Monday, December 1, 2014

Gratitude, even when you don't feel it

Apparently I am only capable of blogging semi regularly when I have no free time. The past few months I have had more time on my hands than I have had in literally YEARS and yet I don't seem to accomplish anything semi productive. Since I've done a terrible, terrible job of keeping in touch for those who are wondering what I'm up to: I graduated end of August and am currently still living in Amsterdam doing research part time (in Delft) on frugal innovations in Africa for a joint research center between three Dutch universities. My contract runs until February 1st and soon I may be doing research very similar to my master thesis topic for another professor. The research center applied for funding that would include a PhD position. So far it looks like the money will come through which means I can probably start a PhD around March if I decide. Otherwise, I am mostly attempting to figure out how to deal with having so much time on my hands and survive off a two day a week salary (going well so far). And applying for jobs. So I suppose my main excuse for not blogging is simply having nothing interesting to blog about.

But in the spirit of Thanksgiving and after a lovely evening with dear friends sharing food, wine, and laughter I felt it was time to express gratitude for my current place in life. Some days thankfulness comes easily, but oftentimes when I stare out at the endless grey skies, or step into the wind and rain and cold and feel depressed about not knowing exactly where I will be or what I will be doing in the upcoming months, gratitude is not a word I would easily use to label my emotions. However, I'm slowly learning to be thankful when it isn't easy, and express gratitude for things or situations that at first glance don't seem thankfulness worthy. Although cultivating a spirit of thankfulness is not always easy, I'm discovering that expressing gratitude even when I don't feel it can slowly change my mindset. So in honor of one of my favorite American holidays, I am thankful for:

1. Dutch weather. Yes this is a shocker. I have notoriously complained about cold, grey, rain, snow (pretty much anything other than beach weather) for most of my life. I would be lying to say that if I could have everything I want in life I would not choose to live in a cold weather climate. BUT, this year I have been learning to appreciate the weather. Whether it's sunny and warm, cold and grey, bitterly windy, rainy, humid, hot, whatever. I am thankful for Dutch weather because when it's sunny, I appreciate it more. My heart truly sings when the sun bursts through after weeks of grey. I'm grateful that unlike many places in the world, having enough water is not even remotely a concern in this tiny country. I'm grateful for the wind when I'm cycling because it makes me work harder and makes up for the lack of hills in the this country. And I'm grateful for the evening light just before the sun sets, that colors and illuminates the many clouds in the Dutch sky. Sure, most days I can't say I'm thrilled to ride my bike through a torrential downpour only to sit soaking wet on the train. But I do think, the inconsistency of the Dutch weather makes me appreciate the sunny days, and allows me to slow down and not obsess over not getting enough exercise on a particular day, but instead sit instead with a book or good company and enjoy a cup of hot tea.

2. Working part time and being able to support myself. This is also a blessing in disguise. For most of my life I have obsessively saved, scrounged, skimped and become over-involved. I have a mortal fear of missing out on opportunities so rather than strategically saying no to preserve my sanity, I say yes to everything and forget about myself and people. I don't have any regrets, I'm also immensely grateful for the opportunities I've had. But it's actually a remarkable gift to be able to work two days a week and pay all my bills (barely). There's something deeply satisfying about living simply (maybe I'm strange in this way) and just being content that rent is paid, I have food in my stomach and am surrounded by good people. Although, I haven't figured out how to be productive and only work two days a week and not think and read myself to death with all my free time, I think this period of living extra simply and not having a massive to do list is a huge gift after years of working myself into the ground. And more importantly, the fact that I have health insurance, a room, and food while only working two days a week is a remarkable gift. I hope I can work more soon since saving is also important. But in the meantime, I am slowly accepting the gift of this period of waiting.

