A look back

Searching through my computer I found a document titled “My Dream Job.” Curious, I opened the file. What I found was pretty awesome, an assignment I wrote 4 years ago as a freshman in college. The assignment was to write a paragraph about an organization you respected and would like to work for upon graduation.

This is what I wrote…

“As of today, it is hard to picture myself at a desk, crunching numbers and counting down the hours until it is politically correct for me to leave. Few organizations seem worthy of such an existence, save for one. And in this organization, a desk may be hard to find. The Peace Corps is my dream job.

The Peace Corps is widely known and praised for the work it has accomplished around the world. Established by John F. Kennedy in 1960, the Peace Corps places Americans in underdeveloped countries for a period of 2 years. They are placed with the expectation of doing what they can to improve the quality of life, gain experience, and perform micro-diplomacy.

Selfishly, it will allow me to learn a language, enhance my perception, and travel the world. The job opportunities are many, ranging from teaching English to managing sustainable farmland. If I were to choose, I would most like to work in the small business development department and I would love to work in a Spanish speaking country, Asia or Africa”

Funny how things work out sometimes.

The Peace Corps has lived up to my expectations and more. Being here, I’ve realized that so many people I know could do the Peace Corps, love it and do some awesome things. More and more age groups are joining, (people with actual experience) and the age range here in Ethiopia is 22-69.

*Peace Corps is not paying me for this marketing, but if interested, I think (hope) they know where to find me*

For example, my parents would do great in the Peace Corps, as would my siblings and cousins. My friends

Well, maybe some of them


Thoughts of the week:

  1. I’m generally kind to animals. That being said, the next time I see a rooster I’m going to kill it.
  2. I got outrun by an 11 year old today. We ran about 4 miles and she could have probably tripled that. Yes I said she.
  3. I’ve gotten pretty good at pooping in a hole. Accuracy is the name of the game.
  4. I gave Dum Dum’s to my family. The way they cherish them is incredible. Its taken my host mom four days to finish hers. Makes me realize how good we have it back home.
  5. Both my family here and back home are renovating their kitchens. Here, that means replacing the dirt floor with concrete. It’s a big deal. They pace back and forth, inspecting the work, worrying about the process. It’s like I’m at home–except this renovation cost 18 dollars.
  6. The stars here are nuts. At 8,000 feet and with a total of 10 light bulbs in town, I think I can see the whole universe
  7. My host mom gave a speech at our end of training celebration. She thanked Peace Corps for giving them a son to replace the one she lost. She said I was very loveable and was now a part of her family. She had tears in her eyes, as did most of the mother’s and fathers who spoke. It was a really powerful moment for me.


The Hard Days

I am aware that I have the problem of romanticizing my experiences here. In my defense, it does not require much embellishment to describe the better aspects of life in Ethiopia. Life is certainly a struggle here, more so a survival. Nevertheless, I’ve been able to see one thing a day that justifies everything, or reminds me that people can have a lot in common despite vastly different environments.

However I rarely mention the harder parts of Peace Corps. I tend to exclude some of the more difficult aspects of living here, from daily life, to the sights I’ve seen. Last week I watched a 6 year old, suffering from malaria, throwing up into her skirt on the bus. This is a country where shoes are luxuries; many families collect water from puddles on the side of the road, and way too many kids don’t get to see their 2nd year. A contentious debate in country paints the best picture of life here. Should HIV positive mothers breast-feed their baby? The risk of giving the virus to the baby is small but very much possible. Common sense would say it should be illegal for a HIV positive woman to breast feed. But this is Ethiopia. There simply isn’t enough food Many children would die without breast milk in the first 6 months.. This is a problem with no immediate solution and the reality of it is truly ugly.

So yes, there are days when life is hard. These are often days when I feel like I can’t change anything here. There are sick days, and days where the food is tough to swallow. There are cold nights with cold showers and feeling a little too alone. But the worst days are when I’ll see a picture of Carly on my computer. Man is she pretty. I showed a picture of her to my friend Brian. He looked at it and said. “Good Lord! What the hell are you doing here?!?!”


Some days I have to ask myself the same question.


The Good Days

Such is life in the Peace Corps. My life doesn’t follow the gentle rolling slope of ups and downs happened in America. Here there are mountains and valleys. Whereas yesterday was a bad day, today reminded me of how awesome Ethiopia can be. Nothing of note happened, just a different vibe in my community.

The sun came out. Everyone called me by name now rather than calling me foreigner, hey you, or china china. I told people I was leaving and they cried. Its good to know you will be missed. My girl Kidest, 3 years old, gave her last piece of candy, to her little brother. I invited her to movie night and she gave me her signature move by blowing me a kiss.

The reality is that I didn’t come here for life to be easy. During the rough times is when I’ll become a better person with a better perspective. In the challenges I’ll find the rewards.



5 comments on “A look back

  1. Mom says:

    Great posts, Michael! I remember your writing assignment about your future career. As I recall, your other choice was to be a bar tender in Costa Rica. I think you made the right one.
    love, mom

    PS. Kitchen renovation is coming along. I wish we had the $18 price tag, though. I bet even that is pretty expensive for your host family, and am glad they will have a lovely floor. We will, too, but wood, not concrete.

    PPS. CONGRATULATIONS on becoming a real Peace Corps Volunteer! We are proud of you.

  2. PAT! says:


    Dude that’s so weird, cause I recently showed a picture of you to a cute Italian chick and she said “Why the hell aren’t you in Ethiopia!!??”

    and I told her that I thought poverty was gross. Just kidding Mrs. Waiddank.

    Dude I read your blog and I catch 99% of the jokes so don’t think that shit goes unnoticed.

    Love you little bro,

  3. Drew Stevens says:

    “During the rough times is when I’ll become a better person with a better perspective. In the challenges I’ll find the rewards.”

    It sounds to me like life is beginning to focus in on what’s actually important… Growth! Developement! Contribution! I swear man sometimes I wonder if anybody understands that or even cares over here. It is really heartwarming to know that there are people in my life who get that. Thank you for all that you’re doing and for all the lives you’re influencing. Mike, you’re a real top notch person and someone that people should strive to be like. I’m really proud to be your friend.


  4. Molly Schmalzbach says:

    Hey Mike!

    I just wanted to add my name to the list of people who are so proud of what you’re doing. I spent this past summer working in Malawi, and had a lot of similar experiences. It was definitely not easy living, but the people I met and the lessons I learned made it all worth it, as I’m sure you already understand even better than I do. Peace Corps has been my dream job for as long as I can remember. I’ll be finishing up my Master’s in May, and every time I read your blog I wonder how I can consider doing anything else.

    I know it’s tough being away from loved ones, but hang in there because like you said “in the challenges you’ll find the rewards.” Everyone you know will still be here when you return, and they will all benefit from your better perspective.

    Also, I would love to help with your small coffee business if you can get that going once you’re settled at your site!

    All the best,

  5. Holly says:

    Hey Mike!

    Like Molly, I wanted to put in a word about how inspired I am about what you are doing. I stumbled across your blog on facebook, and am wowed by what you are experiencing!

    Last year, I spent a mere week in Jamaica (working in a school and orphanage) for Alternative Spring Break. It changed my life. That being said, it completely blows my mind to think of what it would be like to do what I did for two years. Good for you, Mike. It takes strength to do what you are doing!

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