Saturday, April 12, 2014

Blessing in Disguise

Ever since my first trip to the African continent I have devoured every resource I can get my hands on regarding history, development, policy, economics and all of the other complexities that surround development in general. More recently I’ve spent the last few months (or really since I left Uganda the first time and saw how severe their electrification problem is) filling my brain with numbers about electrification, policy, too many impact assessments of rural electrification projects, microfinance, impact evaluation methodology, and statistics. Without realizing it I approached my research here with a rather aloof and scientific perspective. I poured over my questionnaire to figure out precisely what data I would need to make valuable conclusions about electricity access and economic well-being. But now that I’m here and I’ve spent a good portion of the last week driving through the hilly green western Ugandan countryside to rural areas lacking grid access, I realize that I failed to remember how in your face poverty can become. It’s easy to pour over numbers and theories and get excited about new ideas but sometimes this all becomes irrelevant when you sit in people’s homes and find out precisely how difficult their situation is and how so many people really are stuck in a poverty trap (to quote the book Poor Economics).

Three days of interviews and it’s already started to feel like something I could do in my sleep. I diligently fill in the boxes in my stapled questionnaires, probing when the information I receive seems unclear. But still I find myself startled and saddened. During one interview with a woman who does not have solar energy, I inquired about how much she pays to charge her phone. She told me nothing. When I asked my translator to ask why, he calmly responded that the community helps her because she is in poor health and has no money. She was merely forced to start her business because she could no longer work on her farm. Most of the businesses I have surveyed run a loss every month. Their weekly turnover (if above zero) is often equal to what I might spend on a beer.

My life in Uganda this time around is worlds different than my last Ugandan experience. The region I live in is lush with rich soil that allows even the poorest to subsist off the land. I live in a huge house with a large yard with a lovely older British couple. Even when I run through hilly (and 1400m altitude!) Mbarara I am not (often) greeted by the constant “Mzungu how are you?” that I was during my runs in Moroto. The weather is beyond perfect—sunny and cool. My spotless new office is entirely run by professional and friendly Ugandan staff and powered by solar power although grid connection exists. But in spite of how nearly perfect life is here, I am confronted daily with the realities and limitations that poverty brings. The people I interview (with and without electricity) work extremely long hours only to run mostly unprofitable businesses. Yet there is often no other alternative for them. The income disparity in this country is unavoidably obvious and makes me wonder that perhaps if the income disparity that we have in the US was equally in your face to most people, then we would choose to do something about it.

Although life is not easy for people in the villages and it’s easy for me to sit through the interview brainstorming how their business might be made to be more profitable; these villagers have a much deeper understanding of the natural world than the western world. Unlike Europe and North America where we have created an artificially perfect environment where we can have whatever food we want whenever we want it, regardless of seasons, drought or weather, rural Ugandans have seen climate change (that was caused by our behaviours in the west) affect their daily lives. These Ugandans may not have even finished high school, often may not even be able to read, and unfortunately have little political power. But they are not debating whether climate change is real because the reality of it has changed their livelihoods. The fact that climate change comes up so frequently during my interviews is perhaps even more saddening when I know that my country has indirectly caused this disaster that is now impacting those most unable to cope with it. Sitting in front of people barely able to support their families makes the useless debate and stubborn unwillingness to change in my own country sickening. Although the comfort filled life in the west is certainly easier, I think rural Ugandans are blessed in a way they don’t realize through their intimate knowledge of the seasons, weather patterns, and their dependence on nature and its resources. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Back to the land of Bodas

Greetings from sunny and green Kampala! I’m currently sitting on the patio of a Dutch owned café called Brood (which means bread in Dutch). I can never get enough of the Netherlands no matter where I go apparently. After a very hectic past few months of stress and preparation when it was finally time to leave I suddenly found myself sad to leave the tiny country I now call home. But now that I’m back in crowded, lively, sunny, and friendly Kampala, it all feels right. Although I’ve already noticed some changes (cleaner streets, a few additional traffic lights that no one knows how to use, and some sparkling new malls) in this bustling city, in many ways it feels like I never left. I visited my old office on Friday and yesterday went to my favorite café/art gallery/restaurant to enjoy the peace of their garden seating area. My Ugandan accent (those of you who have heard it know what I mean) and my hard bargaining skills seemed to instantaneously return as soon as I set foot in this country. It feels perfectly natural to engage in friendly banter with the boda (motorbike taxi) drivers to convince them to lower their price. The process is not even about money, it’s simply the fun of bargaining and engaging in friendly conversation. And since these rides are often harrowing and potentially life threatening because they involve weaving in and out of the endless lines of Kampala traffic perched atop a motorbike without a helmet, I suppose I shouldn’t be willing to pay a high price anyway.

