15 months already. What would normally be an eloquent argument in favor of vegetarianism for most, was an exciting version of the theater for me. So when kids miss a day of school to go to the fields and collect grapes – I know that their family’s wine making activities are a secondary source of income (and heat). The 6am Saturday wake up calls and afternoon tractor carpooling now make sense.  I know all this know and somehow its already my last go around.

Struggles outside of our tangential air can slip past precedence. This has been made clear for me with the health of my family at home. When the same people who mete out motivation and teach you to believe in yourself show signs that inflict with immortality, surface cracks in our armour become bulky gorges. As my Grandfather piles up on his hospital ferquent flyer points, feelings of powerlessness and remorse bevy brainpower and promote far too many self-directed inquiries. Moldova could not be farther away when my family assmebles around illness. With Skype has been a small blessing, I’m learning to compensate for my absent heart, but I’m pleased to say my community has offered up their stanch support. Thus, a viscid mix of emotions boil in me as I scribe job and grad school applications. Boasting about my work here seems to be a acerbic jab at what we have been able to accomplish. These people have become my kids, my friday night plans, my support system; and the crops and the events have taken my monthly priorities by storm. Through the sparsely furnished classrooms, our dispositions have come to a rhythmic rise and fall. I guess that’s why a crescendo is titled as such. It keeps growing, until the resonance is just right. 

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A World of Difference

Trapped by the foreshadowing fictions, I grew sullen and resentful with my isolated placement. I had just sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and would saunter to work repeating the incantation of foreign words to myself in preparation of any 30-second conversation – everything was a fireball of effort. I resented the caterpillars of sweat that would slink down my spine just from moving about my house in the humid air. Whew, boy, does a year make a world of difference. Recently, I sat down to write the personal statement that is to be attached with and sent off to jobs/universities around the globe as I try to piece together the next chapter of my life.  While revisiting the words on the screen, I realized I wasn’t selling myself to these programs as a perfect fit for their school, but rather how the world has evolved around me over the last year, and how I decided to move with it. This has been a pivotal year for my life – the challenges that were faced head on and the small victories that have been achieved have bound me to a scrupulous and literal honesty that I might not have oterwise found.

I truly believe that when luxuries are stripped we are set apart from our limitations. I feel it daily, but can now see it in the faces of the new volunteers (the M28’s). I had the pleasure of greeting them upon arrival, assisting in their training, observing their development, and facilitating the hell that is practice school. Communicating that struggling to get a sentence out and writhing to create a lesson plan with a host country national sets up a baseline for enhancement was difficult, but vital for both parties. I then watched as this new group walked the length of the stage after 10 weeks to swear into the government in similar fashion to my ceremony last year. I couldn’t help but incessantly reflect on the difference of being a member of the audience versus the awe stricken amateur standing up on the stage. I witnessed the same, uniform emotions that were so extant in me. But, man, are they an impressive group. Earlier in the week, we commemorated the 20th anniversary of Peace Corps Moldova, with a TEDx-inspired event called Storytellers. We heard stories from the first ever Country Director and US Ambassador to Moldova (among others), both of whom flew in to celebrate with us. It was fascinating to hear the chronicles of my predecessors, equivalent hindrances and the advancements of our work. My colleagues thought up this event, just like all the others. In this industry, there is no egocentric rival-race to the top, as our objective is communal. There is ubiquitous, dynamic genius amid these people.

Divergent of 365 days ago, I couldn’t wait to get back to my village and call up my partners to meet up. This time, conversely, I saw it. A world full of experiences; A world full of people; A world of difference. The pragmatism was there – it was the absent link. Sure, maybe it’s because I speak the language now, but it’s really more than that. In between comical flashbacks to last year, I take notice that I now know the movers and shakers in the village, areas where pushing buttons is permitted, and when to expect the passivity. Rudimentary ideas can and will actually come to fruition now that I can maneuver the course.  I was able to handpick my classes, capsize the delayed start of my park project, devise a more efficient curriculum, and even start the execution of a new project.  So, I get it, I really do – this is why we must endure the massive fireball of effort.  