3. My friends, particularly my best friend. In December of 1996, my parents drove me to the neighbors house of the house we were temporarily renting for the supposed one year of living in Michigan. There I met Rebecca, we awkwardly attempted to get to know each other in what initially felt like a forced friendship (for the first day that is). But eighteen years, and six countries later I haven't managed to get rid of this girl. Whether it's making and selling cards in the "craft room", overly competitively playing games and hating each other afterwards, waking up at 6 am on weekends to go running, camping under the stars to avoid paying for a campsite, riding horses, biking through tulip fields, running in Cape Town South Africa, having a picnic in fairytale like woods in Altenkirchen Germany, hiking mountains in Uganda, or cooking over a charcoal stove in the Rwandan rainforest; this girl won't ever be out of my life. And for that I am thankful. Sometimes I hate her more than I love her, but I'm thankful for our random adventures, strange habits, her consistently inconsistent communication habits, and her lifelong support. Besides Rebecca, no matter where I go, I have been fortunate to meet sincere, open minded, smart, generous and kind people who challenge me and support me.

4. My family. I'm thankful that I was the only girl with four silly and unique brothers. I'm thankful that being surrounded by guys my whole life helped me to never seek out attention from men (perhaps to a fault ;) ), taught me to respect myself and demand respect from others and perhaps also gave me a very strong dislike for excessive drama. I'm thankful for a childhood where I was allowed and encouraged to play in dirt, to create, to explore, to learn, to read, and to be creative even if it meant doing ridiculous things. I'm thankful for parents who actively encouraged my travels and attempt to have a global mindset even when it means me living halfway across the world. I'm thankful for a family that has encouraged my questions and determination and goals even when I'm bull headed, stubborn and opinionated. And I'm thankful for the lessons of hospitality and generosity.

5. Healthy food. I'm grateful that I live somewhere, where I have the ability to create delicious and healthy meals and I'm thankful that I was taught good food habits from a young age so I never had to relearn my eating habits. Finally, I'm thankful that I was taught to think about where my food comes from and participate in growing my own food (even though I mostly kill anything that grows).

Finally, I'm thankful that in just three weeks I get to see almost my whole family in a corner of the world with perfect weather (sorry Dutch weather, I'm not THAT thankful for you)!

Small business owners in Uganda

Market in Banda, Rwanda

Avocados in Rwanda

Post charcoal stove cooking in Rwanda

Climate KIC friends in Valencia Spain

Fresh farm food just outside Milan, Italy

Graduation in Delft. My dear friend and former roommate.

Rollende Keuken (rolling kitchens), Amsterdam. 

Rwandese dancing at a wedding. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014


One of the side effects of the extremely connected world we live in today, is that with a simple mouse click we can in a split second compare our lives to those of our friends. We can control what portion of our lives we display to our internet network (although with privacy issues perhaps even this is changing). Suddenly, rather than being content with the fact that we have a job, friends, health, a roof over our heads, and food or perhaps any combination of these things, comparing lives can arouse feelings of envy and make us scrutinize our own lives and choices.

I love the fact that I can use Facebook to keep up with my lovely friends around the world. I have contemplated deleting my Facebook because of privacy concerns, how annoying it is to sometimes be bombarded with political opinions, and simply the distraction it often becomes. But ultimately, I don't have an alternative that allows me to so effortlessly get a sneak peek into the lives of people I do care about a lot. I realize that perhaps even my own posts might stir envy in some people since I have had some incredible opportunities. But one extremely disturbing trend that I have observed on facebook and the internet world in general is the abundance of fundraising efforts. I think it's great that the internet and social media allows us to raise support for causes and I spent years fundraising for various projects and trips and I understand how challenging that can be. However, some of these fundraising and kickstarter campaigns I find extremely unsettling and ultimately very angering.

At the end of the day people are free to raise money and give money where they want. I have no desire to change this freedom and I know I only have control over my own actions. Most recently, I read a post about $35,000 potato salad kickstarter (that started as $10). I sincerely hope this is fake and whoever was raising the money will use the $35,000 for something more productive than making a potato salad for the first time. However, what is incredibly shocking and to me a testament to how privileged and perhaps unknowingly selfish we have become int he west is the fact that people actually gave money to this cause!