For those of you who are a bit unaware of my coming and goings over the past few months (understandable since I’ve been doing a lot of plane hopping recently) I am in Uganda for the next 5ish weeks to survey small enterprises that have purchased solar home systems from the NGO that I am working with for my thesis. I am going to attempt to draw out the causal link between electricity access and business economic performance. In between sleeping at a lot of different very hospitable friends and doing research, I also had a job interview for a research position at an energy research center in northern California (Arcata to be more specific—more well known as the pot capital of America) working on off grid lighting. As far as I can tell the job is about as perfect as could be, but now that the possibility to leave my life in the Netherlands (particularly) since I’m moving to Amsterdam when I get back gives me a horrible feeling in my stomach every time I think about it. So for now, I’m not thinking about it and just waiting to see what happens. But this job means that after four years of globetrotting I might be (temporarily) back in the US.

Presently, I am going to make the best of my time in the Pearl of Africa. It seems I always choose to come to this country when it is making world headlines. As I hope you are all aware, Uganda recently passed a very upsetting anti-gay bill (not to mention an anti-pornography bill that also includes women wearing skirts above the knee). Already on my taxi ride from the airport and strategically asked questions to my taxi driver about the bill, trying to draw out more information as to what the actual support for the bill is in Uganda (so far it seems overwhelming) and figure out why these attitudes exist in such strength on this continent.

Perhaps being a very frequent flyer is beginning to pay off because all of my recent flights (at not extra cost) I have managed to sit in economy comfort with lots of leg room. This upgrade proved very fruitful this time around because I sat next to a man who was a prosecutor during the Rwandan genocide trials and who was traveling back to the country to speak during the 20th anniversary of the genocide. He was extremely well traveled and knowledgeable and ironically will also be in den Haag end of next month!

Tomorrow I’m off to Mbarara in the west via the Ugandan post bus! It’s nice to be back in a more independent setting and be free to go, meet, and do what I want! 

Sunday, March 16, 2014


You can tell that I'm busy because the frequency of my posts has suddenly increased. I'm currently sitting in the central library in den Haag staring out at the sun shining on the streets and observing the people going about their Sunday afternoons on bikes and on foot. As soon as the sun peeps out from the sometimes seemingly endless blanket of grey, Dutch residents immediately can be found wandering the cobbled streets, cycling as a family, shopping, sipping a drink outside a cafe. Right now I'm super jealous. Unfortunately, my to do list does not complete itself magically when the sun pops out.

Whether or not to do lists complete themselves, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that our current western society has some things wrong and specifically my natural personality needs to be kept in check. I put a lot of pressure on myself and don't have a clue when to do stop getting involved in things. Recently, if I find myself in a moment where I allow my mind to wander, I immediately find myself running through my schedule and the many things I need to complete. I wake up in the morning and my first thoughts are the things I want to complete for that day. I feel gross, guilty and unproductive if I don't exercise. I want to be there for all people even if I'm finally honest with myself and realize that I'm not actually that close to them. I feel bad if I haven't contacted my faraway friends recently (the definition of recently has become more flexible). I worry about my Dad eating bad and continually refusing to learn how to cook. I think about how much money I should be saving and how much I've spent over the last month. I feel helpless when a friend is stressed and I feel like I can't do anything to help. I worry about my Mom selling our house and settling into our new place of residence in California. Occasionally, I think about whether or not I can finish the food I've bought for the week (or more like a few days) and stress about the possibility that I might have to throw bad food away (fortunately my obsession means this almost never happens). I constantly review the recent purchases I've made and analyse whether or not they were necessary and wonder if I am being too caught up in consumerism. Then I often rush back to the store to return items I deemed unnecessary.

BUT, in spite of all these thoughts running through my mind, I wouldn't say I'm a worrier. I know most things are out of my control and usually don't stress about them. However, shutting off my hyperactive body and mind and simply relishing the moment is nearly impossible for me (and I suspect many people in our non-stop western society). For me it's forcing myself to talk with a friend without feeling impatient about the things I need to do. Or going running or biking and letting my mind go blank. I think we spend so much time thinking and planning that we completely forget to just STOP and enjoy the sunshine, or the beautiful people around us, or a delicious carefully prepared meal with people we care about, or the glorious (to me at least) feeling of pushing my body to max and simply coming home exhausted and relishing in that happy endorphin filled exhaustion.

