Disease

Typhoid fever sucks.  Last week, I woke up at about 3 in the morning. My entire body ached. I thought my eyes were bleeding. I had a fever of 104 degrees, possibly higher at times. In the morning, needing to go to the hospital, I really could not get out of bed. I’ve never felt so sick and so helpless. Well, maybe I have.

As many of you know, I have a very strange and rare disease that affects my bladder. The disease seems to be somewhere in an undiagnosed limbo in between chronic pain and a disease called interstitial cystitis.

When triggered, I experience a lot of pain. However time has done wonders for my affliction. There was a time when there were more foods I could not eat than ones I could. Now, it’s hard for me to find a food that I can’t eat.

The last two years have seen incredible improvement on this front. I used to live in pain, but now pain comes as an inconvenience only a few times a week. I never think about my pain anymore even though it used to define me. I’m so thankful for the improvement. The man upstairs must have been listening to my parents’ prayers.

Looking back, I’ve gone through hell, but it made me stronger, better and more introspective. In that regard, it is so similar to Peace Corps. I would never say the disease was for the best, as I spent one too many showers in the fetal position crying. But I am better for it.

The journey started as I lost my vices: My body, and eventually some specialists told me: no more alcohol. No more preservatives. No more weight lifting. No junk food. Not to mention a couple other Nos that should go unmentioned. This is not exactly the news a soon to be 21 year-old college student wants to hear.

My journey continued with self-pity, which slowly gave way to self-reflection. Pain and uncertainty, especially of the medical kind, has the direct effect of forcing an individual to realize what is important. Sitting in an x-ray room, you don’t want to die. Waiting for a biopsy result you make promises to God, to yourself. There are things in life more important than comfort and ego, I realized. Bigger things than pop culture and sports blogs. These are lessons I keep telling myself.

I said to myself: I’ll be better. I’ll try harder. I won’t not take anything for granted.

Sickness always used to make the disease I have worse. And such was the case the second night of my bout with Typhoid.

I hadn’t had a really bad outbreak in maybe 6 months. But it came hard and left me breathless. These reactions feel like all my nerves around my bladder are firing, and I experience a deep pain throughout my nether regions. In a word it sucks. In two words, it sucks ass.

Worse than the pain, I felt alone. I really shouldn’t. Life in Bonga is really going well right now. Jon, who is basically my brother, just moved from his small town to Bonga. There are two other great Peace Corps volunteers within walking distance. How Bonga went from one volunteer to four in a year is beyond me, but I’m not complaining. I also get a lot of love from the community. I have real friends and the folks have really adopted me as one of their own. I’m very busy with work.

But I was struggling with typhoid and then the pain came. I couldn’t sleep and my phone network was down.

I realized that night that physical pain pales in comparison to mental anguish. I felt alone.  In Peace Corps, loneliness and despair are worse than typhoid and malaria. Typhoid and malaria attack your immune system and your digestive system.

I really missed my parents and Carly. I’ve never felt so far away from her, and it’s the worst feeling. During my sickness, I stayed in my house for four straight days, feeling sorry for myself, and waiting by the phone. That is no way to live.

But as Peace Corps volunteers this is sometimes our reality. Loneliness is a constant struggle, an internal one. Even surrounded by loving friends and neighbors I still miss home. Loneliness is certainly inevitable.  We fight it with denial, humor and skype. It can be fought locally, through extroversion, but all the locals in Bonga can’t rid it entirely. Rather, we have to embrace it. Our collective loneliness is our identity. It is what gives returned Peace Corps volunteers a sense of calm. We understand ourselves because we were stuck with ourselves for so long. We can appreciate people more because we’ve missed them so much. We’ll come home with more appreciation, more love, and more understanding. I’ll be a better friend, a better brother, a better boyfriend. We’ll appreciate our mothers and ice cream. We’ll appreciate our friends and public water fountains.

Again my pain caused me to reflect on what I have, and who I was becoming. I am so lucky. I have the greatest family, friends and a girl that challenges me in the best way.