A few months ago I had to write an PhD essay about the challenges and disadvantages I have experienced through life to allow me to reach the place I am at now. I recall sitting in front of my computer staring at the screen thinking about how I could write some BS about how hard I've worked, the challenge of being one of the few females in a male dominated environment with my engineering background, or the cultural difficulties in the many places I've lived. But this didn't ring true to me. Instead I took an alternative approach and decided to write about how privileged I've been and how this sense of privilege is what has created my deep desire to extend my privilege to others who were not afforded the same opportunities as me. This alternative essay approach did not prove to be successful in getting me accepted into the program but at least I know I was authentic.

I try not to judge individual situations (but this doesn't mean I don't find myself judging people), but there is one thing that can shift my normally sunny disposition (at least I think it's sunny) to anger. One of my "privileges" has been the many opportunities I've had to see real people living in an extremely difficult conditions with very, very few opportunities to change their situation no matter how hard they work. Yes, in the developing world many, many people work incredibly hard to simply survive but this hard work without rewards life is not just for those in the developing world. I know that in my own country there are single mothers working several jobs without health insurance and barely making ends meet. There are far too many people on the streets for reasons that I am convinced are not just because they were "lazy". I can write an essay about how hard I've worked to reach the state I'm in now, and it wouldn't be a lie. I do work hard. But my hard work alone did not bring me to this place. Through no choice of my own I had a very big leg up right at birth.

I was born in a country that although has a lot of seemingly unsolvable problems, gives me free access to travel in most countries in the world. Free access to primary and secondary education even if the quality of that education is variable. Electricity, clean drinking water, good healthcare. Besides the inherent opportunities I had just through my citizenship, I was also fortunate to be born into a family with two well educated parents who deeply cared about the educational and emotional development of their children. I also was fortunate to live in cities with a highly educated population meaning that the schools I attended and the people I was surrounded by also shaped my intellectual curiosity and development. I was fortunate to have a father who worked in academia so that I could go to a high quality private university for almost free where I was given international experiences, taught to ask questions, and given problem solving skills. I was also fortunate to be born a native English speaker (although sometimes I think this is a disadvantage when it comes to language learning). By default I had the opportunity to teach English, attend university in the Netherlands without any expensive and difficult language tests. Perhaps through the accumulation of these opportunities I was granted a scholarship that has allowed me to study for free and live comfortably in the Netherlands.

Now sure, I can approach my life from a different angle and think about the fact that I worked during my education so that I had to take very few loans. Or the hundreds upon hundreds of applications I filled out often to be disappointed by rejections when some of my counterparts seemed to be just handed opportunities. Or the fact that I have self funded most of my travel opportunities when some people can go on all inclusive holidays with their families (not that I want to take all inclusive trips anyway). I could compare myself to many people and easily wallow in self pity. By material standards, there are many people more well off than me. But the reality is that I make up a very small percentage of the world's population and most of the world will ever have the same opportunities I've been granted. Often I feel guilty about this fact. What did I do to deserve this privilege? Nothing really.

But rather than feeling guilty about privilege I was granted by birth, I feel angry, angry that people are giving money to potato salads (among other things) when $5 could provide health insurance for a year to a Rwandese. Giving money is difficult and we want to know where our money is going but what if instead of throwing our money around to things that make no difference in the world, we thoughtfully considered how we can share the privileges we've been granted and perhaps alter the life path of just one individual.

Disclaimer: I do not want people to feel guilty by reading this post. I trust that most people are thoughtfully considering how to spend their money. But I would like those of us in the west to at least recognize our very privileged state and reconsider how we view our lives, "problems", and how we spend our money. This is a good reminder for me too, since I will stress out about where I WANT to live and WANT to do and not recognize the fact that actually being able to choose my job or place of residence is a huge privilege. While the American in me supports people trying to pursue their goals and dreams and not accepting things the way they are, I also believe that we can choose to be happy and content in whatever job or place we are in. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Falling in love in 4 weeks