I'm not sure where I was going with this post besides procrastination from working, but wherever you are and whatever the weather just STOP and ENJOY the moment! 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Intentionally creating more stress for myself

Well the last month and half has been a bit of crazy, awesome, comforting, tiring, and rejuvenating weeks of hopping continents and spending a lot of time in airports. Going through security, boarding airplanes and lugging suitcases around has become second nature to me that I could probably do it all in my sleep (which is actually quite useful since traveling also often involves large time changes). Life has pulled me in a lot of different directions the last year or so (both literally and figuratively) and lately getting away (or perhaps running away) has helped me deal with things. Last week I was randomly in California swimming every morning in the heated outdoor swimming pool that my Dad's new university/workplace contains, this weekend I was skiing in the Swiss alps and yesterday I was cycling along the the VERY windy north sea. I am very, very sorry about informing almost no one of my whereabouts and the fact that I was in the US for two weeks. I very rashly booked a free flight with frequent flyer miles and just left to spend two weeks working on my thesis in a mostly sunny, wine filled, and family filled hideaway.

I REALLY really should be doing other things right now but I recently diagnosed myself with being chemically dependent on stress (it's real thing apparently) and seem incapable to accomplishing anything without limited time and extreme pressure. Yep, super healthy behaviour I know. Here are some random thoughts and links from the past month or so:

  • Roads in America are unbelievably wide. Was this normal to me at some point? What is most frustrating about this is how much freaking space there would be for BIKE LANES!!!!!! Why does this not happen? I totally get the practicality of driving in the US because distances are so much further. But this is not always the case and the most polluting part of driving is simply when you start up your car. So it makes SO SO much sense to walk or bike for short distances. Rant finished. 
  • Americans are delightfully friendly. It catches me off guard. I don't expect random strangers to chat with me and sometimes I want to be left in my own little world but it's also kind of nice to be noticed. 
  • On the flip side it's REALLY nice to run in peace and not get honked or yelled at. Thank you Holland!
  • I would really like to be paid to create delicious things. 
  • California is really, truly the best state in the US. I don't think I will ever change my opinion on this. Somehow no matter where I go in the state it feels like home. 
  • Swiss villages in the alps are so picturesque that they almost seem unreal. 
  • Being near the ocean or on a mountain is so healing. 
  • Even when I semi-intentionally ignore human beings and feel like I am better off doing things on my own, my good friends come back and remind me how many wonderful, thoughtful, non-judgmental, and supportive people I am blessed to have in my life. 
  • 26 really feels old, primarily because I have now lost my European youth discounts. Thanks to the new Dutch drinking laws (18 and older now), I still get carded here. Sadly three years ago I was insulted when carded and now I secretly love it. 
  • Directly after graduation there was a rush of people who got engaged, which I found surprising. Now a second rush of late 20s early 30s friends getting engaged. It still feels weird to me but congratulations to anyone who is reading this and recently got engaged! (And please invite me to your wedding so I can party with you ;) )
  • I have never been particularly fond of the French language (sorry French speakers) because unlike most of the rest of the world instead of finding it beautiful and romantic, I find it snobby and nasal. However, I have now realized that I seriously need to learn French, seeing as most of the places I've been in the last year required French and not being able to at least slightly communicate with people in their native language is incredibly frustrating. Some jobs may elude me due to my lack of French skills. I will always prefer the directness and down to earth nature of Dutch and German but French I'm going to attempt to master you!
  • Mexican food is excellent. Yet another reason California wins. 
  • Nederland: stop criticizing the perceived backwardness of America. There are places in the US that are more progressive than Holland. For example several American states have adopted the practice of composting. 
  • The more you learn, the more you doubt. As confusing and slightly scary this can be, I think its necessary to embrace doubts and not ignore them. 
Greetings from windy but sunny (ish) Holland! Back to dreaming of (sadly) and working on rural electrification!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Another side of my favorite continent