Let me replace the inflexibility that shadowed disappointment with optimistic patience. Let me understand that ostentatious panache of some could be in lieu of concealed troubles and reservation. The imperative year of past instigated some very real keenness for year 2. A memory is only as good as the ones you share it with; Reminescence and reflection are key, but could also be crippling. Such personal and  peripheral growth is only possible if you break your heart in the right way. Those moments of white-hot rage, those moments that leaves your heart pulsating an audible throb, those moments of swimming in bemusement – its how we metamorphose resistance into value.

So after summer of non stop interchange as the trainer and not the trainee, I find myself back in the MY village – once regarded as just an isolated assignment.  The pairs of eyes and stoic profiles that used to frighten and coerce me are now warm faces faceted like jewels of my students and neighbors. I’m not bothered by the unneccesary conversations voiced in numbing plangency, but instead meet them with equal animation and vigour. I was once worried about the possibility of a loss of luster after I „figured out” how things work here in Moldova. I’m more than okay admitting I was wrong. I now call the meetings – meetings I once dubbed soundless explosions, that felt as if I was stuck in an elevator full of strangers. Salutations in the form of enigmatic whispers are now welcomed forms of tribute. What is happening?

Starting in a countable number of days, I’ll return for my second – and possibly final – year as Domnul Brett. I’ll have my 8 hours of Health Education, an English club for people in the community, an Entrepreneurship club for aspiring young adults, ongoing construction on our park, and blueprints laid out for several other secondary projects. I’ll also have my lessons learned. When I fielded questions throughout the year that revolved around “how are things for you, in your country” – I felt a vague accusation in those final words. I’ve made the connection, as I was a visitor learning the way of life. I now walk the same route to work, with a clear head. Familiar kids yelling your name in the street of your village brings that rare joy like ice water slipping down your throat on a scorching day, or a real, honest kiss. Now, I’ve had my heart broken in the right way.

“We can’t really know what a pleasure it is to run in our own language until we’re forced to stumble in someone else’s”.

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Halftime

I panted across some stretches of the open field, dragging my iron clogged feet along the way. I sprinted through other fractions, even taking tacklers with me until I slowed. 12 months ago I was sworn into the Peace Corps; just under 12 until I board a plane headed towards American soil. Seconds tick off the clock at the speed of a snail; quarters evaporate in front of my eyes. This is my halftime.

The clue to everything a man should love and fear in the world is in the ironic unknown. I’ve surmounted that initial year of Peace Corps and rewarded myself with an unforgettable halftime show. I needed some outside adventure, something to unleash my pent up adrenaline. Fortunately, I was able to do so with the same person who pushed me to take on this journey from the beginning. After a few jam packed few days in my village, my closest friend – and the only roommate I’ve ever had – and I headed to the airport to start our hyped up trip.

Thanks to a nice long layover while border hopping, I was once again able to discover the magic of Istanbul. Feeling the trekkers’ ecstasy pump through our veins that represented the start of a highly glorified vacation, we had aproximately 20 hours to navigate ourselves through the giant city. Armed with nothing but a sanguine „bucket list” and sleepy bags under our eyes, we hit the major mosques, drooled over the weeks’ potential at a few cafes, and covered the extent of the city just because we could.

We moved on to a truly hidden gem; Every town throughout Slovenia was wonderfully drenched in sound and color. The air was unsullied and crisp, the backdrop was vibrant. We couldn’t turn our heads without spotting a motorcycle whizzing by or a local gearing up for a hike. They truly understood the boon of the country. With an awesome pitstop in the hippie capital of Ljubljana to refuel from the central outdoor market and a line of mouth watering food trucks, we hopped on a mountain bound bus towards our destination of Soca. Our vehicle twisted and turned as we crawled up the mountains to reach the hidden valleys. Our destination, an open air hostel, overflowed from adventurous company of all ages holed up in hammocks, RV’s, and tents surrounding ours. A greuling hike brought us to a natural gorge, where we geared up from head to toe. We were dropped down waterfalls, slid down rock formations, and hurled our bodies over crags into springs no man could have made.