Moving to Amsterdam may have been a huge mistake. Yes, I'm back in the Netherlands and after weeks/months of room searching I am now living in a city that has effortlessly snagged the title of my favorite city/favorite place I've ever lived. Considering that I live in a very quiet (ie slightly dull) part of the city, am currently swamped with thesis writing, got my wallet stolen upon stepping off the bus into my new neighborhood on the first day (it's really actually quiet and safe, I promise!), and have had some bad luck with bikes since returning it is quite impressive that I suddenly find myself in love with this city and am on the verge of becoming as arrogant as all the other Amsterdammers that I used to make fun of before I lived here. Before moving to this fabulous city, I would find myself a bit irritated with the comments from Amsterdam residents along the lines of: I would never live anywhere else in the Netherlands, no Utrecht is boring there's nothing going on, ehhh den Haag is too posh, Rotterdam is ugly, sure that city is nice but it's not Amsterdam. Yep, Amsterdammers are snobs about their city. Yet as I discovered this morning volunteering at a home for the elderly and helping with a quiz (all in Dutch) about Amsterdam only 4 in 10 people living in Amsterdam were actually born in this city. So what is all the hype about?

I feel that I do have some qualifications to promote this city since I lived/traveled quite a few places (if I may be a bit arrogant for the moment). But I must state two potential biases in my analysis (the word bias only reminds me of my thesis that I'm procrastinating on at the moment): 1. It's World Cup season which means all of the Netherlands is decked out in orange to support their dear and incredibly awesome team. This makes the atmosphere in this city even more electric. 2. It's summer in the Netherlands which is the rare two months out of the year where the sun is generally shining more often than it's raining. This means all things outdoors for the city's residents, a long with multiple festivals every weekend.

Buuuut, biases aside this city is still pretty amazing. So why am I so in love with this city and feeling utterly horrified of the thought of moving ANYWHERE else in the world (extremely shocking I know!)?

1. The diversity. In case you didn't know, Amsterdam is home to 174 nationalities. This is almost as many nationalities as countries in the world. Although to me New York feels more diverse (150 nationalities) simply because I think there are more numbers of each nationality represented, in Amsterdam everyone is just living together. While there are more immigrant heavy neighborhoods, there really isn't a part of the city that isn't diverse. Add the thousands of tourists who swarm this city all months out of the year and you can expect to hear many, many different languages walking around. It's like visiting the whole world by just walking out your doorstep.

2. The size. Amsterdam is super super small both population wise and in land size. I think there are only around 700,000 people living here (probably depending on how you count the city limits). I live "far" (ish) from the city center yet I am pretty much a 20-30 min bike ride from anything I want to do that's outside of my neighborhood. Although Amsterdam is the largest city in the Netherlands because of it's small size it has a very neighborhood feel. My housemates know everyone living in our building and when I step outside my door I feel like I'm part of the neighborhood. Each neighborhood has it's own market (weekly or more often) including organic markets! And finally because Amsterdam is so small, you can be cycling in the midst of the craziness that is the city center and then suddenly find yourself in the Dutch countryside. Plus, you're super close to one of my favorite airports in the world where the rest of the world is waiting to be explored!

3. Its beautiful. There's a reason why tourists flock to this city. With its canal lined streets (yes Delft was also beautiful) and its often crooked old narrow houses shoved together so neatly, you often feel like you've stepped into another century. Although I live not so close to the city center I do live in the oldest part of the city actually. Near where the East India Trading company was. I can cycle 5 minutes to a line of extremely old houses along the water and feel like I'm in a time where people paid for their beer with the fish they caught that day, where everyone knows everyone and people gather in the evenings to catch up on the local village gossip. Yet all this is in the Netherlands' biggest city!

4. The life. Amsterdam may be small but it's not short on things to do. It's incredibly frustrating to be locked inside most of the time writing my thesis because literally every weekend there seems to be multiple festivals. Its also the only city (in my food obsessed opinion) where you can find nice food. A few weeks ago I was in food paradise at a food truck festival in one of Amsterdam's many parks. I even got my fill of long lost kimchi.