For the first time in a while there are actually a million things I could blog about. Specifically, the many images, stories, laughs and lessons learned from my recent trip to Cameroon for two weeks. Our team will be hopefully be updating our team blog soon (you can read more here) assuming my slightly exaggerated and attempted humorous writing makes it past the engineer in our group who prefers the literal at the expense of funny. Of all my short term and long term trips in the developing world, this trip was by far the best. That is a bold statement for me to make seeing as most of my undergrad was spent falling in love with places after two weeks with other groups of mostly equally motivated students in our feeble attempts to "save the world". I also must add that I may have found something that I am most passionate about and could really see myself doing as a career. This is an equally dangerous and bold statement since most of my life, I have different ideas what I want to be when I grow up on a nearly daily basis. After the extreme stress and frustration that resulted from working with the founder of the start up we're partnering with, the success of our trip came as a pleasant surprise.

I have slightly avoided blogging in general this semester because I've felt that my attitude about life and especially Delft has been generally negative for various reasons but this trip was a nice refresher after the nearly burn out busyness and stress of the past semester. More importantly, it gave me a deeper appreciation for parts of my life in Delft and the people that I've been blessed to meet. Although I went to Cameroon confident about my experience in Africa and short term trips and with the same sense cynicism that I haven't fully been able to shake since Uganda, the trip brought many pleasant surprises along with many expected experiences.

1. Like all the African countries I've visited, Cameroon was a country full of color, life, and laid back people. Although I speak almost nonexistent French, conversation with the people we encountered who spoke English was effortless, funny and open. A stroll through any village and town and we were greeted with the constant signs of life. People running their shops, music flowing from open windows, people dancing, groups enjoying a beer outside, motorbikes loaded with food and other random supplies to be taken on bumpy and dusty roads, women carrying exorbitant loads on their heads without breaking into a sweat,  we children returning from school in their smart uniforms, and boys playing football with anything that remotely resembles a ball. Quite unlke organized, quiet, and generally dead Delft, there was no place we visited that lacked signs of life. Living in a remote village, unconnected to the grid and with limited supplies did not deter its residents from having a good time. And in the big city life was even more exuberant: listening to fabulous live music at one of Yaounde's many cabarets and dancing with the locals on stage was a pleasant change from Delft and its rhythmically challenged engineers.

2. Unlike Uganda, Cameroonians do not associate alcohol with the world's greatest sin (this may be a bit of an exaggeration). Enjoying a beer or a sip of whiskey (at practically all hours of the day) was part of life for all classes and genders and professions (we even enjoyed some fine French wine at the local priest's house) in Cameroon. I'm sure this enjoyment of drink may carry its own set of problems, but I did not observe any excessively drunk people, and appreciated how both genders were able to enjoy a beer or two. Beyond drinking, women seemed to have a more prominent place in society than simply baby producers and cooks. However, given the comments from one of our local guides about how I was slowing down the group on the walks (even though I was walking faster than most of the boys) and the need for me to do the cooking, Cameroon still has some work to do regarding gender equality.

3. In many ways Cameroon fit the stereotypical western image of Africa: red dusted hills dotted with bright banana and palm trees, dusty and bumpy roads, children everywhere, women carrying water on their heads, and vibrantly printed clothing. But Cameroon also had relatively good roads (better than Michigan in most places), a very large highly educated population (unfortunately no jobs), and many extremely wealthy and motivated entrepreneurial people (our hosts) who firmly believe in their country. Cameroon was the first francophone African country I've visited, and the difference between French and English colonization was very apparent. The French language has infiltrated seemingly all areas of the country (even English speaking Cameroon--English and French are the two official languages). While it was quite common in Uganda and even middle income Botswana to find people in rural areas with no grasp of English, most people seemed to have at least a decent level of French in all areas we visited. And even the local dialects contained French influences. More importantly, a common theme during our interviews (particularly with government officials) was that in many ways the French still have 70% of the control in Cameroon and their control is a big reason why Cameroon was recently rated the most corrupt country in the world. Unlike the English, the French did not simply pack up their bags and leave when colonization ended. A significant portion of their economy is based on resources gained from their ex-colonies and they will influence investors, contracts, and policies in their favor. One of our hosts even claims that western media is influenced by the way the French portray Africa. He made the bold statement that Ghadafi would still be in power in Libya and there would have been minimal violence if the French had not interviewed and portrayed him as such a bad guy. Obviously there are biases both ways, but it was interesting to see how different the politics and business climate was in a former French African colony.