Next, we worked our way down the coast of Croatia using more modes of public transportation than the actual quantity of items in our teeming bags. Our first planned stop was Plitvice National Parks, a veiled town with towering waterfalls and glistening pools of natural goodness. Walking through the place, the only thing I could think was „photoshop couldn’t even do this place justice”- just incredible and boundless scenes that highlight the planets’ unpretentious beauty. We then progressed through the cities of Split and Dubrovnik, each offering exquisite views, vintage buildings, astounding trades, and litters of cobblestone streets. Dancing through islands, leaping from lofty cliffs, and gawking at the diverse markets and wild animals were all absurdly amazing. Getting lost far off the tourist path may have overtaken them. The combination of waves crashing against the cliffs and the absence of any language provided such a lethal grace, I could have submitted to concord.

In order to inject some culture and ethos into my trip, and to divert my attention from Kendall’s leaving, I made my way back unaccompanied through the beguiling Bosnia & Herzgovenia. An overlooked country to most, I stayed with a groovy local who opened his home to me. A stroll though the town of Mostar felt as if we were the first visitors at a momentous exhibit. Scaling up a shattered building that served as the Sniper Tower during the bombings just 10 years ago left me dispirited. At the top, structures coated with bullet holes and bomb fragments encircled us. Despite being almost 100˚ via unbearable sun, I wrapped the silence around myself like a scarf. Our dispositions were salvaged by hip bars, visiting an official site of the Olympics (in the Capital, Sarajevo), and the ingenious ideas to turn history into resourceful art full of heart. Once again, the bridges and museums were excellent, but what will stick with me are those bona fide moments of layered and gorgeous intensity.

The inscrutable lore of a mysterious destination allows the heart to conquer the brain and invest trust in complete strangers. Traveling throughout Europe is no longer like embellishing my way through some complex drama without a script –  im a seasoned and naughty nomad amongst the exhilirating unconstrained spirit of Europeans. Working my way around has been such a blessing in disguise – the peoples, although often gleaming through the lenses of pink alcoholic saturation, could not be more friendly. Building fires with Dutch and Scottish; Rooftop beers with Serbians; Late night old town visits with Ukranians; Beach going with Italians. People walk the already contricted passageways dressed in whatever they desire, a wardrobe for personal expression and not for public promenades – remaining a refreshing break from judgement. I find freedom in the carnal reactions of people, the almost brutal true colors of those who are equally happy to be lost and seek to explore the world. Everywhere I gazed, however, the amount of technology still came as a shock. Wires all over the place, like metal cobwebs. Still, some constants remain the same – seeing 6 year olds walking the street with an open faced cupped palm suggesting donations, while the other hand is occupied clutching a cigarette to impress the nearby mother. Loveliness will always be accompanied by veracity.

The lifestyle, the traveling; it is intoxicating, but it has an end. So, I boarded a plane headed to Moldova with tolerant equanimity because I realized I felt – for the first time since this journeys’ kickoff – I was returning home.  Not just going back to Moldova, the level of comfort by getting on to a rutierra, hearing slang romanian spoken all around was shockingly welcoming. My halftime is over, and the second half has come with an ending in sight. I’m going to leave my heart and soul on the field in what is the biggest game of my life to date. I may now be accustomed to the speed (or lack there of) and the intensity of the game, but I know I cannot estimate the future. Here, the limitations of function meet the ambitions of art and now, I am back on my home turf with the advantage of comfort.

 

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Hayley in Cambodia

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." -H. Thurman

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