Despair is more difficult to diagnose. It manifests itself in different ways, and can cripple the spirit. It has come to me in waves. For the symptoms you have to look at yourself in the mirror. For me, it is giving up. There are so many things I’ve wanted to do here. I blame my inability to do them on others, when it really was my own fault. There is no use trying to win that grant, getting anything done here is impossible, I would tell myself.  This is an epidemic of the mind that affects all of us volunteers. But what I believe now is that we have to fight it. By giving up on a goal, we affect not only ourselves but also the people we were called upon to serve. No one joins Peace Corps with low ambitions. Our idealism is what makes us unique, and we can’t lose it. Unfortunately some goals are too lofty, and too difficult given the social and political circumstances. But that doesn’t meant that I can’t try harder. It’s not fair that I have gotten more out of this experience than Bonga has.

These were the realizations I had as I slowly recovered in bed. In the past few days I have become more productive. My goal is to work tirelessly until I see some real results in Bonga. I’ve realized that in my natural state, I feed off of stress and responsibility. Give me a ton of work and I thrive. With little pressure and my own excuses I perish.

So this week I finished the Peace Corps newsletter, and I am almost finished with two grants to help the school. I’ve been teaching more, and even started a local English club. I’m working on some brochures for eco-toursim development and have had very successful meetings. I don’t want excuses any more. I want work, and I’m finding the right people to help me accomplish my goals.

Ciproflaxin, bless its heart, cured my typhoid. The cure for loneliness is embracing it and learning from it. As for despair, a simple promise is the best medicine:

I’ll be better. I’ll try harder. I won’t take anything for granted.

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Numbers

    • 502

    The number of days I have lived in Ethiopia

    • 1.400

    The cost in dollars, for a round trip flight to Washington DC

    • 382

    The estimated Per Capita GDP (USD) for Ethiopia

    • 8

    Approximate total number of gallons of water (bathing, drinking, washing) I have used since Carly left on January 18th.

    • 2.5

    The total number of liters used to take a full shower yesterday morning

    • 10.0

    Rating, on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the worst) of how bad I smell on a daily basis

    • 48.52

    Amount of money, In dollars and cents, that I have spent in the past two weeks. Including: my rent, 14 hours worth of bus rides, one hotel room, internet and phone time, meals, groceries etc.

    • 25

    Percentage of the above amount that went towards two phone calls to Mike Jennings and Carly Arnwine.

    • 40

    Cost, in cents for my lunch today

    • 281

    Miles to Bonga from Addis Ababa

    • 4.6

    Driving at 60 mph, the time it would take to go that far in America

    • 16.5

    The amount of time it took me to get from Addis Ababa to Bonga 8 months ago

    • 9

    By car, the amount of time it took most recently, now that half of the road is paved

    • 2

    Number of lions spotted in the outskirts of Bonga last week

    • 1,623

    Students at Sheta Primary School, grades 1-8

    • 11

    Number of classrooms at Sheta Primary School

    • 1

    Number of classrooms held outside under a tree

    • 54

    Percentage of students who go on to High School from Sheta

    • 3.5           

    Time, in hours, it took me to download the state of the union in the lowest quality

    • 3

    Number of days in the past 2 months, there has been water running through the tap in my backyard. Trips to the river are fun though!

    • 26,314

    Views on my blog in the past year! Thanks guys!

 

Update

  • I mentioned this on facebook but it’s worth repeating here:  few weeks ago, Carly Arnwine taught a local orphanage basic photography. She gave them her polaroid camera and 200 prints given to her by some great friends. In doing so, Carly brought photography to a village that had none, and provided sustainable income generation for an Orphanage. I’m proud to say that on the first day of the photography project, the kids raised almost 800 Birr (close to 50 dollars) and gave a priceless (and affordable) gift to 200 families. I’m so proud!
  • I’m reading, “Under the Banner of Heaven.” It is well written and fascinating.
  • I loved the State of the Union. A lot more so when I read it than when I watched it.
  • There is a national basketball tournament coming up in a few weeks. Bonga was invited to participate. I’m trying to round up kids from my Basketball club to compete in regionals in Hawassa. Hopefully it works out! It will be a great experience for the kids
  • I miss Dave, my former site mate. Unsurprisingly, he joined Peace Corps again. However he is happily serving in Dominica, where Pirates of the Caribbean is filmed. I’m so happy for him
  • He was not accepted into Teach for America. How a US Government program rejects someone who served in the Peace Corps (twice), the Air Force, and has more experience than about 40 people combined is beyond me. Shame on you TFA. You lost out on the most hardworking and intelligent person I know.
  • here is a picture of a baboon: 
  • My heart has fallen for a project. I’ve wanted for a time to improve education here in Bonga. That’s why I love teaching in the schools. But a recent trip to our local primary school broke me down. Over a year into my service, i’ve become jaded by the sadder aspects of life here. But this reality choked me up. The school has over 1,600 students and only 10 classrooms. The 11th classroom is a blackboard hung on a tree. They have no room for the growing student population, no power, and can’t hold classes when it rains. Its truly heartbreaking. The condition of the five, two classed rooms is deplorable. I want to fix it. I want to build a few new classrooms. I’m dreaming big, and hoping my dreams can become a reality — so you’ll hear more on this later. Here’s a few shots of the school:

 


Politics in Perspective: Polar Bears and Flip Flops

A week ago the Republican nomination was all but over. Mitt Romney was well on his way to victory in South Carolina and locking up the GOP nomination. Then the South Carolina Debate happened. I have a terrible feeling that we will look back upon that debate as the day that changed everything for the 2012 election. However, I really hope that I am wrong. I probably am, considering Mitt Romney’s resounding win in Florida.

From my remote location, it is hard for me to stay connected to politics. Although something in my blood demands that I keep a connection with the workings of Washington. I often wonder why I am so interested in sports and politics. I’ve come to realize that I can’t fight it, as I inherited it from my Dad. But my time here in Ethiopia has really made me see the world of politics differently. I like to think that it has sharpened my perspective. To watch American politics from afar is depressing. It is like watching a ref-less soccer match: It’s all a game, with no sportsmanship.

The vitriol with which most Americans approach politics is unbelievable; a vitriol shaped by an interesting paradox. Either Americans aggressively dismiss politics as a whole, or they vehemently object the party they oppose. Simply put, there is too much anger and too little pragmatism. Whenever a new issue arises, such as the keystone pipeline, pundits and citizens alike erect a fence. Sides are chosen. From that point forward, we can only see that issue through a distorted lens. We have too few politicians who think rationally, weigh an issue and find a solution. We have even fewer citizens who do the same. It amazes me to see a country like America, where we have so much to be happy for, so miserable about our politics.

In a way, I love the high expectations. However, the wrath with which so many rebuke President Obama is frightening. I hear a lot of people claim that they want the Government out of their lives/damn !@#% pockets. In a just world, these folks will be reborn as Ethiopians. Then they will certainly have their wish.

By contrast, I notice that much of the problems here are the result of a culture that conservatives have always fought against. Forged by decades of foreign reinforcement, the Ethiopian attitude is an entitled one. While many Ethiopians work tirelessly to provide for their families, others just reach their hand out. We can’t afford a culture like that in America. With sweeping changes that have brought higher unemployment wages and universal healthcare, will our culture of hard work start to diminish? I do not think it will, but it is worth worrying about. (Trust me)

I have noticed that serving in the Peace Corps, and living in a place like Ethiopia really makes things less black and white. Not all liberal ideas are wonderful. Not all Republicans hate puppies. Ethiopia places such an emphasis on family that I wish we could claim in America. Although conservatives try to protect the American family through often ignorant means, at least they prioritize it. President Bush did more to help Peace Corps volunteers and fight HIV/AIDS than any Democratic president before him. (Unfortunately, this was undone recently as Republicans voted to reduce the PC budget.) They are also the constant promoters of free trade, lower taxes, and reduced spending: Three things we can all live with.

I think that what first excited me about Senator Barack Obama wasn’t his speeches or policies, but his level-headedness. I read that as a Senator he would have his staff organize impromptu debates, so he could hear an argument from both angles. That made me giddy. I saw in him someone who contrasted the ideologues who control Washington.

Now, Some would argue that Barack Obama is just as much an ideologue, but I disagree. He appointed/kept several Republicans on in key positions, such as Jon Huntsman and Robert Gates. He has been an advocate for free trade, and even extended the Bush tax cuts. While he thankfully ended the war in Iraq, he increased the level of troops in Afghanistan. He pursued and defeated Osama Bin Laden, repealed DADT (while remaining mum on gay marriage) and pursued actions that both supported and alienated Wall Street. I think he approaches decisions in a thoughtful, utilitarian manner. President Obama’s record is certainly less radical than many claim. However, there are things that have disappointed me about his first term. For starters, I think the stimulus should have allocated much more money towards infrastructure. I think the health care bill over stepped its bounds. A simpler public option would have made more sense in my opinion. Nevertheless I will almost certainly be voting for him in November. His foreign policy directions make me proud to serve here in Africa.