4. This trip knit together my often seemingly pointless studies with my deep desire to somehow aid in the development of Africa (a very broad and bold statement, I know). Working for an NGO and doing seemingly meaningless and fluffy projects that to me seemed to not require the need for an inexperienced naive white person to manage, made me quite cynical towards development work in general. But living in Uganda also planted the first seed of my interest in rural electrification and seeing Africa's electricity network develop in a sustainable way. Off grid solar lighting makes SO much sense in sub-Saharan Africa for so many reasons: economic, logistics, environmental and social. Being able to have the freedom to create our own project without the confines of faculty chaperons, release forms, and bureaucracy was delightful. We were friendly and assertive and in two short weeks made a plethora of useful contacts, conducted numerous interviews and ultimately developed a surprisingly comprehensive picture of the electrification situation in Cameroon and the potential for small solar lamps. It has been a while that I have felt so motivated and passionate about something. My work in Cameroon means very little in terms of credit for my master's program so it is now difficult to detach myself from doing more research and sending more emails to gather more information. Unfortunately, now that I am passionate about the project again, I also have to remind myself that it is not my business and sadly I am doubtful that the business will be successful due to the person running it. Ultimately, if anyone is hiring some kind of solar consultant and needs me to travel to a country for weeks or months at a time to do in depth research and interviews, I am very very much on the market!

Finally, one of the biggest reasons I have felt rather trapped and negative about life in Delft, has been because of the people. After a lovely year of exploration and meeting loads of new people, I came to the sad realization this summer that although it is generally very easy for me to meet people and make new friends, in the end there will always only be a few people who you are close to. Delft is not Valpo or Korea or Uganda, where my friendships and interactions were mostly filled with open, well traveled, and dynamic people that I felt completely comfortable with. I didn't think about who I was or what I was doing, I just lived. I didn't think about what information I shared or how certain activities I would only do with certain people. Unfortunately, Delft is not quite the same and perhaps the feeling of not being fully comfortable with the people I often interact with has also led me to scrutinize my life choices and question the direction my life is going. But Cameroon and my wonderful team helped reinstate my appreciation for the few people I do really care about in Delft and in the Netherlands. People who don't find my life crazy or shocking or question my choices. People who instead question what gets me excited and passionate. People who I can have deep conversations with or simply be completely silent with and not feel awkward. Ultimately, these kind of people are not necessarily found after years of friendship but rather flit in and out of life. So instead I'm going to focus on these friendships rather than stressing about my life choices and how certain people judge them.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Challenging the Status Quo

A few years ago I happily discovered that I share a birthday with Dr. Suess. If you don't know who Dr. Suess is (apparently he's not so well known outside of the US) please do yourself a favor and google him then read some of his witty, creative, and colorful children's books (my favorite is the Lorax). In light of Dr. Suess and my recent obsession with his quotes here is a particularly good one that was shared with me (also from the Lorax): 

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.

I liked this quote so much that I made the bold move to throw it in a recent PhD application essay. We'll see how that turns out for me... But either way it got me to thinking. The more I learn, the more I realize how ridiculously complicated everything in this world is. I find myself wishing I could place myself on one of two spectrums: blissfully ignorant or passionately idealistic. I think I used to fall into the latter category and now I want to jump back into my passionate idealism. While I'm grateful to have a much much better understanding of the complexities surrounding the world's problems and ultimately human behaviour, I also don't want this knowledge to make me apathetic and cynical. Because I do believe that the first step is simply caring, "a whole awful lot". 

The intricacies of our political and economic system and the unfortunate intertwining of the two, can leave any informed person exhausted and depressed at the complexity and simply seemingly hopeless situation. There are times when I just want to shut out the world around me with its hunger, disease, corruption, greed, and sadness and just climb to a mountain, build a hut and stay there in my own little world pretending everything is perfect. But here's the thing: even though I complain about the US and feel utterly overwhelmed when thinking how anything will ever change in my country, and even though I find myself super cynical and skeptical of most development assistance and white people going over to help "poor Africans" when I really think about injustice and how often the US has promoted some of this injustice or when I think about innocent people dying, or when I think about how through some of the simple actions I take every day I am inadvertently destroying our beautiful world; I can't help but care A LOT. And even though my education has perhaps aided in making me cynical it has also shown me that perhaps I CAN do something. 