5. The parks. In general the city is dense and crowded (at least if you're near tourist invested central station) but there are no shortage of parks and green spaces that are currently being thoroughly enjoyed with the fabulous weather we've been having.

6. Biking. This is obvious since it is the Netherlands but where else in the world can I literally bike EVERYWHERE? Amazing.

I actually feel depressed at the thought of being forced to leave this city if I don't manage to find a job or PhD within a reasonable radius of it. Maybe I'll start hating it once the endless rain starts again? Apologies in advance to anyone who has to be the recipient of my newly acquired arrogance. I know there are a lot of other nice places in the world that I'm sure I would also be happy living in. In the meantime I'm going to try and finish up this stupid (well actually I like it a lot) thesis so I can go play outside and enjoy this amazing city.  

Saturday, May 3, 2014


Nothing fancy or deep or funny just some things I'm enjoying at the moment and looking forward to over the next few weeks!

  • The lovely people at my office and how funny, friendly and kind they all are. I realized the other day that I actually almost never spend any time with white people haha (don't worry I'm not predujiced, it's just how things have turned out this time around). We all know Africans can dance and my colleagues know how to have a good time! As ridiculous as I probably look I just join in the fun and enjoy laughing with them at Dutch dancing (since it is a Dutch NGO)! The endless smiles and laughs at the office never cease to put me in a good mood when I arrive and leave the office. 
  • The utterly perfect weather of Mbarara. Not once has it been too hot or humid or too cold! The sun shines every day and most days there is shower to freshen things up a bit! 
  • Ugandan pineapples
  • The two dresses I designed, purchased Ugandan fabric for and am having tailor make for me here! Hopefully one will be my outfit for my thesis presentation! 
  • I'm looking forward to playing in a football tournament on my office's team against some other businesses in Mbarara tomorrow. I will probably be both the only Mzungu and female. If nothing else, I will provide entertainment for the onlookers!
  • This Thursday Rebecca (my best friend and sister that I never got) arrives from Rwanda! It has been a year since I saw her last and I can't wait for a weekend of adventures. We will leave Uganda together to visit her little village in Rwanda before I head back home (yep, I'm embracing the term) to the Netherlands. 
  • On the topic of home, I finally found what seems to be a perfect room in Amsterdam! Looking forward to gezellig dinners with my new housemates, cycling in Amsterdam Noord, commuting to work, and exploring the awesomeness that is Amsterdam. 
  • I'm REALLY looking forward to biking again (both as my primary mode of transport and for sport)!
  • The color run (with friends and one of my new housemates!) 
  • Also this blog post about home that describes my feelings more beautifully than I will ever be able to. 
  • Proper cooking again and going back to a diet that does not consist of primarily flavorless carbs! 
  • Possibilities of several visitors this summer! 
  • Swimming outside this summer!
  • Running in peace without comments, whistles and people following me. 
Fijne weekend allemaal! 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Culinary Catastrophes

The last few blog posts have been a bit too serious for my liking so I think it’s necessary to have a more light hearted interlude (although still a serious matter in my opinion). For those of you who know me well, you should be aware that Rachel and food have a very close relationship. I think my love of food was sparked around the same time as my love of travel. I was also blessed to have a mother who cares deeply about the environment, health, and what that means for the food we put in our bodies. I blogged about food the last time I was in Uganda because it became a HUGE source of frustration for my slightly snobby taste buds.

I do not consider myself a picky eater. I will willingly eat whatever non-meat food item appears on my plate (and even meat when I’m forced to be culturally flexible). That being said, I’ve discovered in my old age that I feel a lot better emotionally and physically when I eat quite frequent small portions of a whole-grains plant based diet with a plethora of delicious spices and flavours. I’ve also learned that I go through spicy food withdrawal if I don’t get a nearly daily dose of spiciness.