Recently, I’ve been studying who Barack Obama will be challenging in the upcoming election. I’ve come to a very strong conclusion. I really want Mitt Romney to win the Republican nomination. Not because I would vote for him, or because I think President Obama can beat him, but because the alternative is entirely too scary. Mitt Romney is not my ideal candidate, but I think he has a decent heart. I imagine that his foreign policy will scare me and that his economic practices will primarily help out folks like himself. Not to mention his social policies will likely make me quiver. He may however reduce spending and eliminate some of our debt, which I think is of paramount importance:

(A brief tangent: According to our current debt, every American would have to pay, in addition to their taxes, $44,336 dollars to end the deficit. That number extends to every 3 month-old baby and 95 year-old great grandmother. I certainly don’t have a spare 45 grand lying around. That is just how bad our financial crisis is, and a number I think Republicans will be focusing on in the next election, regardless of whose fault it was, or how irrelevant the number may be.)

At this point in time, I don’t think Mitt Romney would make a terrible president. The primary criticism of Mitt is something I see as a positive rather than a negative. He’s a flip-flopper! It is often said that someone who is a “flip-flopper” lacks a backbone: Moderates have no true sense of direction; folks will say: they are guided by nothing but their own insecurities. I couldn’t disagree more. I believe it takes a real man to approach a decision with torment, to really weigh the outcomes of certain decisions. I think someone who tends to disagree with his own party solidifies someone’s backbone.

I think we need more people like that in Washington. People like my Dad and his former boss. When my Dad was at the Interior Department, it fell on the Department to decide whether the polar bear should be listed as threatened species. For food, bears hunt underwater seals from ice platforms. If sea ice had diminished, the existence of polar bears would be threatened. For various reasons, it was clear that the Republican establishment, (notably Sarah Palin) did not want to list the Polar Bear as a threatened species because it would have confirmed global warming was a reality. Also, it could potentially curtail economic activity that might threaten conservation. My Dad knew the department kept track of satellite photos and asked for photos of the polar ice cap for the past 20 years. When Secretary Kempthorne, my Dad and others saw the photos’ depiction of dramatic losses of sea ice, they knew the polar bear had to be listed. President Bush accepted this decision. How sad is it that nobody heard about this story? The media would much rather push forward the stories that polarize us rather than bring us together. Here were three Republicans teaming up to save Polar Bears. Awesome.

This story is inspiring not only for animal lovers but for all of us who long for hope. It is refreshing to hear of people who place a premium on doing what is right over what is desired. I think Barack Obama believes that. I think Mitt Romney might. I doubt Newt Gingrich does.

My Dad was right again the other day. He said that I shouldn’t project my opinions (see above paragraph) of politicians and turn them into facts. In reality, I know very little of Newt Gingrich. The summary of my opinions is based on simple human observation. My opinion means nothing. Instead he said, turn to what peers say about him, if you are trying to prove a point.

So here is Bob Dole on the former speaker: “I have not been critical of Newt Gingrich but it is now time to take a stand before it is too late. If Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices. Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him and that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man-band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway. Gingrich served as Speaker from 1995 to 1999 and had trouble within his own party. By 1997 a number of House Republican members wanted to throw him out as Speaker. But he hung on until after the 1998 elections when Newt could read the writing on the wall. His mounting ethics problems caused him to resign in early 1999. I know whereof I speak as I helped establish a line of credit of $150,000 to help Newt pay off the fine for his ethics violations. In the end, he paid the fine with money from other sources. Gingrich had a new idea every minute and most of them were off the wall. He loved picking a fight with President Clinton because he knew this would get the attention of the press. This and a myriad of other specifics like shutting down the government helped to topple Gingrich in 1998.”

This quote agrees with my initial observations. Gingrich presents himself in a way unbefitting the office of the president. He is too quick to anger. He is hotheaded rather than rationale. He seems to be entranced in his own aura: egotistical and angry. I truly think the most important quality in a president is their demeanor. A president must be able to weigh an issue rather than have a predetermined mindset. I think the heart of a candidate has to be evaluated, and I think Newt Gingrich lacks heart.

A few years ago, I would have been rooting for Republican turmoil. I would have wanted Newt Gingrich to win because I know it would assure President Obama a greater chance. I would be rooting against Republicans and for Democrats. What’s changed in me is this. Beforehand, I would have been rooting for Newt Gingrich because he would be good for Democrats. Now I oppose him, because he would be bad for America.