Ultimately, I'm sick of having conversations about the world's problems and ending with well maybe someday it will change but this is the system we're just stuck in. Perhaps that is our problem today. When I think about history and the change-makers they were people who didn't accept things the way they are even if that was easier and safer, instead they were people who rejected the status quo. I've never been one to strictly follow the status quo and prefer to charge ahead and forge my own path, but I want to take this stubbornness (as people close to me call it) a step further and really challenge the status quo. So instead of complaining about how people don't bike in the US, I am just going to start biking wherever I end up next (whether or not it's in the US) as much as it is in my power to do so. Biking works in the Netherlands for many reasons but a big part of the success of biking is because there is simply a critical mass of people who bike. Forming a critical mass of support for anything is ultimately what can create change. 

Religiously taking up biking may not be a big step and I have plans to try and do more in other areas that make my blood boil in frustration, but whatever I do, I'm going to continue to question and refuse to accept things that I don't like simply because its easier. Change is never easy, but that doesn't make it any less necessary. To end my pep talk for the day: let's care a whole awful lot and start rejecting the status quo! 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2013: Old and New

2013 is the first year since 2009 that I have called one city my place of residence. From this perspective my year seems in line with what I wrote a year ago about how shockingly stable 2013 seemed destined to be. However, 2013 brought visits to approximately seventeen new cities, eleven countries (four of them new), lots of sleeping in different beds, floors, and couches, and loads of new people. But in spite of all the new and unexpected happenings of 2013, it was also filled with lots of old and familiar. Reunions with old friends and family, visits to cities I used to live in, and adventures with old friends. Here is the new and old of 2013:

Old: Celebrating New Years in Chicago with old Valpo friends and jetting off to South Africa and the end of the month to see old friends from Korea and my dad.
New: Presenting a paper at a conference and becoming speechless for the first time at the first audience question (what is circumcision?)

Old: Rendezvous with my dear partner in crime in Korea, Shea, in South Africa. Then the familiarity of admirably dull Botswana with its cows and delightful mountain bike trails. A visit from an old Valpo friend living in Austria.

New: The start of a new quarter of classes and the beginning of football season.

Old: Visit from my best friend Rebecca to run a half marathon. Weekend meeting  in London to see Lindsey my old college roommate.

New: Celebrating my birthday with new friends and reaching a quarter of a century!

Old: Visiting little Altenkirchen Germany for a weekend of crafting and running with Rebecca.

New: Seeing a different side of Germany.

Old: A final visit from Rebecca before she started a new adventure in Rwanda.

New: Experiencing real Greek hospitality in Athens and Crete with my roommate for Greek Orthodox Easter festivities.

Old: Visits from two Valpo friends!
New: Surprise trip to Trondheim, Norway for a lovely week of couchsurfing!

Old: Seeing old friends and family in Washington DC, Boston, and Ann Arbor.
New: Getting my first academic paper published and presenting at a conference. Hitchhiking adventures to Paris with new friends.

Old: Saying goodbye to a house that I've spent the longest time in. Two weeks in an old city--Munich--for new adventures.
New: The start of Climate KIC  summer school and meeting some of the most wonderful people in the world.

Old: Spontaneous day trip to Brussels to visit a dear Korean flight attendant friend.

New: Saying goodbye to my amazing new Climate KIC friends. Writing a business plan. Giving a pitch for our business idea.

Old: Visiting a friend in Freiburg with a stop on the way back in dear old Darmstadt where some of my first travel adventures began and this blog was birthed.

New: Spending a week on a boat with interesting new people learning more about sustainability.

Old: Reunion with summer friends in Budapest. The start of a lovely visit from my favorite mother.
New: Travels to new cities: Budapest, Tunis, Gent, Maastricht.

Old: Conclusion of my mother's visit and the start of utter insanity.
New: Christmas in Vienna and skiing in Obertaurern.

I think the most important thing that 2013 brought was the acceptance that my life journey is different, just like everyone's is slightly different. Instead of constantly pondering and in some respect seeking stability, I realized this summer that when I strip away what everyone else is doing and stop comparing myself to them, I'm pretty content in my nomadic life. Maybe its not typical to move so frequently and travel like its my job, but I like it. People and places flit in and out of life and I realized that's okay. Saying goodbye is always hard but just because its hard doesn't mean I should avoid it since even when living in one place people come and go. However, I also realize that I've neglected to keep in touch with dear people this summer and fall and I hope I can remedy that in 2014. So here's to 2014: a year where I hope I can fully embrace instability, moving, new and old faces and places, the thrill of exploring a new place, learning and growing.