Recently a friend of mine sent me this gem of a buzzfeed list that fairly accurately describes my relationship with food (as long as the said food is healthy). This list was particularly valid when I was in my crazy running stage of life and therefore needed frequent calorie boosts to make up for all the calories I lost when I destroyed my muscles every day. Unfortunately, my food life in Uganda does not fit any of the above descriptions. I am all about adapting and attempting to be a local as much as possible. But Ugandan cuisine seriously fails to inspire or fulfill my nutritional needs. While I also find Dutch food uninspiring and bland, at least I can find anything I could want in a supermarket and most of my cultured friends will begrudgingly admit that perhaps Dutch food should not make it into any list of popular international foods.
Let me describe a typical day here:
Around 7 am: wake up make myself a hearty bowl of oatmeal/porridge (I will never get sick of this for breakfast) with some tea and fruit on the side.
Just before 8: walk to my office.
Between 9 and 10: depart for the field (depending on how efficient things are on a particular morning, but the word efficient doesn’t really exist in Ugandan vocabulary)
Between 10:30-12: Rachel starts to get a bit hungry. Ignore it knowing that it will only get worse and you won’t see food until 4 at the earliest.
1 pm: Sneakily eat a small snack (so that I don’t have a share it with the driver and my translator, evil and selfish I know).
3 pm: Yep. Starving and tired. How are the driver and intern just fiiiiine?
3:30 pm: If I haven’t given up already, conduct one more interview then insist on heading back to town (this usually involves around a one hour plus drive back).
Around 4-4:30: arrive at the one restaurant in town that still seems to have food (since they make all the food at once in the morning then run out at the end of day). Conversation with the waitress:
“Do you have beans?”
50% of the time: “They are not here.”
“Do you have gnuts?” (the only other vegetarian protein option)
50% of the time: “They are not here.” OR no response then 15 min later: “Gnuts are over.”
“Fine. I’ll have a chapatti.”
This is where I resign myself to eating the oily flatbread that offers no nutritional value.

If I’m “lucky” a bowl of beans and a huge plate of white rice awaits me. Upon its arrival I promptly ask for the chili sauce and pour half the bottle into my beans to the horror of my Ugandan co-workers. This still fails to fully give the food flavour. 

Because I am usually afflicted with low blood sugar and very grouchy during this time, talk is limited and when the conversation turns to Ugandan food and questions of whether I have tried matooke (boiled mashed bananas with zero flavour) or other local “specialities” (I had tried every single Ugandan food within about a week of my first visit since there is absolutely no variety), it is all I can do to politely respond through clenched teeth: yes I have tried matooke. It was not my favourite.

Although I’ve spent a decent amount of time in this country, it is a constant source of frustration that given how fertile the land is, Ugandans continue to “nourish” (if that is the best word considering that SO many people develop diabetes later due to the very carb based diet and love of sugar here) themselves with a startlingly limited variety of food and virtually no spices. Food wise, I can hardly wait to get back to my quinoa, greens, whole grain bread, larger variety of veggies, buckwheat, loads of bean varieties, nuts, and a pantry full of spices to satisfy my culinary creativity.

Happy first King’s day in a while to all my friends in the Netherlands! Someone go eat a nice meal for me please!  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Expectations Revisited

Just after moving to the Netherlands I wrote about the faulty expectations and the disappointment I felt about my last Ugandan experience. Even when I think about it now I feel ashamed at how disconnected I was from the local community. Since my time in Uganda this time around is so short, I came into the country with the idea that I would simply make the best of the time, get the research I need done, and see what comes of it all. I had no expectations of making new best friends or getting overly attached. All of this has been successful so far, but what has been most rewarding about the past two or so weeks is how incredibly easy it has been to connect here compared to Karamoja. This connection has made me feel SO much better about the disappointment I felt leaving Karamoja and made me realize that perhaps the lack of connection I made with Ugandans last time was not entirely my fault but more the culture and environment of the region I was living in.

Last Friday I was invited by the Ugandan general manager of our office to a party/sort of church service in his village. I went with some other friendly staff members for a very long day of speeches in Runyankole (that I have almost nonexistent knowledge of), lots of Ugandan food (NOT my favorite, more on this later), and later some drinks and more food at his home. Although I was the only white person there (win in my book!) and I mostly had absolutely no clue what was going on (apparently it was a 50th wedding anniversary celebration for his parents) it was a fun day! Being free to drink beer also aids in the connecting with locals process.

Most of the Ugandans I've met this time around are some combination (or all of the above) of very smart, well educated, and well traveled. This had made for some very interesting and open conversations. The last time I was in Uganda I was very reluctant to bring up the homosexuality bill (which at the time had been pushed aside) but now that Uganda is all over the news it has been very easy to bring up the issue. Which is probably one long term positive aspect of the bill. Now people are talking about it, activism can breed and the whole world is aware which will hopefully all bring change. What is frustrating is that the media has honed in on Uganda when in reality most of the continent shares similar sentiments only with slightly less harsh punishment. A few of the things I've gathered from my conversations and from my previous stay in Uganda:

  • The anti-gay sentiment prevalent in this country I really think is more related to culture than religion or outside influences. Most of the people I speak with aren't particularly religious and don't support the bill per se but rather say that people should be able to make their own decisions. However, they share the concern that homosexuality will spread which they find disconcerting. The last time I was in Uganda I had a hunch that most of the uncomfortableness that Ugandans (and perhaps most Africans) have about homosexuality is how theoretically same sex couples cannot bear children. Fertility is so incredibly valued here. Recently a very smart man asked me if I wanted children. I answered directly and said I don't know. Certainly not anytime soon and it's not on my life to do list. He was a bit shocked and replied: I've had a name picked out for my first child for the past five years. I have yet to meet a Ugandan no matter how "progressive" or educated or empowered (to use Western vocabulary) they may be who does not have eventual plans for children. Conversely, in North America and Europe I know many people you have no plans for children. I'm not suggesting that Africans change to become more western but their love of children could explain some of the attitudes towards same-sex relationships. 
  • Another issue that was brought up is the fact that most (perhaps almost all?) secondary schools here are separated by gender. During the hormone filled teen years apparently this can bring about some experimentation. 
And... the rest of my post didn't get saved and I don't feel like rewriting it all. So I'll conclude with this: Ugandans (rightly so) don't want to be continuously pushed by the west to accept western culture and values. What is difficult is when culture becomes intertwined with human rights violations. Gay rights aside we have a lot to learn from how Ugandans prioritize people, relationships, and community. I am very far from adapting here but spending time in Uganda has forced me to slow down my usual hyperactive self (I now have the reputation of "running" from the office because apparently I walk super fast) and take a bit of a breather. And here are a few photos of the past few weeks: 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Job searching? Or room searching? There seems to be no difference

There seems to be no difference between finding a room in Amsterdam and applying for jobs. Both require top notch networking skills, strong motivation and determination, obsessive checking of job or room websites, an outstanding cover letter, and perhaps references. Seriously. I've lost track of how many messages I've sent to prospective housemates only to be mostly drowned out by the hundreds (or thousands perhaps) of other desperate room seekers, or ignored because I cannot meet the housemates in person, or simply ignored for no reason, or in the best situation realize that I will be miserable or in a super boring neighborhood far from where I will work. The few skype "interviews" (because that's seriously what they often are) I've had have often involved people rigorously questioning me on my music and movie taste and my social habits.

Finding a room in Mbarara on the other hand was quite possibly the easiest thing I've ever done. Send one email to a Dutch contact here with no response, email the general manager of the NGO I'm working with, and send an email to an old friend from my previous stay in Uganda. A few days later I had several options that are super cheap, giant and well equipped. And now that I'm here I've had multiple staff members offer me their spare bedrooms. Incredible. Maybe will just stay here and commute to Amsterdam? I might save money and stress...

I like to consider myself pretty well connected so I started with my own social network but recently have gotten quite creative in expanding my network to find a room. Perhaps I can put this room search process on my CV? My networking skills should be pretty top notch if I ever find a room! 

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.